National Beauty Contests Emerge in Term Paper

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Even during the golden years of the beauty contest between the wars there were unresolved problems with the nature and purpose of such competitions:

There remained elements of discomfort and tension, only superficially palliated by the scientific discourse, patriotic rhetoric and philanthropic gestures of the contest's organisers. These tensions would be released again in the 1970s when a new generation of feminists added discrimination on the grounds of race and disability, together with a more unequivocal rejection of standardised and homogenised ideals of the body and beauty, to the critique of their forebears.

Yet this phenomenon can be seen as consistent with the change in the status of the beauty contest, from a celebration of values that were of universal appeal (even reflecting ideals of national identity) to a tawdry matter of selling sex. By the 1980s and 1990s such contests were experiencing a decline in entrants, with young women no longer seeing entering a "beauty contest" as "a 'cool' thing to do." The beauty competition no longer reflected the aims of young women in an increasingly mobile, meritocratic, sexually and socially open society. This reflects the fact that among the most important factors at work in both the rise and decline of beauty contests has always been the interaction of women's own changing ideas, perceptions and experiences.

The national beauty contest rose to a peak of popularity in the mid-twentieth century as an expression of a range of potent, and not always compatible, cultural phenomena: notions of the "feminine ideal" whether related to marriage, family, home, or to the perceived needs of wider society; the commodification and selling of the female body as a desirable article in its own right; an avenue for modern female self-expression and autonomous identity; the need of newspapers to sell copies and television networks to sell advertising; ideas of nationhood and communal identity; notions of purity and innocence; notions of sexual availability and advertisement; a desire for glamour, escape and entertainment. It seems that in today's world none of these things is as simple as it once was, and that the beauty contest has suffered as a result. The onslaughts of feminism, the rise of the consumer society, the rejection of old ideas of national identity, all had a part to play in weakening the appeal of the old-fashioned beauty contest, based as it was upon stable ideas of what constituted the ideal on various levels.

Bibliography

Sarah Banet-Weiser, the Most Beautiful Girl in the World: Beauty Pageants and National Identity, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1999

Colleen Ballerino Cohen, Richard Wilk and Beverly Stoeltje (eds), Beauty Queens on the Global Stage: Gender, Contests and Power, New York and London, Routledge, 1997. Useful collection of essays with a global perspective.

Lois W. Banner, American Beauty (New York: Knopf, 1983). A detailed study of the history of the Miss America contest.

Liz Conor, 'Beauty contestant in the photographic scene', Journal of Australian Studies, no 71, (2001). Interesting points on the importance of modern communication/reproduction technologies in 1920s beauty contests.

Kate Darian-Smith and Sarah Wills, 'From Queen of Agriculture to Miss Showgirl', Journal of Australian Studies, no 71 (2001). Mainly on local rather than national contests, but some useful facts and insights.

Estelle B. Freedman, 'The new woman: changing views of women in the 1920s', Journal of American History, vol. 61, no. 2 (1974), pp. 372-93. Good background on changing views of the importance of the 1920s in the history of American women.

Angela J. Latham, 'Packaging woman: the concurrent rise of beauty pageants, public bathing, and other performances of female "nudity," Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 29, no. 3 (1995). Detailed study of the cultural context of mid-twentieth century displays of female bodies.

Judith Smart, 'Feminists, flappers, and Miss Australia: contesting the meanings of citizenship, femininity and the nation in the 1920s', Journal of Australian Studies, no. 71 (2001). Good survey of the origins of the beauty contest in Australia.

Marina Warner, Monuments and Maidens: The Allegory of the Female Form (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1985). Survey of depictions of the female body through history.

ABC dumps Miss America', CBS News, 21 October 2004: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/10/21 / entertainment/main650619.shtml.

Estelle B. Freedman, 'The new woman: changing views of women in the 1920s', Journal of American History, vol. 61, no. 2 (1974), p. 379.

Judith Smart, 'Feminists, flappers, and Miss Australia: contesting the meanings of citizenship, femininity and the nation in the 1920s', Journal of Australian Studies, no. 71 (2001), p. 3.

Smart, 'Feminists, flappers, and Miss Australia', p. 4.

Conor, 'Beauty contestant', p. 33.

Lois W. Banner, American Beauty (New York: Knopf, 1983), p. 451; Colleen Ballerino Cohen, Richard Wilk and Beverly Stoeltje (eds), Beauty Queens on the Global Stage: Gender, Contests and Power (London: Routledge, 1997), pp 3-5.

Smart, 'Feminism, flappers, and Miss Australia', pp. 6-7.

Liz Conor, 'Beauty contestant in the photographic scene', Journal of Australian Studies, no 71 (2001), p. 35.

Marina Warner, Monuments and Maidens: The Alllegory of the Female Form (London: Weidenfeld & Nicoloson, 1985), p. 96.

Smart, 'Feminists, flappers', p. 12.

Sarah Banet-Weiser, the Most Beautiful Girl in the World: Beauty Pageants and National Identity (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999), pp. 31-57.

Less talent, more skin at pageant', CNN, 17 September 2004, at http://www.cnn.com/2004/U.S./09/17 / miss.america.swimsuits.reut/

Banet-Weiser, the Most Beautiful Girl in the World, pp 37-40; Banner, American Beauty, p 269.

Banet-Weiser, the Most Beautiful Girl in the World, pp. 10-13; Cohen et al., Beauty Queens, pp. 5-8.

Kate Darian-Smith…[continue]

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