• Looking for Miss America

  • A Pageant's 100-Year Quest to Define Womanhood
  • By: Margot Mifflin
  • Narrated by: Nancy Peterson
  • Length: 9 hrs and 12 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, Women
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (10 ratings)
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Publisher's Summary

From an author praised for writing “delicious social history” (Dwight Garner, The New York Times) comes a lively account of memorable Miss America contestants, protests, and scandals - and how the pageant, nearing its one hundredth anniversary, serves as an unintended indicator of feminist progress

Looking for Miss America is a fast-paced narrative history of a curious and contradictory institution. From its start in 1921 as an Atlantic City tourist draw to its current incarnation as a scholarship competition, the pageant has indexed women’s status during periods of social change - the post-suffrage 1920s, the Eisenhower 1950s, the #MeToo era. This ever-changing institution has been shaped by war, evangelism, the rise of television and reality TV, and, significantly, by contestants who confounded expectations.

Spotlighting individuals, from Yolande Betbeze, whose refusal to pose in swimsuits led an angry sponsor to launch the rival Miss USA contest, to the first black winner, Vanessa Williams, who received death threats and was protected by sharpshooters in her hometown parade, Margot Mifflin shows how women made hard bargains even as they used the pageant for economic advancement. The pageant’s history includes, crucially, those it excluded; the notorious Rule Seven, which required contestants to be “of the white race,” was retired in the 1950s, but no women of color were crowned until the 1980s.

In rigorously researched, vibrant chapters that unpack each decade of the pageant, Looking for Miss America examines the heady blend of capitalism, patriotism, class anxiety, and cultural mythology that has fueled this American ritual.

©2020 Margot Mifflin. (P)2020 Brilliance Publishing, Inc., all rights reserved. Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following for permission to publish reprinted material: “Miss America” from THE MISS AMERICA PAGEANT. Words and Music by Bernie Wayne. © 1954, 1955 Bernie Wayne Music Co. All Rights Controlled and Administered by Spirit One Music. International Copyright Secured All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by Permission of Hal Leonard LLC.

Critic Reviews

Library Journal, A 2020 Title to Watch

"Vigorously researched and wryly humorous.... This incisive and entertaining history deserves the spotlight." (Publishers Weekly

"Lively and probing.... Whether fans or foes of Miss America, few readers will see the pageant in the same way after finishing this book. A cleareyed look at an iconic beauty pageant and its efforts to stave off irrelevance." (Kirkus Reviews)

What listeners say about Looking for Miss America

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Well told story that moved along at a good pace

Fascinating history about not just the history but the transformation of Miss America. Miss America was originally a mermaid not a queen, the competition was originally the miss america "pageant" and not "organization", women are no longer contestants but candidates and today they are vying for a "job" not a "reign". I was surprised to learn how relatively new the platform or "cause" requirement is. The author spent considerable time speaking about the racist history of the pageant and Vanessa Williams history, reign and legacy. As one 1950s winner put it miss america is really "Miss White Christian ".

I felt like I got to know many of the Miss America's personally. Mifflin also sheds light on a little known fact...that the millions of dollars in scholarships that Miss America claims to give away is actually raised by the women themselves. They must raise a minimum of $1000 just to grace the stage. She also addresses the organizations constant confusion with Donald Trump.

The reader will feel a sense of both nostalgia and guilt as the book gets to Miss America's of their own generation. The nostalgia will be fond memories of watching the program as children and being in awe of some of the beauty and talent and less impressed with others. The guilt will flood in once you realize what a backwards and a times down right awful organization Miss America was and depending on who you ask...still is. A well written and must read account of Miss America history.

1 person found this helpful

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Wonderful history of the pageant

The book was honest, funny, blunt, and truthful to the concept of Miss America and how we see beauty, women, and their role in society. I am a Miss America fan, but I am thankful that many of my thoughts of Miss America was projected well in this book.

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Dissertation about Feminism as much Miss America

The author uses the subject of Miss America as a springboard for a larger exploration of the progress of the feminist movement throughout the last hundred years.
Her descriptions of the first few pageants in the 1920s are fascinating and her commentary is truly enjoyable.
An archaic institution, it's interesting to hear how Miss America has evolved and failed to evolve - when confronted with its own hypocrisy and societal changes.

1 person found this helpful