Gretchen Carlson Addresses Miss America Changes Amid Backlash

Paula Lobo/ABC
Gretchen Carlson on 'Good Morning America'

After taking steps to minimize judging based on contestants' appearance — including the competition's removal of the swimsuit portion — the chairwoman defended herself against criticism.

Gretchen Carlson defended herself and the Miss America board of directors during a Monday appearance on Good Morning America. In response to criticism that she forced the organization into removing the swimsuit portion of the annual competition, Carlson explained why she is steering judging away from contestants' appearance despite backlash. 

"This board unanimously decided we needed to move this program forward," Carlson told GMA's Robin Roberts. 

According to the Wall Street Journal, 22 pageant leaders across the country who participate in Miss America want Carlson removed from her role as chairwoman for her decision to eliminate the swimsuit portion after more than nine decades. Many of Carlson's critics have argued that it allows contestants to showcase their fitness.

However, the former Fox News anchor — who won Miss America in 1989 — doesn't believe that women should be judged based on their physical capabilities.

"We’re working through this in the best way we can," Carlson said of dealing with the backlash. "We believe that physical appearance and beauty and being fit — that is empowering. We’re just not going to judge women on that."

Last month, the Miss America organization confirmed that the swimsuit portion of the competition would end. Since then, Carlson — a vocal supporter of Hollywood's #MeToo and Time's Up movements — has come under fire for leading that decision. Some board members have since resigned in protest.

Carlson took over as chair of Miss America Organization last year, following a December scandal in which emails surfaced showing that CEO Sam Haskell and others made fun of past winners' intelligence, looks and sex lives. Haskell resigned Dec. 23.

Watch Carlson's appearance on GMA below. The upcoming edition of the Miss America competition is set to air on ABC on Sept. 9.

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