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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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Chapter One: Rural Beauty Pageant Culture, Girlhood, and Power


Chapter One

Rural Beauty Pageant Culture, Girlhood, and Power

Southern rural beauty pageants are very much a part of Southern culture. They offer a view into the ways female identity is formed -more specifically, Southern female identity: Who counts as feminine? What does it mean to be a specifically feminine member of a group? How are social concerns—such as racism, multiculturalism, economic standing, and values—mediated in and through girls’ bodies on a public stage? What are the social and cultural conditions through which particular kinds of representations can occur?

Our modern culture focuses on questions and concerns about identity and its formation, along with the intensity and speed of identity change. The evidence of our national focus on identity and difference are seen in the social issues of minority equity, immigration, sexual orientation, and social programs such as welfare. In each of these, identification with a certain group and the difference of that group from others is what is at question; as a culture, we are quick to define the criteria of what it means to be of a certain gender, to be of a certain race, or to be of a certain class. All of these areas are also defined and discussed (or silenced) on the beauty pageant stage. Sarah Banet-Weiser (1999)←1 | 2→ states “in contemporary popular culture, unruly celebrities and riotous popular events force our attention and our fascination (if by nothing other than their sheer ubiquitous presence) over...

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