Beauty Pageants in Southern Culture
Southern Pageant Culture
- According to Elisabeth Thompson in her doctoral thesis, beauty pageants most commonly take the form of festival and fair pageants throughout the rural South. Unlike Miss America, Miss Universe or even Miss Teen America, most of the beauty pageants held throughout the South are sponsored by small groups and community organizations. Instead of national exposure and large scholarships, they offer titles that help define femininity and what it means in the South.
What Attracts Southern Participants
- Most participants in rural southern beauty pageants tend to be of a lower socio-economic status, according to Thompson. Participants are given the opportunity to develop poise, self-confidence and individual achievement. Girls are judged on their physical looks, the way they carry themselves, their public speaking skills and additional talents such as writing or performing routines or other activities. Southern women are attracted to pageants because it gives them, either individually or through their female children, the opportunity to establish and develop their femininity.
Winning a pageant title is a source of pride and honor, especially for participants from poor backgrounds; it is, according to Thompson, a way for those without great economic means to leverage their physical beauty in order to gain money, benefits and titles that will cause them to move up in the southern social structure. Participants also enter pageants as a way to build self-confidence.
Benefits of Southern Pageants
- Winners gains prizes ranging from small scholarships to cars. They also gain titles and the honor that goes with them. Crowns, trophies and sashes are hung on walls as symbols of individual accomplishment. The possibility of localized fame is another benefit. Participants learn how to compete. Finally, pageants offer the opportunity for girls and women to be verified as beautiful and desirable by their neighbors and communities.
Potential Negative Effects
- Southern beauty pageants have the potentially negative effect of reinforcing the importance of physical beauty, makeup, dresses and particular hairdos as the only acceptable standard for desirable physical beauty in southern culture. Certain body types and physical attributes are lifted up to the discouragement of all others. Children are looked at as adults too early in life. Finally, outside of that rural southern culture, winning pageants can be viewed as superficial or empty in larger, urban areas, resulting in discouragement and crises for participants later in life.