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Watch a Clip from the Glory Days of the Pageant Swimsuit Competition

Things were cringey yet compelling in 1981.

It’s that time of year you’ve been counting down on your calendar: pageant season. Who will be deemed most beautiful in each of all those many nations? Who will hit the high notes in the talent portion? And how did Savvy “Miss Arkansas” Shields, newly crowned winner of Miss America, get away with such a bipartisan answer when grilled about the nation’s two presidential candidates?

And what about that swimsuit component, eh? Just this summer, Miss Teen USA bid the swimwear section farewell, though some—Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas among them—defend the scant getup as a celebration of confidence in one’s skin. 

But let’s not worry ourselves with the future of this tradition, and instead harken back to the simpler, purer days of pageants. This swimsuit competition in the 1981 Miss USA showcase, emceed as usual by a fully clothed man, has the feel of a glitzy meat auction. France’s annual Salon International de l’Agriculture has got nothing on old-school Miss USA, whose contestants descend a beautiful staircase while their name, height, and weight are announced.

Height and weight announcements are no longer part of the proceedings for today’s aspiring pageant Misses, but the swimsuit competition continues to be a component of Miss USA, Miss America, and, of course, Miss Universe.

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