A fresh exploration of American feminist history told through the lens of the beauty pageant world.
Many predicted that pageants would disappear by the 21st century. Yet they are thriving. America’s most enduring contest, Miss America, celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2020. Why do they persist? In Here She Is, Hilary Levey Friedman reveals the surprising ways pageants have been an empowering feminist tradition. She traces the role of pageants in many of the feminist movement’s signature achievements, including bringing women into the public sphere, helping them become leaders in business and politics, providing increased educational opportunities, and giving them a voice in the age of #MeToo.
Using her unique perspective as a NOW state president, daughter to Miss America 1970, sometimes pageant judge, and scholar, Friedman explores how pageants became so deeply embedded in American life from their origins as a P.T. Barnum spectacle at the birth of the suffrage movement, through Miss Universe’s bathing beauties to the talent- and achievement-based competitions of today. She looks at how pageantry has morphed into culture everywhere from The Bachelor and RuPaul’s Drag Race to cheer and specialized contests like those for children, Indigenous women, and contestants with disabilities. Friedman also acknowledges the damaging and unrealistic expectations pageants place on women in society and discusses the controversies, including Miss America’s ableist and racist history, Trump’s ownership of the Miss Universe Organization, and the death of child pageant-winner JonBenét Ramsey.
Presenting a more complex narrative than what’s been previously portrayed, Here She Is shows that as American women continue to evolve, so too will beauty pageants.
About the Author
Hilary Levey Friedman is a sociologist at Brown University, where she has taught a popular course titled “Beauty Pageants in American Society.” She is a leading researcher in pageantry, merging her mother’s past experiences as Miss America 1970 with her interests as a glitz- and glamour-loving sometime pageant judge, and a mentor to Miss America 2018. Friedman also serves as the president of the Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization for Women. Her first book, Playing to Win, focused on children’s competitive afterschool activities. Connect with her at hilaryleveyfriedman.com and on Twitter (@hleveyfriedman).
“Friedman reveals the symbiotic relationship between beauty pageants and feminism, showing, unexpectedly, how their trajectories intertwine over a century, with each reflecting and responding to the other. The result is totally original, utterly compelling, wholly entertaining social history that surprised and challenged me in the best of ways.”
—Peggy Orenstein, author of Girls & Sex and Boys & Sex
“An accessible study of beauty pageant culture, this is an engaging, thought-provoking read.”
“I thought I knew about pageants until I read Hilary Levey Friedman’s book Here She Is. The depth of her research is impressive and makes for a fascinating read. It also put me in mind of the way the pageant world dramatically impacted my own life.”
—Delta Burke, Emmy-nominated actress and Miss Florida 1974
“Levey Friedman’s book combines a sociologist’s sharp insight and a daughter’s love of her own Miss America mother to render a fascinating and important portrait of the complicated history of women in the United States. It’s easy to dismiss the parts of femininity that run counter to the narrative we want to tell ourselves about feminism, but Levey Friedman’s book doesn’t shy away from the truth. She grapples with all the realities of the history of womanhood in America and creates a nuanced portrait of beauty and liberation. Deeply researched and insightful, Here She Is examines the complex and ugly truths about history, patriarchy, and feminism. Levey Friedman has created an important necessary book that provides crucial insight into the enterprise of being a woman in America.”
—Lyz Lenz, author of Belabored and God Land
“Hilary Levey Friedman is uniquely positioned—as the daughter of a Miss America pageant–winner and as a scholar of sociology—to make unexpected connections between the history of American beauty pageants and the progress of American women in the political sphere. From women’s suffrage to the #MeToo movement, she expands our view of the beauty pageant as a reflection of both femininity and feminism.”
—Johanna Neuman, historian and author of Gilded Suffragists
“Friedman’s book is at once searing and sympathetic. As she shows, beauty pageants have been problematic in all of the ways we might imagine. But they have also intersected with—and, at times, advanced—feminism in ways that might surprise us. Indeed, Friedman’s great contribution is to provide compelling, nuanced portraits of the women who forged their own paths through the world of beauty pageants, often reimagining and reshaping that world along the way.”
—Blain Roberts, professor of history at California State University, Fresno and author of Pageants, Parlors, and Pretty Women
“How fun and informative! A combination of American history, personal history, pop culture and social analysis, this delightful book of Americana has something for nearly everyone.”
—Daniel Hamermesh, Distinguished Scholar in Economics at Barnard College and author of Beauty Pays