Pageants are something that the world had believed would slowly disappear by the 21st century, but the pageant scene continues to exist and even thrive. The Miss America pageant is celebrating their 100th anniversary in 2020 and in Hilary Levey Friedman’s book Here She Is: The Complicated Reign of the Beauty Pageant in America traces the pageant back to its roots and showcases how it is an empowering feminist tradition.
I am not someone who has ever been super interested in the idea of pageants. We didn’t really have them where I grew up. There was some sort of County Fair Court competition, but those were really designed for girls who didn’t mind dressing up and also showing their prize cow. This year I have been contacted more often about covering books that focus on pageants and I have found myself learning a great deal about them than I had ever expected to. Hilary Levey Friedman is the current NOW state president and the daughter of Miss America 1970. Her perspective allows her to examine the history of the pageants and delve into how the pageants began and how they have evolved over time.
What Here She Is does is show how the spectacle has become something that is embedded in American culture. Connections are drawn the theatricality of P.T. Barnum and even pulled into the present and shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race. She also examines contests that have arisen that fit into often marginalized communities and in that vein she discusses the darker side of pageants, which includes the damaging image of women they have presented and their often racist and ableist history. This is a read that can be enjoyed by anyone who might be curious about pageants in America, whether they have participated in them personally or not. You can get your copy of Here She Is today.