Being Miss America: Behind the Rhinestone Curtain
by Kate Shindle

Univ. of Texas Press, 2014. ISBN 978-0-292-73921-5.
Reviewed by Helene Benardo
Posted on 01/13/2015
Review of the Month, February 2015

Nonfiction: American Women in Their Cultural/Historical Context; Nonfiction: Cultural/Gender Focus

Being Miss America, by Kate Shindle, is part of the Discovering America Series. I started it expecting a treacly tale of the rather vapid Miss America pageants I remember from days gone by.

Boy, was I wrong! The book is a beautifully written, searing history and exposť of the entire Miss America Organization. The author, who was Miss America in 1998, has gone on to a career in theater and, more significantly, has become an informed, respected AIDS/HIV activist. Her book has an interesting format with one chapter devoted to reportage and the next, written in italics, representing the personal ideas and experiences of the author.

The pageant itself is almost a century old and has undergone numerous changes. Starting out as basically a beauty contest, it evolved, with much difficulty, into one with "platforms" (an issue that each winner would espouse).

Throughout its history, the young women entrants, all of whom work their way up from state contests to the national one, have changed and grown with the times. Unfortunately, the management of the organization has not kept pace; it has regressed. After years of being a fixture in Atlantic City, it moved to other venues. It went from television network to network, all the while losing credibility and millions of dollars.

Despite efforts by quite a few former Miss Americas (including the author) to effect changes in the organization, nothing has changed. They have been condescended to, given a proverbial pat on the head, and dismissed.

What the future holds is open to question. However, Shindle writes, "Once the collective consciousness gets a whiff of hypocrisy, degradation or condescension, it sure gets harder to claim credibility. Assuming, of course, the MAO even wants to do so. Evidence to the contrary suggests otherwise."

This is a soul-searching book, expertly researched and reported, about an institution that has, over the years and through its network of thousands of volunteers, given this country a pretty picture. Unfortunately, that surface covers a fraudulent structure.

Kate Shindle was Miss America in 1998 & has gone on to a career in theater and as an informed, respected AIDS/HIV activist.

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