The Pageant Politic: Race and Representation in American Beauty Contests and Culture Open Access

Fisher, Danica Camille Tisdale (2012)

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The Pageant Politic: Race and Representation in American Beauty Contests and Culture

The beauty pageant stage has been considered an insignificant space, void of any real or considerable meaning. From the bathing beauty contests of the 1920's, to the most recognized and consistent American beauty ritual--the Miss America Pageant--most critical thought has assailed the triviality of beauty pageants. Burgeoning critical treatments of beauty pageants have emerged in an attempt by scholars to more carefully consider the cultural production of these performative spaces and to illuminate the ways in which meaning is produced through the presentation of "ideal" bodies. This study focuses on the precarious position that sociologist Maxine Leeds Craig believes bodies of difference occupy--as objects of both ridicule and celebration--and considers what happens when marginalized bodies enter traditional pageant spaces as well as the ways in which the pageant model has been subverted in particular instances to challenge exclusionary representations of feminine ideals. This study works to suggest an understanding of the pageant model as an active space for the production of cultural meaning, and illuminates its use as a tool to dismantle exclusionary definitions of true womanhood while remaining critical of the ability of such models to be completely and universally subversive or transformative. This project does not argue against the inherent racism and sexism of beauty pageants, but complicates the matter in ways that encourage scholars of beauty, the body, and popular culture to reconceptualize the pageant stage and consider how the model has, at times, been turned on its head by marginalized communities in order to challenge and redefine notions of the body beautiful.

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Chapter 1...15

Chapter 2...48

Chapter 3...84

Chapter 4...116

Works Cited...154

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