"This decision reflects an important cultural shift we're all celebrating that empowers women who lead active, purposeful lives and encourage those in their communities to do the same," Paula Shugart, president of the parent Miss Universe Organization, wrote in a letter to state directors. "Our hope is that this decision will help all of Miss Teen USA's fans recognize these young women for the strong, inspiring individuals they are."
Reigning Miss Teen USA Katherine Haik said in a statement that this new direction "is a great way to celebrate the active lives that so many young women lead and set a strong example for our peers."
"I have been an athlete my entire life," she said. "As a member of a softball team and a competitive dance team, I spend a lot of time in athletic wear."
The swimsuit competition has come under increased scrutiny as an objectifying spectacle in recent years. Organizers of major pageants — including Shugart, the Miss Universe Organization president — have said they are intended to display fitness, fashion and confidence, not to push certain body standards.
The Miss Universe Organization also stages the Miss USA competition, and the host and creative director of that pageant has hinted at changes regarding the swimsuit event.
"There's definitely some work I think still to be done, that's where we've been talking with the producers," Julianne Hough told USA Today earlier this month. "In the next few years we may grow from that, but let's see where this year goes."
Ironically, a beauty queen's refusal to appear in a swimsuit is what led to the founding of the Miss Universe Organization.
In 1951, Miss America Yolande Betbeze refused to pose in a swimsuit after winning her title, which angered Catalina, a major swimsuit sponsor.
Catalina withdrew support from Miss America, and went on to help start another pageant: Miss Universe, first held in 1952 in Long Beach, Calif.
"I'm a singer, not a pinup" Betbeze declared at the time, in refusing to appear in Catalina's promotional materials.
Later, Betbeze recalled how a Catalina representative "stood up and fumed. He looked at me and said, 'I'll run you off the news pages. I'll start my own contest. You'll see.' I said, 'That's splendid. Good luck to you.' . . . Anyway, he did indeed start the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageant. So people can thank me — or blame me — for that."
Chief Operating Officer Josh Randle, in a 2015 interview with Mashable, said the swimsuit portion is meant to promote fitness and a healthy lifestyle, not so others can judge the contestants' beauty.