High price of being pageant princess

16th May 2003 at 01:00
WANT to be Cinderella for a day, girls? If you do, it will cost you a lot of money. A study of a beauty pageant in a school in Alabama has uncovered racism and class discrimination lurking behind the merry facade. It has also revealed the incredible costs of turning teenage girls into the manicured, pedicured, and not-too-tanned American dream.

First, there is dress hire (pound;100-250). Then there are the shoes (pound;15-25), the jewels (pound;20-45) and the acrylic nails (pound;17.50). Then pedicures, hairstyling (often twice to allow for a trial run), eyebrow waxing, modelling lessons, cosmetics and tanning. The mother may well spend the equivalent of pound;500 to turn her daughter into a princess.

The estimated 25,000 beauty pageants in the US every year add up to a billion-dollar industry.

The ideal beauty queen is white (the original pageant, Miss America, was whites-only for its first 50 years) and middle-class. Black students, who tend to be poorer, are often ruled out by the cost anyway.

So, at Meadows middle school in Alabama, where 30 per cent of the pupils are black, blacks account for only one in 10 contestants in the beauty pageant and only one in 11 finalists.

Academics at the University of Alabama have subjected the pageant phenomenon to a feminist, post-structuralist critique, including the notion of gender as a performance.

Mothers may say that taking part helps their daughters to build confidence and self-esteem, say Karen K. Dillard and Jerry L. Rosiek. But beauty pageants are more likely to further the oppression of women - as well as the oppression of working-class and black students. Such rigorous analysis is hardly needed to conclude that pageants are a silly and outdated pastime - and bankrupt daft mothers, too.

Briefing, 34 "MISSing the Girls: an ethnography of a school beauty pageant", by Karen K Dillard and Jerry L Rosie

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