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Chapter 3, part b, The Image of the Stripper
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Chapter3 part c: the Image of the Beauty Queen
  
 
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'''Fashion Shows, Strip Shows and BeautyPageants: The Theatre of The Feminine Ideal
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Fashion Shows, Strip Shows and BeautyPageants:
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The Theatre of The Feminine Ideal
  
 
by
 
by
  
TARA MAGINNIS '''
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TARA MAGINNIS
  
'''Chapter III part b'''
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Chapter III part c:
  
'''The Image of the Stripper'''
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The Ideal of The Beauty Queen
  
The image of strippers as sexually aggressive, sophisticated women with naturallyerotic figures is equally illusory. Although college students surveyed by Skipper andMcCaghy naively supposed that stripping was a profession for brainless talentless sexuallydeviant women who were: "oversexed," "immoral,""prostitutes," who "can't do anything else for a living," and were"lower class," and "stupid," statistically, strippers come from allsocial classes, levels of education, and religions. Strippers are usually recruited intothe profession after a major financial crisis (often a divorce), and their occupationalchoice is primarily based on financial need, not moral preference.  
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Of all three forms of theatre described in this study, the beauty pageant is the onemost conspicuously concerned with the ideal of womanhood presented by its performers.Unlike the other two forms of theatre however, beauty pageants as a rule tend to taketheir ideal images so seriously that they frequently confuse them with reality, and expecttheir performers to live up to the ideal in their daily lives. Beauty contestants arejudged not only on their on-stage performances, but on personal interviews, and in somecases on the information judges have on contestants' personal, professional and charitableactivities. Since judging often includes these areas which cross over from thecontestants' real lives it can become extremely difficult to separate the beauty contestperformer's ideal image from her day-to-day reality. This problem is fostered by theamateur status of the performers, and the extreme seriousness with which they and thejudges often treat this ideal image. As Pam Eldred, Miss America 1970 observed:
  
Strippers are most often, caucasian, firstborn in their family, and grew up in ametropolitan area, and on average are taller, heavier and bustier than the median Americanfemale of similar age. However, one study reported that fifty per cent of the stripperssurveyed had silicone injections in order to create this larger bustline. This would tendto support Kenneth Clark's contention that "the body is not one of those subjectswhich can be made into art by direct transcription," some alteration and highlightingis necessary in order to transform a naked body into a "nude." Clark noted,
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After participating in the Miss Detroit, Miss Michigan, and then the Miss America pageants, I knew that the most beautiful girls didn't always win. What the judges were looking for were young women who set goals and dreams for themselves. They were looking for women who were willing to work toward goals by continuing their education, by devoting time to perfecting a talent, and by taking pride in themselves and trying to be the most attractive person they could be.  
  
To be naked is to be deprived of our clothes, and the word implies some of the embarrassment most of us feel in that condition. The word "nude," on the other hand, carries, in educated usage, no uncomfortable overtone. The vague image it projects into the mind is not of a huddled and defenseless body, but of a balanced, prosperous, and confident body: the body reformed.  
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With a performance standard that requires a total commitment to the ideal in one'sprivate life, many pageant contestants are bound to become obsessed with the ideal andfeel that living up to it holds the key to their future happiness. Pageant enthusiastsstate over and over, in the publications they have created for one another, that theprocess of preparing for a pageant by a transformation of one's appearance and lifestyleis the real goal and virtue in a pageant. Pageants are seen by these people as groupconsciousness raising sessions that provide support for self-improvement throughdiscipline. Their literature promotes pageantry with the kind of zeal usually seen infollowers of obscure religious sects.  
  
According to Clark this process of artistic idealization should not desexualize thesubject however:  
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Through all this, the one theme that dominates is the ideal of the performer. Pageantjudges are expected to select a woman to represent what pageant officials have decided arethe ideal qualities of a Miss Whatever. This is where pageant people and their criticsusually conflict, since the ideal of women promoted by pageants naturally does notcoincide perfectly with the ideals of other groups. As long as pageants present theirwinners as representing the preferred ideal of womanhood they will continue to be attackedby those individuals and organizations who prefer another ideal. The ideal of most beautypageants is a conservative one, due to the composition of the pageant audience (seeChapter II), and is composed of rather vague, amorphus guidelines in order to be flexibleenough to fit a variety of contestants. The judges' manual for the Miss Americapreliminaries in 1990 lists the basics in terms of that particular competition:  
  
No nude, however abstract, should fail to arouse in the spectator some vestige of erotic feeling, even though it be only the faintest shadow...the desire to grasp and be united with another human body is so fundamental a part of our nature that our judgement of what is known as "pure form" is inevitably influenced by it.
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Miss America is a vibrant, concerned woman, accepting the challenges for today and possessing even more exciting dreams for tomorrow...women are being sought with the best composite of the following attributes:
  
Strippers, consciously or unconsciously attempt, through stage illusions like lightingand makeup, to transform themselves into this kind of idealized "nude," '''primarily'''in order to arouse erotic feelings in the spectators. Lauri Lewin wrote of her experienceof the transforming effect of stage techniques in creating a fantasy image:
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Intelligence
  
I felt that I'd become someone else: my ideal. High up on stage, clothed in extravagant satin and sequins, I could be tall and long legged, the scar on my knee could disappear, my face could be smooth and ethnically unidentifiable...Marilyn Monroe existed inside me. Under the right light, she'd appear. And the rosy stage lights of the Nudie-Tease that day, dulled by cigarette smoke, refracted and bent as they reflected in the mirrors, seemed perfect. In the streaming light, my hair looked like a blonde halo. My skin gleamed, smooth and shiny with the sweat of exertion.
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Talent
  
If makeup and lights are insufficient transformers, costumes, music and movement can beused to create an image of confident sexuality even in the absence of real life practicalexperience. For instance, Blaze Starr, at the age of sixteen and straight from the rusticwilds of West Virginia, made herself look "sophisticated" in her early years inBaltimore (despite almost no experience, sexual or otherwise) by the use of suggestivecostumes:
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Leadership
  
I made myself a new costume of my own inspiration. The skirt was black and cut off well above the knees with slits up each side. The top was a red sequined jacket fastened only at the waist. It was accented with a black sequined beret. I looked pretty "whore-ified" but that was the whole idea. The band would play "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," then go into a drum solo about half way through my act as I strutted back and forth, shaking and twisting every part of my body in all sorts of titillative movements. The men loved it.
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Courage
  
"Misty," a stripper of the Seventies contended that:
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Communication and interpersonal skills
  
A skilled stripper doesn't just take off her clothes in front of an audience. Shedances, acts, flirts, teases and projects a distinctive personality that is part real,part fantasy...she has to put imagination into her movements and choice of costumes, musicand props. As her act proceeds, a feeling of suspense builds up to the final revelation oftotal '''nudity'''. Any stripper who fails to create such a feeling is justanother body walking around '''naked '''on stage. (Emphasis mine.)
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Poise
  
And as Clark points out, nakedness is not as aesthetically (or erotically) pleasing asnudity.
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Attractiveness
  
It is widely supposed that the naked human body is in itself an object upon which the eye dwells with pleasure and which we are glad to see depicted. But anyone who has frequented art schools and seen the shapeless, pitiful model that the students are industriously drawing will know this is an illusion.
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Consider well these qualities of each contestant-- be governed by absolutes.
  
Strip acts support the ideal of the nude "confident" body of an idealizedsexually aggressive, sophisticated, well-endowed siren by the choice (and sometimesalteration) of body type, suggestive on-stage movements, fantasy costumes, and publicity.  
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The notion that people can be judged by "absolute" standards in itself isoffensive to some people even when the ideal goals of intelligence, talent, etc. areadmired. However it is the cornerstone of pageant thinking that the ideals of womanhood aspresented in the pageant are there not merely to be enacted, but to be lived up to. Thiskind of thinking becomes apparent whenever a winner is "caught" doing somethingthat the pageant officials feel is not in keeping with the image of the competition. Thewinner is assumed to have no right to a private life, and can be dethroned by officialswho disapprove of anything she does in her personal life, from marrying, to posing nude,to making a personal political statement.  
  
Publicity image often starts with giving a stripper an exotic-sounding name: RoseLouise Hovick was transformed into Gypsy Rose Lee, Fannie Belle Fleming into Blaze Starr,and Annie Blanche Banks was made into Tempest Storm. The renaming of strippers continuestoday, although many now use their own names or conventionally sonorous stage names likeLois Ayers, Nina Hartley, etc. Most others still use names with slight traces ofsuggestion in them, however, like Angel Kelley, Barbara Dare, Lotta Top, Lacey Pleasure,and LuLu Devine.  
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The two most famous cases in which pageant officials have forced title holders torelinquish their crowns are those of Vanessa Williams, Miss America 1984, and Kathy Huppe,Miss Montana 1970. Ms. Williams was forced to resign when it was disclosed that she hadposed for a photographer in the nude, even though this event took place years before sheentered the competition, or began to work for the pageant organization. Ms. Huppe wasforced out of her job by the pageant organizers because she was against the Vietnam War,and refused to transfer to the university which they preferred, despite the fact that thejudges who selected her knew her views and her university from the beginning, and she madeno "embarrassing" statements about Vietnam. In both cases the organizers of thepageants were determined, at all costs, to rid themselves of title holders who did not fittheir ideals, even in areas which most employees consider personal and private.  
  
Advertising publicity for strippers focuses on two main areas: suggestions on how"hot" the girls are (i.e. sexually aggressive) and how busty they are. Forinstance, LuLu Devine's ad copy for her appearance at the Market Street Cinema (which alsopresents live shows like Devine's) in 1990 was as follows:  
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Contest officials have objected to winners before, and have even canceled their owncompetitions rather than acknowledge a winner who doesn't fit their ideal image of acontestant. The New York Times reported one such incident in 1924:  
  
SCOOP!
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The Flushing [New York] beauty contest was terminated abruptly yesterday, as Dorothy Derrick, 17 years old, a negro girl, was in third place and threatening to gain. For two days Dorothy Derrick led the Flushing beauties in the balloting. She had dropped to third place, but was threatening a comeback, when the managers...decided that the public could not be trusted in a delicate matter of this kind. Democratic principles have been abandoned entirely and the premiere Flushing beauty will be selected by a small committee of hand-picked connoisseurs. Dorothy Derrick is a granddaughter of the Right Rev. Bishop William B. Derrick of the African Methodist Church. She is a student at Hunter College and was an honor student at Flushing High School, of which she is a graduate. She is said to be handsome in her way.
  
The Most Erotic-Bizarre Act
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Apparently the merchants and townspeople of Flushing, however, had lessprejudice than the socially prominent organizers of the festival and a day after thecontest was called off, they revived it:
  
You May EVER SEE!
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The popularity contest...called off by the Green Twigs, an organization of socially prominent women, will be continued by Flushing merchants, who will give prizes to the winners.
  
SEEING IS BELIEVING
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Officers of the Green Twigs said they had terminated the contest because of bitterness it had stirred up. At that time Miss Violet Meyer, of Jewish parentage and whose father conducts a corner newsstand, was in the lead, and Miss Dorothy Derrick, a negress, was third. As a result it was charged that racial and social prejudice had prompted the Green Twig's action.
  
88FFF-24-35
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Certainly, racial prejudice has barred many contestants from pageant competitions, mostnotably the Miss America Competition, which was "lily-white" until 1970. In thewhole history of the Miss America Pageant there has been only one Jewish winner (BessMyerson, 1945), and three Black winners (Vanessa Williams, 1984, Debbye Turner, 1990, andMarjorie Vincent, 1991) as compared to 59 "lily- white" winners. There has neverbeen an Asian, Hispanic, or Native-American winner in the whole history of the Pageant.''[note, this was true when I wrote my dissertation in 1991, it is not truenow]'' This is embarrassing evidence of the essentially racist image of what constitutes ideal"American" beauty.
  
LuLu DEVINE LIVE
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It has even been pointed out that both Williams and Turner have bone structure andfeatures which are more commonly "white" features than black ones. In addition,the choice of Williams was attacked by some black critics because of Williams' green eyesand light skin that conformed to "white" standards of beauty. However, it islikely that neither of these women, although both extremely beautiful and talented, wouldhave had as good a chance of winning if they had worn their hair in braids, or corn rows,or some other style that is associated with their ethnic heritage. Unfortunately, the MissAmerica standard of beauty is a white standard and any contestant who doesn't fit thatstandard has to "mold" herself to fit it as best she can or forgo any chance ofwinning.
  
8th & 9th Wonders of the World
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Debra Johnson, Miss Compton 1985, who participated in the Miss California Pageant ofthat year, described the problem of being black in a traditionally white pageant in aninterview in the documentary Miss...or Myth?
  
The all time centerfold sensation!
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Well, Miss California has been around for 62 years and they have not chosen a woman of color yet. I think that they have an idea of what a Miss California is supposed to be. Black women, or women of color, minority women don't fit into that image. And I never went in thinking, "I'm not going to win because I'm black." I never had that attitude. Until you become a part of it, and then you think, "Oh, so that's what's happening here," you know. What you did feel was that they look at you more as a threat, instead of just another contestant. Especially if you were good. You got the feeling that no matter how good you were though, you were not going to win. And I don't mean to say that everybody in the Miss California Pageant is a racist. There are beautiful people in the pageant. But this is an American problem, and the Miss California Pageant is part of that problem...it has its weaknesses. And hopefully this year, next year, four years, five years down the line, they're going to strengthen those weaknesses. And they have the potential to be a very good, positive program for American women.
  
If you never see another nude show ever
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In 1989, reporters at USA Today tried to figure out exactly what the ideal imageof the Miss America Pageant was:
  
--don't miss this one--Nuf Said!
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She's an "ideal," says Miss America Pageant director Leonard Horn..."If you're gonna have an ideal, it's not going to be the Hunchback of Notre Dame." To create a three-dimensional composite of that ideal 1990 American Miss, USA TODAY interviewed all 51 contestants---on subjects ranging from her looks to her favorite snacks to her beliefs about abortion. She'll agree with the pageant's decision not to use measurements in the competition. She'll want to get married and have two to three children. She'll never have smoked a cigarette, except to try one. Beyond that, the 1990 winner is likely to be brown-haired, white, a Protestant, a Republican who supports the right of a woman to choose an abortion. She'll probably have a musical talent, will have last read a non-fiction book (most likely something motivational) and think sex before marriage is "always" or "almost always" wrong. She'll probably be one of three children and be planning to work outside the home while she raises her own family. All the women exercise rigorously---14 hours a week on the average. Two contestants work out just five hours a week; two, an amazing 35 hours. Rounding out the picture: Our average Miss America 1990 contestant is the youngest in her family, was a member of her high school honor society but not a member of her college sorority, and didn't wear braces on her teeth. And she most likely disapproves of women posing nude for magazines.
  
The O'Farrell St. Theater tends to feature ad copy like this: "YoungWilling--INSATIABLE! Barbara DARE A Gorgeous Body--Just made for Love!" and"HOSE HER DOWN! She's burning down the house! She's got a fire inside...LOISAYRES." The public image of the performer begins with these pieces of publicity, andcolors the audience's perception of the performance, by pre-defining it as sexuallysuggestive.  
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Since pageant people don't usually think there is anything wrong with their standards,they also don't find anything wrong with people trying to live up to them. They generallyregard the process of a woman transforming herself into an image of a "perfect"beauty queen as a positive one that helps women to learn how to be attractive, impressothers, and succeed in the masculine- dominated outside world of business, politics, andthe media. And it is undoubtedly true that it does just that. Beauty pageant winnerscontinue to become lawyers, corporate executives, and television journalists, due to thepractice they get at dealing with the public as contestants and winners. Even in areaslike business and television, women are still judged primarily on how they look, howgracious they can be, and how "adaptable" they are to the other people (ie. men)around them, before they are judged on their abilities. While men have to do good work,women in traditionally masculine professions have to do good work and look good if theyare to be accepted. In this sense the conservative, upper-middle class WASP training inhow to be non-threatening that the pageant provides is valuable training for today'supwardly mobile woman. In that sense the pageant system is a very realistic reflection ofthe modern ideal of the American woman, and the pageant is far less at fault for trainingwomen to fit this standard than the public in the outside world is in expecting it ofwomen in the first place. Many pageant contestants accurately see pageants as excellenttraining grounds for women to learn how to survive in an America that already is subtlyracist, sexist, and increasingly class-conscious.  
  
Beyond the easily malleable publicity image which suggests an open, aggressivesexuality, the body image has proven to be almost as easily altered to suit. While thereare many strippers who were and are successful with skinny, flat-chested figures and fat,lumpy ones, there is no doubt that the preferred body type for stripping is alarge-busted, curvaceous figure, tending toward hourglass proportions. Both Tempest Stormand Blaze Starr, the top strippers of the Fifties, were encouraged to go into strippingbecause they had naturally busty figures. However, starting in the late Forties, and withincreasing frequency in the Fifties and Sixties, silicone injections and implants made"natural" curves unessential. Not surprisingly, the most famous"stripper" (actually, an "exotic" dancer) of the Sixties, Carol Doda,had breasts which were models of Twentieth Century "Space Age" technology. TomWolfe described her figure in "The Put-Together Girl":  
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The image of women demanded by pageants is a reflection of the image demanded of womenby American society. While few people actually expect women to conform to the image of thefashion model or the stripper in their daily life, there is a persistent myth that anylittle girl can grow up to become Miss America if she tries hard enough (like the mythabout growing up to be President), and that every woman really should at least make theattempt. Women who do not attempt to become "pretty" are regarded as peculiar,if not openly hostile to society. Wearing makeup, dieting, and altering one's natural hairin some way are all considered part of the "normal" behavior of females in oursociety:
  
Them! Carol Doda has had injections of a silicone emulsion put into her breasts in installments over the past three years. They have grown, grown, grown, enlarging like...dirigibles, almost as if right in front of the eyes of the crowds .. ..and all those people are out there practically panting. Topless, topless, the girl who blew up her breasts, Wonder Breasts, Wonder Breasts...Carol Doda's Breasts are up there the way one imagines Electra's should have been, two incredible mammiform protrusions, no mere pliable mass of feminine tissues and fats there but living arterial sculpture--viscera spigot---great blown-up aureate morning glories.  
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A woman who rejects makeup, stops shaving her legs, or stops wearing a bra redefines herself and is relegated to a special category. Her pale lips or hairy limbs pronounce her an anomaly...a woman who fails to play her proper part...will soon be seen as a threat to the whole system.  
  
Goddess-like breasts are seen as part of the stripper's sexual ideal and consequently,from the Sixties on, strippers have been pressured into getting breast implants andinjections in order to increase their popular appeal, the strippers with the largestbreasts receiving the most bookings, and consequently, increasing their income along withtheir bra size.  
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While this attitude persists in society, the ideal of Miss America and other pageantswill continue to require significant enhancement of a woman's physical appearance bymakeup, hairdressing, dieting, and exercise, bringing the modern woman's drive, ambition,and determination into the area of personal beauty. This is not a carry-over from thedistant past, but (in pageant terms) is a recent development. Back in the early days ofpageants audiences preferred sweet, innocent, (passive and pliable) "homegirls," and a driving ambition to make oneself pretty was as unacceptable as adriving ambition was in any other field. Naturally, then, at that time contestantspresented an image that was in line with the audience taste that regarded bobbed orbleached hair and a face with makeup as sinful. And nearly every beauty contest (in theearly Twenties) selected finalists and winners with long brown hair and"natural" beauty.  
  
Carrie Finnell, a stripper of the Twenties and Thirties found that large breastscombined with unusual muscle control could even overcome audience prejudice against herplain appearance and frankly fat body. Her act, which lasted into her sixties (when sheresembled a very plain D.A.R. president) apparently transfixed onlookers with her"educated bosom" as she called it. H.M. Alexander described her act in 1938,late in her career:
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Contestants caught on to these image requirements, and presented their own imageaccordingly. Wise contestants made a point of entering without makeup and with long hair.At the second annual Miss America competition in 1922 only three contestants out of 57 hadbobbed hair. Also there is no record that any contestant admitted to using cosmetics, and"almost the first words of Mary Catherine Campbell of Columbus, the new MissAmerica" reported The New York Times were "I don't use cosmetics."This was obviously a politic statement at a time when the conservative Timeseditorial section suggested that the judges should bar any contestant who used makeup fromentering in the first place.
  
She stands there with her hands behind her back and by tricks of the muscles, flicks her breasts in and out of her dress. The finale of the act is executed to the tune of "Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits." On the "Shave and a Haircut" Carrie's breasts rapidly and in unison point left and right. On the "Two" they point down, on the 'Bits" they point up.  
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Winning beauty contestants in Miss America have carefully groomed their image to matchthe conservative public taste in makeup and hair, never going to a high fashion extreme.Miss America winners didn't choose to sport teased beehive hairdos until the fashion hadalready gone "out" among girls in their age group, and then they continued towear them for nearly ten years. It took five years after American college-age girls firstwore long straight hair in 1965 before a winner (Phyllis George, Miss America 1971) wasseen wearing it. Consistently, beauty queens pick hair styles pioneered as much as tenyears earlier in order to cater to the conservative pageant image. Now that conservativepublic taste toward makeup has changed, the situation with regards to cosmetics hasreversed its 1921 stance: a contestant cannot even win a preliminary competition withoutmakeup, because makeup is worn by conservative women and a clean face is regarded by manyas the sign of a militant feminist.  
  
Clearly the normal male breast fixation of the audience led to a rather abnormalbaroque set of performance expectations centered around the performer's breasts. Finnelloriginated the art of tassel twirling to cater to these unusual audience interests:  
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Pageant winners are now judged not on how nature made them look, but on how well theyhave used makeup, hair, dress, dieting and exercise to make themselves look "the bestthey can be." So contestants are extremely open in describing the efforts (exercise,diet, makeup, etc.) they took to improve their appearance. The artifice of makeup in thecontext of a beauty pageant is seen as symbolic, not of deception, but of a striving forperfection. Natural obstacles, like fat, imperfect facial features, social or physicalgracelessness, and social or physical handicaps, from illnesses to racial stereotypes, areall obstacles that are meant to be conquered by the contestant in her search forself-perfection. In this context cosmetics are seen as primary tools in a struggle againstthis imperfection, and they assume an almost religious virtue for some contestants as aresult. Pam Eldred, Miss America 1970, now gives advice in pageant magazines on usingmakeup for pageants. One article of hers demonstrates the pageant theory of the purpose ofmakeup (and pageantry) as part of a program of self improvement:  
  
She would start one tassel on one bosom slowly like a propeller revving up on a World War I plane. Faster and faster it would spin while its fellow tassel lay limp and neglected on the other bosom. Then, the other tassel would come to life. It would start spinning slowly, while the first tassel was at full speed. Carrie looked like a twin-engined bomber. Carrie could do anything with those tassels. She could make one go slow, the other fast. She could spin the left in one direction, and the right in the opposite direction. She could lie on her back and somehow keep the tassels elevated and twirling. She could attach tassels to her derriere and have them spinning every which way while the bosom tassels revolved merrily on their own.  
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Now that you have properly showcased [with makeup] the special you, don't forget to smile, relax, and enjoy the other girls. The only person you are competing against is yourself. No matter what the outcome, you have challenged yourself and met that challenge.  
  
Apart from breasts, the impression of an aggressive sexuality is also an important partof a stripper's image- --Tempest Storm, throughout her career made a habit of being seento date a wide variety of men notable for their sex appeal, and she openly claims to haveslept with most of them, (while giving particulars of their bedroom performances in herautobiography). Whether she actually had sex with Elvis, JFK, and Frank Sinatra is totallyimmaterial; the point is that she openly '''claims''' to have seducedall these men. Even the cover of her autobiography presents her image as aggressivelysexual--- Storm (a woman in her fifties) is sprawled in a clinging transparent black lacebody suit and fur coat, wearing heavy makeup, rhinestones, and full, dyed red hair. Herpicture is enclosed in a purple frame with the title, TEMPEST STORM: THE LADY IS A VAMP.The whole picture promotes her image as that of a sexually aggressive siren.Significantly, Storm still was working as a stripper when she wrote her autobiography.Blaze Starr's 1974 autobiography (and the 1990 movie Blaze based on part of it) wasdictated after she had gone over to theatre management, and no longer needed to boost hercareer with tales of sexual prowess. Not surprisingly, it is considerably tamer.
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The physical image of the beauty queen requires more than just makeup and hairspray,the body image requires much more drastic shaping than that of the hair and face. Beautycontestants' bodies are usually plumper and more curvaceous than fashion model bodies, andless top-heavy than the ideal for strippers. As women organizers and judges have becomemore common in pageantry, (more in line with today's audience, which is two-thirds female)the winning contestants have been looking more like fashion models and less like stripperseach year. The typical male and female pageant judge responses to a given figure area,like the bust line, illustrates how having a larger proportion of female judges thanformerly, can change the ideal:
  
While Starr was working on stage, however, her on-stage actions were as suggestive asStorm's autobiography. For one act she would "lie down on a red shag carpet andpretend to be a panther, screaming and crawling all over the carpet, mentally seducing themen in the audience." Another act she developed included her writhing on a couchwhich she had rigged to "burst into flames." "My plan," she said,"was to lie down on the settee and undress in the midst of this pretendconflagration." As her vice squad captain/lover of the time put it, irately,"You're promoting an idea that you're so hot up there the Goddamn stage isexploding." The appeal of this fantasy seemed so lewd, that he felt obliged to arresther, and their affair broke up as a consequence.  
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What is the optimum cup size? June Wylie [swim- wear coordinator for Miss USA 1990], who has 27 years of pageant experience, feels it's "a nice rounded B." Dan Isaacson, fitness consultant to the stars and a [Miss USA] pageant judge this year, thinks on a larger scale, "The ideal pageant size is a 34 C."
  
Starr's flaming couch and Doda's tumescent breasts are only two examples of anartificial construct being used to support the illusion of the stripper's idealized imageof female sexuality. Strip routines are, by their nature as theatre, a ritualizeddepiction of men's ideals of female sexuality. Audience breast fixation not only hasencouraged performers to increase the size of their breasts, but also has helped to centersome performers' actions around their breasts. A feminist stripper developed an act whichincluded breast imagery in a liberated piece of stripping performance art:
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Fortunately for beauty contestants, they can pad out to their preferred size, unlikestrippers, and are no longer required to get surgery or dangerous injections in order tolive up to the ideal. This was not always the case. Until the Fifties, Miss Americacontestants were disqualified if they padded their swimsuits, and the Miss USA/MissUniverse organization only lifted the padding ban in 1990. The first Miss USA to win underthese rules, Carole Gist, freely admitted to using padding in her strapless evening gownbecause the usual 5 pound weight loss, which excited contestants often have in pageantweek, made the gown loose enough it "would have fallen off" on stage.
  
On a whim I took along a brown paper grocery bag stuffed with foam rubber eggs and breasts that I just happened to have on hand. (In my militant feminist artist days I once did a kitchen for a place called Womanhouse which was all flesh colored---ceilings, walls, and floors- -and which was dotted with foam-rubber fried eggs gradually metamorphosing into milk-filled breasts. There was a certain irony in my creations serving me equally well as feminist or stripper. This pleased me very much.) ...And then the music started. I came on...I began to empty out my shopping bag. The men all waited. An egg. A fried egg. A fried egg with a pink yolk with a nipple! And then a breast! And more breasts! This was fun. The music played. I took off my coat. I danced. I tried on one breast, then another. A child out playing with her mother's falsie. I threw the breasts out to the audience...They were very pleased. And then slowly I did my strip...And it was not like I expected--nothing like that at all. I rather enjoyed the dancing naked. The men were...sweet! I had expected that they would save the foam rubber breasts for souvenirs, but they dutifully returned every one to the causeway, like good little mother's boys. One man slipped a dollar tip surreptitiously beneath one tit!
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The Miss USA/Miss Universe organization lifted the padding ban due to feministpressure. As anti-pageant advocates like Ann Simonton pointed out, underendowedcontestants felt they had to undergo dangerous cosmetic surgery in order to becompetitive. While only a few women did this when breast surgery was a high costproposition, the price has dropped considerably, and a growing number of Miss USAcontestants were opting for the surgeon's knife. Women within the established pageantstructure regarded this as a negative trend and were relieved at the rule change. BarbaraPeterson Burwell, Miss USA 1976, who was a judge in 1990, said: "What's great is thatpadding allows any woman to have the equal opportunity of participating in a beautycompetition." And Carolee Munger, Miss Alaska-USA's state director, took the viewthat, "If we take any steps to prevent a young woman from making a permanent decisionabout a one-night event, we're doing the right thing."
  
Strippers also appeal to their audience with fantasy images of sophisticated sexualiconography created by their costumes. Gypsy Rose Lee was famous for her costumes withblack lace, fishnet stockings and black garter belts which did not convey a specificimage, but rather a general one of naughtiness. Many of these strippers were a markedcontrast to the images they projected with their costumes. Gypsy Rose Lee, who took careto look sophisticated and stunning on stage, and on all public occasions, was noted forspending vacation time at home without makeup, unwashed and in a filthy denim skirt,wrinkled blouse, and heavy wool socks. Ann Corio, who frequently did "artistic"strip routines that portrayed her as exotic types like Indian maidens and South Seaprincesses, was an un-exotic Italian-American girl from Hartford, Connecticut. The topstars of the Fifties, Tempest Storm and Blaze Starr, made excessive use of luxurymaterials in their costumes, causing rhinestones, sequins, feathers, satin, and lam‚all to be inextricably associated with strippers, and even considered "cheap"and "tacky" by some people due to the association, despite their high cost. Thepublic image of strippers as worldly "vamps" who dripped with sequins andfeathers was most significantly fostered by these two women, who both grew up in tinyshacks in the rural South, near towns so small they rarely even appear on maps. Theirimage of what constituted sophistication and wealth came from movie magazines and not anykind of real life experience. It is little wonder then, that the image of the stripperthat they popularized was an unintentionally outrageous caricature of Hollywood glamourand sophistication.
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Unfortunately, while pageant women are very supportive of feminists' objections tocosmetic surgery, on average they have no sympathy for fatness. As more judges in pageantsare female, the trend towards skinnier, flatter contestants becomes more pronounced. Notsurprisingly this means that a high percentage of contestants develop eating disorders.Pageant people sometimes regard eating disorders as just yet another problem to beovercome on the road to perfection, not realizing that the pursuit of perfection oftenleads to the disorders. An article in Pageantry magazine celebrates the "triumphover" eating disorders experienced by Debra Linn Tingey before she went on to win theMiss Utah-USA 1990 title:
  
Many strip performers mentally separate their on- stage personas from their day-to-daylives, knowing, as they do, that the image they have as performers is limited to a purelysexual one:
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During this time Debra experienced the not unusual pressure to be beautiful and THIN...the pressures took the form of the eating disorders known as anorexia nervosa and bulimia. One evening, while performing...stress and lack of nourishment took its toll. Debra collapsed on stage. At the hospital, the cause was apparent... a mild cardiac arrest. This tragic event encouraged Debra to forget what "society" wanted her to look like and begin to rebuild her body.
  
What's it like working in the clubs? It's like acting. I'm not the same person when I'm on stage. I become strictly sexual. And I enjoy it. You probably wouldn't recognize me if you saw me on the street.  
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Yet, obviously, she still does conform to what "society" wants her to looklike, or she wouldn't have won the state title. Her picture, which accompanies thearticle, shows a thin sculpted face and a long skinny neck. Even though she supposedly hasrecovered from her eating disorders, she is still striving to conform to the thin beautypageant image.  
  
Kelly O'Brian, a college girl from a Catholic background who turned to stripping as amethod for paying her tuition, recalls that the contrast between her on-stage andoff-stage lives was so extreme that she started getting confused about her identity, untilshe quit:  
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Pageant magazines, aware of the problems that beset their readers, are careful tostress weight loss through exercise and balanced (even hearty) eating. Most winningcontestants get "pageant perfect" bodies by spending hours each day"pumping iron"--the very antithesis of the old traditional image of beautyqueens as helpless little females. Debbye Turner, Miss America 1990, claims to have runand exercised six days a week for years to get the athletically slender body that won herthe swimsuit competition. The staple of how-to books and magazines on becoming a beautyqueen is exercise information, not dieting information, as in most modeling books. Thiscaution reflects a real concern in the pageant business with the problems of eatingdisorders among contestants, because the very goal that pageants strive for:self-perfection through self-control, is a goal that most women with eating disordersshare. Predictably, despite all the well-intentioned advice on controlling weight throughexercise, pageants foster eating disorders by reinforcing the notion of slender bodies assymbols of perfection. Lisa Davenport, Miss California 1985, admitted to falling prey tobulimia in her first pageants, but didn't see the connection between her problem and herwork in pageantry. On the contrary, like others in the pageant field, she considered thatthe Miss America program helped her overcome this problem:  
  
For the most part the experience is behind me. But whenever I hear the music from Flashdance, I see the image of a girl dancing naked in front of rapt, longing men. She revels in the attention. I still can't believe she was me.  
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When I filled out the application for Atlantic City, there was no real way for me to get to the real essence of who I was, and how I've come to be the young lady that I am, without discussing the bulimic issue, which I'd never really discussed before. (pause) Because it's not something I'm proud of. (pause) And I was afraid......to let people know that I may be.......a little less than perfect. When I first entered into...some of the pageants...I felt...uh...a tremendous pressure to (long pause) be thin, to be attractive, and felt that was how I'd be accepted. But what I'm saying is that because of the Miss America program and my experiences in it, it helped me overcome bulimia. It may have encouraged those things in the beginning, but in the long run it helped me get over it.  
  
Many strippers "revel in the attention" either because they areexhibitionists or because they have a low opinion of themselves and their appearance.While the public has an image of strippers as glamorous and beautiful, many strippers areinsecure about their personal appearance, and strip partly in order to gain desperatelywanted confirmation that they are attractive. Far from being self-confident, seductivevamps, O'Brian saw insecurity as the norm among strippers:
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What Davenport chooses to ignore, is that while pageantry may have helped her overcomeher bulimia, she never would have got it in the first place if she hadn't participated inthose first pageants. Ann Simonton, predictably took a similar view of Davenport'sproblem;
  
Gradually, though, I began to discern our common thread. Not one girl in the club truly liked herself, really believed that she was pretty or worthwhile.
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When I first heard about Lisa Gayle Davenport talking about her bulimia experiences, I felt, "Wow! They've got something out of her that she must be really upset about. Because how can Miss America have made herself vomit? Whether she's doing it now, if she ever has, that's an image they won't want her to be representing. I also felt very proud of her for being able to talk about it. Because it's something that needs to come out. We need to understand the psychological and physical damage that's happening to women that are trying to be perfect, trying to emulate an ideal. [Emphasis mine]
  
For some, like O'Brian, stripping merely confuses their shaky sense of self-worth andidentity, for others it becomes a way to grow more comfortable with themselves.  
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While Simonton's views are sometimes extreme, they generally contain a lot of truth.Contestants do sometimes suffer in the pursuit of the ideal, and in a competition, theymay suffer even more for falling short of the ideal. A former pageant winner, LisaJohnson, Miss Maine 1984, and now a follower of Simonton, described what it was like tocompete and lose in Atlantic City:
  
A lot of people think that women who dance topless are victims, and that may be true sometimes, but personally I've found it to be a very positive experience. Of course, it depends on how you feel about yourself and what kind of consciousness you bring to it.  
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The prelim nights and the nationals...what women would do is tape their breasts up, pad, so they'd look more voluptuous, larger, bigger than life. They would tape their buttocks up, starve themselves for the day so that they'd have absolutely no stomach. So I remember the night of the pageant. They were naming the top ten. We were tense. I didn't make it. They kind of cattled us off stage, just off stage. And the women threw up, they were crying hysterically, black makeup running down their faces, it was a horror show. It was horrible.  
  
Strangely, some strippers, contrary to the socially conscious interpretation of them asvictims, use stripping as a means to express hostility towards, and victimize men.  
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Certainly trying to live up to an ideal of beauty that requires starvation and ducttape for some to maintain is not healthy either physically or psychologically, yet manycontestants do these things. And a few go to the more dangerous extremes of dieting andsurgery. Yet these extremes are also practiced by women outside of the beauty field, andnot all contestants or winners need to or wish to go to such lengths in order to achievethe contest image. It is, however, another proof that beauty pageants are a form oftheatre and that the images of the contestants and winners are theatrical illusions, heldup by makeup and costuming for some, duct tape and dieting for others. No woman wakes upand gets out of bed looking as artificially perfect as a Miss America winner does, as shewalks down the runway in rhinestone tiara, hair sprayed coiffure, made-up face, and abeaded gown. The image is an illusion, created to represent and glorify the vague, prettycompromise image Americans see as the ideal American "girl". The T.V. viewingpublic never sees or imagines contestants vomiting in the wings, beyond camera range.  
  
When I dance topless, I see the way the guys look at me, and I...uh...sorta get this thing inside of me that says, Hell, I'm teasin' you, and you can't touch me! I really like doin' it...it's a real power trip---it is!
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Besides the physical component of the beauty pageant ideal, there is now (in the MissAmerica Pageant, especially) a significant portion of the ideal concerned with thecontestants' other attributes. Back in 1923 the qualities judges looked for in AtlanticCity were "form, carriage, health, features, simplicity, character, personality,training, adaptability, and distinctiveness," none of them very assertive orthreatening qualities. The "adaptability" of a biddable nature was already acriteria even in the days before Miss Americas were subsequently hired by the pageantorganization to make appearances. As audiences have altered their ideal image of theperfect daughter from the early image of youthful innocence and sweetness to the presentimage of a striving, ambitious hard worker, the queens have changed, not only in reality,but most especially in the publicity used to describe them. Back in the Twenties, whenSamuel Gompers was describing Margaret Gorman, Miss America 1921, as "the type ofwomanhood America needs---strong, red- blooded, able to shoulder the responsibilities ofhomemaking and motherhood," nearly every person in America would have considered thisa perfect description of the ideal daughter. After nearly 70 years of change in the roleof women in America, however, the 1990 Miss America, Debbye Turner, was described as aperson who "appears to be the antithesis of the type of young woman who would enterpageant after pageant in search of that coveted rhinestone tiara....She is only a fewmonths away from earning a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Degree. And with sass, humor, andwit, she can articulate her views on almost any topic thrown at her." The indicationis that there was a change not only in the type of woman who would win a beauty pageant,but also in the way the winner was described to the public.
  
A feminist stripper, Victoria Hodgetts, analyzed the feeling of power over menstripping gave.  
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For a contestant to successfully compete now, at the national level, she must exerciseher ability to speak publicly and in interview situations. While pageant critics imaginethese interview questions don't "really encourage creative intelligence," thefact is, they do require considerable creative intelligence on the part of thecontestants. Since contestants know that they cannot possibly guess all the judges'different opinions and answer each person with the opinion they would most like to hear,they have to find an opinion of their own, and a way to state it in such a way as not tooffend anyone who disagrees with it. Like politicians, they have to find a method ofanswering that best displays their own knowledge, doesn't offend the voters, and yet doesnot sound weak, vague, or lacking in courage or compassion. Few Vice Presidents manage tolearn this, yet it must be admitted that most Miss Americas do.  
  
I remember thinking that it was like rape, only backwards. The women got to violate the men. There was something angry in these dance seductions. The women tried to get the men as hungry and turned on as possible. Then they left them hanging. They could do nothing. Nothing but sit there in exquisite frustration, eager guilt. It was revenge for all the times that men put their greedy fingers all over women. It was striking back.  
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This is why Miss Americas make thousands of dollars for personal appearances throughouttheir "reigns". For the rest of their year they are never seen in a swimsuitdisplaying the "perfect" body they have struggled to achieve. Instead, they makespeeches at store openings, public works projects, and special events. The quality thatMiss Americas sell to the organizers of these appearances is not sex, but the ability tomake whatever is being opened, started, or celebrated, to be seen as non-controversial yetpositive, strong yet tasteful, classy but not snobbish---in short, equivalent to the imageMiss Americas can generate for themselves. This aura cannot be generated by a beautifulfool. Despite the public image that many people have of beauty contest winners (forinstance, the feather-brained newswoman character, Corky Sherwood, in the T.V. show MurphyBrown), national winners train their brains the same way they shape their bodies on benchpresses. Debbye Turner "read every news journal I could get my hands on," astandard tactic of pageant contestants. The Beauty Pageant Manual recommends thatcontestants regularly read The New York Times' national and world sections, Time,and Newsweek from cover to cover, watch 60 MinutesToday, and GoodMorning, America and any news specials on particularly important current events, aswell as keep up with current information important to their local area as well. Anycontestant who has trouble digesting all this information is recommended to get a collegehistory teacher to be a "current events coach" and help the contestant to wadethrough this weekly pile of information. Contestants are also expected to study thehistory, famous landmarks, famous people, industry, and other high points of their localarea in order to be better spokeswomen for their states or towns. For internationalcompetition, a contestant is also advised to learn basic greetings and phrases in thelanguage spoken in the place where the pageant is to be held, the names of the keyofficials of that town and country, the outstanding current events and concerns of thelocal population, and information about the country's business, industry, food, andcustoms. If a contestant wants to be really prepared for her interview, there are bookssold with the hundreds of interview questions which are most likely to be asked. Awell-prepared contestant will think about each question and formulate an opinion beforethe interview so she doesn't waste interview time having to think over her reply. Many ofthese interview questions do in fact encourage creative intelligence:
  
The anger towards men and the low self-images which some strippers have contrastsharply with their on-stage image, and show that the image is capable of being enactedeven by performers who are psychologically the antithesis of the self-confident vamp whodesires all men. '''Indeed it is a documented fact that in total contrast to theonstage personas of strippers as promiscuous heterosexuals, stripping as a professionincludes one of the highest rates of homosexual activity among women of any group studied,including a higher rate than prison populations'''. McCaghy and Skipper in"Lesbian Behavior as an Adaptation to the Occupation of Stripping" in DeviantBehavior: Occupational and Organizational Bases (1974) found that:
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If you could change one thing in your country what would it be?
  
The estimates of 50 to 75 percent are well above Kinsey's finding that 19 percent of his total female sample had physical sexual contact with other females by age 40. This difference is further heightened when we consider that a large majority of our sample (69 percent) were or had been married; Kinsey found that only three percent of married and nine percent of previously married females had homosexual contacts by age 40.
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If you were on a television talk show and could get only one message across to your listeners, what subject would it be on?
  
The conditions of work in strip establishments contribute in a number of ways to makeheterosexual relationships seem undesirable:
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If you could choose to have any talent, what would it be and why?
  
A recurring theme in our interviews was strippers' disillusionment with the male of the species. This disillusionment often begins on stage when the neophyte first witnesses audience reactions which prove shocking even to girls who take off their clothes in public...she is often gratuitously treated to performances rivaling her own act: exhibitionism and masturbation. There is no question that strippers are very conscious of this phenomenon for they characterize a large proportion of their audience as "degenerates."
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How do you perceive the role and responsibilities of a beauty queen?
  
This negative image of men, when coupled with the long awkward working hours andtouring schedules of strip shows, and the liberal attitude toward sexual encounters of allkinds found in the profession, all contribute to a higher than normal rate of lesbianpreference in the performer's private lives. This is in marked contrast to their onstageimage as ardent heterosexuals.  
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Give three events (positive or negative) that have influenced your life.
  
The most amazing example of strip performers who would seem to be totally unsuited tothe depiction of an ideal of sexualized womanhood, and yet do succeed as strippers, arethe transvestites and transsexuals of the New Orleans strip joints on Bourbon Street.Although these performers are genetic males, their sexual orientation leads them to adesire to be seen as, or even to become, sexually desirable women. Few professions offermore confirmation of a woman's purely sexual appeal than stripping (few legal ones, thatis) so transvestites who are also exhibitionists are naturally attracted to stripping.When transvestite strippers are also homosexual the desire to actually become female hasboth personal and professional advantages, so some strippers opt for a permanent change intheir sexual status. Horrifying as this may seem to some, it has obvious physical andpsychological benefits for men engaged in acting the part of a female sexual ideal, asLisa in Anne Rice's novel, Exit to Eden (1985), learns:
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What is your philosophy of life?
  
And a man who looked exactly like a giant of a woman was dancing, if you could call it that, or more truly shuffling back and forth in satin mules, the light flickering on her white satin gown, her heavily made-up cheeks, the spun glass of her white wig, her vapid unfocused eyes. She/he was watching herself in the mirror...the silver boa shivering over her smooth and powerful arms, her whole appearance strangely, undeniably sensuous as it was manufactured, beautiful as it was ghastly. To me anyway. You are all angels. You have transcended everything into the pure theatre of yourselves....Like the giant marble angels in church who hold out the shells full of holy water for us to dip our fingers. Larger and smoother than life, undeniably perfect creatures. They were all of them having operations, the girls. The Angels. They did it piece by piece. She had her balls still, tucked up someplace into her body, and her penis all bound down so that it wouldn't show when she stripped down to the G- string, and she had breasts and estrogen injections.
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What is your biggest fantasy?
  
As Lisa observes, the added height and muscles of the man, when surgically transformedto womanhood, give them a larger than life quality in their role as female sexual figures.These men are transformed by the stripper's ideal of female sexuality and use modernmedicine, not only to improve their appearance as performers, but to allow their lives toimitate, and even become their art. "You have transcended everything into the puretheatre of yourselves," is a tribute not only to the image of female sexuality whichthey have chosen to portray, but to the performer's desire and effort to become that imagein truth. Rice's use of religious imagery is hardly out of place in such a totallyextraordinary transformation and mortification of the flesh in the name of an ideal.
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Who would you like to be for one day and why?
  
Yet obviously this transformation is theatre, even with surgical help to back it up.These performers are not perfect examples of sexualized womanhood any more than those whobegan life as women are. They are all normal, real-life people who habitually usetheatrical devices like costumes, makeup, music, and dance in order to enact the role of asex goddess on stage. That transvestites borrow some of these arts in order to enrichtheir lives as ordinary people is merely a tribute to the extraordinary transforming powerof these theatrical devices. The image of the ideal remains invested in the tools used tocreate it: G-strings are sold in mail order catalogs to women who will never wear them onstage, but use them to excite their lovers; and feather boas and sequined gowns are wornto parties by transvestites who want to share in some of the imagined glamour and sexualpower of the stereotypical stripper's image. Even without the physical presence of one ofthe performers, the image of the ideal holds power through these devices: fetish-like, theaccessories of stripping symbolize the ideal of sex itself.
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Of course, like politicians, beauty contestants often give deliberately evasivereplies, because offending anyone will cost them votes. Still, winners are receiving moreencouragement to express their opinions than they were 30 years ago, when the Miss AmericaPageant chose Nancy Fleming as Miss America 1961:  
  
Most women who strip are lacking some part of the ideal in their real lives. Even ifthey are actually sexually aggressive characters, with considerable social and sexualsophistication, it is still necessary to use the theatrical signals of suggestivecostumes, gestures, and dancing to convey these personal feelings about sexuality to anaudience. For instance, Danyel, a stripper from Vancouver, preparing an act to present atthe first annual Strippers' Convention in Las Vegas, described her feelings aboutsadomachochistic sex:
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Nancy Fleming not only refused to make a choice between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon, but soberly informed reporters that she was unable to decide for herself which was the better- looking.  
  
When I was sixteen...I started to realize that I was into different things sexually than the usual normal things...I began to get into wild clothing and wild catalogs...I started experimenting with a few people. I like it. It's a need in me. I have to have it...And I guess it might be a part of me all my life, it is a part of me...It's so much fun. Pain can be pleasurable. And it's nice to receive it, and it's nice to give it. (pause) I like it. (pause) A lot.  
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The Miss America title now includes a "forum", as promoters put it. Thereigning title holder is expected to make public appearances addressing a public issue ofher choice. Debbye Turner's "platform" of "Motivating Youth toExcellence," in which she encouraged teens to strive beyond racial prejudice andsucceed in life, was not a particularly controversial one, but Kaye Lani Rae Rafko, MissAmerica 1988, decided to use her forum to educate the public about AIDS, which was, andis, a hotly debated subject, especially in the Bible Belt, where Miss America makes themajority of her appearances. A Miss America discussing a "social" diseasepublicly would have been impossible even twenty years before, and a Miss America actuallytouring the country encouraging the public to practice "safe sex" ismind-boggling, even now.  
  
Yet, seen off-stage, and in her "normal" job as a veterinary assistant, noneof this sexual kinkiness showed through: She advised pet owners to disinfect the ears ofkittens with medicine, she walked to dance class in normal, everyday clothing, and thenstretched and lifted weights like any other dancer to prepare for her night job. In orderto create an on stage presentation of her sexual feelings she had to go to considerabletrouble to create a series of artificial symbols to depict them. She hired achoreographer/dance coach to help her develop a domanatrix's dance routine, she chosesuggestive music and a studded leather costume to go with it, and tested the color andconsistency of several varieties of stage blood in order to achieve the theatricalimpression of tearing her flesh open with a whip. The whole act was a totally graphic, yetstylized, vision of sadomasochistic sex. But by nature of the artifice necessary to createit--it could just as easily have been copied and enacted convincingly by someone who didnot share Danyel's personal erotic preferences.  
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Not only national winners reflect the new ideals of assertive women mandated byaudience opinion. State winners who have come to Atlantic City as contestants recentlyalso have ambitious career and political goals, and are typically driven, goal-orientedwomen; Janet Ward Black, Miss North Carolina 1980, is now an assistant district attorney;Debra Cleveland Molskness, Miss South Dakota 1984, is now an engineer testing fighterplanes for MacDonald Douglas; Charmaine Kowalski, M.D., Miss Pennsylvania 1978, is chiefresident in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School's Beth Israel Hospital; and Kristi ReindlVetri, Miss Maryland 1973, won the Mayoral race for her home town, O'Fallon, Illinois,while she was still in Law School. If the American public continues increasingly tosupport women's rights, and idealize beautiful, ambitious women, the Miss Americacompetition will eventually produce the first popular choice for the Presidency who looksgood in a swimsuit. While this sounds like a ridiculous concept, it is, in fact, thedirection in which Miss America is heading. It is also the direction American politics hasbeen heading, in demanding a more and more flawless "image" for candidates.  
  
To summarize, a stripper as a performer is obliged to use artificial (theatrical),methods in order to enact the part of an aggressive, hyper-sexual seductress. Artificialmethods for supporting this role can include methods as extreme as cosmetic and/orsex-change surgery, and methods as ordinary as suggestive costumes, props, and dancemovements. Nearly all the parts of the performance from publicity to costumes promote thisideal of the performer by either highlighting the breasts, or exaggerating the sexuallyaggressive nature of the performer's onstage personality
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In fact Miss America is "ahead" of the politicians in this respect. MissAmerica contestants now typically are intelligent, talented women who have altered theirappearance through exercise, dieting, cosmetics, and sometimes even surgery to create theperfect doll-like image;
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Contestants have had their ears pinned, their upper lids enlarged, buttocks tucked, cheeks and chins implanted, and eyes widened. Does cosmetic surgery constitute cheating for a pageant aspirant? Dr. Billie says No: "It's easier to take an extremely talented girl and do a thirty minute nasal operation than take a flawlessly beautiful girl and teach her to sing or play piano." With the basic externals pulled, pushed, and sutured into place, contestants can turn their attention to saying and doing the right thing... And with talent and interview comprising 70% of the points awarded by judges, saying and doing the right thing is what lets one tucked, sutured woman win out over another.
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Anna Stanley in The Crowning Touch; Preparing for Beauty Competition (1989)gives twelve pages to the interview, as compared to four pages to swimsuit competition inher chapter on "Major Areas of Competition." Stanley asserts:
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The most important category in any pageant is the interview. It is the opportunity for the judges to evaluate personality and general awareness. Pageants are won and lost in the interview. A girl can be an idiot and photogenic, but a beauty queen must be intelligent.
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Karen Kemple notes, "If you are in a close race with another, the girls who hasthe better interview will probably win." While interview does count for the mostpoints, physical beauty still counts for more than many feminists would like. Afteranti-pageant demonstrator Michelle Anderson won the title of Miss Santa Cruz County 1988,she competed in the Miss California contest in order to unfurl a banner reading"Pageants Hurt All Women," live, on television, just before the new MissCalifornia was to be crowned. Her pageant experience shows how far pageants will have togo before they begin to promote a completely liberated ideal:
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People always think of pageant queens as being extremely beautiful. Actually they aren't. I'm a good example; I'm not commercially beautiful, but I learned how to play their little game...With the help of heavy make-up to cover my acne scars, enough hair spray to defy gravity for four hours, tape to hold up my boobs, and spray adhesive to hold down my swimsuit. Being transformed into a beauty queen made absolutely clear how artificial and dangerous and self- denying that beauty standard really is. In order to win I not only had to transform my appearance, but also my attitude. I was told I was too masculine, too aggressive, too assertive, that people were intimidated by me, "even judges, even men."
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Until the general American public sees this kind of image manipulation as undesirable,Miss America contestants will continue to be judged as a compromise choice, a"composite" of brains and beauty, an attractively packaged soft-sell for thealmost-liberated woman. This is the modern image of a beauty queen. Her externalappearance may be based on the image of a Barbie doll, but a "perfect" modernwoman, as most Americans see it, including pageant judges and audiences, is also informed,intelligent, talented, and assertive, in addition to the old apple pie qualities ofkindness, compassion, humor, and congeniality. With this huge list of idealcharacteristics, it is amazing that they ever have found candidates capable (or willing)to live up to the ideal for a whole year.
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Year after year, thousands of women try to match the ideal and win "beauty"titles. Few out of the thousands of women who try actually win, and each level of thecompetition weeds out more "rejects," a sometimes painful process for the womenthemselves. Still, the process does promote to the top those women who are most dedicatedto the ideal. This gives pageants an advantage over less strenuous and moresurface-oriented forms of theatre such as fashion shows and strip shows, in havingperformers who often do closely resemble their ideal image. However, even beautycontestants will freely admit to being performers. They "train" like athletesfor the perfect body and the perfectly informed mind. They use "tricks" likeVaseline on their teeth (to make them glitter), and Preparation-H on their eyebags (toshrink them). They buy or make costumes for each of the areas of competition (like figuremolding "pageant" swimsuits) in order to shape their image. They perform"talent" presentations of singing, dancing, or playing a musical instrument,that they have practiced for months to perfect. They even rehearse interviewing beforevideo cameras in order to improve their interview style, all things that they would not bedoing if they were not competing, and performing in a beauty contest.
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Even the act of winning is something that some contestants think requires aperformance:
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One of the young queens inquired of the other how she felt at the moment she realized she had won. The second replied that she felt no emotion whatsoever, neither elation, gratitude, nor surprise, because she was completely preoccupied with trying to remember exactly what motions her predecessor had made at this point the year before---That is, how she cocked her head to receive the crown, how she reached for the roses, and to what extent she smiled and nodded thanks.
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All this concentration on the image would not be necessary if the image were not anartificial one which requires theatrical methods like rehearsals, costumes, music, makeup,etc. to support it. Again, pageants, like strip shows and fashion shows, are theatricalrepresentations of an ideal, not a literal reflection of the reality of the performers.Performers bend their own reality by artifice to create an image of an ideal, whilepageants celebrate that ideal through a theatrical production.
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Conclusions on the Ideal of the Performer
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Each of the three forms of theatre that form the topic of this study, fashion shows,strip shows, and beauty pageants, are forms that showcase an ideal of womankind throughtheatrical methods. The performers who enact the ideals are not perfect examples of theideals themselves, but are normal imperfect human beings who can perform in such a way asto represent the ideal. Using costuming, makeup, body-shaping through diet, surgery, andexercise they approximate the external physical images of the ideals. Through gesture,body language, and in some cases, speech, singing, and dance, they enact the internalpsychological image of the ideal. Fashion models represent a desexualized, healthy,striving, young, upper-middle class image through upper- middle class body language, realyouth, thinness and an assertive walk. Strippers usually create an aggressively sexualizedideal image through "sophisticated" costuming, aggressive body language,bust-centered dance movements, curvaceous bodies, suggestive songs and props, andseductive removal of clothing. Beauty queens invest themselves with the image ofconformity, ambition, striving for perfection, health, talent, intelligence, and beauty,by guarding their tongues, practicing likely interview questions, training like athletes,practicing like musical performers, altering their appearance through makeup, padding,surgery, dieting, or exercise, and "cramming" all necessary information. None ofthese performers comes ready-made, like Venus on the half shell, being an ideal of amodel, a stripper, or a beauty queen. All require at least minimal training in thetheatrical methods used to promote these ideals. The next chapter will describe the effectthat runways have had on the staging of these performances of "ideal" womanhood:What the staging was like before runways, how staging changed by being performed on arunway, and how runways effect the result of the performance.
  
 
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Chapter3 part c: the Image of the Beauty Queen

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Fashion Shows, Strip Shows and BeautyPageants:

The Theatre of The Feminine Ideal

by

TARA MAGINNIS

Chapter III part c:

The Ideal of The Beauty Queen

Of all three forms of theatre described in this study, the beauty pageant is the onemost conspicuously concerned with the ideal of womanhood presented by its performers.Unlike the other two forms of theatre however, beauty pageants as a rule tend to taketheir ideal images so seriously that they frequently confuse them with reality, and expecttheir performers to live up to the ideal in their daily lives. Beauty contestants arejudged not only on their on-stage performances, but on personal interviews, and in somecases on the information judges have on contestants' personal, professional and charitableactivities. Since judging often includes these areas which cross over from thecontestants' real lives it can become extremely difficult to separate the beauty contestperformer's ideal image from her day-to-day reality. This problem is fostered by theamateur status of the performers, and the extreme seriousness with which they and thejudges often treat this ideal image. As Pam Eldred, Miss America 1970 observed:

After participating in the Miss Detroit, Miss Michigan, and then the Miss America pageants, I knew that the most beautiful girls didn't always win. What the judges were looking for were young women who set goals and dreams for themselves. They were looking for women who were willing to work toward goals by continuing their education, by devoting time to perfecting a talent, and by taking pride in themselves and trying to be the most attractive person they could be.

With a performance standard that requires a total commitment to the ideal in one'sprivate life, many pageant contestants are bound to become obsessed with the ideal andfeel that living up to it holds the key to their future happiness. Pageant enthusiastsstate over and over, in the publications they have created for one another, that theprocess of preparing for a pageant by a transformation of one's appearance and lifestyleis the real goal and virtue in a pageant. Pageants are seen by these people as groupconsciousness raising sessions that provide support for self-improvement throughdiscipline. Their literature promotes pageantry with the kind of zeal usually seen infollowers of obscure religious sects.

Through all this, the one theme that dominates is the ideal of the performer. Pageantjudges are expected to select a woman to represent what pageant officials have decided arethe ideal qualities of a Miss Whatever. This is where pageant people and their criticsusually conflict, since the ideal of women promoted by pageants naturally does notcoincide perfectly with the ideals of other groups. As long as pageants present theirwinners as representing the preferred ideal of womanhood they will continue to be attackedby those individuals and organizations who prefer another ideal. The ideal of most beautypageants is a conservative one, due to the composition of the pageant audience (seeChapter II), and is composed of rather vague, amorphus guidelines in order to be flexibleenough to fit a variety of contestants. The judges' manual for the Miss Americapreliminaries in 1990 lists the basics in terms of that particular competition:

Miss America is a vibrant, concerned woman, accepting the challenges for today and possessing even more exciting dreams for tomorrow...women are being sought with the best composite of the following attributes:

Intelligence

Talent

Leadership

Courage

Communication and interpersonal skills

Poise

Attractiveness

Consider well these qualities of each contestant-- be governed by absolutes.

The notion that people can be judged by "absolute" standards in itself isoffensive to some people even when the ideal goals of intelligence, talent, etc. areadmired. However it is the cornerstone of pageant thinking that the ideals of womanhood aspresented in the pageant are there not merely to be enacted, but to be lived up to. Thiskind of thinking becomes apparent whenever a winner is "caught" doing somethingthat the pageant officials feel is not in keeping with the image of the competition. Thewinner is assumed to have no right to a private life, and can be dethroned by officialswho disapprove of anything she does in her personal life, from marrying, to posing nude,to making a personal political statement.

The two most famous cases in which pageant officials have forced title holders torelinquish their crowns are those of Vanessa Williams, Miss America 1984, and Kathy Huppe,Miss Montana 1970. Ms. Williams was forced to resign when it was disclosed that she hadposed for a photographer in the nude, even though this event took place years before sheentered the competition, or began to work for the pageant organization. Ms. Huppe wasforced out of her job by the pageant organizers because she was against the Vietnam War,and refused to transfer to the university which they preferred, despite the fact that thejudges who selected her knew her views and her university from the beginning, and she madeno "embarrassing" statements about Vietnam. In both cases the organizers of thepageants were determined, at all costs, to rid themselves of title holders who did not fittheir ideals, even in areas which most employees consider personal and private.

Contest officials have objected to winners before, and have even canceled their owncompetitions rather than acknowledge a winner who doesn't fit their ideal image of acontestant. The New York Times reported one such incident in 1924:

The Flushing [New York] beauty contest was terminated abruptly yesterday, as Dorothy Derrick, 17 years old, a negro girl, was in third place and threatening to gain. For two days Dorothy Derrick led the Flushing beauties in the balloting. She had dropped to third place, but was threatening a comeback, when the managers...decided that the public could not be trusted in a delicate matter of this kind. Democratic principles have been abandoned entirely and the premiere Flushing beauty will be selected by a small committee of hand-picked connoisseurs. Dorothy Derrick is a granddaughter of the Right Rev. Bishop William B. Derrick of the African Methodist Church. She is a student at Hunter College and was an honor student at Flushing High School, of which she is a graduate. She is said to be handsome in her way.

Apparently the merchants and townspeople of Flushing, however, had lessprejudice than the socially prominent organizers of the festival and a day after thecontest was called off, they revived it:

The popularity contest...called off by the Green Twigs, an organization of socially prominent women, will be continued by Flushing merchants, who will give prizes to the winners.

Officers of the Green Twigs said they had terminated the contest because of bitterness it had stirred up. At that time Miss Violet Meyer, of Jewish parentage and whose father conducts a corner newsstand, was in the lead, and Miss Dorothy Derrick, a negress, was third. As a result it was charged that racial and social prejudice had prompted the Green Twig's action.

Certainly, racial prejudice has barred many contestants from pageant competitions, mostnotably the Miss America Competition, which was "lily-white" until 1970. In thewhole history of the Miss America Pageant there has been only one Jewish winner (BessMyerson, 1945), and three Black winners (Vanessa Williams, 1984, Debbye Turner, 1990, andMarjorie Vincent, 1991) as compared to 59 "lily- white" winners. There has neverbeen an Asian, Hispanic, or Native-American winner in the whole history of the Pageant.[note, this was true when I wrote my dissertation in 1991, it is not truenow] This is embarrassing evidence of the essentially racist image of what constitutes ideal"American" beauty.

It has even been pointed out that both Williams and Turner have bone structure andfeatures which are more commonly "white" features than black ones. In addition,the choice of Williams was attacked by some black critics because of Williams' green eyesand light skin that conformed to "white" standards of beauty. However, it islikely that neither of these women, although both extremely beautiful and talented, wouldhave had as good a chance of winning if they had worn their hair in braids, or corn rows,or some other style that is associated with their ethnic heritage. Unfortunately, the MissAmerica standard of beauty is a white standard and any contestant who doesn't fit thatstandard has to "mold" herself to fit it as best she can or forgo any chance ofwinning.

Debra Johnson, Miss Compton 1985, who participated in the Miss California Pageant ofthat year, described the problem of being black in a traditionally white pageant in aninterview in the documentary Miss...or Myth?

Well, Miss California has been around for 62 years and they have not chosen a woman of color yet. I think that they have an idea of what a Miss California is supposed to be. Black women, or women of color, minority women don't fit into that image. And I never went in thinking, "I'm not going to win because I'm black." I never had that attitude. Until you become a part of it, and then you think, "Oh, so that's what's happening here," you know. What you did feel was that they look at you more as a threat, instead of just another contestant. Especially if you were good. You got the feeling that no matter how good you were though, you were not going to win. And I don't mean to say that everybody in the Miss California Pageant is a racist. There are beautiful people in the pageant. But this is an American problem, and the Miss California Pageant is part of that problem...it has its weaknesses. And hopefully this year, next year, four years, five years down the line, they're going to strengthen those weaknesses. And they have the potential to be a very good, positive program for American women.

In 1989, reporters at USA Today tried to figure out exactly what the ideal imageof the Miss America Pageant was:

She's an "ideal," says Miss America Pageant director Leonard Horn..."If you're gonna have an ideal, it's not going to be the Hunchback of Notre Dame." To create a three-dimensional composite of that ideal 1990 American Miss, USA TODAY interviewed all 51 contestants---on subjects ranging from her looks to her favorite snacks to her beliefs about abortion. She'll agree with the pageant's decision not to use measurements in the competition. She'll want to get married and have two to three children. She'll never have smoked a cigarette, except to try one. Beyond that, the 1990 winner is likely to be brown-haired, white, a Protestant, a Republican who supports the right of a woman to choose an abortion. She'll probably have a musical talent, will have last read a non-fiction book (most likely something motivational) and think sex before marriage is "always" or "almost always" wrong. She'll probably be one of three children and be planning to work outside the home while she raises her own family. All the women exercise rigorously---14 hours a week on the average. Two contestants work out just five hours a week; two, an amazing 35 hours. Rounding out the picture: Our average Miss America 1990 contestant is the youngest in her family, was a member of her high school honor society but not a member of her college sorority, and didn't wear braces on her teeth. And she most likely disapproves of women posing nude for magazines.

Since pageant people don't usually think there is anything wrong with their standards,they also don't find anything wrong with people trying to live up to them. They generallyregard the process of a woman transforming herself into an image of a "perfect"beauty queen as a positive one that helps women to learn how to be attractive, impressothers, and succeed in the masculine- dominated outside world of business, politics, andthe media. And it is undoubtedly true that it does just that. Beauty pageant winnerscontinue to become lawyers, corporate executives, and television journalists, due to thepractice they get at dealing with the public as contestants and winners. Even in areaslike business and television, women are still judged primarily on how they look, howgracious they can be, and how "adaptable" they are to the other people (ie. men)around them, before they are judged on their abilities. While men have to do good work,women in traditionally masculine professions have to do good work and look good if theyare to be accepted. In this sense the conservative, upper-middle class WASP training inhow to be non-threatening that the pageant provides is valuable training for today'supwardly mobile woman. In that sense the pageant system is a very realistic reflection ofthe modern ideal of the American woman, and the pageant is far less at fault for trainingwomen to fit this standard than the public in the outside world is in expecting it ofwomen in the first place. Many pageant contestants accurately see pageants as excellenttraining grounds for women to learn how to survive in an America that already is subtlyracist, sexist, and increasingly class-conscious.

The image of women demanded by pageants is a reflection of the image demanded of womenby American society. While few people actually expect women to conform to the image of thefashion model or the stripper in their daily life, there is a persistent myth that anylittle girl can grow up to become Miss America if she tries hard enough (like the mythabout growing up to be President), and that every woman really should at least make theattempt. Women who do not attempt to become "pretty" are regarded as peculiar,if not openly hostile to society. Wearing makeup, dieting, and altering one's natural hairin some way are all considered part of the "normal" behavior of females in oursociety:

A woman who rejects makeup, stops shaving her legs, or stops wearing a bra redefines herself and is relegated to a special category. Her pale lips or hairy limbs pronounce her an anomaly...a woman who fails to play her proper part...will soon be seen as a threat to the whole system.

While this attitude persists in society, the ideal of Miss America and other pageantswill continue to require significant enhancement of a woman's physical appearance bymakeup, hairdressing, dieting, and exercise, bringing the modern woman's drive, ambition,and determination into the area of personal beauty. This is not a carry-over from thedistant past, but (in pageant terms) is a recent development. Back in the early days ofpageants audiences preferred sweet, innocent, (passive and pliable) "homegirls," and a driving ambition to make oneself pretty was as unacceptable as adriving ambition was in any other field. Naturally, then, at that time contestantspresented an image that was in line with the audience taste that regarded bobbed orbleached hair and a face with makeup as sinful. And nearly every beauty contest (in theearly Twenties) selected finalists and winners with long brown hair and"natural" beauty.

Contestants caught on to these image requirements, and presented their own imageaccordingly. Wise contestants made a point of entering without makeup and with long hair.At the second annual Miss America competition in 1922 only three contestants out of 57 hadbobbed hair. Also there is no record that any contestant admitted to using cosmetics, and"almost the first words of Mary Catherine Campbell of Columbus, the new MissAmerica" reported The New York Times were "I don't use cosmetics."This was obviously a politic statement at a time when the conservative Timeseditorial section suggested that the judges should bar any contestant who used makeup fromentering in the first place.

Winning beauty contestants in Miss America have carefully groomed their image to matchthe conservative public taste in makeup and hair, never going to a high fashion extreme.Miss America winners didn't choose to sport teased beehive hairdos until the fashion hadalready gone "out" among girls in their age group, and then they continued towear them for nearly ten years. It took five years after American college-age girls firstwore long straight hair in 1965 before a winner (Phyllis George, Miss America 1971) wasseen wearing it. Consistently, beauty queens pick hair styles pioneered as much as tenyears earlier in order to cater to the conservative pageant image. Now that conservativepublic taste toward makeup has changed, the situation with regards to cosmetics hasreversed its 1921 stance: a contestant cannot even win a preliminary competition withoutmakeup, because makeup is worn by conservative women and a clean face is regarded by manyas the sign of a militant feminist.

Pageant winners are now judged not on how nature made them look, but on how well theyhave used makeup, hair, dress, dieting and exercise to make themselves look "the bestthey can be." So contestants are extremely open in describing the efforts (exercise,diet, makeup, etc.) they took to improve their appearance. The artifice of makeup in thecontext of a beauty pageant is seen as symbolic, not of deception, but of a striving forperfection. Natural obstacles, like fat, imperfect facial features, social or physicalgracelessness, and social or physical handicaps, from illnesses to racial stereotypes, areall obstacles that are meant to be conquered by the contestant in her search forself-perfection. In this context cosmetics are seen as primary tools in a struggle againstthis imperfection, and they assume an almost religious virtue for some contestants as aresult. Pam Eldred, Miss America 1970, now gives advice in pageant magazines on usingmakeup for pageants. One article of hers demonstrates the pageant theory of the purpose ofmakeup (and pageantry) as part of a program of self improvement:

Now that you have properly showcased [with makeup] the special you, don't forget to smile, relax, and enjoy the other girls. The only person you are competing against is yourself. No matter what the outcome, you have challenged yourself and met that challenge.

The physical image of the beauty queen requires more than just makeup and hairspray,the body image requires much more drastic shaping than that of the hair and face. Beautycontestants' bodies are usually plumper and more curvaceous than fashion model bodies, andless top-heavy than the ideal for strippers. As women organizers and judges have becomemore common in pageantry, (more in line with today's audience, which is two-thirds female)the winning contestants have been looking more like fashion models and less like stripperseach year. The typical male and female pageant judge responses to a given figure area,like the bust line, illustrates how having a larger proportion of female judges thanformerly, can change the ideal:

What is the optimum cup size? June Wylie [swim- wear coordinator for Miss USA 1990], who has 27 years of pageant experience, feels it's "a nice rounded B." Dan Isaacson, fitness consultant to the stars and a [Miss USA] pageant judge this year, thinks on a larger scale, "The ideal pageant size is a 34 C."

Fortunately for beauty contestants, they can pad out to their preferred size, unlikestrippers, and are no longer required to get surgery or dangerous injections in order tolive up to the ideal. This was not always the case. Until the Fifties, Miss Americacontestants were disqualified if they padded their swimsuits, and the Miss USA/MissUniverse organization only lifted the padding ban in 1990. The first Miss USA to win underthese rules, Carole Gist, freely admitted to using padding in her strapless evening gownbecause the usual 5 pound weight loss, which excited contestants often have in pageantweek, made the gown loose enough it "would have fallen off" on stage.

The Miss USA/Miss Universe organization lifted the padding ban due to feministpressure. As anti-pageant advocates like Ann Simonton pointed out, underendowedcontestants felt they had to undergo dangerous cosmetic surgery in order to becompetitive. While only a few women did this when breast surgery was a high costproposition, the price has dropped considerably, and a growing number of Miss USAcontestants were opting for the surgeon's knife. Women within the established pageantstructure regarded this as a negative trend and were relieved at the rule change. BarbaraPeterson Burwell, Miss USA 1976, who was a judge in 1990, said: "What's great is thatpadding allows any woman to have the equal opportunity of participating in a beautycompetition." And Carolee Munger, Miss Alaska-USA's state director, took the viewthat, "If we take any steps to prevent a young woman from making a permanent decisionabout a one-night event, we're doing the right thing."

Unfortunately, while pageant women are very supportive of feminists' objections tocosmetic surgery, on average they have no sympathy for fatness. As more judges in pageantsare female, the trend towards skinnier, flatter contestants becomes more pronounced. Notsurprisingly this means that a high percentage of contestants develop eating disorders.Pageant people sometimes regard eating disorders as just yet another problem to beovercome on the road to perfection, not realizing that the pursuit of perfection oftenleads to the disorders. An article in Pageantry magazine celebrates the "triumphover" eating disorders experienced by Debra Linn Tingey before she went on to win theMiss Utah-USA 1990 title:

During this time Debra experienced the not unusual pressure to be beautiful and THIN...the pressures took the form of the eating disorders known as anorexia nervosa and bulimia. One evening, while performing...stress and lack of nourishment took its toll. Debra collapsed on stage. At the hospital, the cause was apparent... a mild cardiac arrest. This tragic event encouraged Debra to forget what "society" wanted her to look like and begin to rebuild her body.

Yet, obviously, she still does conform to what "society" wants her to looklike, or she wouldn't have won the state title. Her picture, which accompanies thearticle, shows a thin sculpted face and a long skinny neck. Even though she supposedly hasrecovered from her eating disorders, she is still striving to conform to the thin beautypageant image.

Pageant magazines, aware of the problems that beset their readers, are careful tostress weight loss through exercise and balanced (even hearty) eating. Most winningcontestants get "pageant perfect" bodies by spending hours each day"pumping iron"--the very antithesis of the old traditional image of beautyqueens as helpless little females. Debbye Turner, Miss America 1990, claims to have runand exercised six days a week for years to get the athletically slender body that won herthe swimsuit competition. The staple of how-to books and magazines on becoming a beautyqueen is exercise information, not dieting information, as in most modeling books. Thiscaution reflects a real concern in the pageant business with the problems of eatingdisorders among contestants, because the very goal that pageants strive for:self-perfection through self-control, is a goal that most women with eating disordersshare. Predictably, despite all the well-intentioned advice on controlling weight throughexercise, pageants foster eating disorders by reinforcing the notion of slender bodies assymbols of perfection. Lisa Davenport, Miss California 1985, admitted to falling prey tobulimia in her first pageants, but didn't see the connection between her problem and herwork in pageantry. On the contrary, like others in the pageant field, she considered thatthe Miss America program helped her overcome this problem:

When I filled out the application for Atlantic City, there was no real way for me to get to the real essence of who I was, and how I've come to be the young lady that I am, without discussing the bulimic issue, which I'd never really discussed before. (pause) Because it's not something I'm proud of. (pause) And I was afraid......to let people know that I may be.......a little less than perfect. When I first entered into...some of the pageants...I felt...uh...a tremendous pressure to (long pause) be thin, to be attractive, and felt that was how I'd be accepted. But what I'm saying is that because of the Miss America program and my experiences in it, it helped me overcome bulimia. It may have encouraged those things in the beginning, but in the long run it helped me get over it.

What Davenport chooses to ignore, is that while pageantry may have helped her overcomeher bulimia, she never would have got it in the first place if she hadn't participated inthose first pageants. Ann Simonton, predictably took a similar view of Davenport'sproblem;

When I first heard about Lisa Gayle Davenport talking about her bulimia experiences, I felt, "Wow! They've got something out of her that she must be really upset about. Because how can Miss America have made herself vomit? Whether she's doing it now, if she ever has, that's an image they won't want her to be representing. I also felt very proud of her for being able to talk about it. Because it's something that needs to come out. We need to understand the psychological and physical damage that's happening to women that are trying to be perfect, trying to emulate an ideal. [Emphasis mine]

While Simonton's views are sometimes extreme, they generally contain a lot of truth.Contestants do sometimes suffer in the pursuit of the ideal, and in a competition, theymay suffer even more for falling short of the ideal. A former pageant winner, LisaJohnson, Miss Maine 1984, and now a follower of Simonton, described what it was like tocompete and lose in Atlantic City:

The prelim nights and the nationals...what women would do is tape their breasts up, pad, so they'd look more voluptuous, larger, bigger than life. They would tape their buttocks up, starve themselves for the day so that they'd have absolutely no stomach. So I remember the night of the pageant. They were naming the top ten. We were tense. I didn't make it. They kind of cattled us off stage, just off stage. And the women threw up, they were crying hysterically, black makeup running down their faces, it was a horror show. It was horrible.

Certainly trying to live up to an ideal of beauty that requires starvation and ducttape for some to maintain is not healthy either physically or psychologically, yet manycontestants do these things. And a few go to the more dangerous extremes of dieting andsurgery. Yet these extremes are also practiced by women outside of the beauty field, andnot all contestants or winners need to or wish to go to such lengths in order to achievethe contest image. It is, however, another proof that beauty pageants are a form oftheatre and that the images of the contestants and winners are theatrical illusions, heldup by makeup and costuming for some, duct tape and dieting for others. No woman wakes upand gets out of bed looking as artificially perfect as a Miss America winner does, as shewalks down the runway in rhinestone tiara, hair sprayed coiffure, made-up face, and abeaded gown. The image is an illusion, created to represent and glorify the vague, prettycompromise image Americans see as the ideal American "girl". The T.V. viewingpublic never sees or imagines contestants vomiting in the wings, beyond camera range.

Besides the physical component of the beauty pageant ideal, there is now (in the MissAmerica Pageant, especially) a significant portion of the ideal concerned with thecontestants' other attributes. Back in 1923 the qualities judges looked for in AtlanticCity were "form, carriage, health, features, simplicity, character, personality,training, adaptability, and distinctiveness," none of them very assertive orthreatening qualities. The "adaptability" of a biddable nature was already acriteria even in the days before Miss Americas were subsequently hired by the pageantorganization to make appearances. As audiences have altered their ideal image of theperfect daughter from the early image of youthful innocence and sweetness to the presentimage of a striving, ambitious hard worker, the queens have changed, not only in reality,but most especially in the publicity used to describe them. Back in the Twenties, whenSamuel Gompers was describing Margaret Gorman, Miss America 1921, as "the type ofwomanhood America needs---strong, red- blooded, able to shoulder the responsibilities ofhomemaking and motherhood," nearly every person in America would have considered thisa perfect description of the ideal daughter. After nearly 70 years of change in the roleof women in America, however, the 1990 Miss America, Debbye Turner, was described as aperson who "appears to be the antithesis of the type of young woman who would enterpageant after pageant in search of that coveted rhinestone tiara....She is only a fewmonths away from earning a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Degree. And with sass, humor, andwit, she can articulate her views on almost any topic thrown at her." The indicationis that there was a change not only in the type of woman who would win a beauty pageant,but also in the way the winner was described to the public.

For a contestant to successfully compete now, at the national level, she must exerciseher ability to speak publicly and in interview situations. While pageant critics imaginethese interview questions don't "really encourage creative intelligence," thefact is, they do require considerable creative intelligence on the part of thecontestants. Since contestants know that they cannot possibly guess all the judges'different opinions and answer each person with the opinion they would most like to hear,they have to find an opinion of their own, and a way to state it in such a way as not tooffend anyone who disagrees with it. Like politicians, they have to find a method ofanswering that best displays their own knowledge, doesn't offend the voters, and yet doesnot sound weak, vague, or lacking in courage or compassion. Few Vice Presidents manage tolearn this, yet it must be admitted that most Miss Americas do.

This is why Miss Americas make thousands of dollars for personal appearances throughouttheir "reigns". For the rest of their year they are never seen in a swimsuitdisplaying the "perfect" body they have struggled to achieve. Instead, they makespeeches at store openings, public works projects, and special events. The quality thatMiss Americas sell to the organizers of these appearances is not sex, but the ability tomake whatever is being opened, started, or celebrated, to be seen as non-controversial yetpositive, strong yet tasteful, classy but not snobbish---in short, equivalent to the imageMiss Americas can generate for themselves. This aura cannot be generated by a beautifulfool. Despite the public image that many people have of beauty contest winners (forinstance, the feather-brained newswoman character, Corky Sherwood, in the T.V. show MurphyBrown), national winners train their brains the same way they shape their bodies on benchpresses. Debbye Turner "read every news journal I could get my hands on," astandard tactic of pageant contestants. The Beauty Pageant Manual recommends thatcontestants regularly read The New York Times' national and world sections, Time,and Newsweek from cover to cover, watch 60 MinutesToday, and GoodMorning, America and any news specials on particularly important current events, aswell as keep up with current information important to their local area as well. Anycontestant who has trouble digesting all this information is recommended to get a collegehistory teacher to be a "current events coach" and help the contestant to wadethrough this weekly pile of information. Contestants are also expected to study thehistory, famous landmarks, famous people, industry, and other high points of their localarea in order to be better spokeswomen for their states or towns. For internationalcompetition, a contestant is also advised to learn basic greetings and phrases in thelanguage spoken in the place where the pageant is to be held, the names of the keyofficials of that town and country, the outstanding current events and concerns of thelocal population, and information about the country's business, industry, food, andcustoms. If a contestant wants to be really prepared for her interview, there are bookssold with the hundreds of interview questions which are most likely to be asked. Awell-prepared contestant will think about each question and formulate an opinion beforethe interview so she doesn't waste interview time having to think over her reply. Many ofthese interview questions do in fact encourage creative intelligence:

If you could change one thing in your country what would it be?

If you were on a television talk show and could get only one message across to your listeners, what subject would it be on?

If you could choose to have any talent, what would it be and why?

How do you perceive the role and responsibilities of a beauty queen?

Give three events (positive or negative) that have influenced your life.

What is your philosophy of life?

What is your biggest fantasy?

Who would you like to be for one day and why?

Of course, like politicians, beauty contestants often give deliberately evasivereplies, because offending anyone will cost them votes. Still, winners are receiving moreencouragement to express their opinions than they were 30 years ago, when the Miss AmericaPageant chose Nancy Fleming as Miss America 1961:

Nancy Fleming not only refused to make a choice between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon, but soberly informed reporters that she was unable to decide for herself which was the better- looking.

The Miss America title now includes a "forum", as promoters put it. Thereigning title holder is expected to make public appearances addressing a public issue ofher choice. Debbye Turner's "platform" of "Motivating Youth toExcellence," in which she encouraged teens to strive beyond racial prejudice andsucceed in life, was not a particularly controversial one, but Kaye Lani Rae Rafko, MissAmerica 1988, decided to use her forum to educate the public about AIDS, which was, andis, a hotly debated subject, especially in the Bible Belt, where Miss America makes themajority of her appearances. A Miss America discussing a "social" diseasepublicly would have been impossible even twenty years before, and a Miss America actuallytouring the country encouraging the public to practice "safe sex" ismind-boggling, even now.

Not only national winners reflect the new ideals of assertive women mandated byaudience opinion. State winners who have come to Atlantic City as contestants recentlyalso have ambitious career and political goals, and are typically driven, goal-orientedwomen; Janet Ward Black, Miss North Carolina 1980, is now an assistant district attorney;Debra Cleveland Molskness, Miss South Dakota 1984, is now an engineer testing fighterplanes for MacDonald Douglas; Charmaine Kowalski, M.D., Miss Pennsylvania 1978, is chiefresident in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School's Beth Israel Hospital; and Kristi ReindlVetri, Miss Maryland 1973, won the Mayoral race for her home town, O'Fallon, Illinois,while she was still in Law School. If the American public continues increasingly tosupport women's rights, and idealize beautiful, ambitious women, the Miss Americacompetition will eventually produce the first popular choice for the Presidency who looksgood in a swimsuit. While this sounds like a ridiculous concept, it is, in fact, thedirection in which Miss America is heading. It is also the direction American politics hasbeen heading, in demanding a more and more flawless "image" for candidates.

In fact Miss America is "ahead" of the politicians in this respect. MissAmerica contestants now typically are intelligent, talented women who have altered theirappearance through exercise, dieting, cosmetics, and sometimes even surgery to create theperfect doll-like image;

Contestants have had their ears pinned, their upper lids enlarged, buttocks tucked, cheeks and chins implanted, and eyes widened. Does cosmetic surgery constitute cheating for a pageant aspirant? Dr. Billie says No: "It's easier to take an extremely talented girl and do a thirty minute nasal operation than take a flawlessly beautiful girl and teach her to sing or play piano." With the basic externals pulled, pushed, and sutured into place, contestants can turn their attention to saying and doing the right thing... And with talent and interview comprising 70% of the points awarded by judges, saying and doing the right thing is what lets one tucked, sutured woman win out over another.

Anna Stanley in The Crowning Touch; Preparing for Beauty Competition (1989)gives twelve pages to the interview, as compared to four pages to swimsuit competition inher chapter on "Major Areas of Competition." Stanley asserts:

The most important category in any pageant is the interview. It is the opportunity for the judges to evaluate personality and general awareness. Pageants are won and lost in the interview. A girl can be an idiot and photogenic, but a beauty queen must be intelligent.

Karen Kemple notes, "If you are in a close race with another, the girls who hasthe better interview will probably win." While interview does count for the mostpoints, physical beauty still counts for more than many feminists would like. Afteranti-pageant demonstrator Michelle Anderson won the title of Miss Santa Cruz County 1988,she competed in the Miss California contest in order to unfurl a banner reading"Pageants Hurt All Women," live, on television, just before the new MissCalifornia was to be crowned. Her pageant experience shows how far pageants will have togo before they begin to promote a completely liberated ideal:

People always think of pageant queens as being extremely beautiful. Actually they aren't. I'm a good example; I'm not commercially beautiful, but I learned how to play their little game...With the help of heavy make-up to cover my acne scars, enough hair spray to defy gravity for four hours, tape to hold up my boobs, and spray adhesive to hold down my swimsuit. Being transformed into a beauty queen made absolutely clear how artificial and dangerous and self- denying that beauty standard really is. In order to win I not only had to transform my appearance, but also my attitude. I was told I was too masculine, too aggressive, too assertive, that people were intimidated by me, "even judges, even men."

Until the general American public sees this kind of image manipulation as undesirable,Miss America contestants will continue to be judged as a compromise choice, a"composite" of brains and beauty, an attractively packaged soft-sell for thealmost-liberated woman. This is the modern image of a beauty queen. Her externalappearance may be based on the image of a Barbie doll, but a "perfect" modernwoman, as most Americans see it, including pageant judges and audiences, is also informed,intelligent, talented, and assertive, in addition to the old apple pie qualities ofkindness, compassion, humor, and congeniality. With this huge list of idealcharacteristics, it is amazing that they ever have found candidates capable (or willing)to live up to the ideal for a whole year.

Year after year, thousands of women try to match the ideal and win "beauty"titles. Few out of the thousands of women who try actually win, and each level of thecompetition weeds out more "rejects," a sometimes painful process for the womenthemselves. Still, the process does promote to the top those women who are most dedicatedto the ideal. This gives pageants an advantage over less strenuous and moresurface-oriented forms of theatre such as fashion shows and strip shows, in havingperformers who often do closely resemble their ideal image. However, even beautycontestants will freely admit to being performers. They "train" like athletesfor the perfect body and the perfectly informed mind. They use "tricks" likeVaseline on their teeth (to make them glitter), and Preparation-H on their eyebags (toshrink them). They buy or make costumes for each of the areas of competition (like figuremolding "pageant" swimsuits) in order to shape their image. They perform"talent" presentations of singing, dancing, or playing a musical instrument,that they have practiced for months to perfect. They even rehearse interviewing beforevideo cameras in order to improve their interview style, all things that they would not bedoing if they were not competing, and performing in a beauty contest.

Even the act of winning is something that some contestants think requires aperformance:

One of the young queens inquired of the other how she felt at the moment she realized she had won. The second replied that she felt no emotion whatsoever, neither elation, gratitude, nor surprise, because she was completely preoccupied with trying to remember exactly what motions her predecessor had made at this point the year before---That is, how she cocked her head to receive the crown, how she reached for the roses, and to what extent she smiled and nodded thanks.

All this concentration on the image would not be necessary if the image were not anartificial one which requires theatrical methods like rehearsals, costumes, music, makeup,etc. to support it. Again, pageants, like strip shows and fashion shows, are theatricalrepresentations of an ideal, not a literal reflection of the reality of the performers.Performers bend their own reality by artifice to create an image of an ideal, whilepageants celebrate that ideal through a theatrical production.

Conclusions on the Ideal of the Performer

Each of the three forms of theatre that form the topic of this study, fashion shows,strip shows, and beauty pageants, are forms that showcase an ideal of womankind throughtheatrical methods. The performers who enact the ideals are not perfect examples of theideals themselves, but are normal imperfect human beings who can perform in such a way asto represent the ideal. Using costuming, makeup, body-shaping through diet, surgery, andexercise they approximate the external physical images of the ideals. Through gesture,body language, and in some cases, speech, singing, and dance, they enact the internalpsychological image of the ideal. Fashion models represent a desexualized, healthy,striving, young, upper-middle class image through upper- middle class body language, realyouth, thinness and an assertive walk. Strippers usually create an aggressively sexualizedideal image through "sophisticated" costuming, aggressive body language,bust-centered dance movements, curvaceous bodies, suggestive songs and props, andseductive removal of clothing. Beauty queens invest themselves with the image ofconformity, ambition, striving for perfection, health, talent, intelligence, and beauty,by guarding their tongues, practicing likely interview questions, training like athletes,practicing like musical performers, altering their appearance through makeup, padding,surgery, dieting, or exercise, and "cramming" all necessary information. None ofthese performers comes ready-made, like Venus on the half shell, being an ideal of amodel, a stripper, or a beauty queen. All require at least minimal training in thetheatrical methods used to promote these ideals. The next chapter will describe the effectthat runways have had on the staging of these performances of "ideal" womanhood:What the staging was like before runways, how staging changed by being performed on arunway, and how runways effect the result of the performance.

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Dissertation Index/Continueon to

Chapter IV part a.

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"The Costumer's Manifesto"
by Tara Maginnis