Hawaiian Tropic Bikini Pageants Are Officially Over, Thankfully

Piper Weiss, Shine Staff

Not long ago, Hawaiian Tropic was known fortwo things: tanning oil and beauty pageants. Those days are over.

On Tuesday, the brand announced the retirement of their famous bikini contests, first launched in 1983. That means no more oiled up fitness models in neon string bikinis competing for the title of Miss Hawaiian Tropic on beaches across the world.

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The reason? Women. “The bikini contest wasn’t resonating with our target female consumers,” Danielle Duncan, Hawaiian Tropic Brand Manager, tells Yahoo Shine. With women making up 70 percent of the brand's users, according to a report in the The New York Times, that was a problem. The solution for Tropic's marketing team was to reinvent product offerings "to appeal to today’s Hawaiian Tropic women.”  

That means saying goodbye to yesterday's Hawaiian Tropic women. Known as a slightly raunchier version of Miss Universe, the Tropic pageants rose to popularity in the '90s, but faded from a national spotlight in recent years. Since 2008, the contests have moved from the U.S. to an international setting—but not before spawning some disturbing “Little Miss” and “Teen Miss” spin-offs. The “shark-jumping” moment came in 2006, when the brand opened Hawaiian Tropic Zone, a Times Square Hooters-style restaurant featuring bikini-clad waitresses. But Tropic’s days of catering to the male libido are over.

Now the company is launching a national search for a new spokeswoman. They’re moving the contest off the beach and onto Hawaiian Tropic’s Facebook page. Beginning May 6, contestants can submit a photo and some background information on their interests, and let Facebook fans vote on a winner.

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Don’t expect anyone to win with a bikini shot. The company’s female-centric Facebook page currently reads like a yogurt commercial. There are inspirational quotes, updates on skin safety, and even a nod to the Ryan Gosling 'Hey Girl' meme.

The brand’s product focus, meanwhile, has turned from tanning oil to sunblock. “The modern Hawaiian Tropic woman,” as Duncan calls her, “still loves to spend time in the sun, but also understands the importance of sun care in helping to keep her skin healthy.”

If Hawaiian Tropic used to promote undressing, it’s now about covering up. The company hopes the new spokesperson will reflect that “sensibility” by “enjoying the sun and keeping skin healthy.”

The new winner will appear in Hawaiian Tropic ads and land a free tropical vacation. Compare that to winners of the old bikini contests, who, according to one report in 2005, received, among other prizes, a four-night stay at the Florida home of company founder Ron Rice.

Back then, the real prize for winning the contest was an unofficial entry point into modeling and hosting gigs for Playboy and the WWE. Tropic's male fan base may have been strong, but they weren't in it for the sunscreen. It didn't help that the brand's image was tarnished by sexual harassment lawsuits.  In the late '90s, founder Ron Rice was sued by a former employee (Rice denied the claims). Later, multiple claims of sexual assault and harassment, reported by waitstaff, haunted Hawaiian Tropic Zone until the restaurant finally closed in 2010. 

The bikini contests—staged a final time in Australia in 2012—were the last vestige of an era when men mattered more to advertisers. Ironically, Rice told Elle Girl in 2005, he started the swimwear pageants “to promote the female market.” My, how that female market has changed.

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