Ashley Graham & Julianne Hough Talk Body Diversity At The Miss USA Pageant

Photo: Craig Barritt/Getty Images/Shutterstock.
This year's Miss USA pageant will have a bathing suit competition, but whether or not that should be the case going forward is certainly up for debate — even by those connected with this year's pageant.

In an interview with USA Today, Julianne Hough, this year's host and a creative producer, talked about the Miss USA competition being a way for young women to build self-esteem. It's something she knows others disagree with her about.

"I get that cringe-worthy negative connotation, a competition to see who is the most beautiful," Hough said, but she added that she "wanted to be able to give...input as far as what is going to inspire young women to be healthy, to be active, to love themselves, to be compassionate and kind to others."

One controversial moment for many is the swimsuit competition, but Hough says that while she thinks that segment of the show could use some fixing, it can also be seen as an empowering moment for the contestants.

"There is the whole thing of being confident in the fact you worked hard to get that body and you go to the gym and you eat healthy and do certain things," she said. "It’s no different if you are going to the beach."

The problem with that statement is that Hough assumes that all women want to look the same on the beach, or that there is some beach body ideal we should aspire to. The truth is, you can love and be happy in your body at any size, as can the Miss USA contestants.

But model Ashley Graham, this year's backstage host, seems to have a different opinion about having women compete against each other for the honor of who looks better in a bathing suit. She thinks it does a disservice to what the women in the pageant really stand for.

In an interview with People, the Swimsuitsforall designer said her latest gig at the Miss USA competition was "very, very important," mainly because it shows that the competition is starting to embrace different forms of beauty.

"I think by having me host backstage, it's opened up this door and this question of, 'Well, why haven't we had anybody?'" she said. "What is stopping us from having a very curvaceous woman come in and win Miss USA or even be a contestant?'"

Some may say the swimsuit competition lends to the problem that it's a beauty contest with very specific parameters around the idea of beauty, but Graham believes Miss USA is more than that — and we need to start promoting it that way.

"They may not call themselves a 'body activist,' but they are standing up for what it takes to not only be hardworking, ethical, and smart, but also courageous," Graham said. "You have to know what you stand for, who you are. They're not just walking around in their swimsuits and evening gowns. They're being questioned about things...this is such a great outlet for young girls to aspire to be, in a way, because these women, they're using their beauty to change the world."

Hough did tell USA Today that when it came to the bathing suit competition, "There’s def some work I think still to be done, that’s where we’ve been talking with the producers. In the next few years, we may grow from that, but let’s see where this year goes."
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