The Miss America Pageant Is About Wellness Now, or Something

Miss America appears to be attempting a "wellness" rebrand (in partnership with a weight loss company and a diet movie) but what exactly that entails remains completely unintelligible

Miss North Dakota 2017 Cara Mund is crowned as Miss America 2018 by Miss America 2017 Savvy Shields during the 2018 Miss America Competition Show at Boardwalk Hall Arena on September 10, 2017 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
This is obviously about wellness now, or something.
Donald Kravitz/Getty Images for Dick Clark Productions

Happy birthday to the Miss America pageant, the oft-embattled and arguably irrelevant national beauty contest that turns 100 years old today. Like most things that old, Miss America has decided it is in need of a little modern revamping. Back in 2018, the pageant ditched the swimsuit portion of the competition in an attempt to improve optics by assuring the public this contest only judges women based on their fully-clothed appearance. Now in what is purportedly a continuation of that effort, Miss America has apparently partnered with a bunch of ambiguous entities in a new initiative “to redefine women’s wellness to be focused on optimal health rather than physical appearance.”

What exactly this actually means or will entail remains to be seen, because the rest of the rambling press release announcing this new initiative is filled with similarly empty, borderline incoherent PR-speak and is, frankly, one of the most baffling pieces of literature I have ever tried to decipher. Whatever it is that Miss America is doing under the vague guise of health and/or wellness, however, it is apparently “science-backed” and “endorsed by Harvard medical doctors for optimal women’s wellness,” and seems to involve providing “the next generation of female leaders life-long wellness education, tools, and community based on the modern science of optimal nutrition, fitness, and mindset.” And did they mention wellness?

Again, what this initiative actually is and who it is for remains eerily unclear, to the extent that I almost feel like this whole thing is just a front for some kind of cult. Is this some sort of mandatory “wellness” training Miss America contestants will have to complete? Or does it mean, as Slate’s Shannon Palus suggested, that pageant contestants will somehow now be judged based on some kind of ultimately BS health or wellness metrics rather than physical appearance? Honestly, couldn’t tell you, and neither could this press release. Whatever this wellness initiative is, however, it will apparently “enable optimal wellness through proven science, practical habits, and powerful love,” which will, in turn, “ensure every candidate and every ‘body’ can experience greatness as they enact their missions in the world.” You know, optimally.

This is good news for Jonathan Bailor, proud #girldad and founder of SANESolution, one of Miss America’s questionably culty new partners which appears to be — guess what? — a weight loss program. Anyway, Bailor wants his daughters to “grow up in a world where beauty is defined by their actions and not their appearance.” Wait? Beauty? I thought this was about “health” now? Or is it “wellness?” Oh well! Anyway, according to Bailor, “This partnership will provide the education, tools, and community to guarantee that.” (Whatever “that” is, which literally no one seems to know.)

One of Miss America’s other new partners is a movie (?) called BETTER, which, according to the press release “is a transformative food, diabetes, and body-positivity documentary that examines a new, empowering, and unifying way of eating, thinking, and living.” It also reportedly debuted in the top 3 on the iTunes chart last month, despite the fact that iTunes stopped existing in 2019 — didn’t it?

Anyway, a pivot to “wellness” over beauty would be a standard if transparently empty move for an embattled, increasingly dated brand like Miss America these days — the beauty pageant version of when Weight Watchers rebranded to “WW” a few years back and just hoped everyone would forget what the WW stands for — if only their “initiative” made literally any sense at all. Fortunately, if there’s one thing we can trust, it’s that this team comprised of a weight loss company, a beauty pageant and a diet movie “are committed to women achieving optimal health and wellness so they can enjoy a body that enables but does not define them.” Right.

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