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  • Writer's pictureDawn Neufeld

#MeToo and a Bathing Suit

I love beauty pageants. Always have, always will. I've always appreciated the message that smart women can be beautiful too (and vice versa). So while I was awaiting my Texas bar results back in 2009, I decided to enter my first beauty pageant to keep me busy. Clueless, I ended making top 15 and was hooked on the experience and camaraderie with the ladies I now consider my (pageant) sisters. I've now competed ten times in the Mrs. Texas America pageant and I've already signed up to compete next year despite a disappointing finish this year.

I recently watched the Miss USA pageant and the young lady who won seemed really spectacular... smart, beautiful, down to Earth. She's got two degrees from Texas Christian University and is working towards becoming a child life specialist. Then there it was on Twitter... a Dallas Morning News article compiled by Breaking News Editor Matt Pearson about the young lady who moments earlier had won the crown.

TCU grad who worked for Dallas Cowboys wins Miss USA, a pageant that paired 'MeToo' moments, bikini contest

You see what the Dallas News did there, right? The suggested that a bikini contest is at odds with a movement about female empowerment. How can these young women have the nerve to speak on the #MeToo movement while wearing bikinis? Seems pretty patriarchal to me. Let's talk about this.

The "Me Too" movement gained traction this year as women in the entertainment industries and beyond began talking about sexual harassment and sexual assault. What happened on those notorious Hollywood casting couches was no longer staying on those couches. Everyone seems to have had a #MeToo story. I thought the Miss USA competition provided a great platform to give women a voice on the issue. But for some reason, the fact that the women did so while competing in a pageant with a *GASP* bikini competition cheapens the message. Wasn't part of the #MeToo movement about giving women their voices back? Aren't women supposed to be able to be sexy and fit without having someone tell them they need to cover up? For these reasons, I think the Miss America Organization got this one wrong.

The Miss America Organization (MAO) announced it's making changes. A few months ago, there was a shake up at the MAO after it was revealed that board members were making disparaging comments about the contestants. Former Fox News personality and Miss USA Gretchen Carlson vowing to make changes. First up.... those bikinis have got to go. Apparently they will no longer be required in this era of "female empowerment and gender equality."

For years, the MAO has thrived on the message that it isn't a beauty pageant... it's a scholarship competition. While yes, they've given out millions of dollars in scholarship funds, contestants earn those scholarships through being their best person. They compete(d) in evening gown, swimsuit, talent and interview. But Carlson has now said, "We are not going to judge you on your outer appearance," any longer. No kidding? Does that mean sexual harassment and assault are magically going to stop? The obvious answer is no. And telling women they shouldn't compete in swimsuit because it's not in their best interest is very Handsmaids-y. Praise be.

In this day and age of body confidence we've gotten to a place where we can celebrate who we are, curves and all. If women choose to compete because they feel empowered working it in a bikini, shouldn't they be allowed to? Can you imagine someone (a man or woman) telling super model and bad ass Ashley Graham that she should cover up a bit because her image doesn't jive with the #MeToo movement? Please. The #MeToo movement is about empowerment... so who are we to tell women how they should or shouldn't choose to do so?

Personally, I'm not in love with the swimsuit portion of pageants. If I could pinpoint a reason why I haven't won, it's all of the things you can see when I'm in a swimsuit. It's the cellulite on my legs, the little pooch on my tummy from when I had a c-section, it's my boobs that aren't as perky as they used to be, or maybe the stretch marks from puberty that expanded when I made two human beings. But If there's anything I've learned competing in pageants, it's learning to love me for me, perceived flaws and all. It's being able to walk on the stage in a swimsuit and with my head held high showing my daughter that I am empowered. It's knowing my own #MeToo stories... and knowing that I can be sexy and smart and all of that while strutting around in a bathing suit.

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