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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 Four: Pageant Culture, Media, Social Class, and Power


Chapter Four

Pageant Culture, Media, Social Class, and Power

I did not grow up in the midst of the pageant culture—or at least I did not think I did until I began a study of it. Now, I realize just how much a part of my life that the beauty pageant—and the culture that surrounds it—has been and continue to be. I have spent years learning about it—both directly and indirectly.

I remember watching the Miss America and Miss USA pageants on television each year—and calling my friends during commercials to comment on Miss Tennessee’s hair, or Miss Iowa’s dress, or how Miss Texas would certainly be in the top 3, because Miss Texas always did well. And I remember being able to go backstage at the Miss South Carolina pageant in the early 1980s, as one of my mother’s friends was the state pageant director. Seeing all the beautiful girls and watching them from the other side of the stage was eye-opening and awe-inspiring. I was envious of their beauty, grace, talent and glamour. I wanted to be like them.

For me, it was the whole package—the clothes, the hair, the make-up, the cameras, the lights, the stage and the attention. All of these women had beautiful headshots and they spent much time signing their autographs and giving them to their adoring public—mainly←119 | 120→ throngs of little girls, wide-eyed at their presence. I...

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