The Miss Teen USA Pageant Is Losing Its Swimsuit Competition And Gaining A Whole New Kind of Female Empowerment

"This is focusing on what bodies can do, not just what they look like."

Beauty pageants are often criticized for their long history of judging women on their physical appearance and instilling those superficial values in young girls and adolescents.

One of America's most prestigious beauty pageants, Miss Teen USA, is changing all that by getting rid of its swimsuit competition.

The 51 contestants are ditching bikinis and donning athleisure in this year's Las Vegas competition on July 30.

Though pageant organizers have reportedly said the original intention of the swimsuit competition was to highlight each woman's athleticism, many consider this portion to be exploitative and objectifying — especially when the participants are minors. 

Besides desexualizing the 15 to 19-year-old contestants, swapping swimwear for athletic wear teaches young female viewers to value their bodies not for what they look like, but for what they can do. 

"I have been an athlete my entire life … [as] a member of a softball team and a competitive dance team," Katherine Haik, the reigning Miss Teen USA, told USA Today. "This new direction for Miss Teen USA is a great way to celebrate the active lives that so many young women lead and set a strong example for our peers."

Young women need this example because once they hit puberty, many lose their confidence — and their desire to continue athletic pursuits.

According to the Women's Sports Foundation, the drop off begins at age 14, when girls stop playing sports at twice the rate of boys. By age 17, over half (51 percent) of young women have quit sports, a recent survey conducted by the Always sanitary pad brand found.

Roughly 70 percent of the survey's 1,000 respondents (aged 16 to 24) dropped out of athletics either because they didn't feel like they belonged in sports or they felt that society didn't encourage girls to play sports. 

Hopefully, by celebrating althetlicism in a non-sexualized way, the Miss Teen USA pageant will begin to change societal expectations for young women and encourage female athletes to stay in the game.

Besides promoting physical health and wellness, sports help young women develop confidence, as well as leadership and teamwork skills. A global study by Ernst & Young and espnW linked women's participation in sports have been linked to their career success for sixty-one percent of female executives.

In a memo, Miss Universe president Paula Shugart stated that the pageant's new direction is meant to "celebrate women's strength, confidence and beauty" in an unprecedented and positive way.

"This is a great step in the right direction of women embracing their physical strength, as opposed to their appearance," former Miss Virginia Nancy Redd told the publication. "This is focusing on what bodies can do, not just what they look like."

While some may still find beauty pageants misogynistic and archaic, these kinds of initiatives prove that modern, feminist change isn't just possible, but welcome. 

It's darn comfortable, too. 

(H/T: USA Today)