Looking for Miss America by Margot Mifflin

From an writer praised for writing “delicious social records” (Dwight Garner, The New York Times) comes a energetic account of memorable Miss America contestants, protests, and scandals―and the way the competition, nearing its one centesimal anniversary, serves as an unintended indicator of feminist development Looking for Miss America is a fast-paced narrative history of a curious and contradictory institution. From its start in 1921 as an Atlantic City tourist draw to its modern-day incarnation as a scholarship competition, the competition has indexed girls’s status all through periods of social change―the post-suffrage 1920s, the Eisenhower 1950s, the #MeToo era. This ever-changing group has been shaped by means of war, evangelism, the rise of tv and reality TV, and, significantly, via contestants who confounded expectations. Spotlighting individuals, from Yolande Betbeze, whose refusal to pose in swimsuits led an angry sponsor to release the rival Miss USA contest, to the primary black winner, Vanessa Williams, who acquired death threats and turned into protected by using sharpshooters in her place of origin parade, Margot Mifflin shows how girls made hard bargains even as they used the pageant for monetary advancement. The competition’s history includes, crucially, the ones it excluded; the infamous Rule Seven, which required contestants to be “of the white race,” changed into retired within the 1950s, however no women of colour had been crowned till the 1980s. In fastidiously researched, vibrant chapters that unpack every decade of the festival, Looking for Miss America examines the heady combination of capitalism, patriotism, magnificence anxiety, and cultural mythology that has fueled this American ritual.


If you’ve overlooked the Miss America pageant as nothing but frivolous cheesecake, you are not alone. But consider taking a closer observe this cultural artifact, which has been around almost as lengthy as girls have had the right to vote. In Looking for Miss America: A Pageant’s 100-Year Quest to Define Womanhood, historian Margot Mifflin encourages us to view Miss America as more complicated than simply sashes, hairspray and excessive heels.

If you’ve not noted the Miss America pageant as nothing but frivolous cheesecake, consider taking a closer examine this cultural artifact.

Miss America has by no means represented all American women—and that was sort of the point. From its beginnings on the Atlantic City boardwalk in 1921, the pageant has rewarded an idealized model of young womanhood: white, childless, unmarried, skinny and beautiful (by using the beauty standards of the day).

As patriarchal white America ceded its control of women and those of color, Miss America slowly changed along side the culture. The festival grappled with social revolution regarding girls’s “ideal” bodies, sexual expression, sexual orientation, educational opportunities, gender roles and careers. “The competition has been in steady dialogue with feminism, even though rarely in step with it,” writes Mifflin.

Mifflin’s deep research, severa aid texts, nuanced analysis and punchy writing weave a fascinating account. (The records of the bathing in shape part of the festival is specifically fascinating.) She interviewed over a dozen beyond festival contestants, pageant employees, a decide and others for a comprehensive behind-the-scenes narrative.

Even if you’ve by no means watched a unmarried Miss America festival on TV, every body with an hobby in American records would advantage from this deep dive into a complicated cultural figurehead.


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