Here She Is: The Complicated Reign of the Beauty Pageant in America

Beacon Aug. 2020. 256p. ISBN 9780807083284. $25.95. SOC SCI
Sociologist Friedman (Brown Univ.; Playing To Win) offers a fresh examination of American beauty pageant culture that weaves history, sociology, and a touch of personal memoir. Friedman begins with the 19th-century rise of baby shows and beauty contests alongside the public pageantry of women’s rights activism. Then the author turns with the 20th century to focus on the Miss America pageant—because of its cultural dominance and because Friedman’s mother, Pamela Eldred, was crowned Miss America 1970; family history provides a narrative anchor. Alongside a chronological investigation into the Miss America pageant from 1921 to the present, Friedman weaves in discussions of regional and state competitions, child beauty pageants, and other pageant variations. She also considers feminist engagement with pageant culture, exploring how the practice has (and has not) changed over the past century. Friedman acknowledges that competing in beauty pageants has historically been “one of the whitest and most ableist and heteronormative things a young woman could do”; individual women have used pageants to access opportunity by benefiting from, rather than working to dismantle, dominant cultural norms.
VERDICT An accessible study of beauty pageant culture, this is an engaging, thought-provoking read.
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