MS. REPRESENTATIONS: POPULAR CULTURE, PAGEANTS, AND WOMEN OF
BRITTNEY FLATT MOBLEY
(Under the Direction of John A. Weaver)
Using cultural theory and feminist theory as the theoretical framework, and
various forms of popular culture and face-to-face interviews, I explored the experiences
of a former pageant contestant, current contestant, child contestant, and pageant mom.
The study particularly explored how society perpetuates stereotypical roles of females
through popular culture and beauty pageants. It also examined the suppression of
Southern women through deep traditions and family values, reinforcing conceptions of
their physical beauty and personal characteristics. This study unveiled how self-worth is
directly linked to females‟ success in conforming to the stereotypical views in society
that they are constantly being judged against. The commodification of the female body
was a common theme found throughout the study as females adorn their bodies with
various items to gain approval in society. Furthermore, I explored how the consumption
of the female body oppresses women in the educational realm. Here, the separation of
mind and body does not allow for advancements to be made in a patriarchal society. One
very important theme was the disciplining of the body creates an imprisoned mind. This
separation causes females to resort to competition with one another to advance in a male
dominated society. Similar to beauty pageant contestants, this study also explored how
students are manipulated by society and forced to “learn” using a competitive approach to
The significance of my study is to bring about awareness and uneasiness to the
ways in which females are contained in their stereotypical positions in society, which
fosters strong competition both on the stage and in the classroom. It is my hope that
through this study, the image of the female body will not remain an object to be gazed
upon by the male and to ultimately end the competitive approach to education. I strive to
promote a curriculum that focuses on the body as a whole, including the mind and
emotions, one that offers complicated conversation and reflection. This study is my first
task, a small contribution to the field, in working to promote a cultural change, evening
the playing field for all.
INDEX WORDS: Media, Beauty Pageants, Gender, South, Education, Cultural Theory,
MS. REPRESENTATIONS: POPULAR CULTURE, PAGEANTS, AND WOMEN OF
BRITTNEY FLATT MOBLEY
B.S., Georgia Southern University, 2003
M. Ed., Georgia Southern University, 2004
A Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of Georgia Southern University in
Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree
DOCTOR OF EDUCATION
BRITTNEY FLATT MOBLEY
All Rights Reserved
MS. REPRESENTATIONS: POPULAR CULTURE, PAGEANTS, AND WOMEN OF
BRITTNEY FLATT MOBLEY
Major Professor: John Weaver
Committee: Dan Chapman
Ming Fang He
Electronic Version Approved:
Although this has been a tremendously rewarding experience for me, it was not
done without obstacles along the way. There were times when it seemed as if I would
never see the light at the end of the tunnel. I thank God for being my strength and
guiding me through every day. The opportunity for me to embark on this journey is due
to my parents‟ support throughout my college career and their never-ending desire to help
me achieve my educational, professional, and personal dreams. I could not have picked
two better people to be my biggest fans. To my supportive husband, Travis, I could not
have accomplished this without your faith and encouragement along the way. I sincerely
appreciate you giving up your time so that I may work in peace and quiet. It is from the
bottom of my heart that I dedicate this to my two wonderful children, Cooper and
Gunner. Thank you for being my sunshine always, especially on days when your
laughter made everything else seem so small. Thank you for embarking on this journey
with me, as both of you sat through several hours of book studies as babies. I hope that
each of you live your life to the fullest, fulfilling all of your dreams. Lastly, to my nieces
Brooke and Cameron, I am so proud of you and am proud to be your aunt. Thank you for
all of the fun times and laughter that you have brought to me. I hope that you will find
the words that I have written helpful as you go through life. I love you all so very much.
First and foremost I would like to thank Dr. John Weaver for his constant
guidance and encouragement. Throughout this process you were always willing to listen
and helped guide me down the correct path. Thank you for the numerous ideas and
suggestions that you gave throughout my doctoral journey. You taught me to challenge
and analyze events and issues in a way that opened my eyes tremendously, while still
remaining true to myself. I appreciate your willingness to help and am thankful for all I
have learned from you. You are truly an amazing teacher and mentor.
To my committee members, Dr. Chapman, Dr. Edenfield, and Dr. He, thank you
for your commitment to my study and for your ideas and suggestions that allowed me to
explore this important topic and challenge the views of society along with strong
Southern tradition. Each of you helped lay the foundation and encouraged me along the
way. Dr. Edenfield, thank you for shaping my writing back in my undergraduate days
and now. You have made a lasting impact through your wisdom, teaching, and sincerity.
Dr. He, thank you for helping me develop this topic and allowing me to go down a not-
so-traditional path. Dr. Chapman, thank you for the numerous ideas you brought to the
table and for challenging me along the way.
To the “Hinesville Mafia”, (my sister Shannon Dasher, Debra Sukaratana, Reggie
Burgess, Chris Connors, and Bridget Townsend) thank you for the never-ending support
when I did not think things were possible. I miss the late nights as we attempted to grasp
and understand the “multitudinous cacophony of voices” we were hearing. Chris and
Bridget, here is to all of the late nights of driving after class, quote searching, trips to the
library, and of course our Starbucks outings. I love you guys and couldn‟t have made it
Sincere appreciation is also extended to those women who allowed me to
interview them for my study. Thank you for sharing your personal feelings and stories in
order to help me conduct this project.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1 SOMETHING UNPREDICTABLE BUT IN THE END IT'S RIGHT……….29
The Final Judgment: Learning to Judge Myself through Pageants..……..31
Coming on Stage..………………………………………………………..47
2 BEAUTY OF THE PAST: MEET ANNE…………..………………………..50
Life Lessons: A Look into Anne's Problem……………………………..50
Girl World versus Boy World…………….…………….………………..51
Big Screen, Big Competition……………………………….……………59
Living the Double Standard…………..…………………….……………65
More than Just Looks?…………………………………………...………68
Big Girls Make You Cry………………………………….…...…………71
Beauty Queens and Drama Queens……………………….………...……76
Help Wanted Needed……………………………………….……………78
Passing on the Crown…………………………………………………….81
3 BEAUTY OF THE PRESENT: MEET ELIZABETH……...………………..85
Life Lessons: A Look into Elizabeth's Problem………………………...85
Cotton Pickin' What?…………………………………………………….93
Learning to be a Good Girl……………...…………………………...…102
Time to Wake Up………………………...…….…………………...…..107
4 BEAUTY OF THE FUTURE: MEET JULIANA AND KAREN…….……113
Life Lessons: A Look into Juliana's Problem…………………….....…113
Living the Glamorous Life……………………………………………...115
Pageants Take the Large Screen…………………………..……………117
Pop Goes Perfection!...............................................................................119
The High Price of Beauty………………………………………………122
In the Hot Seat………………………………………………………….124
Monkey See, Monkey Do…………………………………………...….129
Time for a Change……………………………………………………...136
5 REFLECTIONS FROM THE PERIPHERAL VISIONS …………...……...138
Are We Stuck?………………………………………………………….164
Don't Let it Go Too South: Further Research & Implications………....169
The Body and Emotions as Curriculum in Unison..................................170
Becoming Unstuck: Where I Go From Here……………………….….175
You are the Next Contestant
The comparison of schools and beauty pageants shows strikingly similar
characteristics. These both serve as institutions where the innocence of children is killed
and the joy of learning is demolished. Children are forced to conform to the norms of
society, which perpetuate the ideals of the female body. The body and the mind remain
separate entities while, for females, emphasis is put on the body. Through this study, it is
not my goal to request protection from society, but instead to raise awareness of the
issues in order for true transformation to take place.
In both schools and beauty pageants, constant comparisons are made, escalating
the competiveness of individuals. Scores are given by judges, who are often not the most
qualified to do so. In schools, standardized testing regulations are pushed down through
the government. Many of the decision-makers are disconnected from schools and do not
have a true understanding of maximizing student learning. Many politicians are
successful businessmen and lawyers having no experience in education. Stress is put on
both teachers and students to meet the minimum standard in order to achieve adequate
yearly progress. No consideration for individual needs or learning styles is explored.
Although teachers may truly care for students and desire to meet their learning needs,
they are often unable to address them to the fullest as budget cuts have increased class
sizes and taken away extra help such as paraprofessionals. All that matters is the number
that appears after perfected bubbles have been scored. The testing companies come out
on top as millions of dollars are wasted on the testing process. Neither the testing
companies nor the government officials spend time in classrooms and truly understand
the needs of students. Sadly, teachers are restricted in what they can do to help students.
A couple of years back, I worked with a class of struggling first graders. One of my
students needed more remediation from outside resources and in order to obtain these
services for him, I had to document failing scores in all of the major academic subject
areas. This was difficult for me as I watched him struggle and get frustrated over nearly
every assignment he had to independently complete. The process was lengthy and during
that time, my student fell further behind. My hands were tied as I had to document his
failure without providing assistance to him. In my school, teachers with high
standardized test scores were recognized and rewarded. After the test scores came in, my
principal placed a printout of every teacher‟s overall test scores in our mailboxes. This
frustrated me as I worked with struggling learners and did not have flawless scores like
some of my colleagues. Many teachers teach to the test and resort to teacher-proof,
scripted materials to ensure successful test scores. Just as government officials and
testing companies are not the most qualified to judge students, in pageants the judging
panel normally consists of former title holders, business owners, and in the national
arena, celebrities and athletes. Score sheets allow for judges to rate each contestant on a
scale from one to ten. Trying to succeed, contestants dump money into the laps of
pageant producers and cosmetic companies.
Either in a desk or on the runway, students and beauty pageant contestants are
required to compete in different categories. In school, the categories are defined by
subject matter and in pageants the categories are defined as casual wear, formal wear,
swimsuit, talent, and interview. A low score in any one of these categories results in the
failure of the individual. Perfection is demanded and expected, therefore, creativity is
hindered. Teachers resort to rote memorization of facts and contestants rehearse typical
answers to interview questions to ensure success. In both instances, the ones being
judged are preparing for what the judges want to see. When the ultimate goal is
perfection, competition is apparent. A competitive environment is fostered as individuals
aim to make the grade in both the school and on the runway.
The problem that exists does not lie with schools or beauty pageants, students or
contestants. It lies in the way in which society has set these up to function as they do.
Schools are not meeting the needs of students. Students are not becoming problem
solvers and critical thinkers. Instead, they are required to memorize information that only
deems them successful on standardized tests. Women are forced to look beautiful and are
constantly being compared to others. In turn, many women‟s self-worth is directly linked
to their success in conforming to the stereotypical views in society that they are
constantly being judged against. These have become the norms in which society
For females, emphasis is placed on the body, not the mind. Females are often
unaware of the injustices pushed down through popular culture, and the current
curriculum in schools does not allow for this exploration. The focus remains on the
achievements of males. Take for example the Georgia Performance Standards for fifth
grade social studies. The standards specifically require students to study 37 people, and
out of those, only 2 are female (Georgia Performance Standards, 2010). This study is an
attempt to bring about awareness to this important topic and to alter curriculum to meet
the needs of all learners. Schools should be a place where females can learn about
themselves and celebrate the advancements made by women. If females are made aware
of the problem, they could challenge the images seen in popular culture and work to bring
about equal opportunities for all.
I employed two theoretical frameworks to help guide and analyze my study of
how society is reproductive in nature and perpetuates stereotypical roles of females
through popular culture and beauty pageants. Society is dominated by males and
therefore, their opinions form the standards by which women are measured. These then
influence different aspects of society such as popular culture and beauty pageants. These
are two strong mechanisms for reproduction, but there are ironic and ample ways that
women can and do resist. Personally, it took taking my place on the pageant stage before
even thinking about the injustices they provide to women. Additionally, as it is explored
later in this study, seeing images through the media may show women alternative
lifestyles and allow them to challenge and resist the stereotypical roles that they have
Looking through the lens of cultural theory and feminist theory, I investigated the
relationship between females, particularly Southern females, and the male-dominated
society in which they function. Theoretically drawing upon the works of Stuart Hall
(1993, 1997), Henry Giroux (1998, 2000, 2006, 2009), and John Weaver (2005) in
cultural theory, and Madeline Grumet (1988, 1994) and bell hooks (2000, 2004) in
feminist theory, specifically allowed me to address the oppression of females in society
and how they have conformed to stereotypical identities through an investigation of
popular culture and interviews.
Cultural theory deals with the study of day-to-day events and how they impact
society. This lent itself to the investigation of how society is reproductive in nature and
perpetuates the stereotypical role of women through popular culture and beauty pageants.
This further allowed for an examination of how the female body is represented. Society
portrays representations of the perfect woman through various means such as pageants
and the media to include movies, television, commercials, magazines, video games, and
music videos. Then women often try to duplicate what they see, trying hard to represent
something that they are not. “Representation is an essential part of the process by which
meaning is produced and exchanged between members of a culture. It does involve the
use of language, of signs and images which stand for or represent things” (Hall, 1997, p.
15). The representations displayed are very meaningful. Although the images seen
represent perfection on the surface, it represents much more than that. Those flawless
images of women represent the power of males in society and their influence to suppress
women into disciplining their bodies and imprisoning their minds. Hence, the female
body is represented by man‟s power. Victoria‟s Secret Angels are ideal examples of
how perfection is displayed. Females with thin, tall bodies and large breast sexily wear
undergarments. When females see these images, many try to reproduce what is seen. It
is this desire to replicate that perpetuates women‟s status through popular culture and
beauty pageants. The body remains the focus while the development of the mind is not
Furthermore, this notion of representation is applied to the commodification of the
female body through pageant sponsorship. Giroux (2000) notes that several pageant
contestants are sponsored by businesses, thus adding an additional image, other than their
own, onto the individual.
The message that often informs such relations is that the identities of the young
girls who enter the pageants become meaningful only when tied to the logic of the
market. What a young girl learns is that “in order to enter [the] contest she must
represent someone other than herself.” (p. 55)
The contestant who is supposed to represent herself is now also represented by someone
else. Her body becomes a commodity as it is tied to a business. Contestants receive
monetary donations as long as they advertise for the company. Ties to large, popular, and
wealthy businesses help the images of the pageant contestants. Even in the local pageant
I participated in, the girls who were sponsored by the big businesses in town tended to
perform better than those who were not. Those sponsored by wealthy lawyers and local
business owners occupied the top spots. The more precise a female represents the
qualities deemed appropriate in a patriarchal society, the more successful she will
become. These images are internalized from a variety of sources as popular culture
works to dispense the stereotypical portrayal of women.
Expanding on Hall‟s concept of representation, Giroux linked the images found
through popular culture with the danger of disappearing childhoods. The images that are
seen are careful depictions of society from a set group. Attempting to conform to these
ideals, the innocence of childhood is killed. As explored by Henry Giroux (1998, 2000),
children are rushed through childhood, forced to dress and act like miniature adults, and
enter in a competition with others. He emphasized that childhood games are disappearing
while parents resort to structured activities such as little league and beauty pageants.
Parents push their children through a fragile time in their lives causing much harm,
wanting them to reproduce the representations seen in popular culture. “Advertising and
fashion photography… also play an important role in marketing children as objects of
pleasure, desire, and sexuality” (Giroux, 1998, p. 36). Children are taken, dressed as
adults, and are unable to live out the joys of a normal childhood. I personally believe that
childhood should be filled with playtime that encourages exploration and friendships, not
dressing and performing as adults. This is a danger to society as future generations are
taught at an early age that it is okay, and even expected, to discipline the body and
imprison the mind. The male‟s consumption of the female body only intensifies the
commodification of it. In his book Stealing Innocence: Corporate Culture‟s War on
Children, Giroux points out, “Only in a culture that represses the evidence of the senses
could child pageantry grow into a $5 billion dollar industry without anyone noticing.
Only in a nation of promiscuous puritans could it be a good career move to equip a six-
year-old with bedroom eyes” (Goldstein in Giroux, 2000, p. 39). Our society is quick to
make consumers out of any and everyone it can while ignoring the dangers it produces.
Parents, who often claim that pageants are great learning opportunities for children, send
the message that in order to make it in this world, they must exaggerate their womanly
features and outperform those around them. Children are deprived of a healthy, joyful
childhood in an attempt to make consumers out of them at an early age. Beauty pageants
have run with the notion of dressing children as adults, furthering the commodification of
the body, and turned it into a large money making industry.
The strong patriarchal bonds of society are hard to break, and popular culture
works to further perpetuate the stereotypical role of females. Magazine ads for Hooters
showcase beautiful, young girls with large breast wearing tan pantyhose and short shorts.
Music videos by performers such as Lady Gaga are so provocative that body parts are
blurred out. Giroux recognizes the power that images such as these have on the lives of
its audience. The power of the media is much greater than some might imagine. It is
here where students gain information and ideas about society and themselves.
“Television, movies, the new technologies of enhanced video/computer games, and of
course, the ubiquitous internet have transformed „culture especially popular culture, into
the primary educational site in which youth learn about themselves, their relationships to
others and the larger world‟” (Giroux in Reynolds, 2003, p. 101-102). Children are able
to see how people are portrayed in the media and come to form their own beliefs about
themselves and where they belong. This is how stereotypes are formed and produced.
Although similar topics may be discussed in school, children trust and take in what they
see and hear from the media. They look up to and idolize the celebrities that are seen as
they attempt to reproduce their looks and actions.
Popular culture holds dangerous stereotypical and oppressive views of women as
a result of being created from the same leaders who rule our patriarchal society. John
Weaver recognizes the dangers of popular culture in perpetuating women‟s status, but he
also proclaims the need to understand and implement it with youth. He understands that
young children learn from popular culture as they look up to celebrities and replicate their
looks and actions. For example, Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen launched a clothing line
that allowed their fans to dress similar to them. Youth are very impressionable, and the
role models that they look up to have a profound effect on their development. “Popular
culture is much more sophisticated in its ability to teach young people and adults what
and how to think” (Weaver, 2005, p. 108). Because popular culture is so powerful in the
way youth think, it is crucial to develop critical, complicated conversations over the
injustices seen in an attempt to end the suppression of women. Without this
conversation, popular culture will continue to reinforce the patriarchal beliefs of society.
Popular culture tends to take the backburner when educators attempt to
understand and develop curriculum. When looking through the Georgia Performance
Standards, the only class that specifically addresses the influence of popular culture is
sociology. This is not offered until high school; hence youth have several years to
internalize the injustices portrayed through popular culture. Popular culture should not
be separated from the curriculum, as it is what students most readily relate to. Popular
culture should be infused into the curriculum in an attempt to allow students to make
connections between it and the content taught through the traditional subjects. It can
supplement the curriculum in order to further investigate the core skills addressed. For
example, when learning about fact and opinion, students could explore commercials and
how exaggerations are made to enhance people‟s opinions. Students are able to tap into
their previous knowledge and make connections with new ideas. As with the previous
example, students are familiar with commercials and by relating it to new concepts that
are required through set curriculums, students are able to relate and make it relevant in
their personal lives.
Popular culture serves as a forum to raise issues that are of concern for young
people, and schools should permit these issues to be developed within the
confines of daily school activities. The cultural studies of education can play a
vital role in creating new approaches to learning that invite young people and
their cultures into the dialogue about what knowledge matters most. Such an
approach to learning need not be done at the expense of eliminating traditional
subjects but rather popular culture can be incorporated into the current curricula
core subjects. (Weaver, 2005, p. 108)
Educators can use all forms of popular culture such as movies, television, music, music
videos, and video games, to their advantage in an attempt to break the cycle of
suppression for women. Implementing it with the core subjects that already exist would
provide students the opportunity to recognize and challenge those beliefs filtered down
through a patriarchal society. This would in turn help to eliminate the competition that
exists both in pageants and in the classroom.
Interestingly enough, the cultural theorists highlighted here are males that shared
common concerns to shift this patriarchal paradigm to one that allows women the ability
to explore the injustices done to them and work to cease the disciplining of the body and
imprisoning of the mind. This is a problem in society, affecting more than just females
striving to operate within. With this in mind, Stuart Hall (1993) welcomed feminism into
cultural studies noting that he and the other theorists were “being good, transformed
men” (p. 104). However, when feminism came, it packed a heavy punch as it targeted
the pressing issues in society with great force. Even those who supported its entrance
into the field were taken aback, holding on to their “fully installed patriarchal power.”
Traditions are hard to break, even for those whom are aware of its injustices. Feminist
theory attempts to attack those issues and traditions that perpetuate the notion of
women‟s status in a male-dominated society.
Popular culture, schools, and family traditions allow females to watch and learn
what their role in society is. Looking at these through a feminist lens helped identify the
inequalities and examine why they exist. Feminist theory explores a wide variety of
topics as it investigates the differences of males and females, celebrates the
accomplishments of females, and seeks out injustices to females.
The analyses and critiques of the 1970s examined the ways gender differences
were produced and maintained in society and in the schools, including the
ramifications for education, educational research, and notions of knowledge and
of the relationship between the knower and the known. (Pinar, Reynolds,
Slattery, & Taubman, 1996, p. 364)
The analysis and critique of this notion has been ongoing for several decades, showing
that females will not end the fight until changes are made. The field will continue this
conversation and move to put an end to the injustices to women in a patriarchal society.
This process must go beyond the fact that differences exist between males and females; it
must investigate why and how society produces these differences. Though women have
equal rights and equal opportunities, images in the media rely on stereotypical images of
women as less capable when compared to men. These stereotypes affect females‟
education and careers as they fulfill stereotypical roles that are deemed appropriate for
them. Once females are made aware of the injustices done to them, challenges can be
made to the current curriculum taught in schools. A standardized, competitive approach
to education does not allow females to question their roles or foster their personal
Tradition plays a large role in the reproduction and suppression of women‟s status
in society. The home and school are places filled with deep tradition that allows women
to learn what their role is. In Conception, Contradiction, and Curriculum, Madeleine
Grumet examined the ways in which males and females reproduce themselves. “I want
to argue that what is most fundamental to our lives as men and women sharing a moment
on this planet is the process and experience of reproducing ourselves” (Grumet, 1994, p.
150). The act of reproducing oneself is a way of socializing the next generation.
Parenting is a great example of this. As a parent, I raise my two sons by the values and
beliefs that I deem important. What is important to me may not hold importance with
another individual. For instance, my sons are required to address adults as either ma‟am
or sir. I was raised that by referring to adults as ma‟am or sir was a way of showing
respect. However, there are many adults who do not reinforce such behavior or
mannerisms. The way in which individuals reproduce themselves plays a large role in
traditions. Certain beliefs, acts, and characteristics are passed down through generations
and many of these become embedded in the youth. Simply put, children learn from their
parents. As individuals fill their specified gender roles, this is internalized by others and
filtered down through society.
Until people are made away of the way in which traditions perpetuate
stereotypical roles of females, the cycle will continue. Females will continue to serve
their husbands, raise children, and tend to the house. It is important to note that some
women may find this fulfilling. It is my personal belief that that is okay. On the other
hand, I find it problematic when females are not aware of the opportunities available for
them. “For Grumet a feminist curriculum theory offered the possibility of transcending
and contradicting those curricular programs and epistemologies which reproduced those
intrapsychic structures developed in culturally constructed asymmetries in parenting and
childbearing” (Pinar, Reynolds, Slattery, & Taubman, 1996, p. 375). Feminist theory is a
light of hope for the end of this reproduction. Females are not bound to predetermined
roles and careers. Several opportunities are available, and schools should serve as the
place where females explore various career options. Society, including schools, is
responsible for the reproduction and suppression of women. This notion is addressed in
the coming chapters as teachers reinforce females for good behavior, politeness, and
being quiet. Females merely fill their roles as expected, unable to advance under the
power of males. Beauty pageants are one way that females fulfill their expected roles in
a patriarchal society. They are judged based on their physical appearance and other
feminine mannerisms. Their success on the stage is linked to how well they portray
femininity. Works such as those by Grumet are voices that will hopefully invoke thought
upon this process, bringing awareness to this sometimes unconscious act.
Tradition allows for reproduction to occur unconsciously. Males and females
know what is expected of them and work to achieve that status, therefore disciplining the
body. Grumet goes on to state that, “The achievement of masculine gender requires the
male child to repress those elements of his own subjectivity that are identified with his
mother. What is male is „that which is not feminine and/or connected with women‟”
(Grumet, 1988, p. 13). Males work to highly distinguish themselves from females.
Whatever is connected to women, men must repress. For example, many women apply
makeup on a daily basis, and this is not done by males. Pink is characterized as a
feminine color so most males turn away from it. The definition of what constitutes males
and females are learned from society and passed down through traditional measures.
This great divide keeps the two sexes separated based on judgments of what comprises
males and females.
The act of judging actually allows the cycle that perpetuates women‟s status
through popular culture and beauty pageants to continue. I propose that as judgments are
passed, the views and opinions of those deemed superior in society reproduce, thus
creating tradition and history. Taking a feminist approach, the judgments made by males
are what is represented through popular culture, homes, and schools. Take for instance in
the book The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love, bell hooks (2004) recalled her
childhood as one where her brother and sisters lived under the shield of her dad who was
very patriarchal in his beliefs. His judgments became the way that she and her siblings
developed. Her brother conformed to his dad‟s stereotypical beliefs after he criticized
and ridiculed him for not acting masculine enough (p. 12). It is by this that “[f]athers
challenge and then judge us – their role in socializing the next generation” (Saslow in
hooks, 2004, p. 47). When parents judge their children, the children will work to please
the parents in order to gain their acceptance. By filling their specified roles, being tough
for boys and being pretty for girls, the children fall victim to stereotypes which ultimately
perpetuate women‟s status. Those who are being judged work hard to please those who
do the actual judging.
When images are seen and reinforced through the media, schools, and homes, that
is what becomes expected from others in society. Critically thinking, who are the ones
who act as judges in society? Yes, everyone in some shape passes judgments on others,
but those we see acting as official judges in society, business owners, administrators, and
even pageant judges, uphold the stereotypical beliefs that exist. Parents and teachers also
act as judges as they judge others and pass their beliefs on to children and students.
Because they serve as role models to youth, adults are highly influential on youth‟s
actions and beliefs. When growing up, my parents raised me as a Southern Baptist. I
conformed to their beliefs because I was expected to do as my parents said. Although I
never quite understood all of their beliefs, I fulfilled my role and never questioned their
judgment. It was not until having a family of my own that I thoroughly looked at my
religion and took ownership of my own beliefs.
The traditions that perpetuate women‟s status have been in the making for several
years. It is not going to be a quick fix. No changes are going to occur instantly.
Achievements will be made through hard work and ambition, providing women with an
eye-awakening experience that fosters uneasiness with the world around them. This is
where the complicated conversations begin.
Beauty, Popular Culture, and Reconcepualizing School Curriculum
The schoolroom and the runway have much in common. Those who enter are in
strong competition with one another, upholding the beliefs formed in a patriarchal
society. When searching for information on the history of beauty, it is obvious that
popular culture focuses on the female body, not mind. Throughout history, women took
drastic measures to look a certain way. Chemicals were used to dye skin and cosmetics
helped create a flawless face. Presently, images of what is deemed acceptable are
plastered for everyone to see. Ads such as Dolce and Gabbana feature half-dressed
females being gawked over by a group of males. Singers such as Beyonce Knowles
flaunt a perfect body on stage while performing provocative dance moves. People are
quick to conform in order to fit in and be socially accepted. Sadly for females, being
beautiful is on the top of the list of their gender expectations. Certain gender
expectations remain because many females are unaware of the stereotypes that push them
into set roles. This allows the issue to continue without being challenged.
The study that follows was an attempt to open dialogue with women of the South
looking into how society is reproductive in nature and perpetuates women‟s status
through popular culture and beauty pageants. The participants for this study were four
White, middle to lower-middle class, Southern females who have participated in beauty
pageants. Their stories provided insight into why females participate in beauty pageants,
allowing their voices to be heard in a different light rather than the rehearsed, scripted
answers given on the stage. Taken off of the stage, both positive and negative aspects of
pageantry were investigated.
Race, although a very important issue, was not taken into account in this study as
the main focus remained on gender. Beauty pageants are still one area in which
segregation remains, particularly in the South. Although there are some African
Americans that enter White pageants and vice versa, there is not an equal representation
from different ethnicities. Miss South Carolina (an African American female), Molesey
Knox Brunson, noted the need for a separate pageant by looking at the differences
between African American females and White females. “„It's different because instead of
conforming to a certain ideal, we are allowed to define beauty on our own. We bring to
the table what we think is beauty. We celebrate our curves. We celebrate our dark
complexion. We celebrate our natural beauty‟” (Brunson in Brown, 2009). While the
majority of White females tend to conform to certain ideals, African American females
celebrate their physical characteristics that make them unique. Similarly, Roger Bobb, a
pageant judge for Miss Black USA, noted that racial tensions are still alive and well.
“„But it is very important that when you are considered a subculture to have your own
reward system. If you try to assimilate, you will always be looking for validation from
the majority group‟” (Bobb in Brown, 2009). Separate beauty pageants allow African
Americans to refrain from assimilating with the majority group, Whites. They are able to
be rewarded for their differences, which remains an important part of their identity.
Because such differences exist, I focused on only one ethnic group for this study. The
differences that exist lend themselves to more studies to further investigate the
differences and similarities amongst beauty pageants of different ethnicities.
This study was designed to deepen the awareness of traditions in the South and
how these produce females who accept without question preset gender roles. It was also
designed to help end the competitive approach to both identity development and
education. Teachers have the power to aid in this awareness, just as Georgia Southern
has done for me.
As educators, it is our responsibility to understand what appeals to students.
Popular culture is very influential in the lives of children, and therefore teachers should
make students aware of the power that it holds instead of letting the cycle continue. By
opening the gate to communication, students would be able to see the injustices within
popular culture and critically think about how they fit into society.
It is, rather, a perspective that constantly reminds us to question the ways in which
students and teachers make sense of and respond to a sexist culture. It is a
situational strategy, one that lets the patterns of discrimination themselves
determine which particular action to take to eliminate bias. (Houston, 1994, p.
Students need to be able to think for themselves and determine how and if to take action
against certain instances. Students should learn about discrimination and stereotypes as
they question their validity. The actual discrimination in popular culture can ironically
help to eliminate bias. Once students are confronted with the discriminations,
complicated conversations can begin. Making students aware is the first step in
combating the traditional way that society has raised and shaped children into followers.
As teachers we work to keep the bonds that bind alive, in order to be heard, in
order to hear, in order to teach and learn. Our interest in our students is, of
course, partly parental; we wish them well, independently of our self-interest. We
want our students to succeed, even if our ideas of success differ from theirs.
When we fight for cultural progress, we do not (only) seek our own narrow
political gain; we fight for what we perceive to be in the public‟s-in the next
generation‟s, the culture‟s-interest. (Pinar, 2004 p. 169)
Teachers obviously want students to succeed and develop into individuals who will fight
for cultural progress. Strong bonds need to be formed with those who have the culture‟s
interest at heart in order for their voices to be heard. Not only will this improve students‟
abilities to think about real world applications, but once this thought process has been
absorbed, it is bound to reproduce just as the many other negative characteristics in
society. Educators must serve as a force to keep the field moving in the right direction
for the good of all.
SOMETHING UNPREDICTABLE BUT IN THE END IT‟S RIGHT
Having grown up primarily in the public school system of Southern Georgia, I fell
victim to the traditional teaching methods employed by teachers who taught to the test. I
rehearsed facts, recalled statistics, labeled diagrams, and yes, was successful on the
standardized tests I was required to take. I do recall a couple of projects that did not keep
my attention, but rather I remember the people who were in my group and the social
conversations that took place. High school was a time of personal development and
socialization. Although I managed to make good grades, it was not until reaching
graduate school that I truly understood what an education should entail.
While attending Georgia Southern for my Bachelor‟s degree in Early Childhood
Education, I spent numerous hours perfecting learning objectives for my scripted lessons,
which normally reached around ten pages in length. When filling in the formula, I took
note of the required student materials, expected outcomes, and level of mastery required.
An example objective looked something like this: Given a picture of a flower, the
student will label the five parts with 100% accuracy. The objective setting for the lesson
was a blanket rule that pertained to all students, not taking into consideration special
learning needs. We were not required to differentiate instruction for students based on
their interests or skill levels. This is what I assumed curriculum development to entail.
Coming into the Curriculum Studies doctoral program, I was oblivious to what
lay ahead. Although I had an inkling of what it was like, thanks to my sister being a year
ahead of me in the program, I did not truly understand until I made the journey for
myself. During the first night of class I came to understand that this was not a curriculum
development degree. My professors spoke openly about the problems with curriculum
development and how it does not address the needs of students. Instead of focusing on
students‟ needs, schools mold them to be successful on standardized tests. My professors
spoke of topics that I originally thought were disconnected from education. For example,
I was unsure of the connection between education and topics such as environmental
racism. A couple of weeks later there were some empty seats where doctoral students
previously sat. Honestly, the radical beliefs of many of my professors were not
welcomed by many students. This was such a different way of looking at education, and
it did take time for me to begin to understand where they were coming from. Throughout
the program we were reminded constantly to give it time and eventually their views
would become clearer. This was a challenging experience as it made me face personal
beliefs and challenge those. What I learned through the program was that I was unaware
of the many factors that shape education. As I spent several semesters of hearing words
that were as foreign to me as French, I eventually got somewhat of a grasp on them. I
was thankful that weekly tests did not quiz me on the vocabulary used in the program; I
would not have done very well. Now as others ask me about the Curriculum Studies
program and what my dissertation topic is, they are stunned when I tell them that I am
doing a study on popular culture, pageants, and Southern women. “What does that have
to do with education?” is the question that I have to immediately answer. Thankfully, as
I will explore in this study, I am able to explain how it has everything to do with
Education is more than learning facts to succeed on a test. Although this is what
society has constructed as a good education, students are left feeling confused and
isolated. Schools and students are compared to one another on numerical scales. Those
who meet the cutoff score are deemed successful, while those falling below do not meet
the standard. While so much emphasis is placed on this to ensure funding and other
support, topics of real concern to students are not addressed. Those such as body image
and personal beliefs should be infused to the curriculum. Not ever learning about these in
school, I internalized images on a daily basis, trying to find out who I was and what I
stood for. I took my spot as a contestant on the pageant stage to help construct my beliefs
about who I was and my capabilities. The following is my story as I explored pageants as
a way of identity development, before I was awakened.
The Final Judgment: Learning to Judge Myself through Pageants
Before facing the world each day, endless time is spent primping; ensuring that
hair, makeup, clothing, and other details are flawless. Mirrors are placed in homes so
that people can see their reflections, how they look to the world around them. Not only
are they found in homes, but most other places we visit daily. Throughout the majority of
the day, however, this reflection is kept from us. So why exhaust over the small details
of the body? The answer is to gain approval from others. A walk down any street,
through any store, through any school, and this answer is apparent. For me, a walk down
memory lane brings back many remembrances of growing up female and how I have
evolved over time.
As a young girl, I paid close attention to my body, just as many others do. I was
often compared to my sister in terms of physical stature; I was the more chunky one who
was one day going to have to watch my weight while she ate everything in sight without
gaining an ounce. Perhaps this was why when I got a little older, I admired the many
women who were plastered on television shows, movies, and magazine spreads. My
sister and I played dress up with our mom‟s high heels, fake jewelry, and clothes that
were too big for us. We would even get lotion bottles and attempt to make our own
perfume by smashing flowers and other aromatic substances. Our secret stash of perfume
stayed in the bottom of our closets so we would not get in trouble. For the most part, my
childhood was just that: a childhood free of worrying about my appearance while just
focusing on being a child. I believe this had a lot to do with the place in which I spent the
early years of my life.
Growing up, my family traveled and lived in various places due to my dad serving
in the Army. Before moving to South Georgia, my family and I lived in Germany,
California, and Kentucky. Of these places I remember Germany the most as I spent my
kindergarten through second grade years there. Looking back on these times, I remember
life being much different in Germany compared to Georgia. In Germany my sister and I
stayed active. We were constantly going to the many activities that our community
offered such as roller skating, skiing, and visiting local fairs. While there, I did cheer on
a cheerleading team. However, the feeling of this was quite different to that of South
Georgia. In Germany everyone who wanted to cheer was guaranteed a spot on the team.
When my dad received orders to move to another station, we were excited about
relocating to the States. Given the choices of New York, Colorado, Kentucky, or
Georgia, we somehow chose Georgia. The town that awaited us was going to provide us
all with a great learning experience. Moving to South Georgia was a real eye opener to
my place in the social ladder and expectations as a young girl in the South.
Hinesville is a small community where all of the “locals” know each other. There
is a large military population, which does not, or actually cannot, compete with the
“locals.” At the age of eight, I was introduced to a whole new ballgame. Although boys
are competitive, I would argue that girls are more competitive with one another than
boys. Girls bragged about clothes, hair, and special trainings they received. All of my
friends participated in some sort of activity outside of school. Many of them took dance
lessons, others played on a traveling soccer team, while others took horseback riding.
Even though I was not interested in any of these, I attempted to play soccer on the
traveling team to fit in with the crowd. My parents took me shopping for all of the soccer
gear the other girls wore. Umbros and Adidas were expensive, but my family was
excited that I was trying something new, especially my dad. My dad always had a
competitive edge and had always wanted me to participate in sports. This was the closest
to having a boy that would ever happen for him. I remember going to the practices and
hating every minute of it. When a ball came my way, I had a natural reaction to grab it,
not hit it with my head. I played a few games before I quit. It was not me. My family
knew it was not me. More than anything I just wanted to fit in and be able to share the
experiences with my “local” friends. I continuously tried different avenues throughout
middle and high school.
As I grew up, the pressures of competition were getting fiercer. Although I did
not take dance lessons, I managed to make the dance team in middle school. I also
competed for the spot of Student Council President in middle school. My strongest
competition was a local boy whose family was very well known, so I was very surprised
when I was the one who won the position. I had done fairly well for myself in middle
school, but would all of that change now that I had to move to high school? Sure, we
were all starting out as freshmen, but the majority of my friends had older siblings there,
which gave them a head start on fitting in. My sister was older than their siblings and
attended the other high school in town. I was on my own.
When preparing for the big transition to high school, I wanted to make the dance
team there more than anything. On game days, the dance team and cheerleaders wore
their uniforms and performed at the pep rallies. I hoped that soon I would be able to wear
my own short uniform of white and gold sequin. Many of the local girls occupied the
spots, and I knew I was up against some strong competition. I practiced day in and day
out. On the day of tryouts I was pleasantly surprised when I heard my name amongst the
four new members they called out to join the team. I was officially “in” with the crowd.
I constantly strived to keep up my reputation and seemed to do as well as I could
for myself. I made honor roll throughout school and was actively involved in many
clubs. Although always on the ballot, I never made anything like prom queen or
homecoming queen. These slots were reserved for the locals. It is important to note that
locals attain power from holding high-paying positions in town as well as holding power
by “my folks knowing your folks.” In a small town it is all about whom you know and
your connections. However, I did make the captain of my school‟s dance team with the
big lawyer in town‟s daughter being co-captain. What a sense of accomplishment I felt!
Now that I was blending in, I attempted to keep this up by trying yet another activity that
was popular with the locals.
Even before becoming my sister-in-law, Christina and I had a good relationship.
We danced together on our high school‟s dance team. As the reigning Liberty County
Junior Miss, she came to me and encouraged me to participate in the pageant. She told
me that she thought I would do very well because of my personality and looks. I figured
I had nothing to lose. Little did I know that I was about to lose all confidence that I had
in myself. In order to know what pageants were all about, I decided to give them a try
Weeks before the pageant I began making preparations. I found outfits that
matched the image of Liberty County Junior Miss. I used fashion to portray a fantasy
world for me. “It is a keystone in the shifting architectures of class, sexuality, national
identity. Fashion is situated within the framework of industrial development; it interacts
with the rise of consumer capitalism and mass-media imagery. It is a way in which
people identify themselves as individuals and collectively” (Ewen, S. & Ewen, E., 1992,
p. 81). I was able to transform my identity to match those around me through changing
my fashion. This allowed me to identify myself as one of them. These clothes were
nothing that I would normally wear. In fact, they were hideous as I accented them with
huge, gaudy jewelry. A local dress boutique rented the dresses for the pageant. They
were very traditional with a Southern flair, right from the set of Gone with the Wind.
Layers of toile were used to make the dress spread out like an opened umbrella. The
emerald green fabric was bright and vibrant.
Since this was my first pageant, I was pretty much clueless as what to do or
expect. I practiced mock interviews and learned the “correct answers” to frequently
asked pageant questions. I worked with Christina on the proper stage etiquette and poise.
I spent days going over the walk with the turns and head pops along the way. A fake
smile was plastered on my face as I pretended to love what I was doing. I attribute this
ability to my participation on the dance team. I could turn it on and off like a lamp.
Christina was amazed at how much of a pageant natural I was. I thought it was easy to
imitate someone. This someone was one accepted and looked up to based on appearance.
The flaws were hidden and everything seemed perfect on the surface. This was not me.
The real me had, and still has, many flaws, which defines my character. I was easy
going, laid back, concerned more about others than myself, and sincere.
Christina also helped me learn to apply makeup. I always wore makeup but not to
where my face looked as though it was plastered. She taught me to pull the corner of my
eye out when putting on mascara. This would allow for the lashes to spread out and look
fuller. My mascara was thick because in pageantry, the more the better. Bright lipstick
would allow judges to see it from their seats. My cheeks looked as if I had a sunburn.
After taking hours to straighten my naturally curly hair, I spent hours having it rolled.
Afterwards it was teased and poofed as high as it could go. This was a far cry from the
The normal me was a fairly common girl. Although I always attempted to look
nice, I never was obsessed with the way I looked. My hair is naturally curly and it
basically does whatever it wants to. I wear makeup but do not go overboard with it. I
wear only a few pieces of small jewelry as they tend to bother me. I was making myself
into a whole other person. All of this fluff was not who I truly was. Unknowingly, I had
been taught by society to change what I was comfortable with and transform myself into
the most appealing person I could be. I had given into society‟s demands.
However, as the pageant approached, I felt very confident in myself. There were
a total of thirty-one girls competing for the crown. The day started off with interviews. I
went from table to table, talking to the judges. The interview questions were exactly as I
had practiced. The typical questions such as why I felt I would make the best Liberty
County Junior Miss were asked. I felt that I did very well and spoke honestly, while still
ensuring to say what they wanted to hear, when answering the questions. I typically do
well talking with people, so this was not an area of concern for me.
On the stage I did not miss a beat. I smiled the fakest smile I ever had and walked
with great poise. My turns were perfect, and I felt as if I nailed everything. After all the
contestants had their time in the spotlight, we gathered backstage to hear the top ten
names called out. As the names were called out, I somehow did not hear mine. The
thing was I did everything perfectly. I stood on the stage in front of a large audience
feeling like a fool. Although I was fake before, now was the time I had to pretend the
most. I hugged friends who made the cut and smiled the biggest smile for them. It is
noteworthy to say that all those who made the cut were of well-known, established, local
families. Inside I was hurt, sad, and angry. I felt defeated and embarrassed. All of the
locals, families with deep roots who were born in raised in my hometown, were there to
watch as I failed. My family was also there to witness my shortcoming. They were also
hurt, but not because of me. Watching a family member hurt was difficult as well, and
there was nothing they could do about the outcome. Their words of encouragement were
exactly what I needed at the time. I knew that regardless of how others judged me, I
would always be the winner with them. Being in this pageant discouraged many of my
thoughts about myself and my capabilities. I was very self conscious about my looks and
my body. I was constantly looking for faults within.
I absolutely dreaded going to school the following Monday. I wanted to pretend
as if nothing had happened. Humility surrounded me. These local pageants remain the
big talk for a long period of time. My self-esteem began to go down. My “friends” who
did well in the pageant began to act differently towards me. The competition among girls
in high school was fierce. Competitive by nature, I was not ready to give in. I was very
self-conscious about my looks and my body. Being in this pageant not only made me
aware of my faults but made me search for ways to fix them.
I was never happy with my teeth and hated to smile. The space between my two
front teeth bothered me tremendously. When I went for my initial appointment at the
orthodontist‟s office I was told that the muscle in my mouth was longer than it needed to
be, therefore causing the gap. If I didn‟t get it surgically removed, the gap would
reappear even after braces. I begged my parents for both the surgery and braces. I
suffered through the surgery and shortly afterwards got braces during my sophomore year
of high school, one year after the pageant. After getting them off, I got my teeth
bleached. My mom bought a tanning salon, and I soon looked as if I went to the beach
daily. My parents always tried to do their best for me in order to keep up with the locals,
and that I did. Although my parents aimed to make me feel good, this may not have been
the best thing for them to do. However, they, too, were influenced by society and gave
me the essentials to compete with others. At that time, I felt better about myself and gave
my town a run for its money. I began to see how things in my hometown operated and
realized my failure was not solely based on my appearance in the pageant.
About this time I convinced myself that I could not live from day to day based on
the observations of five judges. I was the person who had to judge myself on the inside,
not them. I knew that I held beauty inside myself, and I was not going to let them stop
me from showing it. Instead of taking their judgments as criticism as I had done, I
decided to make a stepping stool out of them. I knew that I had a loving family to
support me, and I did not need a title, crown, or banner to show me that I was special. No
longer did I feel the need to become more than what I already was. “In wanting to
become more than we are, and in sometimes acting as if we were already superhuman or
divine, we risk despising what we are and neglecting what we have” (Smith, 2005, p.
189). I realized that I had all that I needed at that time.
Without the title of Liberty County Junior Miss, I still managed to do well for
myself. Throughout high school I stayed involved and managed to graduate number
eight in my class. I was very relieved at the end of my senior year in high school. The
pettiness of high school was getting old, and I was ready to start a new chapter in my life.
I had learned more about Hinesville and became aware of the horrors of a small town.
Many things are given to people based on who their people were rather than their
qualifications. Locals were always networking, never for true friendships, but for what
was convenient for them at the time. For the most part, when moving to college, no one
cares who anyone is or who anyone‟s parents are. That‟s what I was ready for.
I was awarded several scholarships for college and decided that Georgia Southern
University would be the place to further my education. Although I was away from
Hinesville, the previous pageant that I participated in always stayed with me somewhere
in the back of my mind. I believe that it is difficult for anyone to take such a blow to
their self-esteem and completely dismiss it. My not placing continued to bother me as I
still questioned myself. My roommate, who was my best friend from high school, and I
were watching the Miss USA pageant on television. After making our own personal
judgments of the contestants, we decided that there is nothing that they had that we did
not. Even though I knew what I was doing, it was hard not to pass judgments on others.
Society has made it second nature. This prompted us to look into the Miss Georgia USA
pageant. I believed this was the reassurance I needed for myself that I could do this
whole pageant business. That is me. If I get knocked down, although I can come to
terms with it for a while, my competiveness with myself will not allow me to settle. This
one would be different because contestants came from all over the state, alleviating the
majority of the local pull contestants had in the previous pageant. However, did I need to
heal my wound caused by judging with being judged again? Why is this acceptance from
others so important? I needed bodily affirmation of others to see the value in myself.
Even though I was aware of what was going on, I could not escape it. I, too, was
influenced by societal norms. There I went again.
I filled out the paperwork and sent in my photograph. When having my pictures
taken, I did not do anything fancy, wearing my hair and makeup as usual. Although I
straightened my hair, this was normal for my high school and college years. I soon got
my acceptance letter back in the mail. The pageant fee was right at nine-hundred dollars,
so I immediately began looking for sponsors. I typed up a letter and went around to
different businesses. I quickly attained the nine-hundred dollars and was ready to go.
The message that often informs such relations is that the identities of the young
girls who enter the pageants become meaningful only when tied to the logic of the
market. What a young girl learns is that “in order to enter [the] contest she must
represent someone other than herself.” (Giroux, 2000, p. 55)
I never much thought of the sponsorship in this way, as a commodification of the body,
but the individual is also a reflection on the business being represented. The contestant
no longer represents herself, but rather the business that footed the bill for her
participation. Generally, those participants who have the big name sponsors tend to do
well in pageants. Even in pageants, money talks. My dad was not a lawyer, and his firm
did not sponsor me. Many small businesses donated, though none of these businesses
would be known to others not living in Hinesville.
In addition to the entry fee, I was also required to buy a swimsuit, evening gown,
jewelry, and shoes. The materials that are required for a pageant are expensive. Large
amounts of money are spent on making young girls look like licentious adults. These
acts are reinforced, not typically criticized, in society. Although some of the items can be
reused, many regular pageant contestants will not reuse them. It is not worth the risk of
another pageant contestant getting similar attire. The money adds up quickly, which
obviously puts some at an instant disadvantage.
For the previous pageant I disguised myself. The way that I appeared on stage
was not the way that I normally looked. This go around I figured that I would not change
the way I looked. My hair remained naturally curly and continued to do what it wanted
My family drove nearly six hours to Dalton, Georgia, to watch the Miss Georgia
USA Pageant. When we first arrived, I went to the welcome dinner for the contestants.
What a joke this was. The room was filled with very thin, obviously fake girls laughing
as they talked to strangers. The mere tone and manner in which they spoke small talk had
fake written all over it. Everyone appeared to be in the best mood they had ever been in
throughout their lives. I thankfully had my roommate going through this pageant with
me. They served salad for dinner. This was not my idea of a good dinner, so our parents
snuck McDonalds into our room later that night (contestants were not allowed to have
any visitors after the start of the pageant). The common perception is that these
contestants basically starve themselves before the pageant to have a slim figure. I was
not too concerned with this; I was hungry.
The following morning I got up and got ready the same as I did every morning. I
did nothing differently, except in the clothes I wore. Just as with the last pageant, this
one started off with judges‟ interviews. For this part of the competition, I dressed
normally. I wore a dress that already had a place in my closet. I had a whole different
attitude this go around. I would not go out of my way to make myself look different. I
was doing this pageant for myself, and, therefore, I wanted to be myself. The judges
were very nice and were interested in what I said. They actually carried on a
conversation, which was a nice change from the previous pageant. There were no
rehearsed questions. After this I went back to the hotel to change into the next outfit.
After collecting all materials required for getting ready, my roommate and I
headed to the convention center. One of the rules for this pageant was that there could be
no professional hair or makeup artists on site. I had not planned on this, so it was fine by
me. However, one contestant who clearly took this seriously had an artist in the room
where contestants get ready. Nothing was said to her. There was no doubt about it; she
looked beautiful. She owned a modeling company and participated in pageants
Instead of doing sportswear in this pageant, all contestants wore the same Miss
USA t-shirt with black shorts. It was in this outfit that we went onto the stage and
introduced ourselves. I was Brittney Flatt representing Midway, Georgia. Who knew
about Midway? Most others were from the bigger, more well-known cities such as
Peachtree City, Lilburn, and Atlanta. From this we got ready for the swimsuit
After walking back to the dressing room, all of the girls began to switch into their
swimsuits. Although I was not disappointed or embarrassed of my body, I did not feel
the need to prance around with absolutely nothing on either. Girls walked around with
tampon strings hanging out like it was something they did all the time. Busts were
enhanced with tape to make them seem larger. Butt glue was used to prevent bathing
suits from riding up while walking down the runway. Here I realized how little I actually
knew about preparing for pageants. Instead of feeling intimidated, however, I thought it
was rather hilarious. My family was very amused at the stories I told afterwards.
For the swimsuit competition, I purchased a one-piece blue and green suit which
was not revealing at all. For this pageant, it was required to have a one-piece suit
although this rule was soon replaced by the bikini. Some others had very low cut suits
showing off their cleavage. After this we quickly had to change into our evening gowns.
Thankfully there was no talent in this competition. I could have pulled off a dance, but I
preferred to leave this area untouched.
After the first night of the pageant was over, I felt relieved. I did my best while
being myself. My hair and outfits looked like they did on a daily basis. I did not try to
create myself into something that I was not. That night my roommate and I joked about
the pageant. It was actually a fun experience, and I am glad that I had her to go through it
The next morning we did very little to get ready. This is embarrassing to admit,
but I did not even shower beforehand. I basically got out of bed, brushed my teeth, put
on my makeup, got dressed, and left. All of the contestants were on the stage as they
called out the top ten. This time it was different than the last pageant. I heard my name
being called. I was shocked, happy, and relieved all at once. Although I did not place in
the top five, this was such a huge self accomplishment. I needed this victory to feel
confident once again about myself. Even though I had previously come to terms with my
failure in Hinesville, it never quite left the back of my mind. When you take such a blow
to your self-esteem, it is hard to recoup quickly. The competiveness of girls in my high
school and the images I saw through the media constantly reminded me of my failure. I
felt successful in that I could go to Miss Georgia USA and place in the top ten compared
to not even being considered a part of the pageant in Hinesville. It was several years
later, after both pageants, that I began to truly see myself as beautiful without ever
winning a crown. I had much more than my physical looks that defined me as a person.
I learned to look at my other attributes that made me the person I was and am. “Beauty
was given a similarly functional definition. It is what „keeps you from being able to find
something wrong with something‟” (Turkle, 1995, p. 146). It was this functional
definition that I was able to relate to. Although it took a long time to believe this, I
learned that I was beautiful. It did not matter if other people thought so, as long as I
believed this. I also learned that being beautiful is not just about my outer appearance.
Who I am as a person plays a large role in my definition of beautiful. This was a hard
lesson, which was learned from more than a beauty pageant, I am glad I learned.
Although I did not have a good experience with pageants to begin with, I do not
regret the decisions I made. I did not participate in a pageant until I was old enough to
make my own decisions. I was old enough to understand and accept failure and
humiliation, even though it was still hard. Through pageants I learned that life is not fair.
I learned that people sometimes receive things that they necessarily do not earn due to
who they are within the community: I also learned that there are standards by which
females are judged, and not everyone judges in the same way. “As long as humans exist,
there will be bias” (Weaver, 2005, p. 48). Obviously the opinions of the judges in the
two different pageants were not the same. Different people look for different things.
Most importantly I learned that what is important is what I look for in myself.
I learned to look into the mirror and not be disappointed with what I saw. My
self-esteem is important and necessary for my drive and determination. It is not worth
putting myself forward to be judged and losing self-esteem, when chances are I will not
be the sole one to succeed. I have to risk total failure to succeed. I did just that; I failed
and then succeeded. With this, I learned a little about pageants and more about life:
“The more mature you get, the more you realize things that you didn‟t realize before…”
(Fine & Weis, 1998, p. 249). I have learned what is truly important in life. It is not
important how others judge me; instead, it is important how I judge myself. Most people
appreciate receiving praise from others, and yes, it is still nice to receive praise, but the
true confidence and acceptance comes from within.
I feel like I took the scenic route in learning who I was. This was not a topic that
I was able to explore in school. As a female functioning in a male-dominant society, I
used images in an attempt to alter myself to fit in and become accepted. I looked at my
surroundings and made myself blend in. School did not afford me or any of the other
girls the opportunity to learn about our bodies and ourselves as individuals. If only my
experience with Curriculum Studies occurred before my other schooling, the outcomes
would have been different. I would have been given different learning opportunities that
were meaningful and relevant. Even though I learned about myself the hard way, and a
little later in life, I am appreciative that I was afforded that opportunity. There are many
females who are still lost, not knowing their true identities.
Who am I? I am a mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, granddaughter,
friend, teacher, student, and numerous others. Who I am is very important to me.
Although society has played a large role in shaping who I am, I am proud of myself. It
took a while growing up for me to realize, but I would not prefer to be anybody except
myself. I have drive and determination. More than anything, I am proud of my academic
accomplishments. I had no one pushing me to attain this degree. It is something that I
wanted for myself. I know who I am and do not need for someone else to tell me nor
judge me amongst others. After learning for myself what a beauty pageant is and is not, I
am curious to see how others females view it and how it has shaped their lives. It is
important to note that I am not doing this project as revenge against pageants. I know
many people who participate in pageants and thoroughly respect their decisions to do so.
It is also important to emphasize again that I do not regret my decisions to participate in
pageants. The lessons that they have afforded me are far worth any hardships that I
underwent in the process. I desired to do this project to examine why females participate
in pageants and how their decisions have affected their lives. With little research done in
this field that focuses exclusively on females‟ participation in beauty pageants, the
implications for further studies are great. There is research on the effects of popular
culture, but narrowing this to beauty pageants will aid in progressing the complicated
conversations to bring about awareness in others.
The key research question for this study sought to answer if popular culture
reproduces women‟s status in the South through events such as beauty pageants. I
examined the interviews to see if individuals described their experiences in pageantry,
including reasons for participating and beliefs about pageants, in a positive or negative
manner. Now at the age to have children, it was explored if former and current pageant
participants will choose to put their own children in beauty pageants. When delving into
the pageant mom‟s interview, it was explored as to why mothers choose to make their
children participate in pageants before the children are old enough to decide for
themselves. The interviews and research sought to answer whether the media helps or
hinders the reputation of pageants and their participants. Lastly, this study explored if
pageants help to promote internal self-worth or destroy it.
Coming on Stage
Chapter 2 will reveal the stories of a young woman who was born and raised in
Hinesville and participated in several pageants while growing up. She never had a
flawless body and picture-perfect face, and she had trouble fitting in during her school
years. She did not have many true friends and was more mature than other people her
age. Her imperfections allowed her to see just how cruel girls could be through her
school years. She began a pageant career as an outlet to help her make more friends, gain
self-esteem, and expand her interview skills. Although she has put this part of her life
behind her, she now has a two year-old daughter. Will she choose this same path now
that she can make decisions as a mother? Anne‟s stories will be interweaved with
research on what it is like to be a female, the role society plays in molding females, and
how females contribute to these.
Chapter 3 will look into the life and story of a twenty year-old who has
participated in many pageants and still actively participates in them. Her family has deep
roots in her Southern hometown, and their last name is one of the well-known names.
Her attendance at a private high school enhanced the Southern traditions that were passed
down to Elizabeth. Not long out of high school, her stories will give insight to being
raised in the South and how pageants have played a role in her Southern upbringing.
Chapter 4 will explore the journey of a sixth-grader who has participated and won
several pageants. Child pageantry is a large business that has hit the big screen and has
drawn a lot of attention. The idea of turning young girls into sexually appealing adult
lookalikes has turned many heads. I believe that the voices of children are too often
hushed when valuable lessons could be learned from listening. This chapter will also tell
the story of her mother, who stays actively involved in the pageantry business. Their
stories play a critical role in my research as they give a glimpse into the future.
Chapter 5 will provide an analysis of the interviews in this study. I will examine
each one and establish common findings that are intertwined within them. These findings
will specifically address the research questions stated for this study. I will also explore
recommendations and implications for future studies. Using the research gathered, I will
address how current curriculum and policies can be addressed by proposing a curriculum
of unison. The joining of the mind and body would help foster environments in which
females are able to learn about their bodies as a whole, addressing the many emotions
that accompany identity development.
BEAUTY OF THE PAST: MEET ANNE
Walk into a room and Anne would not be one of the women that makes men‟s
heads turn twice. She is an overweight woman in her mid twenties, but to hear her talk,
she seems much older than her age. Her job often puts her in the spotlight as she works
for a state politician. Anne thrives off of attention and is very much a people-person.
Her social nature takes control as she hosts several parties at her home throughout the
year. Her friends mainly consist of people that she met and hung around when she was
previously married. Not having many female friends, Anne focuses on her relationship
with her new boyfriend and strives to have a better body by working out frequently at the
YMCA. She has recently met with plastic surgeons to discuss possible procedures. Anne
has set a goal for herself, and when she reaches that goal, she will get a breast
augmentation and tummy tuck. She is well aware that judgments are passed every day,
and these judgments can either hurt or help in life.
Life Lessons: A Look into Anne’s Problem
Judgments are made every day. Often these judgments are made by only looking
at what is obvious to the naked eye.
Perhaps the most common – and the most important forms of rapid cognition are
the judgments we make and the impressions we form of other people. Every
waking minute that we are in the presence of someone, we come up with a
constant stream of predictions and inferences about what that person is thinking
and feeling. (Gladwell, 2005, p. 194)
First impressions speak volumes. It is here that stereotypes come into play as inferences
about what the person is thinking and feeling occur. When this is done, things are
characterized as being acceptable or not by only observing the outside. A lot of
important details can be missed when this is done. Students are often taught in school not
to judge a book by its cover, yet this is exactly what is done in society. When judgments
are passed based on physical beauty, girls strive to have the perfect bodies. In an attempt
to advance over other females, they resort to social aggression to ensure their success. It
is important to explore the different expectations for females and the judgments passed
on them. The difference of being a boy and a girl functioning in a patriarchal society is
huge. For girls, the competition is fierce as they work to build themselves up while
knocking others down.
Because people are quick to judge based on physical appearance, Anne has never
been much accepted by others. She has taken criticism throughout her life, and has now
committed to better herself through physical activity in order to gain the body she desires.
In an effort to be accepted by the crowd, Anne constantly attempts to represent images
that she is not. The way in which others perceive her is important to Anne. This is a
common belief for females. In order to gain approval from others, girls work against
each other, instead of for each other, to come out on top.
Girl World versus Boy World
At some point in life, many females look forward to the day in which they
become a mother. Even before a baby is born, much attention and emphasis is placed on
gender. People try to guess the sex through old wives tales; is the mother carrying high
or low, is the belly more rounded or squared, is the mother glowing or not looking as well
as before? All of this anticipation is cured during the twentieth week. This week unveils
the gender of the unborn child. For expecting mothers, everything suddenly becomes
centered around the outcome of this one ultrasound from decorating the nursery to
picking out a name. The differences between male and female begin here as shades of
pink accented with flowers and bows are chosen for girls and shades of blue are accented
with sports, cars, and other masculine décor. The differences only become more defined
Having a child is one thing that separates females from males. Although it is
considered a woman‟s job to raise children, regardless, it is a special experience but is not
accomplished without hurt to the body.
But see what the tiniest baby will do to the woman. Stretching her belly and waist
into the ghastliest shapes before it even emerges from the womb, ruining her
breasts, turning her pink nipples brown. Producing spots at the hairline, dark
hairs down her midline, bleeding gums, stretch marks, varicosities, blues,
alterations of the hormones and perhaps the DNA-and that‟s only the beginning.
In time comes the ugly crease in the brow between the eyes hewn by incessant
anxiety and sporadic rage, the rasp in the voice, the knot in the gut, the regret.
Fear alters the features, and in time the sweetest child will make a shrew of her.
(Shulman, 1997, p. 91)
Such a special event can be minimized and emphasis still remains on the physical beauty
of females. Above all things, the body is the female‟s most powerful tool and even
childbirth is blamed for an imperfect body. The stress is put on the female‟s body as a
result of having and raising children, not the male‟s. This consumption of the female
body leaves women in a constant state of attempting to reach standards that are
Why exactly are there such differences in boys and girls? What influences exist
that cause girls to behave the way they do?
Girls are called incomprehensible. They have always been so since first men
looked at them-looked at them out of men‟s minds as part of men‟s world. They
will keep on being so, always, or until we stop looking at them with men‟s eyes,
speaking of them in men‟s terms, and testing them by men‟s needs. (R.S.V.P. in
Hamlin, 2004, p. 27)
Throughout history, gender roles have been formed through various mediums thus
creating rigid expectations for both genders. Males have typically dominated society and
have helped to construct the overall firm difference in genders. Boy World and Girl
World are two separate places. However, Boy World dominates and controls the
expectations of Girl World. What is it like to be a girl living with these influences?
Although identity formation occurs throughout life, adolescence is a time in
which young females become increasingly aware of society and choose to conform or
establish their own identities, both personal and academic. But because these are viewed
as separate entities for females, their feminine identity is emphasized over their brain. As
these identities are shaped, girls are in constant competition for the limelight, resulting in
social aggression. “The struggle both to perform academically and to perform as
feminine must seem at times impossible. No wonder that some of us split them apart in
various ways or have different conscious and unconscious methods for dealing with the
unbearable contradiction” (Walkerdine, 1994, p. 66). Adolescence is a time of struggle
to find one‟s self. Traditionally, females are not constructed to perform both
academically and femininely. As a result, females are unsure of how to deal with this
contradiction and consciously and unconsciously deepen the oppression of women.
Nestled in a rather large house off of a dirt road, Anne was raised by her mother
who worked at the County Courthouse and her step-father who served as the Chief of
Police. Anne and her mother had a very close relationship and could always be found
doing things together. Events that other people her age did with friends, she and her
mother did together: going to the movies, going out to eat, and shopping. Her mother
kept her busy as she was involved in clubs and activities throughout life.
My main thing from age two and up was dance. I did like fifteen years of dance
class. So once I got into school I was on the dance team in middle school and high
school. I was in eight clubs my senior year in high school. I was president of four of
them. So I was very active and still am. That is something that is very important to me is
Dance, an activity deemed appropriate for females, occupied a lot of her time and
perhaps set the stage for the interest in pageants she found in her early teenage years. At
dance she was surrounded by older girls who primped and pranced, always trying to
outdo one another for the top spot. Dance provided opportunities for Anne to interact
with these older girls, and she instantly began to look up to them. In particular, Anne
looked up to two girls who were very good at dance and pageants as well.
I remember Christina and Leah would always bring pictures and newspaper
clippings about their pageants. Almost all of my friends did pageants. Lots of girls that
were in dance were in the pageants. You will find that with the extracurricular activities.
Those were a lot of the girls that were in pageants. I was in the drama club, and a lot of
the girls were in pageants as well. But it really, where the pageants came into play with
me was like Future Business Leaders of America or Interact Club with Rotary: being
able to walk as a high school student into a meeting with professional business leaders in
the community and have the poise and the confidence to sit down next to the president of
the bank and the broker of the biggest real estate agent in town and carry on a
conversation. Most of that confidence came from pageants and came from the pageant
interview having to sit across the table from a successful professional. I think it all ties
together. Even the dance with the poise and the balance. Even in the ones you don‟t
have talent, it all circles back around.
Anne recognized that pageants gave her confidence as she was able to converse
with leaders in her community. The confidence that Anne claimed to have gained from
pageants did not transform to all areas of her life. School painted a rather different
picture for her. Anne did not have the easiest time attending the public schools in her
hometown. Because her physical appearance was not up to par by society‟s standards,
she had a hard time fitting in. Anne was larger than most girls her age and this impacted
the relationships that she developed. Because her parents were local, she knew and
associated with many other local people her age, but she never really fit in. The girls at
her high school formed tight cliques that she was not accepted into. Her self-esteem, off
of the pageant stage, began to drop and Anne talked her parents into sending her to
private school. This proves that Anne‟s self-esteem was directly related to the positive
and negative experiences she had. After spending a year at private school, Anne did not
make that transition very well and returned back to the hallways of her hometown‟s
public high school. It was then that she began to participate in local pageants.
I participated in my first pageant at fourteen and my mother, I actually wanted to
do one at thirteen, and she made me wait a whole year and made sure I still wanted to do
it before she would let me in it. My mom was in Liberty County Junior Miss, and was
Miss Congeniality, and she was in Miss Hinesville.
All together I was in five pageants. I won the title for two of those, Miss
Hinesville and Liberty County Junior Miss. I participated in local pageants. My very
first one was Liberty County Junior Miss. I did that at age fourteen and then I
participated in it again the next year and won it at fifteen. Then I did Junior Miss
Altamaha and I didn‟t place. Then I did Miss Hinesville, which I won. Then I was in
Miss Savannah which is a Miss Georgia/Miss America preliminary and so it was
swimsuit, talent, the full nine yards, and it was my first time in one of those. I did not
place but it was interesting. The level of competition, the level of dedication for the girls
and the mothers was totally different, and that pretty much ended my pageant career. I
was done after seeing that side of pageants. So, local pageants are a lot different from
your highly competitive Miss America and Miss USA preliminaries.
For the most part, it was a huge boost to my self-esteem. I was always a larger
child growing up. I was always taller than everybody else. I was taller than all the boys,
and I was taller than all the girls. I had a slight weight problem growing up, but I was
very active athletically. I never was a very frilly girl. I was a tomboy, and so I had a
hard transition into dresses, and frilly, and boys and all that. Pageants helped me learn
how to walk and how to hold myself and poise. It forced me to learn to look like a girl. It
really helped. I was an only child. I didn‟t have an older sister or anyone to look up to
so it helped expose me to proper training, how to sit for an interview. I basically walked
on to my state team at my high school for FBLA and got second place in the state for job
interview. The only training I had was pageants. It gave me a huge boost of self-esteem
and poise. Even when you don‟t win, if the pageant is run properly, it is not a bad
feeling. And in most of these, you gain friends, and you get to know people and you‟re
excited. Girls will be girls and one girl you may not like will win and you get all mad,
but generally it‟s a good experience if it is done properly.
My favorite part of being in pageants is probably the standard answers: getting
to know the other girls. I mean that really was a lot of fun, especially when you do the
regional pageants like the Miss Savannah or the Altamaha. Even the local pageants
here; we have two high schools, and so I got to meet some girls from the other high
school and middle schools. But especially the regional ones. One of the girls I was in
pageants with was in my wedding. We made friends for life. We have children the same
age now, and if we had not done two pageants together, she would have just been a girl I
saw in the newspaper once. She is one of my best friends now. So definitely getting to
meet people. One of the girls I met in Miss Savannah sang at my wedding, former Miss
Savannah. So it‟s just the connections that you make. And that‟s probably always been
my favorite part, but I‟m a people person. Generally you find that with all girls that are
in pageants. You can be as pretty as you want but if there‟s interview, that‟s the first time
the judges see you. So to me that is the most important part of the pageant, so most of
your girls are personable and fun.
However, the last pageant I was in made me down on myself. So much time and
effort goes into the stuff you see that‟s obvious: the outfits, choosing the earrings,
choosing the hair stuff. And these Miss America preliminary pageants, you don‟t have
anyone back stage with you – it‟s just you, so you have to be super organized. It‟s just
hours of preparation and then hours of preparation on the talent, hours of working out
for the swimsuit. And I felt like I really let myself down because I thought that I had put
in all this effort and when I compared myself to the other girls, I realized that I wasn‟t
truly dedicated to it, which is why I let it go. It was more a disappointment in myself.
Realizing what a huge time and dedication and effort that it takes to succeed in the
pageant world, the girl can be as naturally good and talented and without the time and
training, it is nothing at that level. So that was really the time. I was kind of depressed
about it for awhile. I was like, “I am not to that caliber.” I mean I could have been but
I decided to let it go, which was the right decision for me. But that was probably the
worst was when I realized that I can‟t hang. I mean I was at a totally different level than
The level of competition for Anne grew with the level of pageants she competed
in. The local pageants provided the most comfortable experiences for Anne, boosting her
self-esteem. Now that she was successful in the competition, her self-esteem rose. On
the contrary, national preliminary pageants provided her with stiff competition that she
did not measure up to. Anne constantly made comparisons between herself and other
girls to judge her own worth. Afterwards, she felt down on herself when she realized she
was not to their caliber. The media brings this national competition to us. Many women
are similar to Anne in that they feel inferior to those images seen on the big screen.
Big Screen, Big Competition
Popular culture is obviously extremely popular, especially with adolescents. It
serves as an educational tool as several individuals use it to help learn about and define
themselves. Technology allows for it to be accessed anytime. iPods provide movies and
music on the go, and several cell phones are now equipped with Internet access. The
images seen and words heard are absorbed by the audience and used to learn about
society. From these items, it is easy to see where society places emphasis, what is
acceptable and expected, and where individuals fit into the larger picture.
Images of women are carefully selected according to strict standards. A glimpse
through a magazine or a scroll through television channels proves that the majority of
women that are seen are slender and beautiful. Victoria Secret models, for example, have
bodies that are quite different from many others. Their tall figures are flattered with large
breasts, tight stomachs, slender thighs, and long legs. These images are important to
other females, because they recognize the attention given to such perfected bodies by
males, and help form the ideal image. Although adolescence is a time when self-
exploration and identity formation occur, the exposure to these accepted images of
women are seen starting at an earlier age. Young children become infatuated with
princesses and often dream of living lives like Cinderella. This was made apparent
during a recent trip of mine to Downtown Disney.
The Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique is a place where young girls‟ fantasies come true
as they are pampered like a princess. For the price of $200.00, girls are dressed in
princess gowns and have their hair and make-up done. The store was packed and there
was actually a waiting list to get in. My nieces settled for the free fairy dust that was
sprinkled on them. Places such as this convey the message that “…the pursuit of beauty
is one of the great joys of being a woman” (Loren, 1997, p. 10). A woman‟s job is to
look beautiful, and it should bring them much joy. Men are there to judge women, thus
making women judge and constantly compare themselves to others. When seeing other
females, they often look at themselves and measure their appearance based off of another
individual. All of this is ultimately done for the pleasure of males. There are other
examples, too. This has been evident since 1959 when Barbie was created. Barbie also
serves as a role model giving young children false hopes of achieving a physical
appearance like hers.
Playing with Barbie dolls seems as a rule to enhance girls' self-image and expand
their sense of their potential rather than the opposite. This has become more true
over the years, as Barbie herself has expanded her horizons: she has now appeared
as a doctor, astronaut, businesswoman, police officer, UNICEF volunteer, and
athlete. (Ament, 2007)
On the contrary, making comparisons with Barbie are not realistic and can only destroy
self-image. Although Barbie has expanded her horizons, she still looks dang good while
doing it. In essence, not much has changed. Icons such as these not only convey their
physical appearance, but their behavior as well.
When thinking back to her childhood in the book Daddy‟s Girls: Young Girls and
Popular Culture, Walkerdine remembers narratives such as Cinderella, The Wizard of
Oz, and Little Orphan Annie. “Here the girls are poor and often orphaned and… they
dream of a place where wishes are granted through the intervention of good fairy
godmothers, thwarted by bad witches, to reach a place where men can grant ultimate
wishes…” (Walkerdine, 1997, p. 94). The good characters are dressed in beautiful
gowns and seen as attractive people, while the evil characters are often dressed in black
and have unwanted characteristics such as warts. These stories end with happy endings
for the beautiful people, but it is important to note that these endings have men coming to
their rescue. These images come from people, often men, thus portraying and forcing
their beliefs on others.
The images that are seen are carefully selected and intentionally used to portray
certain types of people. In popular culture, beautiful females are the ones who have nice
jobs, houses, cars, and get attention from males and other females. On the other hand,
those who are not as attractive are used to represent people who are not of wealthy
families, do not have a good education, or make poor decisions. Just as this is apparent in
the media, it bleeds over into the real-world as well.
The news, sitcoms, or ads are not reflections of the world; they are very careful,
deliberate constructions. To borrow Todd Gitlin‟s metaphor, they are more like
fun-house mirrors that distort and warp “reality” by exaggerating and magnifying
some features of American life and values while collapsing, ignoring, and
demonizing others. (Douglas, 1995, p. 16)
The people who construct popular culture mediums are humans. They hold beliefs and
stereotypes which are then filtered down through movies, television, music, and
magazines. Features that are pleasing are often exaggerated while ignoring the others.
These exaggerations have a profound impact on viewers of all ages. However,
even young children begin forming opinions and ideas based on these falsifications.
Young females look to these beautiful women in popular culture and begin to pass
judgments on themselves. What they see in the mirror is not merely as satisfying as the
females that undergo great makeovers before being put into the public eye. They then
become dissatisfied with their own bodies and find fault within.
We have learned to despise the curves, bulges, stretch marks, and wrinkles that
mean we‟ve probably worked hard in and out of our homes, produced some
fabulous children, enjoyed a good meal or two, tossed back a few drinks, laughed,
cried, gotten sunburned more than once, endured countless indignities, and, in
general, led pretty full and varied lives. (Douglas, 1995, p. 12)
These signs of life are seen in a negative way. The females appearing in popular culture
do not have such curves, bulges, stretch marks, and wrinkles. They are in some fashion
protected from the real world. These wears on the body are often dealt with through
plastic surgery, serving to commodify the body. Just as the popular icons fight nature,
other females resort to the same measures in an attempt to keep up with the status quo.
Natural beauty becomes passé and artificial beauty becomes another sign of privilege.
These images seen become the standard by which they hold themselves to as well.
After seeing images for so long, one begins to internalize them. Perhaps
unconsciously, beliefs are formed from what is constantly pushed down through popular
culture. One of the most powerful images is that of the female body. Not only men, but
women as well are interested in this phenomenon. “In fact, the vast majority of pictures
women look at are pictures of attractive women in women‟s magazines: they are
interested in checking out the competition” (Etcoff, 1999, p. 62). Women see other
women‟s bodies and attempt to adjust their own appearance accordingly. They realize
what kind of people get the attention and strive to have similar lives. Most everyone
likes to look good, but many women like to outlook another. The images seen in popular
culture become the ground work for most females when it comes to physical appearance.
After polling 16,000 women, Glamour magazine reported that, “[s]adly, more than 40
percent of women are unhappy with their bodies, a number virtually unchanged since
1984” (Dreisbach, 2009). When images of other women are flaunted around, it becomes
easy to pass judgment on ourselves. With so many beautiful women, it is rare that
women will rank themselves at the top.
Physical appearance reigns at the top of the checklist for females. However,
society also contends that while females should look good, they should not behave in
such ways that are considered unladylike. While men may be able to do certain things,
like have sex with numerous partners, females are given bad reputations if they do the
same. “Their bodies thus become signs of nationalism and racial wholesomeness because
„Miss America must be provocative but wholesome, a pretty but pure vestal virgin, like
Cinderella‟” (Kinloch, 2004, p. 97). A female‟s body is expected to look like she would
behave badly but on the contrary, be innocent. The controversy surrounding Miss
California, Carrie Prejean, demonstrates this perfectly. Standing on her Christian beliefs,
Prejean answered an interview question stating that marriage is meant to be between a
woman and a man. This was unsettling for some and soon after winning the title, nude
pictures of her began to surface. When her crown was in doubt, Donald Trump took her
side and okayed her behavior.
“We‟ve reviewed the pictures carefully. We are in the 21st century and I talked
about relevance,” Trump told a packed press conference in Trump Tower Tuesday
morning. “Carrie‟s a model … We‟ve made a determination that the pictures
taken were acceptable, they‟re fine, in many cases they‟re very lovely pictures
and in some cases they‟re modeling pictures.” (Trump in Celizic, 2009)
Once again, stereotypes come into play with this situation. Because Prejean‟s pictures
were not too risqué, even though she was topless, they were condoned and brushed off as
modeling pictures. The double standard is seen as Prejean claimed to be a Christian,
which portrayed her as the good girl, while she still had a racy side within. She talked
the talk, but did not walk the walk when it came to her beliefs, and this was okayed by
Mr. Trump. Women are expected to behave ladylike, but do so while looking appealing
to others. Confusing, huh?
As illustrated above, females are not certain how to behave and look. They must
be experts on turning on different roles in various situations. They must learn how to
look sexy without dressing like sluts for the satisfaction of others. Clearly this is an
unstable expectation that women must learn how to deal with.
Dominant norms and conventions of femininity are constructed within the borders
of a precarious balance: women simultaneously “need” to be protected and
exploited, must be publicly displayed yet privately consumed, and are considered
both the guardians of national morality and the largest threat to this moral
foundation simply because of their gender. (Banet-Weiser, 1999, p. 9)
Gender is a complicated subject for females. Mixed messages are sent and females must
know how to react accordingly. They are seen as a threat because of the actions females
are capable of. The stereotype is that they must be protected by men, yet put themselves
out there for public consumption. If these ideas are hard for women, the identity
formation of adolescents must be that much harder. Popular culture helps feed these
stereotypes into society and thus further the confusion for females.
Adolescence is a time when young girls attempt to learn about themselves and
realize the demands society places on females. After seeing these images and the
reactions given to each, females must determine which path they will take.
With puberty, girls face enormous cultural pressure to split into false selves. The
pressure comes from schools, magazines, music, television, advertisements and
movies. It comes from peers. Girls can be true to themselves and risk
abandonment by their peers, or they can reject their true selves and be socially
acceptable. Most girls choose to be socially accepted and split into two selves,
one that is authentic and one that is culturally scripted. In public they become
who they are supposed to be. (Pipher, 1994, p. 27)
Now at the age to realize these expectations, adolescent girls make the tough decision
whether to conform to the majority or to remain true to themselves. They see what types
of girls are given attention and must decide to conform to this look or remain as an
individual. Society has created the culturally scripted female that gives into the images
and is able to change who they are according to what is deemed acceptable at various
Living the Double Standard
I think we almost do it to ourselves. As a community we don‟t feel like we can do
certain things or should run for certain things. I‟m not sure. I don‟t know. It‟s a double
standard we put on ourselves a lot. I can speak for myself. I have always wanted to have
a career and get out of the house. And I have a career. I am extremely successful. I love
my job, but when I got pregnant I was like, “Oh, well I get to come home now right?” I
mean it‟s a total double standard. I was like “Okay, you need to take care of us, and I
get to come home.”, because that‟s what supposed to happen. And I‟m supposed to get
out of the Rotary Club, and I‟m supposed to not be on the board at the YMCA, and I‟m
not supposed to travel to DC three times. It‟s a total double standard we put on
ourselves. I just think we‟re going to just have to break that cycle. And I‟m still a
proponent of staying at home with your children if you can, but it was almost an
automatic in my head. So I think it‟s something that we do to ourselves culturally. My
grandmother took off five years with my mother. My mother took off three years with me.
You know, you raise your own children.
A friend came over last night and was like “You sure do boss your husband
around a lot.” And I‟m like “Really?”, and she said “Ya, you called for him twice.” I
was like, “I called for him to come look at a picture. It wasn‟t like I told him to take the
trash out now.” It just threw her off and I was like, “Wow, is that the way it is in your
house? Like you can‟t call your husband to look at something?” There are some things
in this region that are just different. My in-laws live across the street. My in-laws are my
grandparents‟ age. My husband‟s parents are my grandparents‟ age. They went to
school together. Their relationship, compared to my parents, the household I was
brought up in, are totally different. Jason‟s mother cooked every night, cleaned, did
everything. He comes home and sits down. He sits down and she serves. She stands up
and makes sure he gets everything he needs before she sits down and eats. And there‟s
nothing wrong with that. That‟s the way they work. That‟s the way it is. Now in my
home, if my dad wanted something to eat, he pretty much had to fix it and then mom
would wash the dishes. But just that one generational difference… But if a bill needs to
be paid, even at my mother‟s house, my mom has a job but it is still his responsibility to
take care of the family. It is still very male-centric when it comes to the providing. And
I‟m that way. I find myself with Jason, I have a paycheck too but I turn to him like, “Oh
what do we do about this?” And then he‟s like, “Oh what do you think?” I mean I don‟t
know, I‟m not supposed to think about that. It‟s not my job. It‟s a bill. You pay the bills.
It‟s a fallback for women. Because it‟s easier for me in some situations to play the
Southern, you‟re supposed to take care of me. And then the next minute, I‟m like I have a
career and I need you to help with the kids. I know I play the double standard, and I see
other people doing it too. We almost do it to ourselves. And do we really want to break
the cycle? Because I really like my husband paying the bills. It‟s just one of those things
and it effects everything. People ask me all the time, I work for a politician, “Are you
going to run for something? Are you going to run for office?” Well Jason really wants
to run for something, so I‟m sure we‟ll let him run first. Which it makes sense for us, but
that‟s my automatic answer, whether I would want to or not. It‟s a weird thing, so we‟ll
see. Who knows, I could be the first female mayor of Hinesville.
Anne is confused about the mixed messages that she sees concerning women‟s
roles in society. She feels motivated in her career one moment, and then would love to
fill the stereotypical role as a stay-at-home mom the next. As a psychologist and mother,
Dr. Pipher explores several personal experiences and through these offers ideas on how
adolescent girls can fight this pressure and remain true as an individual. The many girls
Dr. Pipher worked with “… struggled with mixed messages: Be beautiful, but beauty is
only skin deep. Be sexy, but not sexual. Be honest, but don‟t hurt anyone‟s feelings. Be
independent, but be nice. Be smart, but not so smart that you threaten boys” (Pipher,
1994, p. 24). As society sends out one message, females must conduct soul searches to
find their true selves. These messages often contradict one another and leave females
feeling vulnerable in a man‟s world. When mixed messages are sent, it is easy to
understand why young girls feel so confused about their identities. From a young age,
females recognize the need to look good. They are told that “Beauty is skin deep” but the
messages learned in life, through the help of popular culture, prove otherwise. They
understand that looks play a large role in determining one‟s place in society. “As we
leave infancy, we lose the protection cuteness affords. Our white tail tuft gone, we face
the world unshielded: adult beauty is a great advantage, but it protects the few, not the
many” (Etcoff, 1999, p. 39). Not all people are able to meet and keep up with the
standard set by society. The people who are unable to keep up suffer as a consequence.
If only we all were able to keep the cuteness that babies possess, perhaps society would
begin to recognize more than what is obvious to the eye.
More than Just Looks?
Has society begun to recognize more about women than physical appearance?
Several advances have been made when looking at the role of women in society. Anne,
who is employed by a state politician, believes that women are beginning to get a fair
Of course it has changed a lot in the last 50 years. It‟s changed a lot in my
lifetime and especially recently. There are a lot more female role models for our children
growing up now than there has ever been before. When you think of a soldier now in this
community, you don‟t automatically think a man. When you think of a politician in this
community, you don‟t automatically think of a man. That is a new thing. Now at the
national stage we have had some women involved for a while now: Condoleezza Rice,
Hillary Clinton, we have had a female Supreme Court Justice for years. But locally in a
South Georgia community, which is a pageant community, there hasn‟t always been.
Walter Cronkite actually did a show on Walthourville, Georgia. We were the first place
in the US that had a full female government. Our mayor was female, the city council was
female. It was like a huge news story. Even though the sealing was broken in the 70s it
really has been kept under wraps. We‟ve got a female county commissioner, Connie
Thrift, that is out there and in the community, and is a good role model. Our local media
is starting to treat them differently, and she is sitting on boards she hasn‟t sat on before.
So I think we‟re getting better. We‟re getting there but it‟s taken the people to actually
do the work. The media isn‟t going to give it to us for free. And the national media has
given the females in places of power a fair shake. I think there are plenty of female role
models right now that are out there. You have your bad apples, your Lindsay Lohan and
your Britney Spears, but you also have on the flipside your Miley Cyrus, that are finally, I
feel, getting equal media attention and trying to showcase the good things they are doing.
Even though more women have risen to positions of power, the path to get there is
not always easy. For the most part, stereotypes still come into play as women are not
given equal opportunities as men. With the last presidential election, much attention was
paid to Sarah Palin, who sought the Vice-Presidency. I personally knew many males that
supported Barrack Obama because they doubted her strength and knowledge in that
position of great power. Even though they did not sincerely back Obama, they felt that a
woman could not and should not hold that position. This uneasiness comes from
generations that clearly define gender roles. Unfortunately for women, sometimes it
takes fulfilling stereotypes to succeed.
Having to fulfill stereotypes to succeed? Absolutely, I think so which is
unfortunate. The male side of it, even the Jonas Brothers with their commitment to try to
be celibate until they are married. They have gotten more flack from that from people in
their own age group than they have from the media. And so if you could imagine how
hard it is for those boys, how it is for a female in that situation? It is the media as a
whole with the sex and beauty. That is the one thing that annoys me about these bigger
pageants. It is all about the swimsuit and the flashy. The judges are people from TV, and
the judges are a football player. Those aren‟t correct, personal opinion, that isn‟t the
correct image to be portraying. Half these girls are going to law school or medical
school. I mean these women are phenomenal. The fact that Miss America is now on
CMT is a travesty. I mean it‟s horrible, because I have mondo respect. Not that I think
really highly of myself, but I know that I was of good character, and smart, and talented.
I could sing. I could dance. I didn‟t hold a candle to the girls on the local level, much
less to these girls that make it to the national stage, and no one gives them any respect
and I hate that. These are your leaders. If you really look at the resumes of some of the
people, CEOs of companies, a lot of them have done pageants. And so I don‟t feel like
the media gives them a fair shake. You have to act a certain way and be cute and kind of
be stupid to be appropriately female. To be appropriately feminine you have to be a little
bit stupid, slow, and need help. I‟ve seen Miley Cyrus act that way before and you
realize she‟s not that way. You‟ll hear her talk and she‟s wiser for her years and it‟s
because she grew up around the business, but she has to come off as this vulnerable little
kid. I don‟t think that‟s the best.
Set a high expectation, and normally people will rise to that expectation. Set a
low expectation, and normally people will fall to that expectation. In the classroom, I
made it a point to never look at my students‟ permanent records because I did not want to
know if they had a behavior problem or what kind of grades they made. This gave me a
clean slate to get to know each of them for myself with no preconditions. This same
principle can be applied when looking into gender stereotypes. We are all aware of the
stereotypes that exist for women, so in more cases than not, females live up to those
stereotypes. However, males cannot be blamed solely for this real-world problem that is
alive and well today. Females heavily contribute to the problem as well.
Big Girls Make You Cry
Cultural theory provides an avenue to further investigate society and those living
within and under its influence. “The connection between culture and the individual is
what is at stake here. The most critical issue concerns the ways in which culture shapes
human action” (Smith, 2001, p.5). Culture, including popular culture, is highly
influential in the actions taken by females. The males‟ dominance over society shapes
the actions taken by all people within.
Remembering back to my school days, the relationships that I had with other girls
were dramatic. Hinesville is a rather small town with no real exciting news on a daily
basis. Everyone knew each other and nobody‟s business was kept a secret. There was
always some kind of drama being stirred up. Someone was always mad at another, and
everyone else had to choose sides. During my high school year, one girl at my school
keyed my car right after I had gotten it for Christmas. I did not even know this girl very
well. To my knowledge I never did anything to hurt or upset her; I was never around her
to make her mad. Although I had several friends, I also had quite a few people who did
not like me. Rumors would spread and hurtful looks were passed in the long hallways of
school. For girls, life is a competition. People obviously like winning instead of losing.
Those who feel as if they are losing take out their anger on other girls.
Adolescence is a beauty pageant. Even if your daughter doesn‟t want to be a
contestant, others will look at her as if she is. In Girl World, everyone is
automatically entered. How does a girl win? By being the best at appropriating
our culture‟s definition of femininity. However, a girl can win by losing if being
in the running means she has to sacrifice her individual identity. (Wiseman, 2002,
Life is a competition and it does not matter if you choose to enter or not. Society has
strict guidelines in place and those females who conform to these are the ones who win
according to society. The ways in which women respond to the expectations set forth
vary. Those who choose to remain true to themselves are the ones who win in the long
run. This is hard to do because breaking away from tradition is not deemed acceptable.
For example, when females do not choose to dress “girly” and resort to styles such as
Goth or more manly, they are treated as an “other”. Because some choose to object,
ignore, and not get caught up in the societal norms, they do not fit in well with the
accepted crowd and are subject to being taunted, and other problems may arise as a
result. This proves that attempting to take oneself out of the competition is not a
guarantee to escape the social aggression of other females. Although judgments are
frequently passed by all people, girls often harp on one another. In the classroom, I used
to let my students help in the creation of our class rules and consequences. Surprisingly,
they were harder on themselves than I would have been. This same scenario can be
applied to females judging others.
Many girls I teach believe that boys are dogs, but girls are the enemy. It‟s this
belief that makes girls turn the other way when they see a girl so drunk she can
barely stand get taken to a room to have sex with a guy she met a few hours ago.
It makes them blame a girl for “being so stupid and weak” when she‟s abused by
her boyfriend. It makes them look at each other with cold, hard eyes, sizing each
other up as competition and blaming anyone who makes a mistake. (Wiseman,
2002, p. 243)
Girls are extremely harsh on judging other females. Instead of consoling and relating to
other females, they are quick to put them down. This is often seen in relationships when
a boyfriend has cheated with another girl. Instead of being mad at the boyfriend, the
girlfriend is quick to talk about the other girl. Faults are instantly found and blame is put
on her. The guy comes out clean while the girl is left with a reputation. The same rules
do not apply for both genders, and females are often to blame for this fact.
Additionally, when females feel inferior to another, they also attempt to bring
them down. “When the other woman is more beautiful, they feel envious, and may
subconsciously try to even the score (she must be dumb or shallow, a bitch or a bore)”
(Etcoff, 1999, p. 67). Females are competitive and do what they can to make themselves
look better in this daily beauty pageant in which they are automatically entered. For
every plus that exists, females will find a negative to balance out the act.
Pageants are great examples of how manipulative girls can be. This type of
behavior is evident through the recent events of the Miss Puerto Rico pageant. The
winner managed to smile and pose with the crown even though her evening gown and
makeup had been covered in pepper spray. Jealous contestants attempted to take her out
of the competition and put the spotlight on them. In addition to this, last year Miss New
Jersey was worried about losing her title as threats were made to make embarrassing
pictures public if she did not give it up. These acts are only a few examples of the
measures that females will take to obtain the limelight.
Although these are obvious blatantly rude acts, females realize the power of
beauty. “In order for women to learn to fear one another, we had to be convinced that our
sisters possess some kind of mysterious, potent secret weapon to be used against us-the
imaginary weapon being „beauty‟” (Wolf, 1991, p. 284). This is exactly what pageant
contestants, as well as other females, use against each other. Beauty is what gets the
most attention, so it is what females use to fight with and use to measure their own worth.
While society has taught females to use beauty as a weapon against others, females also
contribute to the battle and are partly to blame for the predicament they are in as well.
Rosalind Wiseman (2002) emphasizes that girls are much to hold responsible for the way
they behave. It is girls who knowingly reproduce their behavior.
Girls have strict social hierarchies based on what our culture tells us about what
constitutes ideal femininity. At no time in your daughter‟s life is it more
important to her to fit these elusive girl standards than adolescence. But who is
the prime enforcer of these standards? The movies? The teen magazines? Nope,
it‟s the girls themselves. They police each other, conducting surveillance on
who‟s breaking the laws of appearance, clothes, interest in boys, and personality-
all of which have a profound influence on the women they become. (p. 10)
Girls see the images that are plastered in society through means such as popular culture,
but what do they do to change it? Not too much. Instead, they criticize and judge one
another based on these standards set by society. “Girls know they‟re manipulated by the
media to hold themselves to an impossible standard of beauty, but that doesn‟t stop them
from holding themselves to it anyway” (Wiseman, 2002, p. 77). Girls are quick to call
one another hurtful names such as sluts and whores. Therefore, Wiseman suggests that
girls use Halloween as an excuse to dress provocatively without worrying about what
other girls will say. When girls call one another hateful names, this fuels the fire for
others to be able to do the same thing.
The film Mean Girls is a perfect example of just how mean girls can actually be.
The main conflict of concern here is the cliques that are existent in this particular high
school and the way that the girls treat one another. Girls are harsh and work against one
another. The key focus is on the relationship between Cady, a new student in the school,
and Regina, the popular “Queen Bee” who bosses others. Cady is out to bring Regina
down. In doing so, she becomes a member of “The Plastics”, Regina‟s social group, and
increases in popularity. She does small things to Regina such as giving her nutrition bars
that are full of fat and replacing her face cream with foot cream. Cady commented at one
time that, “In Girl World, all the fighting had to be sneaky” (Waters, 2004). As much as
Cady disliked Regina, she strangely still wanted Regina to like her. Cady did things that
“The Plastics” wanted her to do to fit in with them. It was better to be a miserable
member of “The Plastics” than to not be in the group. Cady and Regina worked behind
each other‟s backs to bring the other one down. Regina gave the “Burn Book”, which
was a book full of bad things written about various people, to the principal in an attempt
to get back at Cady for stealing her boyfriend. The girl on girl crime was the main issue
throughout the movie. This crime is all too common and finds itself perfectly at home in
the pageant world.
Beauty Queens and Drama Queens
The very first one I did was Liberty County Junior Miss and it‟s even different
from now, this generation that‟s in it. I am twenty-seven. I graduated high school in
2000. For our generation it was very popular. I remember the year I was in it, I was the
last contestant. I was like number thirty-two. I actually coordinated the Liberty County
Junior miss pageant last year and I had to pull teeth for months to get like ten people. So
it‟s a totally different atmosphere out there. So it was the thing to do so everyone was in
it and it was fun. There were thirty-two girls, and probably only three of them had ever
been in a pageant before. So it was just like a fun, community event. Also the Liberty
County Junior Miss Pageant is sponsored by the local Shrine Club, so you‟ve got all
these funny old men and their funny old ladies, and the stage is decorated, and it all goes
to charity. It goes to help the Shriner‟s Hospitals, so the whole feel of the pageant is
more light-hearted, and like you‟re doing it for a good cause and for fun. Now in
comparison the last pageant I was in, Miss Savannah, it was all business. It was run like
a business, operated like a business. There was a costume check the night before. If you
were ten minutes late you weren‟t in the pageant. It was totally different. People were
walking in with these makeup cases and stuff with locks and I‟m like, “What in the
world?”, and they‟re like “People sabotage each other‟s dresses and each other‟s
makeup.” It was a whole different world. I was lucky my mother never really took it all
that seriously. I had a part time job. I helped pay for some of my clothes. I wore my
dresses to prom. I was just never one of those… These moms were… it was just a whole
different level. One of the girls that didn‟t place that year, like we got back stage at the
end and she just collapsed on the floor. Thirty minutes later we were all leaving and she
was still crying on the floor. So it was just totally different. So that kind of, didn‟t ruin it
for me, but I knew I wasn‟t going to go there. And to succeed at that level, you have to go
there. That has to be your one hobby. And I was always interested in tennis, and dance,
and horseback riding. I had other things going on. And that‟s what I want for my child.
So I will probably steer her more towards the community level, local pageants. And who
knows. I have nothing towards the girls that do it. I have a very good friend who won
Miss Georgia. Good for her, but that was her one thing. She paid for law school with
her money. I mean good for her, but that just wasn‟t me. So I mean pageants aren‟t just
in one category.
In the local pageants, girls talk about each other just like girls talk about each
other in anything. I‟ve never heard at the local level of someone… maybe a hair curler
got moved to the other side of the room, but no dresses were ever cut. At the Miss
Georgia level they have back up dresses and all kinds of stuff because people will put
black soot in makeup. I‟ve never heard of that happening at the local level or like at the
Miss Hinesville. Even at some of the Miss Georgia preliminary pageants that don‟t take
themselves as seriously, like Altamaha and some of these smaller communities that hold
the preliminary pageants, but like your Miss University of Georgia, Miss Atlanta, Miss
Savannah those pageants are professional level events. I mean the next day you‟re at the
hair stylist getting a whole makeover after you‟ve just won a pageant.
With the local pageants it was like a community event and there‟s thirty-
something girls in it, so chances are you, as an eleven year old, have an older friend
that‟s in this pageant. So I used to go, I remember as long as I remember, going to the
Junior Miss Pageant every year. And so it‟s almost assumed if you‟re a girl that‟s
interested in dresses at all, when you‟re a certain age you‟re going to be in the Junior
Miss Pageant. It was just kind of a part of the culture here. So it was more initiated by
the community. My mother was supportive but wanted me to make sure I was interested
in it and not just doing it to do it, cause it is a financial burden. Especially some of the
commercialized, Miss Sunburst, these that come through mail order crowns where you
pay two-hundred dollars to enter, and you‟re the only person in the category so you get a
crown. It‟s a commitment. Just like any hobby with a child to make sure they‟re truly
interested in it.
Anne left beauty pageants before she became one of the drama queens that
sabotage other contestants to win. That was not a side of pageants that she wanted to
explore. With the pressures put on females by society, succeeding can cause much stress
in the process of life. Girls are not allowed to have a voice, so they rely on hurtful acts of
aggression to bring others down in an attempt to build them up. It is important to be
aware of the hidden culture of aggression in girls and know how to react accordingly.
Help Wanted Needed
Rachel Simmons (2002) also explores similar topics in her book Odd Girl Out.
This book deals with the topic of the hidden culture of aggression in girls. The books and
research that are available on bullying are widespread when dealing with males, but it
offers little when it comes to females. Remembering a childhood memory, Simmons sets
forth to provide further insight to this important yet neglected subject. While reading this
book, I was unable to put it down as it allowed me to take a walk down memory lane.
The personal stories that were explored seemed all too familiar. It brought back many
memories of altercations between other girls and me in high school. Like many of the
girls in the book, I also experienced days when I did not want to go to school. I
remember telling my parents that girls were evil, a repeated stereotype found in this book.
I could relate to the stories expounded upon in this piece; girls who were your friend one
day and gave you the silent treatment the next, starting rumors, and pulling others into the
fight. Why are girls so hateful and rude to others?
One key element that Simmons notes is that society expects girls to be “nice girls”
who behave well in school, are submissive, and remain quiet for the most part. It is not
permissible for them to act violent. When discussing this issue with adolescent girls, they
say that they are hushed and unable to act as desired.
A girl learns early on that to voice conflict directly with another girl may result in
many others ganging up against her. She learns to channel feelings of hurt and
anger to avoid their human instigator, internalizing feelings or sharing them with
others. She learns to store away unresolved conflicts with the precision of a
bookkeeper, building a stockpile that increasingly crowds her emotional
landscape and social choices. She learns to connect with conflict through the
discord of others, participating in group acts of aggression where individual ones
have been forbidden. (Simmons, 2002, p. 69)
Girls learn hard lessons of life at an early age through various mediums. They are unable
to have a voice and a way to deal with their problems. Personal problems are kept inside,
and unable to be handled accordingly, they then build up and become unresolved issues.
Society is reproductive in nature; the same gender roles are filtered down through
generations which are hard to break and work to further perpetuate women‟s status.
Schools also fall victim to this reproduction. As examined in the book, when girls turn to
their teachers for help, the teachers often downplayed the situation and gave the advice to
ignore the girl who is causing the problem. Because girls are unable to act on their
feelings as males do, they find other ways to hurt that are not nearly as obvious as
Girls use backbiting, exclusion, rumors, name-calling, and manipulation to inflict
psychological pain on targeted victims. Unlike boys, who tend to bully
acquaintances or strangers, girls frequently attack within tightly knit networks of
friends, making aggression harder to identify and intensifying the damage to the
victims. (Simmons, 2002, p. 3)
Because these acts are not always visible, it is hard to pinpoint their existence. In
schools, it may go unnoticed by teachers. Girls are not given permission by society to
speak in an attempt to resolve conflicts, so this triggers additional problems.
This results in an alternate form of bullying. I believe that these acts hurt worse
than any physical act as the effects can be long and painful. The results are devastating
for young girls and self-esteems suffer. When this happens, girls deal with this low
esteem in various ways such as dieting, and even extreme measures such as suicide. The
mean comments made by girls become internalized and instead of helping themselves,
the individual is often just as mean, and sometimes even harder, on themselves. These
feelings can easily turn into depression.
Teenage girls report suffering from depression more often than teenage boys.
Teenage boys are less likely to seek help or recognize that they suffer from depression,
probably due to different social expectations for boys and girls - girls are encouraged to
express their feelings while boys are not. Teenage girls‟ somewhat stronger dependence
on social ties, however, can increase the chances of teen depression being triggered by
social factors, such as loss of friends. (Teen Depression-Help for Troubled Teens, 2005)
The social factors that females deal with are hard to cope with at any age, especially
during adolescence. The pressures of fitting in can be so demanding that when these
feelings escalate, suicide is an option. “Girls think about and attempt suicide about twice
as often as boys, and tend to attempt suicide by overdosing on drugs or cutting
themselves” (About Teen Suicide, 2010). A problem clearly exists that must be
addressed. Awareness is the first step in correction. Being a good girl is not the answer
if it brings very little good to the girl.
Passing on the Crown
Now divorced and living in a small apartment in her hometown, Anne continues
to live her life in quite a different manner than that of five months ago. Five months ago
Anne and her husband lived in a new home that they built after being married. Not one
local event passed that Anne did not attend. Not feeling that her husband took care of her
every need, she found comfort in another man that she met at her work. Now publically
dating, Anne does not spend as much time with her daughter as her ex-husband does.
She attends various classes at the local YMCA and has lost weight. She has also talked
to some plastic surgeons about possible procedures once she loses her desired amount of
weight. Anne no longer spends much time with other females as the majority of local
women her age now shun her for her actions. Remember, in a small town, news as
exciting as a divorce remains the talk for quite a while.
Although Anne has put this part of her life behind her, she now has a four year-
old daughter. Will she choose this same path now that she can make decisions as a
I think I will pretty much stay on the same lines that my mom did and make sure
that she wants to do it herself. Cause I think pageants are great things for self-esteem
and young girls, but I don‟t think there‟s anything she could gain from a pageant right
now that she couldn‟t gain from another activity. And so being around other kids and
learning stage presence and all that, I mean you could do that at this age from doing
theatre or art class. So I am going to take those other avenues for right now until she‟s
old enough, thirteen, fourteen. When she‟s older she will be more able to deal with it:
the winning, or losing, and understanding. I‟d rather her learn from team sports first,
winning or losing, than it just be all on her. She needs to understand that it‟s someone‟s
opinion, and opinions change from day to day, and I don‟t think children are mentally
prepared for that until they are older.
Ironically, in the time passed between the interview and now, Anne has changed
her mind on letting her daughter participate in pageants. Now four years old, Anne‟s
daughter will be competing in her first pageant this month, a Christmas pageant hosted by
the private school she attends. This is proof that although Anne recognizes that pageants
do not offer anything to a child this age, she cannot escape the pressure to compete as she
is heavily influenced by society and traditions. Although the results of this pageant may
harm her daughter, they may be more harmful to Anne as she knows all too well how
opinions and judgments impact self-esteem.
Anne knows the power of judgments and how they can affect a person‟s self-
worth. It is something that she has constantly struggled with. Not accepted by people in
high school, Anne turned to both a private school and pageants to help her cope. Her
physical stature was by far not up to par with those seen in the media. She is aware of
her flaws and is determined to fix them. Just as judgments are passed on her, she in turn
judges her own body against other females. Even though Anne has much more going for
her than her looks, she continues to dwell on this imperfection and has fallen victim to
the way in which females are produced.
Looking at Anne‟s situation through a cultural theory lens, she tried extremely
hard to represent something that she was not. Going back to Stuart Hall‟s theory of
representation (1997), “meaning is produced and exchanged” through popular culture, the
home, and school (p.15). Anne saw the images around her and knew that she must
represent herself the same way in order to become accepted. She noted that growing up
she was a tomboy and had to learn how to like frilly dresses. She turned to pageants to
discipline her body and learn how to properly act as a female. The stereotypes were
there, and she saw others fulfilling them. These were the people who were popular in
school and got the attention that Anne craved. The images seen in society are
representations of others‟ opinions, and these become the standards for society. Anne
continues to represent the ideals of her Southern tradition through her work for a state
politician. The way in which others perceive her is important to Anne‟s esteem. She
experienced hardships when she did not represent herself they way others deemed
appropriate. Representations are important in the way that females are perceived and the
perpetuation of their status. Traditions are highly influential on the representations that
are seen, and greatly affect the suppression of females, especially in the South where
patriarchal views are dominant.
BEAUTY OF THE PRESENT: MEET ELIZABETH
The slow Southern drawl may be the first thing you notice about Elizabeth. She is
kind-hearted and uses her manners religiously. Rather shy, she does not seek out
attention from others. Not too short, and not too tall, Elizabeth is an average sized
twenty-year old. Her family has a strong relationship that expands from just her
immediate family. Elizabeth has several of her extended family members close by, and
she can often be found spending time with them. Although she now attends college, she
goes to a school that is very close to her hometown. Her ties are strong, and she relies
heavily on their support. Her Southern upbringing is just as traditional as several
generations before her.
Life Lessons: A Look into Elizabeth’s Problem
Long dirt roads winding through vast areas of land surrounded by large fences,
plantation style homes, great oak and magnolia trees, fried chicken, sweet tea, and pickup
trucks are just some of the images conceived when thinking of the South. The women
living in the South are also characterized by certain traits. These Southern Belles are
easy on the eyes and just as pleasant to listen to with their Southern drawl. Known for
their kindness and hospitality, Southern women are often seen as pure and followers of
God. “And who, exactly, was a Southern woman? „The loveliest and the purest of God‟s
creatures, the nearest thing to an angelic being that treads this terrestrial ball is a well-
bred, cultured Southern white woman or her blue-eyed, golden-haired little girl‟”
(Graham, 2001, p. 18). The pureness of a Southern Belle could not be found elsewhere.
Their traits set them apart from other women. Being well-bred, and the way in which
children are raised, involve traditions being passed along through family lines.
Many Southern women are Christians. “Middle class parents, mothers
particularly, attempt to participate in, and to direct all of, the child‟s activity. The child is
sent regularly to Sunday school and to church” (Davis, Gardner & Gardner, 1965, p.
104). The church helps develop the sincere, pure being that Southern females are
supposed to be. The role of the mother is very important in this development as well.
The mother selects the activities and stays involved in them. The relationship then
strengthens, and this tradition is passed down to future generations.
Southern females are expected to constantly perform the duties that have been
deemed appropriate for them. Valerie Walkerdine (1994) recognized that whether it is at
work, school, or home, females always take their place on the stage.
We are used, too, to dramaturgical metaphors that tell us that life is a performance
in which we do nothing but act out a series of roles or indeed that these roles can
be peeled away like layers of an onion to reveal a repressed core, a true self,
which has been inhibited, clouded by the layers of social conditioning which
obscure it. (p. 57)
A female‟s identity is constructed by social conditioning that oppresses the mind, forcing
them into stereotypical roles. They continue to perform according to what is deemed
appropriate through strong traditions in a patriarchal society. Here is a look at
A true Southern debutante, Elizabeth grew up in a well-known family who
ensured that their Southern traits were passed down to their two daughters. Born and
raised in her current town, Elizabeth holds an advantage over many others. Her family
has deep roots dating back many generations. Her family makes a good living, although
none too excessive. Her family name is known by many people, thus creating an
advantage for her. Elizabeth‟s dad works at City Hall where he runs Building
Inspections, and Elizabeth‟s mother works as a civilian on the Army base. Her parents
are married and can be found together often. She has a younger sister who she spends a
lot of time with. In the past, Elizabeth has volunteered as a cheerleading coach for the
youth through her local Recreation Department, as well as participated in activities
TV is not my thing. For one I don‟t feel like I have time to sit down and watch TV,
especially being in college. I mean there are certain shows that I do enjoy watching but
it is not the kind of thing that all my friends do like “Oh my gosh I have got to be home in
ten minutes, this show is coming on.” I watch… let me think… I like the real housewives
of California and that kind of thing and I do watch pageants, Miss America and Miss
Universe, and that kind of thing when it comes on. The main thing that I watch is sports.
Me and my dad, I mean if it‟s anything it‟s me and my dad sitting down watching a
football game or a baseball game or something.
I played softball and I cheered. I came to Liberty County and played softball for
a year in high school. That‟s when I found out public school wasn‟t my cup of tea, and I
went back to private school where I cheered my senior year. I won a national title and
individual cheerleading, I won state level in cheerleading. I was involved in a lot of
things because pageants only took up your Friday or Saturday.
I have been in roughly about fifteen. I won seven titles. I was twelve when I
competed in my first pageant. My cousin Jennifer initiated my first pageant, Liberty
County Junior Miss. She was the current title holder and she told me, “Hey come try
this.” And I did. It was my very first pageant and I won it. So that‟s what started it.
Being in a beauty pageant I guess makes me feel, not so much while I am in the
beauty pageant, but after when I get my scorecard and see the comments that they‟ve
made. For one, it boosts my self-esteem to see gorgeous smile, gorgeous eyes, stuff that I
know is naturally mine without all this stuff. But also when they point out your flaws. I
use it as some construction criticism, in a good way I take it. It‟s the stuff that I get
criticized on is stuff that I can use in everyday life. Like the way I answer my questions
or hold your shoulders back, which all goes back to the good posture thing. So I use it as
a tool really and it makes me. I guess the way I feel about them. I know younger kids it
is not the best thing for them because they are so young and they haven‟t figured out who
they are yet. I know when I was twelve if I would have lost that pageant I probably would
have been upset. I have a little sister who also does them. She is four years younger than
me and she is more outgoing. She is very outgoing. So she wins a lot more because of
her outgoing personality. So I see that there are things that I need to change when I am
compared to other people.
Perceptions of the self are often created by making comparisons to other people.
Whether we live up to standards or not, judgments are passed on other individuals to
measure our own worth. Glancing through a Victoria‟s Secret magazine will more often
than not make a female feel down on her appearance. Photo Shopped, flawless bodies
leave viewers critiquing their own bodies and possible ways to achieve that look.
Pageants also allow young girls to compare themselves to the contestants on the stage and
attempt to copy what they see. "Miss America represents the highest ideals. She is a real
combination of beauty, grace, and intelligence, artistic and refined. She is a type which
the American Girl might well emulate" (Hickman in Miss America, 2008). Comparisons
happen both on and off stage, and the good qualities that are seen are often attempted to
be copied. When comparisons are made, people strive to be the one who is victorious.
No one likes to lose.
I think my high school pageant was probably the hardest for me, because it‟s
really hard to go up against your friends. I mean even though you are going into it for
the fun of things, everybody still wants to win or else you wouldn‟t have signed up for it
regardless of what anyone says. It was hard for me because there was some girls that
just downright by God, they knew they were gonna walk out of there with the crown, and
they knew it the whole time, and they would act like they were a step better than you. In
all reality we‟re all the same age, we all go to the same school, and our parents all pay
the same thing. Seeing my sister, my sister won the pageant when she was a freshman
and she was the sixth one in thirty-seven years to win it and she lost three friends over
that. My sister knew she wasn‟t going to win. She was a freshman and there was
fourteen seniors in it. It‟s bad. That makes it not fun when you see that happen. Me and
my sister are at a age now where we are in the same age group. So I‟ve kind of put
pageants to the side the ones that she‟s entering, because she‟s so young so I just do the
ones that I‟m only in so we don‟t have to go against each other. It‟s hard, like I‟ve said,
watching my sister, I‟ve never lost a friend over it because, I mean come on it‟s a
pageant. You know, it‟s not your fame and glory and one day it‟s going to grow old and
your crowns are going to go in the attic or maybe the trashcan. So I mean if it ever came
to that point, I was like it‟s not worth my time or money to lose a friend over.
Family and friends are important to Elizabeth, and the tight-knit bonds that exist
allow for traditions to be passed down. From these, gender roles are carried on and
identities are formed. When a family is close, simple events, such as eating dinner, allow
for gender roles to become defined. “In anticipation of their adult roles, boys and girls
are almost everywhere put into different „learning environments‟ with different categories
of „social partners‟ (Bem, 1993, p. 134). Women often take on the task of preparing and
serving the meal. The men typically eat and then relax afterwards on the couch or
outside. The women are left to clean up the kitchen. This same scenario could have been
seen with several generations before.
Think of yourselves like actors in a play. Your family‟s beliefs are the scripts.
Your family‟s particular script tells each of you how you‟re supposed to act and
what to expect from each other as you age. You each act out your roles in father-
daughter, mother-daughter, and husband-wife pairings. I am not saying that
there‟s no freedom in families to deviate from our scripts. I am saying, though,
that long before you were born, your father‟s beliefs and your mother‟s beliefs
about how fathers were supposed to act and what father-daughter relationships
were supposed to be were creating the scripts that you and your father eventually
would act out. (Nielsen, 2004, p. 3)
Traditions have great control over relationships that are formed throughout generations.
Whether aware or unaware, lessons are learned through every day observations. Children
are educated by the environments they are in, and with time, the younger generations fall
into their expected roles, allowing this cycle to continue.
The traditional Southern family has clear lines that define certain role
expectations. The father is seen as head of the household whose job it is to provide
financially for the family. “Eighty percent of the fathers in our country earn most of the
money for their families” (Nielsen, 2004, p. 25). Being the breadwinner also brings
strength and superiority to the father. Most of their time is spent taking care of the
family, not spending time with the family. Generally, this allows for children to develop
stronger relationships with their mothers.
My dad definitely does not get involved in that kind of stuff (pageants). Dad just
pays the bills. I feel that there are fathers who probably do get involved like on these TV
shows. Like I said, my dad just gives the money to pay for it. He is not my costume
designer by no means. Some pageants recommend you getting a sponsor to pay. I have
only done that once. My parents have paid for it every other time.
There‟s really two people that I look up to. My mom being the first one, because
my mom obviously busts her butt everyday to provide me and my sister with the very best
and still somehow finds time to have friends of her own and do things that she likes to do.
But also at the same time, she‟s still pleasing us while she is doing something that she
wants to do. She has never told me and my sister “no,” not that I think that‟s a good
thing, but it‟s anything that she‟s been able to provide us, which she‟s been able to. I
also look up to my cousin, Mandy, because taking her situation coming into things, I
know I would have never been able to do what she did. And to stay home with those two
kids and still be able to work part-time, it‟s just incredible. She wants to stay a part of
her children‟s lives, and she doesn‟t want them to be in a daycare somewhere.
In her eyes, Elizabeth‟s father is seen as the breadwinner for the family. He does
not take part in picking out her pageant attire, but he is the one that provides this
opportunity for her. When asked who she looks up to, her father was not mentioned.
Although he provides the financial support, he is not connected to her pageants. That is a
time that allows her to bond with her mother. She credits her mom for working hard, but
she notes that her mom does anything to please her and her sister. Her mom takes her
motherly role just as important as her career. Elizabeth also respects her cousin, Mandy,
who is basically a stay-at-home-mom. Shortly after high-school Mandy started dating
Elizabeth‟s cousin and became pregnant. They quickly got married and started their life
in the fast lane. Now, her part-time job consists of helping her husband with their family-
owned business. Both of these families clearly depict the stereotypical Southern family.
The dad works hard, and the females are concerned about their image in the public eye
and pleasing others. Southern women aim to please all people, especially her husband
once she is married.
Mama‟s advice was heavy on two particular points: You need to keep a fire
going in both the bedroom and the kitchen. Southern Mamas across the board
believe if a girl tends to these blazes, she won‟t have to worry about her Sweet
Thang volunteering with anyone else‟s department. (Rushing-Tomlinson, 2008,
It is a woman‟s job to ensure that her man stays fed and taken care of sexually. If a
woman does this well, she will not have to worry about competing with other women
over her husband. Just as a wife is expected to capture the heart and eye of her husband,
women are given the chance to capture the public eye by participating in beauty pageants,
which the South is well-known for.
Cotton Pickin’ What?
The South is host to numerous beauty pageants which often have extremely
unique titles up for grabs. Since the media took hold and introduced pageants to the
public in the 1950s, the South has paraded a lineup of beautiful women.
Four months after the Brown decision, at the beginning of the nation‟s school
year, the mythology‟s iconography received a shot of adrenaline with the first
telecast of the Miss America pageant. Throughout the decade and well into the
1960s, Americans watched a succession of southern white women win the crown
(five alone between 1957 and 1964); contestants from Mississippi, in fact, won
consecutive titles in 1959 and 1960, and the University of Mississippi became
famous as a “hothouse for nurturing beauty.” (Graham, 2001, p. 19)
The public fell in love with Southern women and earned a reputation of cultivating
beauties. This reputation has not changed much in more than one-hundred years. In
1897, Miss Jessie A. Fowler made the statement:
“The Southern girl has generally soft, velvety cheeks that are radiant and bright
with Southern sunshine, and her voice is mellow, light, and sweet. She has a
pleasant smile, easy grace, and restful yet animated manners, which play havoc
with the hearts of young men.” (Woman: The Girl up to Date, 1897)
These characteristics are still used to describe Southern women today. This is proof that
Southern tradition continuously produces females that are very similar to previous
generations. It was also noted that these Southern women played havoc on the hearts of
men. Once a certain type of woman catches men‟s eyes, that image will appear more
readily in the media.
The broadcast of pageants allowed pageants to grow in popularity. Aside from
the large pageants, local pageants began to pop up around the South. According to
Pageant Center‟s calendar, New York has listed two upcoming pageants for the month of
April while Georgia has listed ten upcoming pageants. (Pageant Calendar, 2010)
Although this website does not list all pageants occurring in each state, it gives a nice
representation of how pageants in the South far outnumber those in the North. When
analyzing why this is so, it helps to take a look at the political views of each.
Overall, Southerners tend to be more conservative than Northerners. They
preserve tradition and value family. Generally, Northerners embrace choice and look to
help all people. The Southern emphasis on tradition continuously produces females that
are similar to their previous generations. They are taught to pay close attention to their
physical appearance, and thus, beauty pageants are rampant in the South.
Some pageants in Georgia that have recently been held are the Liberty County
Junior Miss, Miss Portal Turpentine, Little Miss Dazzling Darling, and the Cotton Pickin‟
Pageant. The names alone distinguish themselves as being Southern. Many local events
attach a beauty pageant to their agenda to draw more attention and participation. These
allow select local participants to have numerous titles under their belt.
I have participated in every level of pageants. I‟ve done county, state, and
national pageants. The national pageants are very glitzy, a lot of fake, not yourself kind
of stuff. County is more natural, but you still have your touch of glitz. The statewide
pageants are very fast-paced and kind of glitzy, fake but in your interview, they look for a
more down-to-earth kind of person. I like the more natural in the interview but more
glitz on stage, thicker makeup, bigger hair-dos, that kind of thing.
We pay someone to do our hair and makeup. Our whole face is airbrushed on.
That is for makeup, for if you get her to do your makeup for interview, which I don‟t, I do
my own makeup for interview, because it‟s a more natural kind of thing. But your
onstage for casual, and then a new hairdo for formal is one-hundred fifty dollars. So the
stress and the frustration of you not having to do it yourself is worth one-hundred fifty
The Miss Georgia Sweet Onion Pageant in Glennville last April I think it was,
and that was a very natural pageant. There was twenty-two girls in it and I felt that I did
the very best in my interview that I have ever done in any interview. I felt like I did the
very best on stage that I had ever done. And I was told by many, many people who have
seen me perform and go on stage before that that was the best they have ever seen me
look on stage. They were like you definitely have top ten if not top five. Well it came
down to time for the top ten, and not to be conceited, but I saw girls that I knew, for one,
I was way older than some of the girls so I knew that I had a better chance. And I felt
when the pageant coordinator for Georgia Southern told me that I was outstanding and
gorgeous on stage, I thought well that says something that someone from a different level
said something. I didn‟t even place in the top ten. That‟s when I was like “Woah, what
happened?” They weren‟t giving out score sheets at the end. And it all came down
basically that I wasn‟t from Glennville and my mom and dad didn‟t have an onion field,
so that‟s what it all boiled down to. They take you for who you are and won‟t look
Glennville is similar to Elizabeth‟s hometown in many ways. The families who
are well-established are given power over others. “Informally, or through the social
systems of the community, they can implement their policies” (Mitchell, & Moore, n.d.).
Their local connections allow them to use their power in a selfish way. The “you scratch
my back, I‟ll scratch yours” goes a long way in small towns. Personal agendas, both
professionally and personally, are able to be met. In both towns, there is not much room
for out-of-town competition. With deep roots grow deep benefits. After this, Elizabeth
realized that she had that same advantage in her hometown. "Something happens to
individuals when they realize they have power. Goals and aspirations become entangled
with motive, ambition, character, and ego, often flavored by greed and self
aggrandizement” (Henrichs, n.d.). The power that locals possess is used to reach their
goals. Whether these are small or large, instead of achieving them individually, their
local pull is used to get them where they want to be. Although Elizabeth was hurt by
losing a pageant in another small town, she continued to participate in pageants in her
hometown. It was here that she had ties and used them to her advantage to attain the
titles she wanted.
Honestly here in Hinesville I think it happens a lot, because the same lady does
all of the pageants and she also owns a dress shop. I feel that if you buy one of her
dresses, or you support her business, you are more than likely going to win her pageant.
I think a lot of it is based on how you present yourself, but I also think that she has some
pull on it because she tabulates the scores, which I don‟t think is fair at all.
Most of the time beauty pageants are set to judge girls, although there are a few
where there are male participants. This is proof that society puts a lot of pressure on
women to look pretty, according to what is expected. Aside from attending local beauty
pageants, the media helps to promote the popularity to its viewers. Several television
shows, movies, actual pageants, and pageant reality shows portray the accepted female on
the big and small screens. However, Southern females are perceived differently than
other females. Movies such as Gone with the Wind, Steel Magnolias, and TV shows such
as Dukes of Hazzard set the stage for such perceptions.
The movie Steel Magnolias speaks volumes about Southern females merely from
its title. The title suggests that while females should be soft and pretty as magnolias, they
also have to be made of steel to withstand the hardships they experience. This movie is
centered on the relationship between a mother and daughter and stories that evolve from
the local hair salon. It is of great importance that a large majority of the plot takes place
in a hair salon. Here, Southern females spent hours upon hours having their hair,
makeup, and fingernails done, while gossiping to stay abreast of the town‟s happenings.
This movie focused on a small group of women that experienced life-changing events
together. Shelby (the daughter) spent much of her time with her mother. The maternal
relationship was emphasized and developed as the father spent time away at work, as
found in other traditional Southern homes. Shelby and her mother spent several hours of
their day together, often focusing on Shelby‟s upcoming wedding.
During Shelby‟s wedding, the owner of the hair salon and another friend were
gossiping about a lady on the dance floor. When referring to the way she looked in her
dress, which she was not wearing a girdle underneath, they said that “…it looks like two
pigs fighting under a blanket” (Ross, 1989). Not leaving the house without lycra on the
thighs meant that you were brought up right. These two Southern women were quick to
judge and gossip about another woman. Not following proper etiquette was not
acceptable according to the values they learned and honored. This same sort of judgment
is passed through the many pageants that the South hosts, highlighting those females that
possess this same type of traditional values.
When Shelby returned from her honeymoon, she made it in time for her town‟s
Holiday Festival. A pageant, Miss Merry Christmas, was held at the festival, amidst
booths that served food and hosted other activities. It was here when Annelle, a worker
at the salon, revealed her new self. She went from getting divorced, to being a wild party
animal, to becoming a devout Christian woman. The word of God powered her every
move, and she could not have a conversation without turning it into a religious one. This
is a distinct characteristic of many Southern women. Their religion helps shape them into
the pure, gentle creatures they are expected to be.
Not long after, Shelby announced that she was pregnant. Her mother was not
happy with the news because she knew that it could be dangerous to her health (she had
diabetes). Shelby always sought her mother‟s approval and needed that constant in her
life. As Shelby laid dying in the hospital, the men in her life could not stand to watch.
The mother, being a steel magnolia, watched as her daughter passed. She then lived her
life to find great joy in her grandson. When her daughter passed, she clung tightly to her
family. This is an example of how Southern people tend to value family, and the deep
bonds that are formed through relationships help ensure family traditions remain.
This movie once again defines the differences between males and females. The
females spent numerous hours gossiping in a beauty salon where they were focused on
their looks. The men were occupied with work and pastimes such as hunting. Shelby
always wanted her mother‟s approval for everything that she did, and her mother worried
constantly, trying to control every part of Shelby‟s life that she could. Once Shelby had
the baby, the baby would make trips to the beauty salon. The roles were distinct as this
sad story unfolded in a small Louisiana town.
Similarly, the TV show The Dukes of Hazzard, portrays similar gender roles.
Two cousins, Bo and Luke Duke, spent their days full of racing and moon-shining. They
were always in trouble with the local officials in their small Georgia hometown, which
usually landed them in a chase with Sherriff Roscoe P. Coltrane. Bo and Luke were
innocent of many of the crimes that they were charged with. The big wig in town, Boss
Hogg, was a greedy man who plotted and schemed to constantly get his hands on more
money. He was the wealthiest man in Hazzard County and because of this, he had great
pull. In cases where he should have been arrested, he used his money to his advantage
and got away with merely a slap on the wrist.
Although Bo and Luke did not have money on their side, they did implement the
resources that they had. Their attractive cousin, Daisy Duke, used her Southern charm to
sweet talk the officials in order to flirt her cousins out of any trouble.
There are two types of flirting-seductive and social. Any woman worth her
weight in lip gloss knows how to flirt seductively, but the art of social flirting was
born and perfected in the South. It comes as naturally to Southern women as the
air we breathe, providing a pulsating heartbeat to our personal charisma. (Rich,
1999, p. 91)
Southern women are raised to be kind, but they also know how to transform this into
flirting when the time is necessary. This social flirting allows Southern women to
captivate men and charm them. Not meaning anything sexual by this flirting, Southern
women can use social flirting on all males. The way in which Daisy Duke dressed added
to her appeal as she flirted. She dressed in revealing ways, leaving her mark on the
fashion world coining “Daisy Dukes” the term for short shorts. Her traits helped to paint
her as an ideal example of a Southern woman. When made into a movie in 2005, Jessica
Simpson was chosen to play Daisy Duke. With the looks, charm, and personality to
match, this Southern Belle from Texas fit the character perfectly.
I think the media portrays a woman to be perfect. They think a woman should live
up to the standards that they set, when in reality every woman has their own standards.
Some people can‟t achieve the goals that others can. I feel that money is a problem, or
they just don‟t want to be like that kind of person. I think the media wants every normal
down-to- life woman to look like your movie stars. Yes, I do, I think that we, Southern
women, are more laid back than most. I know that I can get up out of my bed, brush my
hair and brush my teeth and throw on a t-shirt and go somewhere and not care at all
what someone thinks. But I have a friend who lives in LA and would not think at all of
walking out of her bedroom without makeup and dressed up. I feel that Southern women
do dress up, and when they dress up they are very presentable. And I think our style is a
whole lot more conservative than Northerners and people who live in a high city life and
that kind of thing.
Southerners have strong characteristics that set them apart from others. Even
when they are not dressed to a “T”, they are still able to captivate the attention of others
through their charm. However, it is important to note that popular culture can purposely
hinder perceptions of the Southern population. Just as with other forms of media, certain
characteristics are often exaggerated for pleasure and enjoyment. Elizabeth also noticed
this point after watching several reality TV shows on pageants.
I think that what they are showing is the whole wrong point of view. I think they
just do it to get people to watch it, and of course they are going to put the big drama-
filled families in there. I think that these shows are scripted and I think they do that just
to draw attention. That is not how any pageant I have ever participated in has been like.
I know the moment that my mom yells at me because I am not doing what she tells me to
do on stage is when I am going to give it up and quit. Or if me and my mom fight over
what happens. I mean my mom will give me her “You should have done this, you should
have done that” but it‟s never a fight, you are on restriction, you didn‟t win this pageant
kind of thing.
Exaggerations are made with everything: pageants, homosexuals, Caucasians,
African-Americans, Southerners, and several others. Not all Southerners live in trailer
parks, speak with an accent, and eat fried chicken for dinner. Not all Southern females
are pure, kind, and beautiful. For those who were born and raised in the South, traits
from their families are soaked in from childhood. Besides the family, the school serves
as another breeding ground for these traits.
Learning to be a Good Girl
When the word gender is used, the words male and female are used. These words
are often associated with common performances expected of each group. It is not a
female‟s job to tend to the house and children while a male‟s job is to provide for the
family. Instead of these stereotypical traits that seem to define us, the connection
between the two should be focused on. This is where television shows, and other forms
of popular culture, help to reproduce the stereotypical gender specific traits that exist.
When looking at the roles of women portrayed through popular culture, it has to
be questioned who is responsible for the scripts. Often times, males still hold the higher
ranking jobs such as producer. The way that women are portrayed is hence determined
by males who are looking to make their show entertaining. “Television‟s view of women
is influenced partly by what its creators think the audience wants, partly by that they
think it needs, and partly by the stereotypes and assumptions they inadvertently project
onto their creations” (Lichter, Lichter & Rothman, 1994, p. 147). These three aspects are
put together to make a show that is entertaining without paying much attention to the
unfair representations within. All three areas stated above boil down to what men are
looking for in a show. The males once again dominate the way society will view
females. It is from their opinions that other people form their own beliefs about gender
roles. The ideal woman that is described above portrays the perfect woman that the
majority of men would prefer. What is seen on television is a reflection of the opinions
of its audience.
It is widely known that there is a large gap in respect and status between men and
women. Society has strict rules in place for women and of these, physical appearance is
at the top. Popular culture plays a large role in reproducing this expectation through
plastering images of women that meet this standard on television, movie screens, music
videos, and magazine pages. These images are taken in and become a force that most
women choose to deal with. In addition to popular culture, the school is generally seen as
a safe haven for children, but quite the opposite is true for females.
Behavior charts, stickers, and other rewards are desired by students. However,
these are often expected to be gained by females in the educational setting. Boys are
expected to behave more defiantly, choosing to break the rules. Their rambunctious
actions are excused by their gender. “Oh he‟s just being a boy” is a statement that is
often heard. Teachers expect them to break the rules, and they are willing to bend them
for males. Girls on the other hand are expected to behave appropriately and remain quiet.
I have been guilty of reminding girls to behave more lady-like. However, what exactly
does lady-like mean?
In schools, the American Association of University Women found “the lessons of
the hidden curriculum teach girls to value silence and compliance, to view those
qualities as a virtue.” Journalist Peggy Orenstein found that girls value in each
other a social characteristics of “sweet” and “cute,” a term she found
interchangeable with “deferential,” polite,” or “passive.” The good girl, Orenstein
concluded, “is nice before she is anything else-before she is vigorous, bright, or
even honest.” (Simmons, 2002, p. 106)
As long as girls behave, nothing else matters quite as much. Other characteristics are put
on the backburner and not pushed because females sit passively as they are taught,
aiming to please others.
“…Southern girls found that becoming a lady was a complicated and lengthy
process. Becoming a lady meant giving up childish play for adult pursuits-and
adopting new clothing that both symbolized and enforced the decorum expected
of young ladies. It also meant adopting a gentle, agreeable manner-and, hopefully
the morality that reinforced and made genuine the display of amiability required
of southern ladies. Ultimately however, becoming a lady meant learning to please
others.” (Jabour, 2007, p. 19)
Females‟ academics suffered as a result of this. Pleasing others was, and still is, a
requirement of Southern females. While at school, pleasing others meant remaining quiet
and not questioning what was taught. While males are pushed to continuously strive to
do better, females are left where they are because they are hushed and do not draw
attention to themselves.
Teachers generally are more forgiving of boys. However, they are quick to notice
when girls are not doing as requested. “…stereotypes of garrulous and gossipy women
are so strong that when groups of administrators and teachers are shown films of
classroom discussion and asked who is talking more, the teachers overwhelmingly choose
the girls” (McLaren, 1998/2007, p. 212). Teachers expect girls to behave and remain
quiet throughout the day so whenever they do slightly break the rules, the teachers are
quick to realize it. The actions of boys are overlooked and the focus becomes on the girls
who are not doing what they should be doing.
As educators, we often give into gender stereotypes whether we realize it or not.
We may comment to girls about the way they look or to boys on how well they play a
sport. All of this continues the assumptions about gender roles. In previous years spent
teaching kindergarten, first, and second grades, it is easy to see that kids quickly pick up
on the expected roles of their gender. The boys gravitate towards physical activities such
as sports and blocks during free time inside. The girls tend to stick together and play
house and school. They have already fallen into the stereotypical behavior that is seen on
television and conveyed through tradition, especially Southern tradition.
Women‟s roles have often been associated with domestic and conjugal roles and
these maternal roles have had profound effects on women‟s lives, on ideology
about women, on the reproduction of masculinity and sexual inequality and the
particular forms of labor power. (Onyejekwe, 2005, p. 279)
Because females are the gender who has the ability to birth children, they are expected to
be motherly. Males are often excused from duties such as these. Previously examining
the works of Madeleine Grumet, traditions perpetuate women‟s status in society because
males are taught that in order to be masculine, they must dismiss everything female. Acts
such as childbearing must be neglected in order to become properly masculine. These
views are taught through families, and the gender roles stick. These traditional views of
gender roles bleed into education, and educators should bring this issue to the table. By
raising the issue and allowing discussion, students may come to question traditions and
fight for their individual right to form their own identities. If not done so in the school
environment, it may never be a problem that is addressed in the home.
Even after graduating school, the same stereotypes exist for jobs and careers.
Motherly jobs and careers, such as teaching and nursing, are dominated by females. The
more physical or high intellectual jobs, such as lawyers, construction workers, and
doctors, are dominated by males. The school environment creates these gender specific
jobs through the curriculum. Looking through a feminist lens, “[w]hen the activities and
experiences traditionally associated with women are excluded from the educational realm
and when that realm is defined in terms of male activities and experiences, then these
become the education norms for all human beings” (Martin, 1994, p. 116). Activities
performed by females, such as sewing, cooking, and home decorating, are not infused to
the educational realm, unless as a mere elective for one portion of the year. This
demonstrates that these lack importance and significance in society, while male-
dominated activities fill the educational day. Males are able to deepen their skills, and
the rigid educational norms continue. Children as young as those in preschool begin
preparing for these educational norms through free play activities. A stroll down any toy
isle will prove that gender roles are filtered down through children‟s toys.
Many parents worry about rigid sex-typing when their daughters are small. They
carefully dress their girls in blue and buy them tractors. That‟s okay, but the time
to really worry is early adolescence. That‟s when the gender roles get set in
cement, and that‟s when girls need tremendous support in resisting the cultural
definitions of femininity. (Pipher, 1994, p. 347)
When children are young, the sex-typing is not as relevant as it is when adolescents are
able to understand and absorb the differences. It is here when parents and teachers
should encourage exploration of things such as girls playing sports, and more
importantly, an intense, meaningful introduction to male-dominated subjects such as
mathematics and science. It is also important that these young adults learn about the
problem and act on them.
Time to Wake Up
Before any action can occur, it is necessary to recognize that there is a problem
that separates the mind from the body. Even in pageants that award scholarship money,
the message that is portrayed is that although females are worthy of scholarships, their
physical beauty remains a top priority. As long as this separation remains unexplored,
females, especially Southern females operating in a strong patriarchal society influenced
heavily by tradition, will continue to perform as expected. This will continue the cycle
that unknowingly reproduces a culture of oppressed women who focus on disciplining the
body and imprisoning the mind.
Pageants make me feel good about myself. It was here in town and I was going
against two girls that were four years older than me. And I just downright knew that I
wasn‟t going to win. They were four years older than me and it was 75% interview. I
was like, you know it‟s a good learning opportunity. I went into it more so just to see the
state level judges, because I was getting ready to go to a state level pageant so I wanted
to see what they would say on my score sheet and everything. Like I said, I went into it
knowing that I wasn‟t going to win and in the end I won, and it just shocked me. They
said my interview level was above and beyond what was expected of a, at the time I was
eighteen years old. It made me feel like I accomplished something somewhere.
There is where the problem begins. One must first realize that there is a problem.
Elizabeth is a bright young lady who made good grades in school and now attends
college. She has accomplished several things in her life other than winning tiaras, and
this one statement by a judge made her feel like she accomplished something significant
in her life. She measured her worth through pageants, not her other accomplishments.
The focus remained on her physical body, a separate entity from her mind. Elizabeth
dwelled on this praise without realizing what and who she is. Approval and acceptance
based on her body is how she measured her success.
All too often we take things at face value without questioning them. We see the
images that are thrown in our faces but do many people question why this happens?
Until the educational system from kindergarten to high school reevaluates the
working-class culture of femininity, schools will continue to underwrite the
restricted and inferior role of women and function as sorting and processing
stations through which girls are prepared for a lifetime of labor or dependency on
men…” (McLaren, 1998/2007, p. 234)
Schools are part of the factory connection in which creates girls ready for a man‟s
society. They serve as an educational setting not only for academics, but the real world
as well. Schools are especially influential in the lives of students and also become a basis
for their beliefs. They fall victim to tradition, and until educators realize the role
education plays in continuing gender roles, the unfortunate results will continue.
Our culture by no means depicts an ideal one, especially for girls. Girls are not
given the same opportunities as boys because their physical appearance is emphasized
above all other characteristics. Even in schools, boys excel in the core academic subjects
such as science and math.
While girls are enrolling in college and earning degrees in greater numbers than
boys, boys still dominate the technical fields, such as computer science,
engineering and math – fields the federal Department of Labor says are the fastest
growing in America. It‟s the boys who have emerged as the best-prepared for jobs
of the future, most of which will require high-level math, computer and technical
skills. One person who is seeking to put girls on equal footing in math and
science is Dr. Pamela S. Clute, a longtime math professor at UC Riverside. The
majority of college students today are women, but fewer than 1/3 are majoring in
math, science, engineering or another technical field, she notes with concern.
Women tend to gravitate instead toward the humanities, she says. “The girls have
the ability, but they don‟t have the interest. Our ladies are not being prepared for
the future,” Clute says. (Bentley, 2008)
Females bear various strengths and gifts but these often go unexplored. It is not that they
cannot perform well in these technical jobs that are occupied by males; they simply do
not want to do them. Society does not allow females to further develop these types of
skills to initiate an interest. Instead, they focus on molding them into the cookie-cutter
role already created for them. In the book, The Southern Belle‟s Handbook: Sissy
LeBlanc‟s Rules to Live By, different rules are given in order to remain a true Southern
Belle. “Rule #48: It's okay for a woman to know her place, she just shouldn't stay there”
(Despres, 2003, p. 67). Place, as it refers to here, means rank in society. Males are seen
as superior to women and therefore hold more power. Women are taught not to question
this, but rather submit to the greater gender. Regardless of advances in society, Southern
women are taught that even if the roles are changed and the female holds the power, she
should still put males before herself. Building the male ego is a characteristic of true
Southern Belles. This type of statement is exactly what needs to be fought. Women
should know their place and be able to change that place as they desire. Girls need to be
encouraged to explore the areas of life that are appealing to them, not what is okayed by
men and society.
My school pageant, Miss Pinewood Christian Academy, was over a course of six
months. It started in the very beginning. You learned etiquette and that kind of stuff. So
I did other things with pageants. We learned etiquette, table manners, posture, walking,
standing, interviews, not only interviews for pageants, but interviews for your jobs and
that kind of thing. Every Wednesday night we had bible study with the girls who were all
in the pageant, and it was mandatory that you come. We learned dance, a dance for the
beginning, and although it‟s fun and a bonding time, it also counted towards your score
whether you were there and whether you participated and that kind of thing. But I also
was in dance for thirteen years. Like I said pageants are just a one day thing. I did take
my lessons out of Savannah for pageants, but I also looked at it as an extracurricular
activity, I mean it was something that I enjoyed doing.
The mold for the cookie has been created by generations long before. In the
South, the mold makes females who value religion, family, and kindness. Elizabeth‟s
private Christian school helped to develop these even further. Private Christian schools
are very selective in nature and do not accept people of other religious backgrounds such
as Muslims, Jews, and Atheists. These people would become a threat to the traditions
that have been passed down to their Southern children, inclusive of both males and
females. The Southern mold for males creates physical, critical thinking, and hard-
working beings. Females have been held inferior to men, and this is hard to change. Just
as old habits are hard to kick, this tradition is as well.
By preserving and cultivating memory, we might understand both our capacity
and our incapacity for action. Too much memory can consume and kill us;
without it, though, we risk being ignorant creatures of fate. As De Bois implores,
one of our greatest tasks is to turn memory (experience, knowledge, and the
stories from which we draw identity), whatever its burdens, into humane action.
(Blight, 2000, p. 352)
We learn about history so we do not make the same mistakes again. Southern families
preserve memories and do not question them. It is from these that people find their
identity. Where families have failed to question tradition, schools can pick up the slack.
Schools can serve as the grounds to turn this memory into humane action.
I do not believe that all pageants are a bad thing. However, women continue to
participate in pageants without thoroughly thinking through what they really are and what
they really stand for. Honestly, until taking graduate classes at Georgia Southern
University, it was something that I never questioned myself. I merely did not know any
better. Until other women become aware of the trap that we are in, the cycle will
Yes, I would allow my children to participate in pageants if they wanted to, if they
told me that would be something they would be interested in. But I would not put them in
it without them saying it would be something they would like to do. I wouldn‟t force them
to do it. I would not, however, put my baby in a pageant. No, I would not hold my child
Elizabeth, highly influenced by the deep Southern traditions of her family,
remains unaware of the role she is fulfilling. Her family is very close where “…sexist
roles are upheld as stabilizing traditions” (hooks, 1994, p. 28) Elizabeth learns from her
family how she should act in society, and this sets the groundwork for the day in which
she will have her own family. The social controlling and disenfranchising of Southern
women does not allow them to be placed on the same level as their male counterparts.
Her voice and mind is not given the same power as males, thus, she resorts to perfecting
her image on stage. She sees no problem with children taking their place on the stage
once they are old enough to express their interest in participating in a pageant. However,
as I will explore in Chapter 4, there are many parents, mothers in particular, that think
just the opposite. And so the cycle continues…
BEAUTY OF THE FUTURE: MEET JULIANA AND KAREN
The best word to describe both Juliana and her mom Karen is busy. Karen is a
school nurse and a mother to five children. Her family, consisting of her children, her
husband, and her blind father-in-law, lives in a decent neighborhood, and they drive a van
that was borrowed from a friend while her husband was deployed to Iraq. Until recently,
Karen did not have a stable job, but luckily landed her new position when a former
school nurse began her final battle with cancer. She is not involved in activities for
herself, and noted that as a child she did not compete in beauty pageants, but rather she
stays busy juggling her daughter‟s events.
Her daughter, Juliana, is physically small compared to others in her seventh grade
class. She excels in dance, always taking the lead role in her studio‟s competition dances.
The skills she has acquired through dance allowed her to place on her middle school‟s
cheerleading squad. Juliana also participates, and has done so throughout her life, in
beauty pageants. On a normal day, Juliana would blend in with her friends and
classmates. However, the Juliana that is seen on stage is a far different child. The
transformation that takes place is remarkable.
Life Lessons: A Look into Juliana’s Problem
Child beauty pageants have popped up more regularly in the media since the Jon-
Benet Ramsey case. The world was saddened when a child beauty pageant contestant
was found dead, and since then, many have wondered why parents choose to put their
child in the spotlight in such a manner. Although this raised awareness on child beauty
pageants, “[r]arely did the media raise the larger issue of how young girls are being
educated to function within such a limited sphere of cultural life or how such a regressive
education for young girls is more often the norm rather than the exception” (Giroux,
2006, p. 135). Although pageants were being questioned, the larger and most important
issue as to how and why children were educated to think that their participation in these
events was normal remained untouched. Young girls are taught from their surroundings
that beauty should be a top priority, therefore okaying beauty pageants. Parents aid in the
commodification of the body as they take their childhood away and rush children into the
real world. Because of this, regular children are taken and transformed into other beings.
They no longer look like innocent children who should be running around on a
playground playing tag. Instead, they now appeal to the eye as a miniature woman
perfected in every way imaginable.
Glitz pageants are those that showcase picture-perfect children who have
undergone many treatments to achieve a flawless look. The look is typically achieved
through the application of a spray tan, fake nails, fake teeth, fake eyelashes, fake hair,
tons of makeup, lots of hairspray, and a sparkly wardrobe. One cannot help but realize
the word fake is repetitive in those descriptions. The body becomes a commodity as
purchases are made to transform it into a flawless representation of beauty. Everything
that is a natural part of childhood is covered up to portray the perfect beauty desired by
society. The views of society are those that these children are trying to fulfill. “Frank
Rich wrote a courageous piece in the New York Times in which he argued that the
„strange world of kids‟ pageantry is not a „subculture‟ – it‟s our culture. But as long as
we call it a subculture, it can remain a problem for somebody else‟” (Giroux, 1998, p.
38). It is important to realize that child beauty pageant participants and their families are
not outside of the mainstream of culture. Images of perfected women are what our
culture emphasizes. These individuals are merely filling their roles as expected,
showcasing all of the features that society has emphasized. It is society‟s problem to fix
because it is one that society has created.
Living the Glamorous Life
If we‟re doing more of a natural type pageant, most of the time you still have to
get a dress. It‟s made most of the time, but then that‟s pretty much it. Then you do what
you do to anyone: to get their nails done, to make sure their hair is cut nice, and stuff
like that. The more natural ones they don‟t want all the stuff on them. They don‟t want
them to look anymore than their age. They want your child, if they‟re eleven, they want
them to look like an eleven year old. If you put on makeup they want like powder and
gloss, and a little bit of something like mascara, because you are under lights. But they
don‟t want anything else. They would much rather see the child‟s personality. But if
you‟re gonna go and do a glitz pageant, which is the full out fake everything, I mean you
will buy the fake hair, the fake tan, the fake nails, the fake teeth. There really is no
resemblance of the child left really except for the child‟s personality. As much as you
can say, that‟s pretty much it. You‟ve covered the child up. You‟ve covered them in
makeup. They have more hair than they were born with, than any child‟s ever been born
with. They are tanned. They have teeth that are perfected because you snap them in.
The only thing that‟s really left is the child‟s personality.
Karen has entered her daughter Juliana in both types of pageants. Even though
she realizes that in glitz pageants, the only thing that remains of a child is merely their
personality, she allows Juliana to participate in these as well. The kind of pageant that
they enter depends on how well Karen believes Juliana will do. However, she also takes
Juliana‟s feelings about the pageant into consideration before competing.
That also kinda depends on mood. Right now, I kinda lean towards the glitz type
side for her because she is a paler child. I know it sounds kinda weird but, but she is light
skinned and light haired, and when we do natural pageants they don‟t want you to wear
makeup. When you‟re light-haired and light-skinned and everything else, you can‟t see
your features as well as you can see someone with dark hair and dark skin, so typically
you don‟t do as well. When we do the glitz pageants, she can put makeup on, she can
tan, we can accessorize her or make her just anything she wants to be, and that‟s pretty
much where we‟re leaning right now. I pretty much go with which ever she wants to do.
She has gone through phases. We did do glitz for a long time and then she wanted to do
less stuff so we went with the more natural pageants. Then we took a break. She hasn‟t
done a pageant in probably two years. Now she wants to go back, and she wants to do
the full out glitz. She doesn‟t want to do natural, and I think the reason she doesn‟t want
to is because natural pageants generally include interview once you hit ten to twelve-ish,
and she doesn‟t like interview. She is a quiet kid. You kind of have to pull answers from
her. If she‟s ever going to want to do anything for college or something like that, she‟s
going to have to have someone help her with interview. So that‟s why she is leaning the
other way, so that way she doesn‟t have to speak. She‟s just a lot happier if she doesn‟t
have to talk.
Instead of the qualities and characteristics that make children unique, glitz
pageants only allow for perfection. Everything that is judged is superficial. The more
natural pageants allow for some resemblance of the child to remain. Only light makeup,
which is still not a necessity for a toddler, is applied. The dresses seem to be a little more
reserved, whereas in a glitz pageant, it is not unusual for dresses and other costumes to be
revealing. Interviews, which allow for interaction between the contestants and judges,
more frequently than not, occur at a natural pageant. Glitz pageants are interested with
the physical beauty that is seen instantly. Sadly, glitz pageants are the ones that are
spotlighted and showcased in the media.
Pageants Take the Large Screen
The movie Little Miss Sunshine looks into the lives of a dysfunctional family who
share the dream for their daughter to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine Pageant. The
daughter, Olive, is a normal looking child who wears glasses, has straight, long hair, and
freckles on her face. She is not the type of girl that would often be seen sashaying across
the stage at a beauty pageant. Her mom is a housewife, and her father is a failed
motivational speaker. Her brother vowed to remain silent until he fulfills his dream of
becoming a test pilot. Her uncle, who is a gay scholar, also lives with the family after a
failed suicide attempt. Lastly, Olive is extremely close to her grandfather, who also lives
with them after being kicked out of his retirement home for selling and using heroine.
During an awkward family dinner, a message from Olive‟s aunt is heard playing
on the answering machine giving her the news that the winner of a pageant that Olive
recently competed in would not be able to compete in the upcoming Little Miss Sunshine
Pageant. Therefore Olive, winning second place, now had the opportunity to compete in
it. The family backs Olive‟s strong desire to compete in the pageant and make the road
trip and their Volkswagen van to California. According to society, each of these
characters is a loser. Although each family member is a little dysfunctional, they put
aside their own desires to help Olive live out her dream of winning a beauty pageant.
The road trip was not a pleasant one as the family faced problem after problem.
Olive‟s father lost an important contract, her brother broke down after being told he is
colorblind, her grandfather died after a heroin overdose, and they encountered several
mechanical problems with their van. After having a breakdown, Olive‟s brother,
Dwayne, begins to talk again and he says, “„You know what? Fuck beauty contests. Life
is one fucking beauty contest after another. School, then college, then work. Fuck that”‟
(Dayton, 2006). He realizes that competition is alive and well in society, and there is no
escaping it. Individuals are always required to look and give their best in order to out due
one another. It is a disturbing realization, but fortunately he is one of the few that can see
that. Through all of their mishaps, this dysfunctional family learns to lean on and support
After arriving at the pageant a couple of minutes late, Olive is ready to compete.
Her family notices that she is quite different from her competition. All of the other
contestants had nice hairdos, tans, fake nails, and other pageant essentials. Regardless,
Olive gave it her best. She performed the act that her grandfather helped choreograph as
a tribute to him. The performance was to the song Super Freak and contained vulgar
moves. The crowd began to shout things, stare in disbelief, and even leave at the sight of
Olive moving seductively across the stage. In order to comfort her from the crowd, one
by one her family joined in her routine on the stage. They were there to support Olive
when nobody else would. Although Olive lost the pageant, the family was able to
achieve the relationship and dependability on one another that was lacking before. Just
as this movie reveals how families, particularly those involved in pageantry, are far from
perfect, this phenomenon has also made its way to reality TV.
Pop Goes Perfection!
During the week I really don‟t get an opportunity to watch a lot of TV. I‟m
generally really busy. But on the weekend if I get a couple of hours to just sit and do
nothing, yes, I absolutely am not going to move and I could care less what‟s on TV. It‟s
the fact that I am sitting. I don‟t have the opportunity to watch a lot of TV. Sometimes I
will watch Toddlers and Tiaras. I really like it. If I still have work to get done, it‟s going
to have to wait. If I do watch TV, it generally is TLC because I like all of their shows. I
like Cake Boss and Nineteen Kids and Counting. I don‟t know what it is about watching
other people, but that is pretty much the only channel we watch. Except for the kids, and
I‟m not watching any more cartoons.
The media has taken “people watching” and ran with the concept through the
introduction of reality television shows. These shows publicize areas of life that would
normally remain private. When we watch other people, we pass judgment on them and
compare their lives to our own. For Karen, The Learning Channels‟ lineup of reality TV
shows such as Toddlers and Tiaras, allows her to see people who are similar to herself,
and dream of instant fame like them. Nearly a year ago, Karen put in to be on the show
Toddlers and Tiaras but did not get picked for the episode being filmed at a nearby
location. Instead of participating in this show, Karen watches from her couch as do many
others drawn into the child beauty pageant phenomenon.
When walking across the stage, it appears that the pageant contestants are as close
to perfect as it gets. Typically, the pageant participants and their families are far from
perfect. Although I have not attended many child beauty pageants, thanks to the media, I
have seen several through TLC‟s Toddlers and Tiaras. This show spotlights a particular
pageant during each episode and follows participants as they prepare for their big debut.
Unlike regular pageants where you only see the performances, this show allows for a
back stage view of what really happens.
Most of the families appear to be middle class, whose families are run by their
young daughters. More times than not, the daughters are huge brats who pitch fits when
they do not get their way. Perhaps I would be a brat as well if I had my mother spraying
my skin, waxing my eyebrows, teasing my hair, and applying more makeup than a circus
clown. The mothers are normally short-tempered, shouting at their daughters to perform
their best, or bribing them with toys and other materialistic items so they will put on a
great show. A glimpse of the dad may be seen, but they are not the driving force behind
Okay, I am only human, and society influences me as well. As stereotypical as
this may sound, most beauty pageant mothers are not attractive at all. Most of them are
overweight and appear as if they do not take care of themselves. It is almost as if they are
attempting to live through their children, trying hard to fulfill a void that existed in their
own childhood. Their dream for their child‟s success brings out the competiveness in
Well it‟s just like everything else. There are some good ones. There are some
bad ones. There are some crazy ones, and I‟m sure I probably fall into one of those
categories, too. It‟s just what other people think of me. Some I think push it too hard. I
have seen kids that are really unhappy. And when they are unhappy, then I don‟t
understand what they are getting out of it. But you know what? That‟s them. I have seen
them do mean things. I have seen people drop pens into little girls‟ dress boxes. Crack
open ink pens and drop them in the box. I have unfortunately had the experience of
watching them tell this little girl, “You know that your momma isn‟t coming back”, and
her mom had stepped out to have a cigarette. I have seen some really crazy people. You
just stay away from them. We had one lady who set fire to another child‟s hair. It was
nuts. But then you stay away from those people. You know those people are crazy, and
you stay away from them. Those people generally don‟t last too long anyways. It‟s a
fancy for them. They go all in, whole hog, whatever you want to say, for a while, and
then they just disappear. The semi-normal ones are generally the ones that are left.
The desire for their child to be crowned the queen brings out more than just
competition in mothers, it brings out downright ugliness. For an adult to do hurtful
things to a child in order to put the spotlight on their own child is a cruel act. There is
nothing normal or semi-normal about that. As a mother, I understand that you want the
best for your child. That to me is a normal feeling. However, I would never do anything
harmful to another child to ensure that mine would come out on top. The child is the one
who suffers and sadly learns from the adults surrounding them.
Many parents involved in these pageants do not seem concerned about the
possible negative consequences of dressing their children in provocative clothing,
capping their teeth, putting fake eyelashes on them, and having them perform
before audiences in a manner that suggests a sexuality well beyond their years.
(Giroux, 2006, p. 137)
Without thoroughly thinking through the possible consequences, parents do whatever it
takes for their child to come out on top. The drive for this seems to be stronger from the
parents than the child. This is apparent when parents choose to put their child in a
pageant before the child has an opportunity to express a desire.
To be sure, I do not defend all pageants. Some are entirely without merit. The
Jon-Benet-style contests I entered as a child are decided almost exclusively on the
basis of appearance. Winners earn little more than a gaudy tiara and a 5-foot
trophy, and the pageant directors walk away with a ton of cash bilked from
gullible parents who unfailingly believe – and try to prove – that their child is just
the cutest kid in the whole world. (Angelotti, 2006)
The glitz pageants, such as those highlighted in TLC‟s Toddlers and Tiaras, require that
contestants completely transform from their everyday selves into picture-perfect beauties.
In addition to the contestants competing for the crown, the parents are also competing to
prove that their child is the best. The transformation that takes place for these
competitions is very pricey, and those who come out on top are the pageant directors and
those in the pageant industry.
The High Price of Beauty
Many small towns in the South host several pageants which allow children to
compete for various titles. “Children‟s beauty contests also represent places where the
rituals of small-town American combine with the ideology of mass consumer culture”
(Giroux, 2006, p. 140). While these small towns may be holding small events, it is a
large money maker for related businesses. No price is too large for parents to prove that
their child has the total package. Their personal agendas come into play as they fulfill
their desires through their child, transforming them into little adults. “Adults will project
their own fantasies onto children, even if it means selling them on the beauty block”
(Giroux, 1998, p. 37). A lot of time and money go into the preparation for a child beauty
pageant. Because children have childlike features, such as crooked or small teeth, their
bodies become adorned in products to perfect them in every way.
I can kind of give you somewhat of a break down. If you do the more natural
pageants, you are still looking at a fairly expensive dress. I mean the long and short of it
is you want something that looks good on your child, and the color looks good. So even a
natural dress is going to cost you several hundred dollars, probably five-ish, I would say
just to have it made. You can buy it premade, but you want to make sure your child
stands out in some way. As strange as it sounds, even though you do natural pageants,
you still generally have someone there that will help them get ready. Even a natural
hairstyle apparently takes more work to do, still will never understand that, but it still
happens. But I would say a natural pageant only varies by a couple of hundred dollars
less than the other one. You have to do interview suits, they generally encompass
projects, and community service type things, and they want you to make appearances.
Whereas with glitz pageants, you‟re there, you perform, you spend your money and you
go home, and they don‟t ever see you again. There is generally no commitment to it. So
although glitz pageants on top may seem more expensive, they can range. If I wanted to
get Sara completely ready for another glitz pageant, I‟d probably have to spend six or
seven thousand dollars but part of that is because I know how to do a lot of that by myself
already. And natural pageants would probably be a little bit less. But in the long run I‟d
spend just as much because you have to make all of these appearances. Most of them
have commitment clauses that you have to meet or else they won‟t let you keep your title.
Karen is the only source of income for her family, besides her father-in-law‟s
disability check. They do not have money to even purchase their own car, but it is a
priority for Karen to ensure that Juliana has the appropriate attire and other necessities
when she participates in pageants. Parents make several financial and personal sacrifices
to ensure that their child is the winner of a title. A saying that I once saw in a parenting
magazine while waiting to be called back to a doctor‟s appointment while pregnant has
stuck with me over time: “There is only one pretty child in the world, and every mother
has it.” Beauty pageants serve as the platform for every mother to prove that they have
the prettiest child.
The number of people who choose to prove their worth through beauty pageants
is astounding. “It's estimated that 250,000 children compete in more than 5,000 pageants
in the United States each year” (Canning & Hoffman, 2009). When dresses are sold for
more than a thousand dollars a pop, this alone shows the potential profit for those
involved in the pageantry business. The other necessary preparations also add up to a
hefty bill. Even when scholarship money is won, it does not come close to paying back
the money that was needed to enter the competition. Parents could save more money for
college funds by depositing the money required to prep and participate in the pageant in
the bank instead of competing for the scholarship money.
In the Hot Seat
Throughout this process, I have learned that child beauty pageants are no joking
matter. Parents take them seriously, dumping several hundred and even thousands of
dollars into the preparations. Many pageants come with a heavy entrance fee. This along
with the purchase of a dress, necessary preparations, and travel expenses create a large
profit for those in the pageant industry. Regardless of this, parents still willingly sign
their children up for these pricey competitions.
I recently had the opportunity to be a judge at a national child beauty pageant.
My niece‟s friend participates in a wide variety of pageants, while her mom organizes
many pageants. When she asked if I would be interested in judging, I, with no hesitation,
accepted. My mom, sister, and I drove to Atlanta so that I could get a backstage glimpse
at what these pageants were all about. The only qualification that I had to judge this
pageant was the two prior pageants I competed in. It was far different than I had ever
expected. As I walked down the hallway of the hotel, parents would make sure to tell me
hello. I saw some parents nudge their children to ensure they spoke as well, not
forgetting to give their best smile. The actual pageant took place in a small room
downstairs in the hotel. The stage appeared to be very homemade, put up at the last
minute. Sparkly black material covered the stage. The competition was broken down by
age groups, and mostly girls living around Georgia competed. However, one child made
the trip from Texas to compete in this pageant.
The first night of the competition showcased pageant participants in a costume of
their choice. This was an optional category that served the purpose of raising their
overall score. If the child scored higher in the costume competition than another
competition, the lower score would be thrown out and replaced with this higher score.
Some of the costumes that I saw were cats, princesses, and cheerleaders. This was the
most relaxed competition of the event.
The next morning we were treated to breakfast downstairs. Once again, the room
was filled with friendly looks and mothers telling their daughters to say hello. The
morning began with casual wear. As the girls pranced down the catwalk, I rated them on
a scale from 1 to 10. Although the outfits were supposed to be casual, most of them were
specially made, overflowing with sequence, fringe, and lace. They walked with much
enthusiasm while nodding their heads and popping into various poses. Mothers would
stand behind the judges and motion to their daughter what actions to do. The young
contestants who were unable to walk had their mothers escort them on the stage. The
casual wear competition was followed by a question/answer session with the judges for
contestants aged seven and up.
A row of four chairs was placed in front of the judges and the contestants came in
four at a time. We were given a list of questions to ask the contestants. Most of the
questions dealt with the activities they were interested in, their dreams for the future, and
their families. Those contestants that were more outgoing than the others dominated
most of the conversation. For the girls who were more reserved, the judges would ask
specific questions for them to answer. Another session was set aside for contestants
under the age of seven. This was a playtime where the judges had a chance to see how
well the contestants interacted with others. A few of the toddlers had meltdowns, and the
mothers were quick to downplay their behavior. Those same contestants acted out on the
stage during the pageant. It was clear to see that the desire to compete in the pageant was
that of the mothers and not the children.
The next event was formal wear. The girls walked extremely slow making sure to
exaggerate each turn and maintained eye contact with each judge as long as possible.
The dresses were very large, lacey, and colorful. Most of the dresses were very short and
extended out at the bottom. One three year old girl that stood out as quite the pageant
natural would come to the end of the stage, put her hands beside her cheek, and say
“Precious, precious.” The last category was talent. Very few of the contestants had a
real talent. Many of the contestants either danced to a poorly choreographed song or sang
hitting no real notes. One contestant played the flute, and it may have truly been the
worst thing I had ever heard. I remember sitting there trying my hardest not to laugh.
When all of the events were over, the pageant director tallied all of the scores.
There were numerous titles to be given, and only a handful of participants would go
without. Because of this, the pageant director created titles so that every contestant
would win something. Each age division crowned a grand supreme queen along with
first, second, and third runners up. New titles such as prettiest eyes were also handed out.
I did not witness any child getting upset over not winning. However, the facial
expressions on the parents‟ faces were easy to read if their child did not win the ultimate
I would not say that being a judge for a child beauty pageant is fun. I had a hard
time rating children, comparing them to one another, and watching some win as others
did not. I acted as an enforcer of the patriarchal beliefs upheld in society. Because I was
aware of the standards pushed down on these children, I had a difficult time with this
process. I was judging these children based essentially on the views of males in society.
What they have deemed appropriate and acceptable is what these children aimed to
represent. However, I was excited to take advantage of this opportunity to help further
understand how pageants work. I did not participate in beauty pageants as a child, so this
was the perfect opportunity to get a back stage view of what these pageants were all
I have participated in a lot of pageants, probably fifty or so. I was eight weeks
old when I competed in my first pageant. Being in a pageant makes me feel pretty. I feel
good when I win the pageant. I get to put on makeup and stuff and do my hair. I like the
dresses I wear. If I don‟t win a pageant, I still feel okay. My mom likes me to compete in
pageants the most. My dad likes them so-so. I look up to my mom the most because she
takes of me and my brothers. I take dance, cheerleading, and I played softball for a little
bit. I watch a lot of TV and movies. My favorite is Sponge Bob. I like science the best in
school. I like when we do science experiments and stuff. If you don‟t go to school you
won‟t get a good job and have good things.
Before interviewing Juliana I was very excited to hear what she had to say. As a
young girl who has participated in pageants her entire life, I knew that she would have
several stories to share. Quite the opposite happened. When I asked her questions, her
answers were very short. She did not elaborate on her responses. I found this to be very
ironic. I was expecting the typical pageant answers to be given since she is quite the
pageant queen. When asked if she thought school was important, Juliana noted that in
order to have nice things, you need an education to get a good job. Once again, the focus
is on materialistic items, thus proving that she is highly affected by consumer culture. It
was also clear through the interview the point that Karen had made previously: Juliana
does not like to participate in interviews during a pageant, therefore sticking mainly to
the glitz. Karen focuses on and fosters Juliana‟s awareness of her physical appearance
over her other talents.
Well I will be honest about it, when I see her, whether she does natural or she
does glitz, I am just tickled to death. Number one, she is my only little girl. You like to
see a little girl dressed up. Not even if she is dressed up, it amazes me even when she is
just in jeans and a pony tail. I am so lucky. And when we see her all dressed up, she is
like a little doll, and I just treat her like that. I‟m just proud. Like I said either one.
When she gets up in the morning, she is cute.
It is obvious that Juliana‟s physical beauty makes her mother very proud. I have
seen Juliana perform at dance competitions, and she is a very talented dancer. She does
tricks and moves that several of the older dancers cannot even come close to doing. Even
though her talents are astonishing, her mother focuses on her appearance. The emphasis
put on this by her mother will ultimately affect what Juliana chooses to pursue in life.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
I think sometimes we get a pretty fair shake, and sometimes I think that we
haven‟t progressed far enough. One thing that irritates me the most is when women set
us back. We‟ve come way too far, and I really believe we are strong people. I don‟t
think we get a lot of credit sometimes. I was able to stay home with my kids for a long
time. And people go “What did you for that many years?” And when I say “A stay at
home mom”, they look at you like “So what did you add to this world other than kids?”
But I think my biggest pet peeve is that the media doesn‟t necessarily do it, other women
kind of set us up and set us back. What I mean more so is like when my husband
deployed. I knew he was going to deploy to Iraq. I knew where he was going. I was not
a happy person, but he had already deployed before. I knew that when we signed up for
the military, even when he signed up, we didn‟t think anything would ever happen. We
were just taking it as a job. But you know in the back of your mind that when you sign up
or when you marry someone in that line of work, that they may have to go somewhere.
And when I see a woman on TV that‟s crying, asking for help, because she can‟t pay her
bills or she doesn‟t know how to run her checking account. And I‟m going “Where have
you been? Why in the world are you in this situation? You have a spouse with a job that
pays you regularly. You have the support of the community. How have you been
living?” I take that very personally. I did not like it. I had three kids at home. They
were all little, my oldest was five, Sarah was four, and my youngest was eighteen months
old when my husband left. I wasn‟t on TV crying. You suck it up and you learn how to
deal. I think it is other women that make us look bad.
Karen realizes that other women set other women back. Stepping away from a
situation makes it easier to look inside and think critically. Society influences all of its
members, whether it is realized or not. We cannot escape the ideas that are pushed down
through various forms of popular culture and tradition. Karen recognizes the weakness
that some military spouses possess when their husbands deploy, but she fails to recognize
the weakness that pushes women to compete in beauty pageants using their physical
appearance as a measurement for success.
When we see images of young girls in pageants or consider the phenomenon
itself, we tend to respond in one of two ways – to moralize or to laugh. If we
judge and moralize, it is because we believe that the fantasies revealed in these
images are in fact products of consumer culture, reflecting notions of beauty and
feminity that are passé and degrading. Perhaps we also envision the mothers
behind the scenes pushing their daughters into these events, desperately trying to
relive their childhoods. If we laugh, it means that we see all this sparkle and
frilliness as irony. These girls are unconsciously reflecting the grotesque side of
popular culture and creating camp. In either of these reflexive responses we have
the same assumptions – the fantasies they create do not come from within them,
but are rather imposed from the outside. The girls are merely mirrors reflecting
the reactionary, commercial side of our culture. (Anderson, 2009, p. 8)
Our culture is a powerful force that shapes our beliefs and actions. It was stated
previously that Henry Giroux believed that it was essential that people examine why
people participate in beauty pageants. Fault is not put on the women and children
competing for the titles or their desperate mothers pushing them on stage. Instead, these
people are trapped and warped by what is deemed acceptable and appropriate in society.
The role models that children look up to and idolize help develop this reflection of the
grotesque side of culture.
The Disney Channel‟s Hannah Montana, is a show that appeals to young girls
through their teenage years. The main character played by Miley Cyrus, started out her
career by providing appropriate material for her young audience. As time went on and
she got older, the notion of “sex sells” took over. Her performances were risqué. She
even used a pole during a performance at the Teen Choice Awards. Miley Cyrus has
taken racy pictures and even kissed a girl during an exotic performance of a newly
released song. Following in the footsteps of the famous kiss between Madonna, Britney
Spears and Christina Aguilera, Miley has scored the public attention desired. Young girls
see who is in the spotlight, how they dress and behave, and attempt to recreate what they
In the time span of one day, it is easy to see where and on whom society places
There is social pressure everywhere, especially on women, to look and dress a
certain way for a majority of our lives. So why would a parent take one of the few
members of society lucky enough to still be blissfully ignorant of these pressures
and throw them into the fire at such a young age? (Trincia, 2009)
Even before children realize the harsh reality of society, parents subject their daughters
and jump start the process at an early age. The truth is, these parents are just living up to
what is expected of them by society. They are trapped, as many of us are. The results,
however, can be very severe. “A 2007 study by the American Psychological Association
linked a premature emphasis on appearance with three of the most common mental health
problems of girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression”
(Canning & Hoffman, 2009). The need for girls and women to keep up with what is
expected of them comes at a high price, sometimes affecting their mental health.
Females do whatever it takes to keep up with others, even if it means putting their body at
risk. Parents often, without knowledge of it, initiate this destructive behavior in an
attempt to prove that their daughter is superior to others.
In defense of pageants, many parents claim that it boosts their child‟s self-esteem.
There is only one winner in a pageant, so what does that do to the self-esteem of others
who do not win the ultimate title?
These pageants also put young children in a very vulnerable position of individual
judgment. Losing a little league soccer game is completely different than losing
an individually judged pageant. If tomorrow I competed and lost in a pageant, I
would take it a little personally, and I'd like to think I have more emotional
maturity than a kindergartner. (Trincia, 2009)
In a pageant, contestants compete solely as an individual. There is no teamwork
involved. When they fail, it is because they failed, not as a whole team. Additionally,
when they do succeed, they attribute it to the way they look in comparison to others.
Their self-esteem is affected based on their performance.
“Performance based esteem -- I have worth because of what I can do or I have
worth because of my beauty -- and what you want to teach your kid is you have
worth because of who you are, period," Real said. "I think these kinds of contests
are very confusing." (Canning & Hoffman, 2009)
Self worth is raised and lowered by looks and the performances taken place on the stage.
Psychologist Real believes that beauty pageants are confusing for kids. They should feel
confident in themselves because of who they are, not based on their performance or
physical beauty. Entering them in beauty contests sends them the message that the latter
is the most important. It is my hope that through studies such as this, the tradition of
society will begin to be questioned and changes may eventually occur. This will require
thorough investigating and examining issues at the core.
You know, I have had several professors that were, I guess you could say, they
were Northerners. I was born in Kentucky, raised mostly down South in Texas, never
much North. It seems like people say we‟re nicer. We tend to have a little more, I don‟t
even know if it‟s patience, but we tend to be very tolerant of a lot of things. But then a lot
of my professors say you just put up with too much. “If that were me, I would never just
smile.” But my thing is, “You catch more flies with honey.” I think it is just how people
perceive it. They may think it‟s a bad thing. I personally think it‟s a good thing. I
believe in kind of stepping back. Some think it may be that we are just going slower. It‟s
not that, it‟s that we‟re thinking about it.
The South is known to move at a slower pace than that of the North. Contrary to
Karen‟s belief, I do not think that Southerners are thinking about important issues.
Traditions in the South are very strong, and if people were thinking, many of these
traditions would cease. Southern tradition raises girls who are polite and well mannered.
They are also raised to cater to men and provide them happiness through tending to
household duties. It may be my strong personality, but I believe that every woman
should be able to support herself and not depend on a man. Just recently, a friend‟s
husband talked her into quitting work so that she could tend to the house. Approximately
one month later, he left her for another woman. Perhaps Southern women should think
about themselves and what would happen if they no longer could depend on their
husbands. Perhaps Southern women should analyze pageants and how they affect other
aspects of life.
I think I have tried to keep a fairly balanced perception of this. We did it for a
long time. She started when she was eight weeks old, and asleep, and then she started
back again when she was eighteen months old. We did them almost every other weekend
or every weekend. It was pretty insane. I would never go back to that again because it
was so much. But there were times when you could look at things and know there were
deals being made that you had no control over. And I decided at that point in time that I
could either get angry, and be angry all the time at it, or we could go and take our
chances. Whatever is the outcome, is the outcome. Be happy if we win, and if not, maybe
that is not one we will go back and do again, maybe we will stay away, or maybe that
crowd just, we‟ll go somewhere else. It only takes one or two times of you kind of getting
that feeling and you know that you will not go back to that area. If this group of people
has anything to do with it I won‟t because I do not have time to be angry. Everyone has
at some point as gone “You have got to be kidding.” But if you can‟t talk it out on the
way home, if you are still talking about it after you get home, then you don‟t need to be
doing this. It should be a hobby. It should never encompass everything.
Regardless of whether a pageant has child participants or all adult participants, the
same principle remains: individuals are being judged against others, with beauty
remaining as the top factor considered. At one point, Karen enrolled Juliana in pageants
every weekend, but eventually cut back on the number. If Juliana did not do well in a
pageant, Karen looked at the people who ran the pageant and determined that some were
not fair. She would have to talk about the outcome with Juliana on the way home to
make her understand her worth. Even though others did not always categorize her as the
winner, her mother made sure she understood the reasons behind it. Having to explain
the cruel world to a child is not an easy job. A more productive conversation that could
take place would be to question what exactly one gains from a pageant, and if they are
worth the work and pain. That would be an interesting question to be asked at the next
Miss America Pageant. As long as conversations such as those between Karen and
Juliana on the way home from a pageant take place, the reason behind pageants and their
power to draw female participants will remain unexplored. The bottom line is that
children are the future. Parents should not treat them as a commodity that can be
showcased and paraded across a stage. Parents should instill in their children the desire
to broaden their knowledge, not restrict it while focusing on disciplining the body. They
are very impressionable at a young age and events such as beauty pageants help to further
complicate the stereotypical roles that exist.
Time for a Change
Child beauty pageants set children up for a world of competiveness too soon,
depriving them of a proper childhood. It does not help them gain self-esteem as they see
other children win. Instead, this sends the message that they need to try harder in order to
look as good as their competitors. As demonstrated through this study, young children
are very impressionable, and Giroux is one advocate for reexamining the role of youth in
… In a society in which politicians and the marketplace limit the roles available
for youth to those of consumer, object, or billboard to sell sexuality, beauty
products, music, athletic gear, clothes, and a host of other products, it is not
surprising that young people are so easily misrepresented. (Giroux, 2009, p. 14)
Youth are used as a means of income in consumer culture. The media uses them to sell
various products, thus making an impression on other youth. When images are displayed
on billboards and in the media, other youth will try to conform to the images that they
see. Instead of tapping into their talents during this highly influential time in their lives,
society is concerned with raising youth to become adequate consumers.
As democracy is increasingly reduced to an empty shell and the carceral state
looms heavy on the twenty-first century horizon, the commodity form penetrates
all aspects of daily life, shaping the very nature of how young people think, act,
and desire, and marking them as the epicenter of consumer culture. (Giroux,
2009, p. 35)
Youth have taken on a new role in society. They are now able to keep up with the world
through the use of different technologies. Although they have always been influenced,
they are now able to stay abreast of new trends and politics instantly through devices
such as an iPod which shape their thoughts, acts, and desires. It is becoming increasingly
harder to protect them from the consumer economy. Popular culture and society
profoundly affect how youth think and act. It is through such means that they are
educated, and until schools allow for investigations of complicated issues, the severity of
the issue and commodification of their bodies will remain. The final chapter will explore
a curriculum proposal that works to end female suppression and competition, while
nurturing the emotions and needs of females during identity development.
REFLECTIONS FROM THE PERIPHERAL VISIONS
Using cultural theory and feminist theory as the theoretical framework, and
various forms of popular culture and face-to-face interviews, I explored the experiences
of a former pageant contestant, current contestant, child contestant, and pageant mom. In
this final chapter I will further analyze these reflections from the peripheral visions and
their connection to how society is reproductive in nature and perpetuates stereotypical
roles of females. Finally, I will advocate for a curriculum of unison based on my findings
in order to help people further escape from their own stuckness. Essentially, males are
considered superior to females, and their beliefs shape the way in which society
functions. The images seen in popular culture and events such as beauty pageants are
strong mechanisms for reproduction in a patriarchal society. Ironically, through these,
some females are able to resist. Examples from the interviews will be forthcoming in the
findings for the study.
All four individuals are still in some sort of fashion tied to pageantry. Even
though one contestant no longer participates, she still helps organize and recruit
contestants for a local pageant. Although their experiences with pageants differ, the
findings from this study help prove that they are trapped victims in a patriarchal society.
The findings include: (1) Success in conforming to the stereotypical views in society
provides a boost in short-term self-esteem. This is a temporary feeling that alters with
different experiences. (2) In fear of rejection, females are forced to use their body as a
weapon to compete with other females in a male-dominated society. This fierce
competition causes aggression amongst most females as they further perpetuate their own
status. (3) Society is reproductive in nature and restrains women‟s status through the
media. (4) The participants are suppressed through deep tradition and family values,
reinforcing conceptions of their physical beauty and personal characteristics. (5) Women
are expected to discipline their body which creates an imprisoned mind, creating a
distinct separation of the two.
These findings uncover how society is reproductive in nature and perpetuates
women‟s status through popular culture and beauty pageants. As women attempt to
survive and succeed in this male-dominated society, they resort to aggression as a way of
knocking others down to build themselves up. This proves that females contribute to
their own suppression, allowing for the cycle to continue. Before any change can occur,
individuals must first recognize and be willing to admit that there is a problem. While
many people recognize that there is a difference between males and females, that is not
were the problem lies.
The study of “difference” is not the problem; of course people differ. The
problem occurs when one group is considered the norm with others differing from
it, thereby failing to “measure up” to the ideal, superior, dominant standard, and
when the dominant group uses the language of difference to justify its social
position. (Aronson & Kimmel, 2000, p. 21-22)
The problem exists because males are deemed normal and females are not, which leaves
them in a constant state of trying to achieve the status of normalcy. Males are set upon a
pedestal, focusing on how females are different and therefore not as good. The purpose
of this study was not to explore the differences between males and females, but instead to
investigate the ways in which females are suppressed and made to function and compete
in a patriarchal society.
Before I could examine this critical topic, I had to first situate myself within the
realms of the study. The Final Judgment: Learning to Judge Myself through Pageants
developed through my own personal experiences in the pageant world before I was
awakened. It has been several years since I walked down the runway at a pageant. Even
though I may not wear a contestant number, I cannot help but realize that every day is a
beauty pageant. Judgments are made, looks are given, and words are said. I, too, judge
others instinctively as a repercussion of being raised in a patriarchal society. However, it
is a part of society that I have come to understand better through this study and aim to
contain it in my future.
As I look at my two sons, I am reminded of the severity of the effects of popular
culture on society‟s beliefs and actions. When I observe my youngest son, who is
twenty-months old, he is still oblivious to the differences that exist in the world. He does
not know which kids are more or less fortunate than him, if another woman looks better
than his mom, or if other kids walked or talked before he did. However, parents do keep
track of these things and eventually push their beliefs onto their children. My four-year
old son is now a student at our local public pre-kindergarten center. He is already
beginning to notice that differences exist between kids in his class and himself. The main
thing that he discusses is the difference between boys and girls. As he learns his letters,
numbers, and sounds, he is also learning that boys do not play in the housekeeping center,
girls play dress up, and boys play with trains. The people that surround him on a daily
basis are deep-rooted in their Southern traditions, furthering my son‟s stereotypical
beliefs of females. Just as he is touched by tradition, the four interviewees are also
influenced and defined by Southern tradition.
When reflecting on the stories told by the Southern women in this study, I could
not help but see them fulfilling their role as demanded by society. Through the lens of
Cultural Theorists, such as Stuart Hall, John Weaver and Henry Giroux, I was able to
further explore the risks to females in society by investigating popular culture, which
works to suppress females to their current stereotypical roles. Also taking a feminist
approach using works from Madeleine Grumet and bell hooks, I was able to investigate
how society works to socially control and disenfranchise Southern women while
disciplining the body and imprisoning the mind. Using these works as a guide, I was able
to take these findings deeper and analyze the similarities found between the participants.
These theoretical frameworks allowed me to explore the effects of popular culture on
society while keeping in mind that females live in a male-dominated world that is in
desperate need of a transformation in the treatment and status of women.
Before I continue with the analysis, I think it is important to address that some
individuals may question if I completed this study out of spite because I have sour
feelings about my own experiences with beauty pageants. I openly speak of my
experiences, having no resentments or regrets. I do not feel that women who participate
in beauty pageants should feel ashamed or embarrassed after reading this study,
essentially they are just filling their roles as expected. Instead, I propose that men are
mostly to blame for the way in which females act, although there are other factors that
come into play. Males are the ringleaders in society, filling positions of power, leaving
women to use their bodies as the main weapon and means of climbing the success ladder.
However, it is notable to point out that no one male in particular is to blame. This has
been in the works for several decades, leaving women to fend for themselves in a world
of competition to gain approval. Pageants are a way for females to compete against
others, building self-esteem for those who measure up, and knocking down those who do
not. I explored this topic with the hope of awakening other women to the dangers of
continuing the expected performances deemed appropriate in a patriarchal society.
A female‟s self-worth is directly linked to her success in conforming to the
stereotypical views in society, which she is being judged against (Finding 1). In order to
be deemed successful, women are given no other opportunity than to work in order to
achieve the status-quo set by males. If a female chooses to rebel, then she is deemed an
outcast receiving even more harsh judgments than before. Take for instance the character
Olive in Little Miss Sunshine. When she took her place on the stage and performed a not-
so-typical rendition of Super Freak, the audience was awestruck. Because she attempted
to break from the rote, pointless talents showcased at pageants, she was considered an
outcast. Audience members shouted cruel things and even left, disgusted at what Olive
performed. Because she did not look and perform as a usual pageant contestant, she was
not successful. Another example is Anne (Chapter 2) who recently got a divorce from
her husband. Going against the grain of being a good wife and mother who stays with
her husband through better or worse, Anne received harsh judgments from other females
and was shunned as a result of her decision to pursue her own happiness. However, when
females attain the desired image they feel important and worthy of recognition. For the
vast majority of women who will never reach that demand, they are left feeling worthless
and depressed about themselves. Hence, we measure self-worth not based on personal
feelings, but judgments passed by others.
All of the pageant contestants claimed that participating in pageants made them
feel good and boosted their self-esteem. Anne (Chapter 2) never fit in with the in-crowd
during high school. She realized that she looked different from the others as she was not
interested in the frilly attire that the other girls wore. She knew that in order to find
acceptance, she had to transform from her tomboyish ways. To help her complete this
transformation, Anne turned to pageants. “It forced me to learn to look like a girl.”
Pageants serve as a strong mechanism of reproduction as they duplicate ideal girls
desired by a patriarchal society. The qualities that contestants are judged upon are those
deemed important by males. Anne saw the girls who got the attention that she desired,
and had to represent herself in the same manner to gain acceptance. She noted that her
weight was a constant problem and that pageants provided an uplifting experience for
her. They “gave me a huge boost of self-esteem and poise”. This was true as long as
Anne succeeded, which she did in her hometown pageants. Elizabeth (Chapter 3) had
similar experiences. She felt good after getting her score sheets from the judges. She
stated, “It boosts my self-esteem to see gorgeous smile, gorgeous eyes…” Although
Anne and Elizabeth claimed that pageants raised their self-esteem, I argue that this is true
for only those individuals who are successful in the competition. Both Anne and
Elizabeth experienced a time when they were extremely let down at themselves, based on
the judgments of others. For Anne, when she competed in a larger competition outside of
the safe haven of her hometown, she “realized that I can‟t hang. I mean I was at a totally
different level than them. I was kind of depressed about it for awhile.” It was also in
another county‟s pageant where Elizabeth felt let down as she gave her all and didn‟t
make the first cut. “That‟s when I was like „Woah, what happened?‟” Both of these girls
claimed that pageants boosted their self-esteem while they were successful. Their
statements about their unsuccessful experiences show that self-esteem is directly tied to
the score they received. Although Juliana (Chapter 4) was not very elaborate on her
answers, she did state that “I feel good when I win the pageant. If I don‟t win a pageant,
I still feel okay.” None of the three females claimed that their self-esteem was boosted
even when they did not place as expected. To use the development of self-esteem as a
way to defend pageants is ironic.
There is a certain irony in appropriating the language of self-esteem to defend
child beauty pageants, especially since the pageants provide young children with
standards of beauty that 1 of 40,000 young women will actually meet. Must we
ask what is wrong with young girls wanting to become fashion models who
increasingly look as if they will never grow up, and for whom beauty is not only
defined by the male gaze but appears to be one of the few requisites to enter “into
the privileged male world.” (Giroux, 2006, p. 138)
Self-esteem is a fragile trait for females. Pageants only afford those who meet the preset
standard of beauty a boost in self-esteem. For the rest, it further instills the desire to look
like models found in magazines and on TV in order to please others and gain their
approval. I, too, was influenced by society and took my place on the stage to help form
my identity (Chapter 1). I felt as if I let myself down, being labeled as inferior to the
other contestants. Just as pageants judge the contestants, similar judgments are passed
down on students in schools.
When students succeed in school, they are involved and motivated to learn.
However, just as with pageants, everyone is in competition together relying on the
judgments of others to categorize winners and losers. So what happens to those who are
not at the top? These students become disinterested and frustrated. The competition that
exists both on and off of the stage kills the innocence of childhood and demolishes the
joy of learning. Instead of focusing on critical thinking and the development of the mind,
emphasis remains on doing what it takes to become successful in structured environments
such as classrooms and beauty pageants. Judges are essentially reinforcers, police that
aim to keep society under the tight grip of males. The winners continue to get boosted
while the large majority is left feeling inferior. Because there is not room for all to be
successful, the competiveness amongst the contestants remains high.
Some parents push children to compete, before the child can vocalize a desire to
do so, without thinking about the repercussions of their actions. Essentially, they are
judging their own children against others, wanting their child to be successful in society.
They are affecting more than just their child because this behavior allows for the cycle to
continue as it instills the tradition at an early age before their personal thoughts can be
taken into consideration. Traditions are filtered down generation after generation which
allow mechanisms for reproduction, such as pageants, to remain unquestioned. Girls
continuously aim to look good in order to be accepted into the male world. It is through
their looks that success is achieved, creating winners and losers.
The strong emphasis to compete with others based on physical appearances
perpetuates the commodification of the body. In order to attain the set standards in
society, females resort to buying their way to the top. According to the American Society
for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, in 2009 “women had over 9 million cosmetic procedures,
over 90 percent of the total. The top five surgical procedures for women were: breast
augmentation, liposuction, eyelid surgery, abdominoplasty and breast reduction”
(ASAPS,,n.d.). Why do women constitute over 90 percent of the total, which leaves men
making up less than 10 percent of surgical procedures? Women have become an object
of the eye. When their body does not measure up to the set standards in a patriarchal
society, females seek ways to enhance their bodies. In addition to surgical procedures,
women resort to cosmetics as another way to gain approval from males. Makeup, hair
products, jewelry, lotions, and polishes all help women cover their imperfections and
appear as close to perfect as possible. These perfected images advertise various cosmetic
products. “With the logic of advertising, women‟s bodies are constructed as instruments
of industry in which women are to be desired and consumed” (Durham & Baez, 2007, p.
144). Advertisements show attractive bodies that others desire. This consumption of the
female body has led to its commodification. Females realize that their body is what helps
them become successful in life, and therefore, they search for ways to make it noticed by
others through such means as beauty pageants.
In beauty pageants, the commodification of the body is apparent. Bodies are
adorned with fake hair, teeth, and nails. Contacts also allow contestants to change their
eye color, while spray tans transform the skin color. Anne stated, “So much time and
effort goes into the stuff you see that‟s obvious: the outfits, choosing the earrings,
choosing the hair stuff.” The things that are obvious to the eye are those that enhance the
physical beauty of the contestant. This was also important to Elizabeth as she also altered
her body before a competition. “We pay someone to do our hair and makeup. Our whole
face is airbrushed on.” What is seen by the judges and audience in not genuine. The
natural self is covered up and constructed into bodies that are desired in a patriarchal
society. The commodification of the body is just as apparent in child beauty pageants
where children are transformed into miniature adults for the competition. Juliana
competes in glitz pageants which overly emphasize the characteristics that are expected
from women. Juliana‟s mom, Karen, spoke of how much goes into the actual
transformation of the child to compete on the stage of a glitz pageant. “I mean you will
buy the fake hair, the fake tan, the fake nails, the fake teeth. There really is no
resemblance of the child left really except for the child‟s personality. You‟ve covered the
child up. You‟ve covered them in makeup. They have more hair than they were born
with, than any child‟s ever been born with. They are tanned. They have teeth that are
perfected because you snap them in.” The commodification of the child‟s body is an
extreme measure to hide the flaws of childhood, such as crooked baby teeth and freckles,
in an attempt to construct them into the perfect female for competition. Through society,
females learn what is expected of them, and they alter their bodies in an attempt to be
victorious against the others in competition.
Females compete for the ultimate approval of males. The fear of losing and
rejection is strong for Southern women as they strive to constantly please the males in
their lives. Always expected to be polite and charming, they cater to husbands and
fathers to gain their approval. The deep traditions in place do not allow women to take
authority over males. Take for example when Anne was criticized by a friend for calling
her husband into the room twice. The other female in the room was stunned that she had
the audacity to “boss” him in such a way. Anne‟s friend is clearly controlled by the
males in her life as her actions are confined by their expectations. The fear of rejection
from males creates Southern women who do not question authority figures, but instead
aim to please them. When seeking to gain approval from males, females will sometimes
take drastic measures to ensure their personal success.
As highlighted in Chapter 2, the aggressiveness of females is a major concern. In
fear of rejection, females are forced to use their body as a weapon to compete with other
females in a male-dominated society. This fierce competition causes aggression amongst
females as they further perpetuate their own status. In order to become accepted, females
compete with one another to win the attention of males. This ignites jealousy and many
problems arise. Anne, Elizabeth, and Karen all noted instances where girls took
competition to the extreme in an attempt to ensure their own success (Finding 2). Anne
recollected that “at the Miss Georgia level they have back up dresses and all kinds of stuff
because people will put black soot in makeup.” For Elizabeth, it was hard to compete
against her friends. She stated that “even though you are going into it for the fun of
things, everybody still wants to win or else you wouldn‟t have signed up for it, regardless
of what anyone says.” She remembered a time when her sister lost three friends because
they were jealous of her winning the crown. This cruel behavior even takes place in child
beauty pageants. Karen has “seen people drop pens into little girls‟ dress boxes. Crack
open ink pens and drop them in the box.” Another instance that was even worse was
when “we had one lady who set fire to another child‟s hair.” Although these are
different levels of aggression that arose from competition, it is important to note the
extremes that individuals take in order to come out on top. The demands placed on
females by society are so significant that females resort to aggression. The fear of
rejection brings about different levels of aggression.
I think there is an expectation that if you don‟t exert your power over somebody,
then you are on the bottom of the pecking order… I think that we‟ve created a
population of young women who just believe that they need to victimize someone
else to get their own power back because what they‟ve been taught is you‟re
either a victim or a victimizer. (Janovicek in Moretti, 2004, p. 94)
The fear of losing is too much for some to handle, so drastic measures are taken. As long
as an individual is not at the bottom of the social order, power still remains within him or
her. The way in which power is enforced is more apparent in males than females.
In schools, male aggression is easier to pinpoint because it is often an obvious act
of violence. However, female aggression is not as blatant, but still extremely dangerous.
“Social aggression is behavior directed toward harming another‟s friendships, social
status, or self-esteem, and may take direct forms such as social rejection and negative
facial expressions or body movements, or indirect forms such as slanderous rumors,
friendship manipulation, or social exclusion” (Underwood, 2003, p. 5). Because these
are not events that are seen by the eye, the social aggression amongst girls continues to be
a problem in schools. Teachers reproduce the sexist good girl/bad boy stereotype, so
females resort to social aggression in an attempt to shelter their violence. “Sexism
teaches women woman-hating, and both consciously and unconsciously we act out this
hatred in our daily contact with one another” (hooks, 2000, p. 48). It has become such an
instinctive trait found in females that it happens unconsciously. This turns females
against each other, often unable to address their true feelings and concerns.
bell hooks noted the need for women to overcome the competition against one
another and work together for a common cause. “Working together to expose, examine,
and eliminate sexist socialization within ourselves, women would strengthen and affirm
one another and build a solid foundation for developing political solidarity” (hooks, 2000,
p. 47-48). A true examination of the self must be done first in order to come to terms
with the sexist socialization that exist within. Before any advancements are made,
females must first recognize the problem before they can join together to develop
political solidarity. There should be no fear of loss in schools, where females break each
other down. Instead, females should partake in critical examination that comes to terms
with the wounds that have been formed. This involves a thorough examination of how
and why impossible standards are set for females and are reproduced by males and
Society is reproductive in nature and restrains women‟s status through the media
(Finding 3). After completing this study, my eye is keen to all of the ways in which the
media degrades women and displays near impossible physical standards that we are
supposed to attain. This was also an apparent theme found throughout the interviews.
Anne does give credit to the advancements that women have made in both her town‟s
local government and national government. However, she still realizes that the media
carefully portrays women according to common sexist beliefs. “You have to act a certain
way and be cute and kind of stupid to be appropriately female. To be appropriately
feminine you have to be a little bit stupid, slow, and need help.” Elizabeth stated, “I think
the media portrays a woman to be perfect.” For Karen, it is not so about the physical
looks that the media portrays, but the actions of women. She spoke of a time when a
military spouse was crying on TV. She recollected that when her husband deployed, “I
wasn‟t on TV crying. You suck it up and you learn how to deal.” To Karen, this
portrayed the female as weak, unable to function without her husband. Both the images
portrayed and the actions that are seen are internalized by viewers and help to strengthen
the stereotypical beliefs that already exist. Although the media displays women in a very
stereotypical way, females can come to realize these and work to challenge them.
Although the interviewees have participated or currently participate in beauty
pageants, they are aware of the negative ways in which women are portrayed in the media
and challenge this through their daily lives. They all perform in leadership positions
whether it is for a community organization, sports team, or home. Anne is involved in
the Rotary Club, is a board member for the YMCA, and is highly involved in politics
through her work. She also has the desire to one day run for a political office in her
hometown. This shows that Anne believes that women can and should take on leadership
positions in society. Elizabeth volunteers some of her time to work with the youth in her
community in between taking college classes to become a teacher. As a sports lover, she
has volunteered as a coach at her local recreation department, and she currently
volunteers as a teacher‟s aide in a preschool classroom. Elizabeth loves children and
finds time in her busy schedule to help them with both sports and education. Karen
works hard to support her family, providing the finances to meet their needs and wants.
She does not stay home and tend to her children, but instead has a hectic schedule both in
and out of the home. Although the interviewees are not fully aware of the effects of a
patriarchal society, their actions prove that some awareness is evident. It may seem
ironic that these pageant participants are able to see some injustices done to women
through popular culture. Perhaps this is an awakening to the realization of other strong
mechanisms in society that also perpetuate women‟s status.
Television is just one area of pop culture that is readily available to numerous
viewers. People tune in for entertainment but gain much more than that. “It not only
entertains us but also instructs us when it is not trying to do so” (Berger, 2000, p. 16).
With or without us knowing, television instills certain beliefs within. The television is a
very powerful tool as it contributes to the way people view others and themselves. It
helps to define identities and their place in society. Sadly, these definitions that are given
are not always accurate. The image that is seen becomes more real and life-like than
ever. This in turn allows people to connect even more with the images that are seen,
deepening the stereotypical beliefs found within the media.
The school is no longer the primary place where an education is learned. Popular
culture is allowing more people to get their own education, particularly about issues
pressing in the real world. The images that are seen will therefore have a profound
impact on the ideas and views generated by these individuals. As television is becoming
more accessible, its influence on those who consume themselves in it is great.
Television, movies, the new technologies of enhanced video/computer games, and
of course, the ubiquitous internet have transformed „culture especially popular
culture, into the primary educational site in which youth learn about themselves,
their relationships to others and the larger world‟. (Giroux in Reynolds, 2003, p.
It is from these technologies that people create their own identities and see where they fit
into the world. When these technologies help to disperse the stereotypical beliefs found
in society, they are internalized by consumers and become reproduced. These images
serve as the means for individuals to define what they are or are not.
The television is indeed a powerful tool. The influence it has on its audience is
huge. It works to further perpetuate women‟s status as it brings images to us that we
otherwise would not see.
As a filter, television not only brings distant objects to us so we can see the world
from our living room, but it also decides what we can see of the world.
Television shapes the world because it selects what parts of the world we will see.
(Weaver, 2005, p. 57)
Serving as a filter, television has much control over what is focused on and what is
neglected. It tends to focus on the physical beauty of women and their proper lady-like
characteristics that they should possess. This bias is seen throughout various forms of
popular culture, and this is where the problem comes into play with its portrayal of
When entertainment first began with theatre, men would often dress as females.
No females were allowed to take part in the acting. Although women are making their
way more and more into the popular culture areas, are they being portrayed fairly?
Images are often shown of women as sex figures with great bodies who use them to their
advantage in many instances. Other images are seen where males are the dominant sex
and females are there to tend to the household duties. An important question must be
asked: “Do the media, and in this instance television, reflect society or shape it?”
(Harper, 1998). Is this the way females actually are in the real world? Is the media
responsible for the consumption of the female body that leads to their oppression?
Although some portrayals of women may hold some truth, I would argue that popular
culture plays a powerful role in helping society buy into its stereotypical beliefs.
The power behind popular culture is a very strong one. Its influence on the
audience is extreme and in turn helps shape opinions held by those who watch. Many of
the viewers of television are youth, who are very influenced by the images seen.
Through these images, they shape and form their own opinions of their personal identity.
“Young people today are using contemporary media to define themselves and to map
their daily lives in ways that often confound adults” (Dimitriadis, 2001, p. 35). This is
particularly true for Anne as she saw the possibilities for herself through contemporary
media. Raised in a very traditional home where her mother stayed with her father despite
major marital issues, the images from television, movies, and other media showed Anne
that following suit to her strong Southern upbringing was not the only option for her. She
divorced her husband and is now happy as she lives out her dreams, free of having to
conform to the role determined for her by her family. Her parents remain hesitant of her
decision and do not approve of Anne‟s new boyfriend, despite her happiness. The media
provided an outlet for Anne, allowing her to escape from the rigid role she was playing.
Unfortunately, positive outcomes are not always achieved as the images that are seen are
full of stereotypes. This is especially true for females as they are often portrayed as the
weaker, less competent sex. When numerous shows negatively portray women, females
begin to take what they see personally.
Television allows people to see more things and so choose what they want to be –
but unfortunately that choice for girls is often one full of impossible
contradictions in what they are shown, meaning that television perhaps confuses
further an issue which it could help to resolve with more equal and less
stereotypical portrayals of women. (Harper, 1998)
This comment could not hold more truth. People often hear that women are equal to
men, but what is heard and what is seen through means of popular culture differs quite a
bit. It does not take more than turning on the television, going to a movie, or flipping
through a magazine to find a stereotypical portrayal of a woman. They are everywhere,
and this is what young people use to define their own role in the world. This is not only
true for females, but also for males. Popular culture allows them to watch and learn what
their role in society is.
Students are consumed with technologies that bring popular culture to them
instantaneously. This is how they learn and what they learn from. Therefore, is it best to
make them power down when they walk into the school building? Teachers resort to the
same rote learning techniques implemented decades ago. Yes, popular culture can be
dangerous and many teachers are afraid of it. Instead of neglecting it, it could serve as a
valuable tool in the classroom setting. Since the youth are using it as a means of identity
development, and it is full of harmful stereotypes that suppress women, it should be
explored in the classroom. This helps students uncover the dangers that lie within the
media. I attempt to incorporate it into my lessons as much as I can because it is
something that they can relate to easily. However, it is important to make children aware
of the stereotypes that exist. One way to do this is through conversation. By opening
dialogue, students are able to listen to others and help further understand the issues at
Understanding these processes, how young people navigate their way between the
various and often highly disjunctive influences operating in their lives, is crucial
if educators are to forge more locally relevant policies, institutions, and curricula
for often intensely marginalized young people. (Dimitriadis, 2001, p. 65)
As educators, it is our responsibility to understand what appeals to students in order to
reach them. Popular culture is very influential in the lives of children, and therefore
teachers should make students aware of the dangers that it holds. By opening the gate to
communication, students would be able to see the injustices within popular culture and
critically think about how they fit into society.
Going back to the question, does society shape popular culture or does popular
culture shape society?
Television does, of course, reflect culture, but the important thing to keep in mind
is that is also profoundly affects culture. It does this, in part, by focusing attention
on certain aspects of culture and not paying attention to other, by creating certain
kinds of heroes and heroines and neglecting other kinds. (Berger, 2000, p. 16)
It is important to remember that all forms of popular culture are created by people. These
people are usually males. The images that are seen are selected by a group of people and
this is seen by millions of viewers. “Because television shows certain persons, classes,
occupations, races, sexes, and situations consistently, it propounds a particular view of
the world to the world continually” (Lichter, Lichter, & Rothman, 1994, p. 12). It is from
these images that we form opinions about the world around us and where we belong in it.
The stereotypes that are embedded within television programs sometimes unconsciously
enter our minds and become part of our belief systems. Whether we are aware of it or
not, the power of television is overwhelming. Although minor steps have been taken in
order to portray women fairly, even more extensive steps need to be made. With the help
of popular culture, the views of many people may just change as a major means of
information communication helps pave the path for truth.
The same way in which images are carefully selected in the media can also be
found in schools. Although schools have a set curriculum, that too, is touched by the
traditional and stereotypical beliefs of society. Take for example textbooks. History
books are filled with famous people, most of them being men. Because women do not
get the same coverage in textbooks, March is declared Women‟s History Month to help
women find their way back into history. Children see what males and females were
doing in history and learn from that as well. Boys see men who were great leaders,
presidents, scholars, and fighters. Girls also internalize that, which further develops and
fosters stereotypical gender roles. “The school site is a stage on which gender roles are
developed in our society, and thus schools contribute to the assignment of unequal status
and work opportunity in our rapidly changing economy. Schools serve as „gatekeepers,‟
providing opportunity to some but not to all” (Campbell, 2010). Inside the doors of a
school building, traditions are locked in tightly. As addressed in the opening of this
study, schools conform to the ways of society, creating students who are able to
memorize facts for the ultimate goal of a passing standardized test score. Passive and
uninvolved, students are not able to participate in meaningful conversations. Instead,
they are essentially waiting their turn in line to walk down the runway, competing with
those beside them.
Looking at schools nowadays does not differ much from generations before. The
same gender differences exist, providing males with more opportunities for
advancements over females. Even outside of academics, males dominate sports while
females are on the sidelines cheering them on while wearing skimpy uniforms. Most
women‟s sports are not deemed important enough to have any support from males nor
females. Setting aside one month for women‟s studies is not enough to defeat this
problem. What about the other eleven months of the year? Once the school bell rings at
the end of the day, children also learn a great deal about life from the media.
Although the media and schools portray all women in a certain false limelight and
fosters their oppression in a patriarchal society, this section narrows in on Southern
women. The quietness, politeness, daintiness, beauty and charm of Southern women
distinguish them from others. However, these traits are formed through the suppression
of Southern women through deep traditions and family values, reinforcing conceptions of
their physical beauty and personal characteristics (Finding 4). Males are the authority
figures, and females aim to please them. Family values also weigh heavily on females as
they fulfill roles approved for them by family members. Take for instance Anne who
married a local man whose parents own and run the local bank in town. He also recently
won the position of County Commissioner. These qualities were important to Anne‟s
parents, and they were very satisfied with their daughter‟s marriage to him. However,
after five years of marriage, Anne was no longer happy and got a divorce from her
husband. Her parents were shocked and advised Anne to seek marriage counseling.
Going against the grain, Anne did not take any measures to save her marriage. Instead,
she left to pursue her happiness, breaking free from the traditions that tied her down.
When she left, not only did she upset her parents but many of the people in her town,
particularly females. Women that once hung around Anne began to shun her. Her
divorce was a taboo issue as her actions were forbidden in her quaint hometown.
Through heavy traditions, Southern women are forced into roles that are unfulfilling to
them, while they fulfill the needs and desires of others.
Anne, Elizabeth, and Karen recognized the fact that stereotypical appearances and
characteristics are placed on Southern women. Karen stated, “It seems like people say
we‟re nicer. We tend to have a little more, I don‟t even know if it‟s patience, but we tend
to be very tolerant of a lot of things.” In the South, families are dominated by males and
women are expected to tend to the childbearing and housekeeping, all on top of pleasing
their husbands. There is a certain politeness that is expected to exist from the deep
religious roots of Southern women. Elizabeth touched on the mannerisms of Southern
women through her statement, “I think that we, Southern women, are more laid back than
most.” She also recognized their physical appearance. “I feel that Southern women do
dress up, and when they dress up they are very presentable. And I think our style is a
whole lot more conservative than Northerners and people who live in a high city life and
that kind of thing.” Southern women find it hard to break free from the deep traditions
they are stuck in. bell hooks, who grew up in the South in a patriarchal home, realizes
the need for women to break free from the stereotypes that follow them. “Even though
women often assume nurturing, life-affirming roles in their relationship to others, they do
not necessarily value or respect that role as much as they revere the suppression of
emotion or the assertion of power through the use of force” (hooks, 2000, p 129).
Women in the South fulfill these roles whether they want to or not. They are not able to
deal with their emotions in the same manner as males, because it is vital they keep their
pureness. A dangerous setback can be found in women who work the system to their
advantage. Anne recognized that although she is aware of the Southern girl stereotype
that she fulfills, she is okay with playing them when they are to her advantage. She relies
on her husband to be the breadwinner of the family, pay the bills, and make command
decisions. She accepts these stereotypes because she does not wish to perform the duties
her husband is set aside to do. Accepting and knowingly reinforcing these stereotypes
only intensifies the situation.
The education system falls victim to the same rigid gender stereotyping as
Southern women. As a previous kindergarten and first-grade teacher, it is easy to see that
kids quickly pick up on the expected roles of their gender. Although males and females
may be similar in some aspects, the effects of society cause the differences to grow
throughout time. “Boys and girls are far more similar to each other in the classroom,
from elementary school through college, although everything in the school-their
textbooks, their teachers, their experiences on the playground, the social expectations of
their aptitudes and abilities-pushed them to move further and further apart” (Aronson &
Kimmel, 2000, p. 6). When children are little, they are unaware of the pressures and
effects of society. Male and female babies are very similar to one another. As time
progresses, it is everything that surrounds them which allows those differences to become
more and more distinct.
When observing during recess or free time, the activities that each participate in is
easy to predict. The boys tend to play in the more physical activities such as basketball
during recess and blocks during free time inside. The girls tend to stick together and play
house and school, rehearsing for what is to come in their near futures. They have already
fallen into the stereotypical behavior that is seen on television and evident through their
With most of the world stacked against women, there have been some glimpses of
hope that things may be changing. The defeat and failure of males is not the ultimate
goal. However, advancements for women in society are necessary.
But school, not drugs, is the “new” problem for boys. While today‟s girl is more
likely to have problems with drugs and alcohol than her mother was, today‟s boy
is much more likely to be struggling in school than his father was. Boys today are
increasingly alienated from school. Recent investigations have shown a dramatic
drop over the past twenty years in boys‟ academic performance in American
schools. According to the United States Department of Education, the average
eleventh-grade American boy now writes at the same level as the average eighth-
grade girl. (Sax, 2006, p. 8)
Overall, boys are now beginning to have a hard time in school. They are approximately
three years behind females in their writing abilities. However, boys still tend to exceed in
math and science. When pursued, these are the fields that land higher paying jobs.
Although making some gains in the classroom, females are still fulfilling positions set
aside for them through tradition. Of these, careers in education remain dominated by
Employment for vocational education teachers, including home economics
teachers, was projected to grow by nine percent between 2008 and 2018,
according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, that growth was
expected to vary by state, with those in the South and West experiencing the
greatest increases due to increased student enrollment. (Home Economics, n.d.)
Home economics is a course that is dominated by females learning to cook and sew. The
South is expected to have one of the highest student enrollments. This proves that
tradition weighs heavy in the South where females still tend to the majority of the
housekeeping items. Even though women are making some gains in the educational
field, females continue to navigate towards those roles that are deemed appropriate by
In addition to physical beauty, there are other characteristics that females are
expected to possess. These characteristics have little to do with critical thinking skills
that would allow for their advancement in society. Instead, women are expected to
discipline their body and imprison their mind, creating a distinct separation of the two
(Finding 5). The interviewees spoke of the impact pageants can have in teaching them
skills that are important to succeed in life. This is crucial as these young ladies have
realized that although it is important to have other skills, beauty remains the top priority.
You cannot be successful without first being beautiful. Anne stated that she “basically
walked on to my state team at my high school for FBLA and got second place in the state
for job interview. The only training I had was pageants.” Elizabeth also recognized the
role pageants played in helping to prepare for a job interview. “We learned etiquette,
table manners, posture, walking, standing, interviews, not only interviews for pageants,
but interviews for your jobs and that kind of thing.” In addition to physical appearance,
women are expected to vocalize perfectly, seeming both educated and polite. These
mannerisms are reinforced through the interview portion of beauty pageants. Karen
recognized that her daughter‟s skills fell short in interviews, so they resort to mainly glitz
pageants, which doesn‟t take this into consideration. “She is a quiet kid. You kind of
have to pull answers from her. If she‟s ever going to want to do anything for college or
something like that, she‟s going to have to have someone help her with interview.” In
each chapter, the contestant placed emphasis on the power of the interview section of
pageants to help with job interviews.
Although the interviewees felt that pageants have contributed to their interview
skills, the jobs that they are interviewing for are still limited. Anne is involved with
public relations for a male politician, Elizabeth is currently taking classes to complete her
degree in early childhood education, and Karen is employed as a school nurse. Their
interview skills have landed them careers in positions that are set aside for females. In
essence, they have become experts on answering rehearsed questions, for predetermined
positions. In the two pageants that I competed in, I feel that I did well with my
interviews. Overall, I have confidence in my ability when speaking in a variety of
settings, not only rehearsed scenarios. It is something that I have developed over time,
not through being in two beauty pageants. One event that stands out to me in the
development of public speaking skills was in my undergraduate days when we were
given various topics to debate in class. This was a valuable learning event for me, and I
feel that experiences such as these can be taught in school. One does not have to resort to
a beauty pageant to learn speaking skills.
Rehearsing for a beauty pageant interview requires contestants to practice routine
answers to questions that are repeated at most pageants. This acts as a means of
disciplining the body and imprisoning the mind. Right answers, those that are desired by
the judges, are rehearsed. This same scenario can be found in classrooms where students
fill desks while learning the correct answers to pass a standardized test. Females are
consumed with filling the notion that they must have the whole package in order to be
successful both on and off of the stage. Instead of engaging in such discipline, females
should have an outlet to broaden their conversations to deeper, more complicated
Are We Stuck?
From the Southern women interviewed in this study, I gained much valuable
information about views on the perception of females, beauty pageants, and the status of
Southern women. When I reflect on them, I see that they, like many other females, are
mostly stuck in a world where they go about day to day fulfilling their roles as women in
a male-dominated society. However, I do have hope that these women will continue to
awaken and become more knowledgeable of the standards by which women are held
captive. Although still unaware of many injustices, these females touched on some
instances which have caught their attention. Through their interviews and the findings
from this study, it is apparent that they believe popular culture reproduces women's status
in the South through events such as beauty pageants. As previously examined in the
findings, Anne, Elizabeth, and Karen all noted ways in which they perceived the media to
negatively represent women. They shared stories of how women are portrayed in the
media as perfect, stupid and vulnerable. Through their recollections, I saw a spark that
they are aware of some injustices that exist. The fact that they understood and conversed
about women being portrayed a certain way in the media spoke loudly.
Ironically, the interviewees remain stuck as they are firm believers in pageants
and are unable to translate this negative representation to beauty pageants. Besides
Karen, who already had put her daughter in beauty pageants before she could vocalize
her desire, both Anne and Elizabeth stated that they would not allow their daughters to
participate in a beauty pageant until it was something that they personally wanted to
pursue. That alone shows that they believe child beauty pageants are not beneficial at an
early age and can cause more harm than good. However, as time has passed, Anne has
reverted from the statements in her interview as she is now preparing her daughter for her
first pageant at four years old. This is proof that even though injustices are seen, it is
hard to resist the power of a patriarchal society. It is also ironic that they vocalized that
the media does not help the reputation of pageant participants, while they still participate
in them and recruit other contestants. Anne noted that many of the pageant contestants
on TV have elaborate educational careers and those are not emphasized. Elizabeth
pointed out that certain exaggerations are made, which draw in more of an audience.
When exploring the aggressiveness of females, Anne, Elizabeth, and Karen noted
that the negative behavior is uncalled for in beauty pageants. As females prepare for the
competition, their claws come out. When Anne saw this side of pageants, she ended her
pageant career. The competition was not worth such drastic acts of violence. For
Elizabeth, she will not enter a pageant that her younger sister is competing in. She
realized that some females get upset if they do not win the crown, and she did not want to
put her and her sister in an awkward situation where they competed against one another.
Karen deals with numerous pageant mothers and noted that she learned which ones to
stay away from. She saw the way in which these acts hurt the children, and did not want
to be a part of a pageant where such events took place. Resisting the aggression of
females is one step that these interviewees have taken to defy the reproduction of
women‟s status. The resistance of females seems to fluctuate as they still strive to find
their way in a patriarchal society. Living in confinement, the power of males continues
to be portrayed making it difficult for women to completely break free.
In curriculums taught in schools, women are not getting a fair shake. As explored
earlier, textbooks are filled with males and their accomplishments throughout history. As
long as schools emphasize the accomplishments of males and neglect those of females,
females will continue to fall behind. As Anne noted in her interview, more and more
women are beginning to make their way into politics. Although this is true, females do
not receive equal representation as males. They also do not hold positions of higher
power than that of males. Since our country was founded, males have been in charge.
The way that students learn, and what they learn, in school could help females to further
advance in society. Although gains have been made, they are not enough. Some women
can and do resist the reproduction mechanisms of society, but the vast majority are still
lost. Although some realizations about injustices may seem small, they may very well be
the start of a movement that could change the way in which women are perceived and
displayed in society.
As I look around my small hometown, I cannot help but see females who are
stuck in the times of the past. This stuckedness has trapped them and made it very
difficult to get out. Many girls that I went to school with, and even college, are now
housewives. They rely solely on their husbands to financially support all members of the
family. They used college as a means to land a nice career, meet a man with an even
nicer career, and allow him to support her as she tends to the household duties. When
talking with a friend about my journey through Curriculum Studies and my professional
goals afterwards, she stated that she would never advance her education because then her
husband would not allow her to quit work and stay home because she would make too
much money. I was simply amazed. Although not furthering her education, this is not a
lack of thinking on her part. She is strategically thinking, manipulating her way into
being able to stay home. This way, her husband and others will not expect more from
her. If she advanced her education, it would be a waste of potential financial earnings if
she remained a housewife. To secure her position at home, she does not put herself in a
spot that would jeopardize her current role. Personally, I find that act of strategic laziness
bothersome as females continue to rely on males to support them. Although I love my
husband dearly, one never knows what the future holds. My personal desire to pursue my
academic and professional career would not allow me to stay home. My personal journey
while obtaining this degree has opened my eyes and made me aware of several issues in
the world, affording me the rare opportunity to understand and escape from the
stuckedness around me.
This is a subject that will not be taught, discussed, or explored in the vast majority
of schools in society. This is where programs, such as Curriculum Studies, come into
play. Before entering this program, I was stuck in the same place as most other females.
I realized there was a difference in males and females, but never gave it much thought. I
saw the images through popular culture and knew that I was being compared to them.
What I did not realize was the reason behind the whole phenomenon. Long traditions and
stereotypes were constantly at play, and I fell victim to them. I cannot claim to be free of
all stereotypes myself. I am in the education field, I do tend to most of the household
duties, and I strive to make myself look physically attractive. However, I worked hard
for my education, can support myself, and do not mind that I do not look like the models
found in magazines. This program has also drastically changed my views of education.
Has this program taught me how to better teach math, science, history, language, or the
arts? Certainly, and in a way that I never dreamed. I have learned to question myself and
the things I see in everyday life. Constant conversations with myself and with others
were and are key to finding this deeper level of curriculum understanding.
Understanding curriculum has filled the void that focusing on instruction
provided. Now serving as an instructional technology specialist, I am able to help
students explore popular culture, making learning meaningful for them. I am fortunate to
provide students with a means of learning that takes them out of the standardized
competition, if only for a brief moment. Being afforded the opportunity to understand
curriculum has not only changed me as an educator but as an individual as well. Looking
at the situation through a feminist lens, women first need to realize who has gotten us to
this point. Throughout history men have been the superior sex in society, therefore
creating “his” story. Women have become suppressed under their rule. Men desire
perfectly sculpted women who discipline their bodies to achieve their expectations.
Although some beauty pageants provide scholarships, they still send the message that
although one is worthy of a college scholarship, she must still be beautiful. Pageants
serve as a means to separate the mind and body, further perpetuating women‟s status.
Women continue to act as they should be parading on the pageant stage. I do not work to
abandon them all together. Instead, I completed this study to prompt others to criticize
why pageants are conducted according to males‟ terms. After investigating how popular
culture, pageants, and Southern tradition affect females in school, on the stage, and
around society, it has strengthened my desire to spread the word. The more I learn, the
more disturbed I become, and I hope to be the catalyst to help other women break free
from their own stuckedness.
Don’t Let it Go Too South: Further Research & Implications
It is imperative to keep this conversation going to further explore how society is
reproductive in nature and perpetuates women‟s status through popular culture and
beauty pageants. This study focused on a former pageant contestant, a current contestant,
a child beauty pageant contestant, and a pageant mom. Although a wealth of information
was received, it would be beneficial to hone in from different angles to gain a more
thorough understanding. All of these contestants had been successful, winning at least
one crown and title. They discussed their experiences long after they occurred.
Another beneficial study would be one that takes into consideration all contestants
from one particular pageant. This would allow for voices to be heard from those who
were and were not successful, providing different experiences under one event.
Following them through their preparations for the pageant, during the pageant, and
afterwards would allow individuals to discuss their emotions in-depth. Because only one
female would be declared the ultimate winner, this would provide all contestants with a
chance to reflect on important details. An analysis of their experiences would provoke
immediate thought on their part and provide insight to the pageant phenomena.
As noted earlier, African American pageants are quite different from those
explored in this study. Beauty pageants are one area that still, for the most part, remains
segregated in the South. In some local Southern African American pageants, the way in
which the queen is crowned is far different from those based on physical beauty and
interview. Instead of crowning a winner based on these criterions, the winner is crowned
based on who raised the most amount of money for philanthropy. Contestants are also
recruited by adults who help them to raise money. A look into their pageant experiences
would provide the groundwork for a comparison between the two. It could also question
whether segregated beauty pageants are still needed today, if pageants are to remain a set
feature of society.
Furthermore, a study that focuses on pageant judges would provide insight to
those whose job it is to score individuals and determine who is crowned the queen. A
biographical exploration would allow for a glimpse into their previous experiences in life
and any pageant experience they may have had. The question of what qualifies someone
as capable of judging others would be investigated. This would help to understand what
qualities and characteristics are looked for in a winner. The development of how these
became the norm would allow for further exploration of females living in a patriarchal
The Body and Emotions as Curriculum in Unison
The interviews and research from this study could be used to address and propose
a new curriculum which focuses on joining the body and mind together. I call for a
curriculum of unison that allows females to truly learn about their bodies and emotions in
an educational environment. This would be done by reexamining the physical education
and language arts classes that currently exist. First and foremost, females‟ voices should
be at the center of the curriculum, not quieted by society. Oliver and Lalik explored
language arts as a critical piece “in any curriculum aimed toward social transformation”
(Oliver & Lalik, 2001, p. 305). Reading, writing, speaking, and listening would give
female students the chance to learn from one another and transform the social injustices
that exist. “We are appreciative now of storytelling as a mode of knowing… of the
connection between narrative and the growth of identity, of the importance of shaping our
own stories, and at the same time, opening ourselves to other stories in all their variety
and their different degrees of articulateness” (Greene in Oliver & Lalik, 2001, p. 305). It
is imperative that the change starts from within our bodies before change is demanded
from others. The females interviewed for this study are currently lacking that self
change. Anne is now seeking out possible plastic surgery, Elizabeth continues to
compete in pageants, and Karen continues to spend large amounts of money to ensure
Juliana‟s success in pageants. A curriculum of unison would allow females, such as
those interviewed for this study, the chance to investigate their own stories and open
themselves to others, making connections to narratives and their own personal identity.
Studying all forms of language arts helps broaden knowledge of various topics, giving
females the educational means to fight for equity. Learning experiences such as this
would provide females the proper investigation into their bodies to construct personal
One strategy that could be used to raise awareness of this problem is to keep
journals or diaries. In the book Reviving Ophelia, Dr. Pipher remembers one girl that she
counseled who had bulimia who “… had a consciousness-raising notebook in which she
kept track of lookist, sexist remarks. She brought in ads featuring thin women. She
hated how women were portrayed as vacant-eyed sexual objects with no personality”
(Pipher, 1994, p. 203). The journal served as a communication tool for her to address the
inequalities she saw in society. If unaddressed, dangers such as eating disorders can set
in as females attempt to reach the standards of a patriarchal society. This strategy was
also explored in an article entitled The body as curriculum: learning with adolescent girls
in The Journal of Curriculum Studies (Oliver & Lalik, 2009). A mentor worked with a
group of four adolescent girls who kept journals about their bodies and their feelings
about them. In addition to this, they also completed magazine collages, autobiographies,
personal maps, and other tasks. “The journals became much more than a place for self-
reflection. As Kim responded in writing to the girls‟ journal entries, the journals became
private spaces for confidential conversations between each girl and Kim” (Oliver &
Lalik, 2001, p. 310). It is extremely difficult for females to voice their concerns about
their bodies and feelings, and implementing a journal that acted as a dialogue between
them and a mentor proved successful. It is easier for people to write their feelings than to
voice them aloud. Think of how many times a dreaded conversation was going to occur,
so an email was sent in its place. This could easily be implemented in a classroom or
home environment to make adolescents aware of the standards that women are held to.
Once the realization is there, actions and discussions can help young girls remain true to
themselves. If given the opportunity to engage in such an activity with a mentor, the
interviewees for this study could possibly move beyond their current way of thinking and
break from the unstuckedness that they are in. Although they are aware of some
injustices, they would be able to further examine their roles and how society has
influenced them as well. Society has constructed beauty pageants based on the beliefs
and standards of males, and these women continue to compete for approval.
Secondly, the critical reading that is explored in the language arts curriculum
would be paired with the activities in physical education. This alone would send the
message that instead of separating the mind and the body, the two should be merged
together in unison. The mind should be encompassed within the body, thus taking the
emphasis off of the body exclusively. All too often, females learn that the point of
physical education classes is to get their bodies in tune. Working out guarantees a good
body and those who do not are fat. I remember PE being a pointless class. I was always
the last one to complete the required mile around the track. If we did not want to partake
in the sports activities, such as basketball, then we were required to walk around the gym
for our grade. This allowed the girls more time to gossip while the boys played games.
My experiences in PE were not beneficial in helping me form my identity during a fragile
time in life. Instead, I propose that the activities in physical education could and should
derive from the females‟ questions they have about their own bodies. If such a
curriculum existed, I believe that females, such as those interviewed in this study, would
not turn to pageants as a means to learn about themselves. Anne would have greatly
benefited from this curriculum as she always had a weight problem. She looked at her
weight problem in a negative manner and never did much to address her feelings about
the situation. She was unable to cope with the issue and turned to pageants to transform
her into the girl that she was supposed to be. Instead of conforming to the standards set
by society, females would be able to take their emotions into consideration and learn to
focus on their minds, not isolating it from their body. Teachers would be armed with the
proper knowledge to help create a healthy identity development, working to end the
competition with others.
School today is defined as either a passing or failing institution based on its
standardized test scores. In order to keep off of the failing list, schools turn learning
experiences into rote, meaningless classes which serve one purpose: to develop students
who are able to meet at least the minimum standard on tests. As long as it looks good on
paper then it is good enough. Students and even schools compete with another to attain
the highest score. These scores are important to the opportunities available in the
educational realm. Just as this curriculum aids to end the competition among females by
opening dialogue, it also serves to end the competitive approach to education. I propose
that curriculum should end standardized testing and instead foster environments that
allow students to explore relevant topics in society to develop critical thinking skills.
Standardized testing merely creates students who are able to memorize facts in
order to be successful on mandated tests. When examining the interviews for this study, I
found that all of the females are successful according to a standard set for them in a
patriarchal society. In school they passed standardized tests, allowing them to fulfill
careers deemed appropriate for women. They were taught the correct way to succeed in
set scenarios, but they were unable to foster any critical thinking skills. Because of the
lack of thinking skills, these females are unable to see how they are affected by society.
Personally, I learned how to become successful in a standardized environment. The first
time I dealt with real world issues was not until I reached the doctoral level of my
education. I had a hard time adjusting to not taking tests. Where were the study guides
that I had grown up with my whole life? The truth is, in life, there are no study guides.
When looking into the real world, what is needed now more than ever is individuals who
are able to think critically about pressing issues. In the real world, it does not matter
what score they received on their test, but the way in which they are able to solve
problems and strive to better society for all.
Becoming Unstuck: Where I Go From Here
My goal in completing this study is to help other females become unstuck.
There is a dire need for women to stand up and take action against the standards that we
are held to. “We need a widespread rebellion of women who are tired of worrying about
their weight, who understand that weight is not a matter of health or discipline but a
weapon our culture uses against us to keep us in our place and feeling small” (Fraser in
Iazzetto, 1998, p. 39). Constant supervision of the body minimizes the development of
the mind. It is this obsession with the body that suppresses females and keeps them
underneath males in society. They continue to fulfill the stereotypical roles laid out for
Girls, Inc. is a non-profit group that has different networks located throughout the
United States and Canada. It is an organization for girls that empowers them through
knowledge in areas often intended for males, and other areas that are often hushed by
society. “Major programs address math and science education, pregnancy and drug abuse
prevention, media literacy, economic literacy, adolescent health, violence prevention, and
sports participation” (Girls, Inc., 2010). These are pressing issues for girls, and it is
imperative that they have a means to address them in order to have a proper outlet to aid
in their identity development. Although this group serves as an advocacy for girls in the
national and local arenas, it teaches girls to advocate for themselves. This group is an
example of what is missing in schools. In Georgia, this group is currently active in
Albany, Atlanta, and Columbus. My goal is to establish a group in Southeastern Georgia,
affecting the young girls in my community.
In our ever modernizing and increasingly diverse U.S. society, girls need to
think critically in order to navigate the many social and environmental pressures
that they are facing. In addition to exploring their identity in terms of
body image, race, class, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and family history,
girls also need to place their experience in the context of U.S. society with many
of its remaining oppressive institutions and norms. They need to feel that they can
question and make choices that are healthy and empowering for them. And they
need to feel that they can act and make change. (Whittington & Nixon-Mack,
2010, p. 170-171)
By bringing a group such as Girls, Inc. to Southeastern Georgia, it would allow for young
girls to navigate away from the stereotypes found in the South. In order to break this
cycle, females need to challenge the traditions that are otherwise unnoticed and
unquestioned. They need to investigate who they are in this domineering society. Until
females begin to question why society functions as it does, males will continue to control
how it operates. Personally, it has become easier for me to see how one area of society
affects the other, but until others are afforded the same learning opportunity as me, the
cycle will continue.
My voice, although small in the grand scheme of things, will work to challenge
several people influenced by deep tradition. My quaint Southern hometown is similar to
that of so many, filled with females striving to gain success through their beauty. For a
small town Southern girl, I realize that I have not done too badly. So here I go proudly
on yet another journey, with stretch marks, varicose veins, birth marks, and other body
imperfections, to help uncover the truth for the youth of today. May their experiences
with identity development provide them an insight into their true selves, free of the
pressures from our patriarchal society.
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