Mara here. So this week the Miss America Organization made a HUGE announcement. The are cutting the swimsuit portion of the pageant. This is a major step toward teaching women everywhere to embrace their bodies. Below is my reaction to the announcement.

The Miss America Organization announced on Tuesday that contestants would no longer be judged on their physical appearance. And as a result they would be doing away with the swimsuit competition and in the evening gown competition contestant can wear what they want.

The Miss America Pageant will no longer be a pageant, but instead a competition and be inclusive to women of all sizes.

This is huge, and it makes me so very much happy. My first thought was to my best friend’s one-year-old daughter. She will not have to grow up in the same culture my best friend and I did. Times are changing. On Monday, the day before the announcement, I submitted a piece to another publication about how our society teaches from a young age that a woman’s value is based on how much she can attract and keep a man.

As a 36-year-old woman who has never been married, I don’t see myself as a spinster or old maid. Nor do I see myself as worthless because I failed to snag a man.

Women are so much more than a pretty face. We are strong. We are intelligent. We are caring.

Working as a journalist for nearly 15 years, I covered the Miss Arkansas Pageant many, many years. So many of the contestants were extremely smart. They were law students, in pharmacology school, they were competing for a scholarships to pay for their masters degrees.

And it always made me sad that part of the requirement to winning the pageant was how well they could strut around the stage in a two piece bathing suit. But it had a fluffy title. It wasn’t the “swimsuit” competition, instead it was called “Lifestyles and Fitness.” In Lifestyles and Fitness, the judges were supposed to judge the contestants on how “healthy” they were. But nobody really believed that.

And who’s to say that a person who doesn’t have the ideal body type isn’t healthy?

I love that our society is shifting its focus on this issue. As hikers we should view our body by what he can do, not who we can attract.

Full disclosure here, I would have never have been considered to eligible for the Miss America system because of my size. And even though I wish I was a few (OK, maybe quite a few) pounds lighter, I’ve always viewed my body by its ability to accomplish the things I want to do.

I trained for and ran two half marathons. And I can’t deny at size 12, losing a few pounds would have been nice, but that wasn’t the goal I set out to accomplish.

I set out to run a half marathon. I began running at age 30, and up until that point I was only active in the terms of hiking. I never played sports, and I never exercised outside of hiking.

Fighting depression throughout my 20s, I finally went to therapy at age 29 and learned a lot about myself. One thing I learned was that I was waiting on life to start for me instead of starting it myself.

And one way to take control of my life was to start running. I did not lose one. single. pound. But I gained so much more confidence.

My physical appearance may have not changed, but boy my body sure did. After running consistently I was able to do so much more of what makes me happy life. I hiked to 13,000 feet on Wheeler Peak in New Mexico (which is the highest peak in New Mexico!). For the first time, I was able to backpack for multiple days and not feel like I was going to die. And most importantly, I was able to out-hike my National Guard serving brother – that accomplishment I was particularly proud of.

I was also able to tackle a 5,000 vertical foot trek up a mountain in Olympic National Park to see a glacier. And I also was able to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon … and back out.

In the last few years that I covered the Miss Arkansas Pageant there was an ad in the program with a picture of a woman from about chin to breast. It said, “Enhance Your Confidence.” Even though it was tastefully done, the model didn’t even get to have her face in the picture. All she was, was breast.

It made me sad because many people take their young daughters to the pageant. What was this program telling them? It was telling them they needed surgical adjustments to be more confident and attractive to men. That was where their confidence was going to come from.

And I like to use my body to “enhance my confidence” too. I am guilty of that. But my confidence doesn’t come from my physical looks. It comes from my physical ability. What I can I accomplish with my body.

Women’s bodies are amazing. We have a higher tolerance of pain than men. Life is created within us and we are able to grow a five or 10 pound tiny human and push out a quite small area.

But my favorite part of my body is my brain. I am able to think, reason, love, and do so much with it. So I applaud the Miss America Organization. And I love that the Miss Americas of the future are going to be known for so much more than a pretty face.

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