When the 51 contestants of the 2017 Miss Teen USA pageant take the stage in Phoenix this weekend, they won’t be wearing swimsuits. For the second year in a row, that traditional category will have been replaced with “Active Wear.” But the body-positive activists who cheered this move last year might not be so thrilled when they see who is sponsoring the segment this year: Yandy, the brand previously best known for selling risqué Halloween costumes.
“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 Miss Universe Organization, said in a memo sent to USA Today in 2016. “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.”
To that end, the 2016 contestants, who are 14 to 19 years old, competed in sports bras and leggings or shorts provided by Tapout (the preferred brand of the WWE). A spokesperson for Miss Teen USA told Yahoo Style that the shift to active wear continues to receive positive feedback from fans, former titleholders and contestants.
For 2017, the pageant partnered with Yandy, the same company that provided the swimwear for Miss USA in May. Last week, some of the contestants made a video wearing Yandy activewear while working out and goofing off in a locker room. It’s a convincing depiction of young women hanging out at the gym.
— Miss USA (@MissUSA) July 17, 2017
The tweet from Miss Teen USA showing this video links to a Miss Teen USA page on Yandy.com. On it, the models are wearing similar outfits, but many of them don’t exactly look as if they’re there to exercise. They are all in the same come-hither poses as the models elsewhere on the site, where Yandy.com sells micro bikinis and princess lingerie costumes.
Is this somehow a contradiction of the Miss Teen USA tagline, “Confidently Beautiful”? Not according to Yandy CEO Thom Brodeur-Kazanjian.
“Something I’ve always found perplexing is the polarization of the topic of women’s empowerment and women’s sexuality or even the mere expression of the latter,” he tells Yahoo Style in an email. “Are we to assume that sexy women aren’t empowered? Is it true that empowered women aren’t sexy? We don’t think so.”
At the same time, he says the company understands the need to protect Miss Teen USA’s younger viewers. The products featured as part of Yandy’s Miss Teen USA partnership are “carefully curated,” and the page contains no navigation leading to the rest of the site, he noted.
Brodeur-Kazanjian also notes that while Yandy isn’t going to stop selling the specialty apparel that has made it successful, the company’s fastest-growing divisions are in everyday intimates, swimwear, loungewear, and activewear. In all categories, he says, Yandy aims to appeal to more than one type of woman.
“The key themes here are: body inclusivity, unifying of women of all shapes, sizes, races, and walks of life, and empowerment — ‘owning’ your sexy comes down to you loving who you are and all that is beautiful and remarkable about you,” he says. “Working with the Miss Teen USA Competition this year sends an important message to our customers — who are predominately 17 to 30 year olds, and that is our company is growing and is offering more in everyday apparel categories than we have historically, and we want you to know that.”
The Miss Teen USA semifinals will stream live on Facebook at 10 p.m. ET on Friday, followed by the finals at 9 p.m. ET on Saturday.
Read more from Yahoo Style + Beauty: