The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, June 10, 2018

The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, June 10, 2018

We asked 10 women who've appeared on a variety of stages: What do you make of Miss America saying bye bye to bikinis and evening gowns and hello to a competition that's open to women of all shapes and sizes?

NINA DAVULURI
In 2014, became first contestant of Indian descent to be crowned Miss America

"Miss America 2.0 is here, and I couldn't be more proud.

"I've been fortunate to experience many proud moments in my career and recognition for my advocacy work. My swimsuit score had nothing to do with any of them.

"By retiring the swimsuit competition, the Miss America Organization moved into a new era of inclusiveness and empowerment by emphasizing what truly matters: substance within."

JULIE FORAN LAPLANT
Bement native, 1978 Illinois County Fair Queen

"I believe that fitness and health are both very important, but having contestants appear in a swimsuit is pretty degrading. I think judges can tell how fit a contestant is by a cocktail dress.

"In pageants I was in, contestants walked in a swimsuit wearing high heels, trying to appear poised. After my coronation of the Miss America preliminary, one judge approached me and began offering constructive criticism. He said that my swimsuit was not cut high enough. I was pulling down the sides, because I was self-conscious.

"He also told me that I 'had the face of Miss America but needed to get some beef off before the Miss Illinois Pageant.' Is it any wonder that I was very confused after winning the pageant?

"In the Miss America pageant, all contestants line up and do quarter turns so the judges can see the girls from all sides. I remember that the 'ideal' was to have the legs create three diamond shapes when putting one's knees together.

"One contestant was bow-legged, so a physical therapist worked with her prior to the Miss Illinois Pageant to restructure her muscular legs."

SARAH (IRLE) HORN
Crowned Champaign County's first Illinois County Fair Queen in 2000

"I was disappointed. The swimsuit portion of the pageant celebrated personal fitness and confidence with one's body. It was a lot easier to put on a swimsuit and smile as I walked across the stage than to memorize a speech or give an intelligent and witty response to the impromptu question.

"I didn't feel self-conscious — the pageant swimsuits I wore were more conservative than the swimsuits I wear today as a mother of three kids."

ERTHARIN COUSIN
Feminist, UI-Chicago grad, former director of U.N.'s World Food Program, ranked 45th on Forbes' '100 Most Powerful Women in the World' list

"I thought about all the smart, talented little girls who will see themselves for the first time as competitive prospective Miss America candidates. Again confirming my mother's wisdom, 'beauty comes from within.'

"Imagine talent, intelligence and personality defining American and, hopefully, global beauty. Nice."

JUDI FORD NASH
UI grad, Miss America 1969

"It was overdue. The swimsuit competition had gotten too risqué in recent years. However, I still would like physical fitness to be part of the competition.

"I remember being very uncomfortable when I competed in swimsuit. I was a lifeguard and worked at the pool every summer, so I wore a swimsuit all the time. But it was a whole different feeling when I wore one on stage in high heels. It was definitely out of my comfort zone.

"Hopefully, the new changes will make Miss America more welcoming for all young women."

KATHERINE SPILLAR
Ms. Magazine executive editor directs Feminist Majority Foundation

"It's an important, not insignificant step forward in the long walk to full equality for women and girls.

"And maybe a bit of a wake-up call to the multibillion-dollar industries built on women's physical appearance — the diet, cosmetics and plastic surgery industries, not to mention the advertising industry and media and entertainment industries — that attention must be paid to the cultural shift the Miss America pageant's decision represents."

HALEY DUDEN
2015 Champaign County Fair Queen

"I found the swimsuit portion of pageantry the most empowering. My platform is (focused) on the basis of living a healthy lifestyle. It's not about being the skinniest.

"It's about confidence. It's about taking care of the body and nourishing it properly. I have learned to love every part of who I am.

"When you work hard toward something, why not show it off and be proud of all you accomplished? Let us use the swimsuit portion to become the best version of ourselves."

KAYE LANI RAFKO-WILSON
Miss America 1988

"My first thought was that finally, representatives won't have to spend time defending the swimsuit phase and can spend more time on sharing who they are and their vision for their year.

"During almost every interview I had during my year as Miss America, I was asked on how I felt about the swimsuit competition and if it should be a part of our program. Of course, I replied like most and said it is tradition.

"I worked very hard my year at keeping my response short and moving the conversation immediately to what was happening in our country regarding health care, the nursing shortage and my dream to providing hospice services in my community."

RENEE CHARLES
Miss Illinois USA 2000

"First, let me say I have had great experiences in all of the pageants I have done. My first was when I was 5 and my last was Miss USA in 2000 at age 26. I learned so much about myself — how to be confident, poised, disciplined — and I paid off my student loans from what I won through the Miss America system.

"I'm not thrilled with the decision of Miss America to drop the swimsuit competition. I understand why it is happening, but it is sad that we are at this point in society. The pageant started as a swimsuit contest. It was empowering nearly 100 years ago to wear a swimsuit on stage. Then it was empowering years later to be able to wear a bikini. And today, it's empowering to take this portion of the competition away. It's where we are in society and it ebbs and flows.

"Those of us who enter a pageant know that the swimwear/athletic wear is part of the competition. If you don't want to partake in that portion, then perhaps you shouldn't enter. There are other contests that might be more fitting for you.

"I feel like this change sends the message that you can't be both beautiful on the outside and the inside. It almost feels like today, it is frowned upon to be beautiful on the outside. The MAO representatives said they are looking for inner beauty and I think that's wonderful, but why must we forcefully overlook someone's outer beauty too.

"For me, the swimsuit competition was a reason to focus on my health and wellbeing. I wanted to look good, yes — that was my catalyst to eat healthier, make smarter lifestyle choices and add proper exercise regiment to my daily routine. I was happy with my outward appearance, I felt strong and empowered because of it and that in turn helped me feel more confident.

"Many of the people I know who are involved in pageantry are not pleased with the change. The MAO is the largest scholarship-granting organization for young women and I would hate for that to be negatively impacted. It's all about empowerment, so why not empower them to be beautiful inside and outside?"

KARA (KLINE) MILLER
Champaign native named 1991's Miss Teen Illinois at age 15

"I competed in pageants for most of my teenage years and loved most of them. My parents were very generous in their support and encouragement of my passion.

"Pageants like Cinderella Girl and Miss Illinois National Teenager were a positive outlet for me to sing on stage and develop interview and public speaking skills. I learned I loved writing speeches, which served me well later as a writer and journalist. And it was fun every time to get dressed up like a princess in fancy dresses and jewelry. Finally, it sure didn't hurt to have makeup training in the always-awkward teenage years.

"It always seemed strange that Miss America, with its focus on talent and making a difference, also had swimsuit as part of the competition. Most of the pageants I competed in did not have a swimsuit portion. I heard the news about Miss America and got flooded with memories of competing as Miss Illinois Teen USA.

"I can't say I was ever comfortable with the swimsuit part of the Miss Teen USA pageant but it was a necessary step. As the titleholder, I spent the whole summer after my senior year of high school working out, training and practicing doing my hair in that fabulous, early-1990s big hair style, before the national pageant. In the end, I was in the best shape of my life in that month of competition in August 1991."I felt the workouts and time had been worth it. But I couldn't wait to have a slice of pizza afterwards, for sure. And I enjoyed everything else about the experience much more.

"I applaud the women now leading the Miss America Organization who decided to make the changes. I'm honestly not sure how Miss America will fare as a television event with the changes but I'm interested to see. If Miss America is still a 'pageant,' looks will matter in some way. But I hope there's a wider range of women as their 'best selves' and not necessarily a cover model in a swimsuit.

"As a child, I looked up to pageant winners I'd seen on TV like heroes. I remember getting starstruck and tongue-tied in my Miss Teen USA interview, when one of the judges was a former winner I had watched get crowned on national TV. Women today have more options beyond pageants, to have a voice and someone they want to be when they grow up. Young women today can open Instagram or go online to follow and even interact with women they admire.

"Thankfully, women today can also look around the office or on LinkedIn to find confident, poised women making a difference and leading well, whether or not they look amazing in a swimsuit."

Sections (2):News, Local