Carlson opened up about the controversial decision to eliminate the swimsuit competition portion of the program during an appearance on Good Morning America.
“Change is difficult,” said Carlson, who serves as the chairwoman of the Miss America board of directors and won the crown herself in 1989. “This board unanimously decided that we needed to move this program forward.”
Since the decision to scrap the swimsuit portion, Carlson, 52, and other members of the board have come under criticism for the push to make the competition more inclusive and less based on physical appearance.
Some pageant officials have even called for Carlson’s resignation over the matter.
“We believe that physical appearance and beauty and being fit — that is empowering. We’re just not going to judge women on that anymore,” Carlson said. “We’re working through this in the best way we can.”
Last month, Carlson announced several changes to the upcoming telecast. Along with the elimination of the swimsuit portion, she said they are also “revamping” the evening gown portion, instead asking contestants to use their clothes to express their personal style.
“We’ve heard from a lot of young women who say, ‘We’d love to be a part of your program but we don’t want to be out there in high heels and a swimsuit,’ so guess what, you don’t have to do that anymore,” she said at the time. “Who doesn’t want to be empowered, learn leadership skills and pay for college and be able to show the world who you are as a person from the inside of your soul? That’s what we’re judging them on.”
The current Miss America, Cara Mund of North Dakota, showed her support for the movement by sharing a graphic of a bathing suit disappearing on her official Twitter page.
“We’re changing out of our swimsuits and into a whole new era,” she wrote, adding the hashtags #byebyebikini and #MissAmerica2019.
“This was a call of duty for me. I never envisioned I’d be running this organization, nor did I ask to,” Carlson said in June. “We need to improve the messaging.”