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Looking for Miss America: A Pageant's 100-Year Quest to Define Womanhood

Looking for Miss America: A Pageant's 100-Year Quest to Define Womanhood

by Margot Mifflin


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Winner of the Popular Culture Association’s Emily Toth Best Book in Women’s Studies Award

From an author praised for writing “delicious social history” (Dwight Garner, The New York Times) comes a lively account of memorable Miss America contestants, protests, and scandals—and how the pageant, now in its one hundredth year, serves as an unintended indicator of feminist progress

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 current incarnation as a scholarship competition, the pageant has indexed women’s status during periods of social change—the post–suffrage 1920s, the Eisenhower 1950s, the #MeToo era. This ever–changing institution has been shaped by war, evangelism, the rise of television and reality TV, and, significantly, by contestants who confounded expectations.

Spotlighting individuals, from Yolande Betbeze, whose refusal to pose in swimsuits led an angry sponsor to launch the rival Miss USA contest, to the first black winner, Vanessa Williams, who received death threats and was protected by sharpshooters in her hometown parade, Margot Mifflin shows how women made hard bargains even as they used the pageant for economic advancement. The pageant’s history includes, crucially, those it excluded; the notorious Rule Seven, which required contestants to be “of the white race,” was retired in the 1950s, but no women of color were crowned until the 1980s.

In rigorously researched, vibrant chapters that unpack each decade of the pageant, Looking for Miss America examines the heady blend of capitalism, patriotism, class anxiety, and cultural mythology that has fueled this American ritual.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781640092235
Publisher: Catapult
Publication date: 08/04/2020
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 1,128,566
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Margot Mifflin is the author of Looking for Miss America, Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo, and The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman. She has written for publications including The New York Times and The New Yorker. Find out more at margotmifflin.com.

Table of Contents

Introduction: American Beauties 3

1 Bathing Beauties 11

2 Dreamers 44

3 Seekers 67

4 Achievers 93

5 Resisters 122

6 Trailblazers 151

7 Iconoclasts 177

8 Believers 206

9 Survivors 234

Acknowledgments 249

Notes 253

Bibliography 277

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