The Miss Universe Organization Is By Women, For Women

The pageant, which will be cohosted by Olivia Culpo on Jan. 14, will look different than it has the past 70 years.
Miss Universe Harnaaz Sandhu of India waves onstage at the 70th Miss Universe competition.

Miss Universe Harnaaz Sandhu of India waves onstage at the 70th Miss Universe competition.

Miss Universe is changing history on a global level. For almost its entire 71-year history, the franchise had been owned primarily by men (including, at one stretch, by Donald Trump). Last October, after Thailand-based media company JKN Global Group purchased the brand, Anne Jakrajutatip became the first female owner of the Miss Universe Organization (MUO).

Jakrajutatip is a billionaire businesswoman and is a passionate and dedicated advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights. (She is a transgender woman.) According to InStyle, her goal for the newly acquired brand is to become the No. 1 global women’s empowerment platform and rewrite the stereotypical and misogynistic narrative that surrounds beauty pageants at all levels.

Her first action item was hand-picking an all-female team. Last January, Amy Emmerich, former president and CCO of Refinery29, was tapped to be CEO.  She joined MUO president Paula Shugart, who has more than 24 years with the franchise.

“I was very unsure at first,” Emmerich told InStyle about being offered the position. “The brand is really misunderstood in the U.S. still, but it is the Super Bowl for many countries, and experiencing the pageant and meeting the women really touched me in a big way.” 

Emmerich’s friends were surprised when she accepted the job. No one expected her, a feminist, to do be part of something that had a reputation for being quite the opposite. Emmerich recognized that with 23 million followers on social media, the MUO is a “global platform like none other that allows for conversations about the rights of women across the world.”

Under this new leadership team, the pageant eligibility rules have been amended. All women—including those who are transgender, mothers, pregnant, married or divorced—between the ages of 18 to 28 are now allowed to compete in the Miss Universe pageant system.

This year’s pageant takes place in New Orleans on Jan. 14, and will look different than it has for the past 70 years. SI Swimsuit model Olivia Culpo (the 2012 Miss Universe) will cohost alongside The Real star Jeannie Mai Jenkins. With almost 90 women competing for limited screen time, the MUO needed to find another way to allow the contestants, who are now called “candidates” to tell their stories. Each woman will receive a “blank canvas” cape to personalize with a message or in a way that is close to their heart or country. The capes will be worn during the swimwear portion of the show and auctioned off at the end. 

The event will feature a more diverse panel of judges than ever before, consisting of powerful women, from CEOs to models to rappers. Former Swim Search contestants Mara Martin and Olivia Jordan and journalists Myrka Dellanos and Emily Austin are on the selection committee.

“From now on, you will feel the feminine energy coming off the screen when you watch,” Emmerich said. “This isn’t a competition, but a celebration of femininity and female power, and you’re going to feel it!”

The 71st annual Miss Universe competition is available to stream on Roku.

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Ananya Panchal


Ananya Panchal is a NYC-based Lifestyle & Trending News writer at SI Swimsuit. Before joining the Swim team, the Boston University Alum worked for culture & entertainment beats at Bustle, The San Francisco Chronicle and the TODAY Show. When Ananya is not writing or doom-scrolling on social media, she can be found playing sudoku, rewatching One Tree Hill or trying new restaurants. She's also a coffee and chocolate (separately) enthusiast.