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Girlhood, Beauty Pageants, and Power

Trailer Park Royalty


Elisabeth B. Thompson-Hardy

Girlhood, Beauty Pageants, and Power: Trailer Park Royalty explores the phenomenon of child beauty pageants in rural communities throughout the American South. In a bricolage of post-structural feminism, critical ethnographies, critical hermeneutics, and cultural studies lenses, this book analyzes how the performance of participants—most from a lower socio-economic bracket—and the power exercised by beauty pageant culture work to formulate girls’ identities. Girlhood, Beauty Pageants, and Power also examines how depictions in popular culture through film, videos, documentaries, and television shows add to the dialogue. Author Elisabeth B. Thompson-Hardy suggests rural pageant culture works to create girlhood identity and shapes the way participants view the world and themselves—through intricate cultural work in terms of gender and class. This book is intended for students and teachers who are interested in dissecting rural girlhood and development, Southern American beauty standards, and the effect of the media on girls’ identities.

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Perhaps it is due to the fact that the first recorded beauty pageant in Spa, Belgium, in 1888 was held on my birthday, September 19, that I am fascinated with pageantry and find myself in the midst of this study. Or maybe it comes from my exposure to the subculture of pageants in rural Georgia—as I am living in a town of 4000 people with 5 dance studios and a pageant every weekend at the 4-H Clubhouse, the local City Auditorium, the ballroom of a local hotel, or the mall 30 miles away. Or perhaps it stems from the images in popular culture that state “she’s Miss America, and I’m just the girl next door…” among other things. As I ponder these things and possible reasons for my interest, I am reminded of the phenomenon that continues in rural communities throughout the Southeast—most specifically in Georgia. Do the girls who participate in these weekend pageants one can find throughout the Southern states do so because they want to stand apart—or do they participate for that “one-in-a-million” opportunity to gain fame and fortune?

The pageants I refer to are not the Miss America or Miss USA systems, nor are they quite the large-scale “JonBenet Ramsey-esque” pageants seen on television back in the late 1990s and continuing to this←xiii | xiv→ day as the story of her murder resurfaces. No, these are the festival and fair pageants, the pageants perpetuated by small groups and civic...

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