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Chapter IV part c: Beauty Pageant Staging and the Runway
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Chapter V: Conclusions part a
  
 
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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
  
'''Runway Staging and the Beauty Pageant '''
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Chapter V: Conclusion
  
Beauty pageants, in contrast to the other two forms of theatre found in this study,came very late to runway stages, and show signs of slowly giving them up. This seemsparticularly interesting, since raising an ordinary person up to the level of an ideal(which pageants seek to do) is what runways do best.  
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As discussed in the preceding chapters, fashion shows, strip shows, andbeauty pageants are linked by several common elements: runway staging, emphasis on femaleperformers, non-spoken performances, costume serving as the definition of the ideal, andevidence that the audience uses these shows as vehicles for fantasies. This suggests thatthese three forms of performance are in fact one form with three variations, a form whichmight be described as the "theatre of the feminine ideal." This form uses theabove mentioned linking elements to create and "ennoble" an ideal of aparticular aspect of femininity. The ideal chosen in each case is the one preferred by theaudience belonging to that form: all women in the case of fashion shows, all men in thecase of strip shows, and a combination of men and women for beauty pageants. The audiencepreferences in female ideals characterized and changed the role of the performers in eachgenre, and continues to characterize and change these roles now.
  
Runways came to beauty pageants through the Miss America Pageant. Originally, the MissAmerica Pageant was held outdoors on several of the amusement piers at Atlantic City overa period of several days. The parade of the contestants in swimsuits was simply a 1300foot long march through the sand down the length of the beach between the Garden and Steelpiers as a small part of a real parade (see fig. 4-11). There were clowns, the mayor, thecity council, the members of the Chamber of Commerce, the directors of the Pageant, thepolice force, the fire department, and groups of other contestants in the seven additionalbathing suit divisions including men, family groups, and silly bathing costumes, etc.  
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The all-female audience of fashion shows has led to thinner and thinnermodels who more and more closely resemble a masculine body type, seen by women (strugglingto succeed in a male-dominated culture) as superior and "successful." Theall-male audience of burlesque strip shows influenced the increasing nakedness of thestrip, and the image of strippers as physically mature , sexually secure, aggressivelyseductive figures. An originally middle-class, mixed sex audience of vacationing familieshelped to define the image of the beauty queen as the ideal daughter figure.
  
Everyone (except the clowns) wore bathing suits, even the spectators who lined thebeach (see fig. 4-12). "It was more like a family cook-out than any skin show"remarked Deford in There She Is. According to The New York Times the 1922parade was chiefly notable for this conspicuous display of bathing-suited officialdom:
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The performers' attempts to represent the ideals on stage as envisionedby the audience, (often in spite of their own real life identity's being in apparentcontradiction with their stage image,) demonstrate the theatrical artifice of the roles ofstrippers, models and beauty queens. Fashion models go to extraordinary lengths in orderto supply a slender body, and upper class body language. As many as half of all strippershave plastic surgery in order to reform their bodies into the ideal image, and all wearcostumes that depict a stereotyped icon of female sexuality. While beauty pageantcontestants often attempt to live up to the "ideal" they enact in their personalas well as professional lives, they too use artificial techniques like surgery andrehearsals to enhance their on stage personas, and so better portray the ideal intheatrical terms. Each type of performer is required to use artificial, theatrical meansin order to portray the ideal on stage.
  
The whole police department, long, fat, lean and short, were in bathing suits, plus their badges, clubs and caps. For a moment, while men, women and children gasped, they held the center of the stage until the inter-city beauties appeared... Suddenly six bombs shot into the air, exploded, and six American flags materialized on parachutes. At that moment four trumpeters in white bathing suits stepped out from behind the curtain and blew a fanfare. Then the big curtain dropped, and revealed Neptune and his court of beauty. Neptune...was borne by nubians on a great shell. He led the parade, followed by Mayor Bader and Atlantic City officials in bathing suits, and the girls, all sorts of girls, in all sorts of bathing suits...They glided down the white beach in four divisions, amateurs, models, stage and screen, and finally the inter-city competitors for the beauty crown. Conspicuous in the dazzling spectacle was "Miss America" Margaret Gorman of Washington, D.C., the winner...last year, resplendent in a bathing suit of Stars and Stripes.  
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The shape of the runway stage used for these performances emulates thehanimichi bridge in it's glorifying aspect of raising the performer above the audience,and also allowing the performer the position of direct "address" towards theaudience. An enormous variety of effects is available in runway staging--from the varietyof runway shapes utilized in fashion shows to the horizontal and vertical blocking instrip shows-- allowing performers to pass from formal distance, through the levels ofsocial distance, down to the level of intimate distance, simply by advancing down therunway in stages to eye level.
  
After moralistic protests were heard in the 1920's bathing suit parades were abandonedfor a time, and judging for this segment of the contest was done in private. When thecontest was revived in the mid-1930's both beach parades and private judging wereforgotten, and swimsuit parades were staged on the piers as part of the regular show. In1940 the pageant moved indoors to Atlantic City's Convention Hall, one of the largestindoor auditoriums anywhere. In order to permit audience members in the back of this hugeunraked house to see the competitors at all closely, a runway had to be built out into theaudience one hundred and forty feet long, and around fifteen feet wide (see fig. 4-13). Aswith the Minsky's before them the Miss America promoters solved a mundane practicalproblem with a runway, and so stumbled onto one of the greatest tricks of their trade.
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This evidence not only indicates that strip, beauty and fashion showsare variants on a single format--the theatre of the feminine ideal--but also, byinference, suggests that the main format is capable of including a wide variety ofsub-genres including, but not limited to, the three already in existence. The adaptationswithin each genre that arose out of the interests and desires of the particular audiencegroup demonstrate the adaptability of the theatre of the feminine ideal to the individualcircumstances of the audience supporting it.
  
And the Miss America Pageant producers do know that they have a great secret in theirrunway, even if other, more television-oriented pageants do not. Deford's remark that MissAmerica's "mere appearance on a runway occasions [the audience] to rise dutifully,out of respect" is the carefully manipulated result of thoughtful planning. TheOfficial Production Guide for the Miss America Pageant Preliminaries held in towns acrossthe U.S. makes many suggestions relating to runways, including, of course, that promotersselect a theatre with sufficient room to install one. The final walk of the outgoingqueen, and the first walk of the newly crowned winner are used as the climax of the show.It is clear that the writers of the Guide are aware of both the idealizing effect of therunway and the automatic response it triggers if done at the right moment in the show:
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The often elaborate artifices performers use to enact the ideals of thestripper, model, and beauty queen, from costumes and make up to dieting and surgery,demonstrate that these women are performers, not "natural" ideal figures and, byimplication, could use different preparations and alterations to enact different types ofideals than the ones they do show. The variety of effects fashion shows have created withaltering runway shapes, and the levels of movement through public, social and intimatedistance that strippers have discovered while working on runways, indicate that the stagespace commonly used for the theatre of the feminine ideal is capable of a greater varietyof effects than any one genre has utilized in the past. The variety of forms already to befound within the theatre of the feminine ideal, the evidence that these forms can respondto the changing needs of their audiences, the recognition that the women enacting theideals are performers who merely enact the chosen ideal, and the versatility to be foundin the staging format, all lead to the conclusion that the present ideals promoted by thiskind of theatre are not the only kind of image which it is possible for the theatre of thefeminine ideal to promote.
  
THE NEW QUEEN: This is the big climax to your entire production and the moment which your audience has been awaiting...the crowning of your new queen. This phase in your production should be supremely perfect! Whatever you do, do not in any way, allow the new queen's presence on the runway to be delayed one moment more than is absolutely necessary. Remember that your audience has been a very integral part of your pageant production to this point. They have, in their own minds, been evaluating and judging the merits of the contestants as they were narrowed down to your finalists. Now they are ready to explode with enthusiasm and jubilance over the selection of their new queen. They want to give her their congratulatory approval now...not later! Therefore, allow your immediate past queen to move right up to her successor so that she may place the symbolic crown on her head. If you have a scepter, allow some cast member (former contestant) to assist with this matter. However, do not permit any unnecessary speeches or award presentations to mar this moment. Once the new queen is properly attired, send her down your runway to an appropriate song so that her public can show their approval and acclaim! If you have properly rehearsed this pageant show closing during the pre-show rehearsals, using your past winner as an example of what her unknown successor should do, your new queen will make her coronation march the highlight of the show!
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'''The Utility of the Theatre of the Feminine Ideal in a"Liberated" Society'''
  
Here the staging is rushed to quickly take advantage of the emotional pitch of theaudience's reaction to the choosing of a winner, and so manipulate it into the desiredresponse (see fig. 4-14). One should note that the winner is expected to copy the behaviorof the former queen in much the way that the former Miss America described in Chapter 3copied her predecessor, down to "how she cocked her head to receive the crown, howshe reached for the roses, and to what extent she smiled and nodded thanks." Thisstrongly supports Deford's statement that "the modern queen is functionally, adisplay package...she is required to do nothing more than trigger the right response. Hermere ambulatory presence on a runway automatically obliges any dutiful audience to rise,reverently."
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Where are fashion shows, strip shows and beauty pageants going now, andwhat are their possible roles for the future? According to their critics they are allhopelessly anti-feminist and going nowhere fast. Yet these forms of theatre show no signsof disappearing: strip shows and fashion shows are even spreading into the video market;live strip shows have replaced porno movie houses as the erotic theater of choice in manytowns; and beauty pageants still pull high TV ratings in America, even as they arespreading their popularity into Eastern Europe. If these forms are so archaic anddecaying, why are they showing continued signs of life? I believe that part of the answerlies in the data here assembled.
  
Unfortunately, it is not only the full "display pack- age" of theevening-gowned title holder who has to traverse the runway, but also all the contestantsfor the title, and this has led to considerable controversy. In 1922, when the first moralprotests against bathing beauty pageants popped up there was much talk of how the MissAmerica contestants were being exploited by being asked to parade in bathing suits beforea multitude; however these protests could be amply countered by pointing out that all the"multitude," as well as the mayor and pageant officials were also thus exposed.Exploitation, if any, in this context was pretty generally shared all around.  
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The one fact that seems most evident from the material discussed in thisstudy is that these three forms of performance found under the umbrella "the theatreof the feminine ideal" are extremely elastic, and capable of mutating whenever achange seems to be desirable or necessary to hold the audience. As their audience's tastechanged, all three forms of performance have radically changed the "ideal woman"each one glorified, and each will probably continue to change that image to fit the natureof their audience in the future. This seems to be the main strength of this form ofidealizing theatre: it's mutability. If, for instance, Middle America should ever decidethat truly liberated women, regardless of beauty, should be the ideal of AmericanWomanhood, the Miss America contest could easily follow the lead of the Ms. Santa MonicaPageant which in 1987, in response to the liberal views of the people of Santa Monica,eliminated physical beauty as a judging category and did not include a swimsuitcompetition. Contestants ranged in age from 18 to 50 and were of varying marital status,including a single mother. The winner, an advertising copywriter who does communityservice work in a battered women's shelter, entered "after seeing feminist attorneyGloria Allred on television cutting a red bathing suit into shreds at a beachside pressconference." Her first runner-up was a 39 year old owner of a custom car detailingbusiness and the former vice president of the Organization of Women For Legal Awareness inNew Jersey. This kind of genuinely liberated contestant came to the fore once the publicaccepted Ms. Santa Monica's ideal as being a liberated woman defined by standards otherthan physical beauty. If the will of Middle America ever travels as far as this ideal ofwomanhood, chances are Miss America, Miss USA, and the other big national contestsdependent on the American majority for their existence, will follow in Ms. Santa Monica'sfootsteps, simply in order to keep up with their audience. Until then, as usual, Nationalcontests will only go as far as the majority of their public will permit, and theirjudging criteria will continue to reflect the less than liberated standards of society atlarge.
  
As the pageants moved indoors, however, the audience and officials naturally wentcompletely dressed for the theatre, and only the contestants wore swimsuits. This did notlead to any protests at the time; on the contrary, the indoor setting was praised as"a veritable fairyland" , and the new development was regarded as a great steptowards making the pageant more dignified. It was not until the feminist protests of1968-9 that anyone thought to criticize this obvious piece of clothing inequality, andconsider that perhaps it signaled an even greater inequity overall. Lindsy Van Gelder, areporter for The New York Post in 1970, and a former beauty contest winner, explained theproblem:
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While many (if not most) performances of fashion shows, strip shows, andbeauty pageants, have been reductionist and/or demeaning to women, this does not alter thefact that there also have been performances in these genres which have been positiveidealizations of some aspect of womanhood. The "breast-giving-fantasy" stripperformance done with foam eggs and breasts taken from a shopping bag described in ChapterIII is a case in point. Connecting breasts with their actual food-function by associationwith groceries and food reaffirmed their primary role in the mothering and nurturing partof sex, and caused the audience to behave "like good little mother's boys"politely enjoying a normal Oedipal fantasy. This kind of healthy fantasy is a positiveexperience both for the audience and performer.
  
The gist of it is, that so long as you have beauty pageants, the opinion is reinforced that women are judged, not on the basis of how valuable they might be to society, but by how well their looks please men. A beauty pageant supports the assumption that men have a right to check out women... Can you imagine what it feels like to walk down any street, where men, any men, think they have the right to look you over, to comment, to whistle, even to say something obscene? Well, a beauty pageant is only that, on a larger scale. It supports that attitude of women. Don't you see, it dignifies, it legitimizes that kind of behavior?
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The fault to be found in a demeaning performance is not with the formatof the genre, which has proven to be elastic enough to be used both positively andnegatively, but with the use to which the individual performance is put. To criticize theformat of these genres because they are predominantly used for sub-standard performances,and occasionally are used for offensive ones, is much like declaring Kodak film is badbecause most photos taken with it are ill-focused vacation snaps, and some is used forchild pornography. The medium is not necessarily the message, and bad theatre is notconfined to strip, fashion, and beauty shows.
  
And by dignifying the situation it increases the pressure on the contestants, for whilea crude remark on the street can be ignored and passed by, a contestant on a runway isasking for audience approval and attention: "for you [s]he comes forward"demanding critical appraisal, complicit in the act. Of course, since society still teachesgirls that demanding this type of attention is immodest, immoral, and unsafe (somefeminists like Simonton assert this even louder than traditional moralists do), walkingout on a runway in a swimsuit requires considerable courage and confidence. Deford notedafter the first feminist criticisms of the pageant in the 1960s that the contestantsthemselves wanted the swimsuit competition eliminated because they "feel at ease on abeach in a bikini, but uncomfortable walking down a one-hundred-forty-foot runway in amore modest coverall, as fully dressed spectators gape at them."
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Ultimately, the hyperbolic frenzy that surrounds the theatre of thefeminine ideal is about sex, and the almost hysterical fear--shared by fashion showaudiences, conservative pageant promoters, radical anti-pageant feminists and selfappointed guardians of public morals-- that the women in these forms of entertainment maybe voluntarily ascending this pedestal and asking to be worshiped as sex objects. Theviolent moral attacks on strip shows and beauty pageants by the moral guardians andfeminists, the sexless body image demanded of the fashion model, and the conservative,chaperoned rituals of the beauty pageant, all stem at least in part from this intense fearof female sexuality. The actual problem is that we do not live in a "liberated"society at all, and the theatre of the feminine ideal usually reflects our society the wayit is--not as we wish it would be.
  
Now that most pageant contestants are aggressive career women, however, manycontestants regard the grueling walk down a runway past a sea of eyes as the ultimate testof self confidence, one that will make less pressured and better clothed tests like publicspeaking and job interviews easier. Sharon Dillon, the first runner up in a MissMetropolitan Atlanta USA competition, expressed this belief:
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Fashion show models, in particular, reflect women's fear of their ownbody (and by implication their sexuality) and their desire to replace it with an"improved," sexless, female-as-male body image. As described in Chapter II, thistrend in fashion-model bodies began to be evident in the early years of this century and,as described in Chapter III, its effect on the model's body has escalated to the pointwhere it is actually dangerous, fueling an increase in eating disorders, fad diets, andcosmetic surgery. This undernourished ideal for models, and those who emulate them, willcontinue to be featured in performances largely patronized by women, until femaleaudiences demand another ideal of themselves, either due to a return to Victorian sexualroles, or to women finally truly being seen as equal or superior to men, and theirsexuality not automatically regarded as threatening or demeaning. Only then will women'snatural mature bodies be put forward as acceptable role models.
  
I enter for the challenge, the thrill of competing, and for personal growth. What I've learned through pageantry, I apply to everyday life and it works well. As for the confidence I've gained...if I can walk down a runway in a swimsuit in front of an audience, I can do ANY- THING!
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Theoretically, in a genuinely free and open sexual atmosphere, womenexhibitionisticly seeking approval would not seem so threatening, but while we live in asociety that strongly represses female sexuality, conservative people naturally see anyglorification of female sexuality as an attack on the values of that society. Radicals areequally right to question whether performances which are tolerated by a repressed societyat large are not in fact expressions of that repressed society's negative view of womenand sex. However it is the radicals, particularly radical feminists, who are on shakiestground when they criticize these forms of performance. For no other types of performancehave as much female input and participation, few offer as many possibilities for creatingand showcasing positive propaganda images of women, and few offer better opportunities forwomen to express their own abstracted images of themselves, both sexually and socially.
  
This statement inevitably reminds one of the young woman who was interviewed about whyshe started her career as a stripper, who replied that she wanted to become an actress,and took up stripping to overcome her "terrible stage fright". Somehowconfronting this kind of total exposure and scrutiny helps a few people overcome theirinsecurities and develop an ability to comfortably face the public. Jacque Mercer, MissAmerica 1949, was the first to carefully plan a performance strategy for winning a beautypageant geared toward consciously charming her public. She wrote her suggestions forsuccessful runway competition in How To Win a Beauty Contest, the first how-toguide on the subject:
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People who wish to improve the status of women should be attempting to takeover these forms of theatre and use them as showcases for new ideals of womanhood.Obviously, this is difficult to envision, much less attempt, since the concept of female"beauty" in 20th Century society has primarily been used as a method ofcontrolling and penalizing women for being female, but it is precisely because of thissocial evil that it is important that feminists use these media to eradicate the view that"defines 90% of women as rejects." By scorning "beauty" pageants oneabdicates the responsibility of forcing pageants to alter their "standards" toinclude women of all ages, races, body types and marital status, and leaves the judgingcriteria to be determined by conservatives who will naturally continue to enforce outdatedimages of female beauty. For example, only recently a deaf contestant in the MissCalifornia pageant was refused permission to have a person translate the on-stagequestions she was asked into sign language, a clear piece of discrimination against a"flawed" handicapped person. This kind of blatant intolerance is only possiblewhere a pageant is solely run by like minded people with extremely narrow views of idealwomanhood.
  
Your stage presentation in a beauty contest is exactly like a role in a play. You musthave stage movements, you must have characterization and you even need to learn somelines. The dif- ference is that in a beauty contest the lines are not spoken out loud. Ifyou think these words and phrases in your mind, however, the expression on your face willtell a story...the following stage presentation and thought script will prove invaluable.  
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Positively, pageants traditionally have been used by racial and ethnicgroups (often excluded by conservative pageants in the past) to affirm their groupidentity, and demonstrate that their own young women are as attractive and talented as therest. Even after pageants like Miss America have chosen minority contestants, thesepageants often survive as showcases of ethnic pride. For example, contestants in thenational Miss Chinatown USA competition held each year in San Francisco are expected to beable to answer interview questions in Chinese, and the talent competition is largelyfilled with martial arts demonstrations and traditional Chinese instrumental music anddances. Another set of contests promoting an ethnic group are the Miss Russian AmericaPageants, held in both the U.S. and U.S.S.R. They select two representatives to tour eachother's respective countries. Candidates "must exhibit a good knowledge of andinterest in Russian and American history" and help to promote the Russian AmericaFestival, a festival highlighting the history of Russian colonization in North America andpromoting U.S./U.S.S.R. relations.
  
PRESENTATION AND THOUGHT SCRIPT
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The ability of pageants to demonstrate that the "daughters" ofa particular race or country are beautiful and talented is one of the reasons pageants arespreading into Eastern Europe. Sick of seeing Western portrayals of their women asbackward, "butch" and ugly, Eastern Europeans have embraced pageants as a forumfor demonstrating to the West that women in the Eastern Bloc are also beautiful. Acontestant in the first Miss U.S.S.R. competition stated it this way:
  
ACTION THOUGHT
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A beauty contest in the Soviet Union plays an entirely different role than a beauty competition in any other country. People are so used to seeing Soviet women as tractor drivers or milkmaids, and the competition helps to show women in a different light completely. It helps to see Soviet women in their grace and their beauty and their tenderness.
  
1.Enter stage, smile, look from side to side making a sweep of the audience.1."Hello! Good Evening. , How nice of you all to come."  
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Unfortunately, in the East as well as the West, pageants are often runfor a profit, not for higher motives, and the first Miss USSR pageant was no exception.The same contestant was horrified to find that she (a Moslem) was expected to representher predominantly Moslem republic in a scanty swimsuit while onstage commentariesemphasized pulchritude over talent to an embarrassing degree. Despite the awkwardness ofthe pageant, however, it did "prove" to the organizers of the Miss World andMiss Universe competitions, at least, that Soviet women were worthy of inclusion ininternational beauty competition. Now Soviet contestants take part in these globallytelevised pageants, demonstrating for a world audience that Soviet women are neitherbackward nor "factory-built." In 1991, Miss USSR placed as first runner up inthe Miss Universe competition, a significant step in destroying the negative stereotype ofSoviet women, (albeit while promoting a new stereotype).
  
2.Walk directly to 2."Well, now you must judges, smile with be the judges..."eyes, pause, facing judges, (broad smile).
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Attacking strip shows and other forms of erotic theatre across theboards as automatically sexist, is to ignore the positive image that many of the bettererotic performers try to create. Even an average stripper usually embodies both an imageof individuality and an image of sexual enjoyment: both of which are (or should be) partof any self-respecting feminist credo. Some strippers, like "Danyel" in ChapterIII, use stripping as a way of expressing their "deviant" sexual orientation.For others, like Nina Hartley of the Mitchell Brothers Theatre, the chance to exhibitthemselves publicly is in itself a form of sexual self expression:
  
3.Turn with back to 3."Don't you think I'm judges (sober face) pretty?"4.Face Judges again (a 4."So nice to meet you" small smile) pause "See youagain" (a Mona Lisa Smile). 5.Walk to runway (broad 5."Hello out there-- smile)looking slowly you wonderful people from side to side with --isn't this fun?" a smileto various indi- viduals along the way. 6.Pause at end of runway 6."Don't you thinkI'd (broad smile). be a wonderful queen?" 7.Turn back (sober face). 7."How doyou like my dress?" 8.While turning front 8."Isn't it pretty?" (a Mona Lisasmile). 9.Pause (broad smile). 9."Thanks for all your help." 10.Walk back tostage, 10."Good-bye. I've had smiling at people a wonderful time." along theway. 11.Pause before exit 11."Good-night. Thank (a broad smile) you!" This isprobably the clearest description of how a successful contestant "works" therunway; most other manuals speak rather generally and idealistically about poise andelegance and posture, and even how "natural, inner beauty" will show through.Mercer, on the other hand, was more direct; she once said "You could take anorangutan, and with a year's training, it could be Miss America." Mercer's"script" is a direct appeal to the audience for support, taking into account therunway's power to "break through the arch" and demand a reaction from thespectators. Audience members "cheer" for particular performers, hoping to affectthe judging, either because they are part of a claque of friends or countrymen of aparticular contestant, or simply because her performance has convinced them she is theproper winner. Even when the judges are oblivious to the audience response (as officiallythey are supposed to be) performers gain confidence and are likely to deliver a betterperformance when they hear they are getting a positive response. Audience appeal helps anycontestant. If you can get the audience to like you, it will do wonders for your stageconfidence, thus your eventual fate. But don't expect it to affect the judges--It doesn't.Claques of family and friends generally hope to influence the judging anyway, and plantheir responses accordingly: About the only people who attend preliminaries are family andfriends, who show up on the night their girl performs her talent. As each girl comes on, acertain little section of the hall will suddenly cheer, then grow silent thereafter, asthe applause takes hold again in some other area. Certain types of performers, notablydancers and baton twirlers, have a distinct edge in this department, because their actsusually have some high spots where it seems appropriate to interrupt with applause. Unlessa singer manages something really gimmicky, it is difficult for even her family tointerrupt with "spontaneous" applause. A veteran pageant promoter...gathered hisgirl's rooters about him..."We're not down here to be entertained. That's all verynice, but you've got to make the judges realize that there's people here who likeher." In this way the pageant audience makes its opinions felt in a much moretangible way than can an audience watching a play in a proscenium setting, where applauseis usually reserved only for the end of each act. The act of psycho- logically breakingthrough the arch, in order to make closer contact with the audience, and so draw them intothe performance is accomplished in advance by the runway, which encourages this activeaudience participation. However, except for the Miss America Pageant, which is still heldin cavernous Convention Hall, many large pageants have dropped the use of the runway. Noexplanation is given for this change, but the cause is fairly obvious when viewing apageant on television. While runways are good for creating dignity for the performers in alive setting, they do nothing for them on T.V. screens. Eye level is wherever the camerais pointed, and the dynamics of theatre space become completely irrelevant when mostspectators are viewing the pageant in a box in the living room. If this weren't enough,the runway also is awkward for "live" filming. It is difficult to positioncameras in place to film the action on the runway without obscuring the view of the liveaudience; in addition, with a long runway, one contestant is usually still traversing itwhile another is introduced onstage. Finally, it is difficult to light a runwaysufficiently to film well without blinding the live audience nearby. So the usual habit ofthe television director of a pageant is simply to ignore the runway altogether, and onlyfilm the show as it occurs on the stage proper. This solution was arrived at very early,and started to effect the staging as soon as pageants began to be televised. Asurprisingly well researched and insightful pulp novel about a beauty pageant, BeautyQueen, written during the early T.V. era in 1957, describes the blocking of the openingproduction number as conceived for television: The general theme was to be Beauty isTimeless. The opening scene, representing the past, would have a backdrop showing the faceof an old southern mansion. The girls would be ranged in tiers in front of it, theirbillowing skirts...completely covering the stage so that the upper part of their bodiesappeared like mystical flowers springing from cloud drift...Each girl would have a lacefan...and when the curtains parted she would hold it before her face and keep it thereuntil her name was called for the opening number which was the "Parade ofStates." "Steve Wilder will announce Jane Doe, Miss So and So, and Jane Doe willstep center front, strike a pose...." He struck the pose and mentally everyone in hisaudience followed him. "Lower her fan, smile at the audience, then off down therunway!" In this staging, the walk down the runway is treated as a final exit offcamera, and not as a crucial entrance to an important stage area for the audience. Also,the chief stage direction--the hiding, then revealing of the face behind the fan--isgeared purely towards a camera close up. Clips from televised pageants in the 50's and60's show these kinds of productions geared towards the new media, but also usuallyincluded a runway for the benefit of the live audience. However, as T.V. ratings improvedfor pageants, and T.V. advertiser dollars became the primary source of pageant revenue,the needs of the television camera and its home audience took ascendancy over the needs ofthe live audience, and runways began to be abandoned. Among the ten televised pageants Ihave been able to view in the last year, only Miss America used a runway, although theother pageants ranged in venue from Moscow to Wichita to Hong Kong and included titles asvaried as Ms. Fitness America, Miss USSR and Miss Chinatown USA. Of the major televisedpageants, only Miss America holds out with a runway. Other pageants most frequently use aproscenium stage which has had a temporary thrust apron added to it. This is the standardset-up of the pageants owned by Madison Square Garden: Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, and MissUniverse. The locations of these pageants change each year and must fit into a differentrented theatre each time, so a thrust platform is also the most practical plan forbuilding out into a raked house. Some of these platforms show vestigial runways at thetip, and most thrust out into the house in a point or curve that seems to try to emulatethe effect of a runway. Performers on parade are still blocked to come out towards theaudience at these tips, stand, and turn, like a model at the end of a runway, then turnback to exit. This staging method grew out of the use of runways in earlier pageants, andshows no sign of leaving even if the runways themselves have. On the Miss America stage,contestants still parade in gowns and swimsuits, in the traditional, dignified, verticalstance now used on all pageant stages. They do not employ the aggressive walk of fashionmodels, but do keep their body gestures to the absolute minimum in an even moreexaggerated upper-class "ladylike," manner. Needless to say they do not strutlike strippers, and absolutely never lower themselves, even slightly, towards the stagelevel. Since the Miss America runway is 15 feet across they are thus never closer thansocial distance with the audience, although spectators can see "details of skintexture and hair" of contestants at this distance. Miss America has experimentedlately with having contestants bring some of the choreographed production numbers (nottalent competition) out onto the runway, which looks as though it is interesting for thelive audience, but makes televising the show awkward. Ultimately, the future of the runwayin beauty pageants is linked to their future as largely television events. If pageants arechiefly seen by an audience on T.V., the physical dynamics of the theatre space in whichthe pageant is held will continue to be comparatively unimportant to a majority of theaudience. If, on the other hand, pageants were to lose all but their hard-core liveaudience, runways would probably enjoy a revival. As it is, many pageants, Miss Americaamong them, are in danger of being destroyed by their own success, having become so wellorganized, emulated, and polished that their "product" is as predictable andexciting as cottage cheese. No single point was more obvious in watching these televisedpageants than that all of them were the same; even the Miss USSR competition was only anamateurish tacky version of the others. By concentrating on creating an inoffensive,predictable show that would attract sponsors, instead of an unpredictable but excitingpiece of live theatre for a live audience, they sucked all the life out of their ownproductions. The runway offered one of the best stages for spontaneous interaction betweenthe live audience and the performers, and its abandonment by many pageants is symp-tomatic of a decreasing interest among televised pageants with both live audiences andspontaneity. Of the three forms of theatre included in this study, beauty pageants haveexploited the possibilities of this form the least, surprising when you consider thatpageants are so obsessed with transforming their performers into ideals. However the factremains that it is fashion shows that have experimented the most with the shape ofrunways, and strip shows that have most fully exploited the range of movement and levelson them. Beauty pageants, by being sucked into the prime-time television mold ofpredictability and small-screen visuals, have temporarily abandoned the search forinnovation in runway staging. The next chapter will include summation and conclusion ofprevious arguments, ideas for topics of further study, and a discussion of the possibleuses of runway staging in promoting alternative feminine ideals.
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I discovered early on that I had exhibitionistic tendencies. But not wanting to physically endanger myself by doing something stupid on the street or in a bar, I found out about the [strip theatre] amateur night, and realized here is a safe, physically safe place for me to live out my fantasies, and see if the reality is anything like I think it might be. And it turned out that I enjoyed it even more.
  
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Hartley, by stripping, is doing what sensible women's rights advocateshave been hoping women would feel free enough to do for years: expressing her sexuality asshe feels it and not the way society says she should. People who object to any stripperformance, regardless of its positive personal or political content, have beensubconsciously brainwashed by moralists into automatically equating sex with sexism. Thisis just a new variation on the old sexual double standard.
  
[[1pagesDissertationDissabst| Dissertation Index]]/Continueon to
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Any doubts that this is what is at work here are crushed when oneconsiders the case of the famous touring all-male strip show, Chippendale's. No onedecries the sexual exploitation of young men who take off their clothes for money; no oneintimates that they are symbols of the sexual enslavement of men by women, and yet they doexactly the same thing as female strippers--they are silent, they wear a stereotyped male"character" costume, they dance, writhe, remove their clothing, and do bumps andgrinds in a simulated reenactment of sexual excitement. Chippendale's male performers showwomen that one doesn't have to be a sexist pig to enjoy watching good looking people ofthe opposite sex take their clothes off, and that people who take their clothes off for anaudience don't necessarily have to be the object of pity. A female caller to a SanFrancisco talk-show, People are Talking, doing a segment on "The Women of MitchellBrothers," brought up this point: "why are we so condemning of women?" (whostrip,) she asked, while the Chippendale's men "are going all over the country whilewomen stick twenty dollar bills in their shorts?!" Annette Haven a former MitchellBrothers stripper and erotic film star (Autobiography of a Flea) gave this answer:
  
[[1pagesDissertationChap5a| Chapter V]]'''
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It's because men in this society are allowed to have sex and women aren't. Therefore if women are participating in a sexual industry they get a lot of criticism. Men in my business get asked by people: "Gee, what's it like to have sex with such a beautiful woman?" whereas the women get asked "How can you do such a thing?" and that's the societal attitude.
  
[[File:AmazonVideoSecretworldofbeautypageants.gif]]
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This "societal attitude" has a negative effect on strip-showsin general and on the women who perform in them in particular. Negatively portrayingstrippers as either immoral tramps or victims of sexual exploitation totally denies themtheir individuality, and denies the possibility that they work in stripping as a matter ofconscious choice between several possible alternatives. This is counter to the evidencefound in every empirical study of stripping as a profession, from Skipper and McCaghy toCarey, Peterson and Sharpe.
  
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The worst effect of the prejudice against stripping is found in the areaof club management. Stigmatizing strip clubs as the preserve of sexist sleaziness, onlybarely on the right side of the law, seems to have driven out old-time semi-respectablemanagers like the Minsky's, and left largely thick-skinned, aggressive, manipulative menin their wake. In the documentary, Stripper, not one manager seen on film seemed totreat his employees with anything approaching respect, despite the obvious talent andintelligence many of them possessed. To draw a Marxist parallel, the means of (theatrical)production would obviously benefit from being put in the hands of the workers.
  
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In one case this happened, although only for (touring)"headliners": the O'Farrell St. Theatre in San Francisco (formerly run by thewacky Mitchell brothers, who proudly claimed to have produced the first all-safe- sexporno movie) "rented" stage space to headliners for a flat fee, and thestrippers keep all their own box office receipts. While this was doubtless done to limitthe Mitchell brothers' financial risk, it also insures the artistic independence of theperformers, who are only dependant on the audience for approval, not the managers. Notsurprisingly, the Mitchell Brothers' O'Farrell St. Theatre became one of the top stripvenues in the country, attracting stars like Hypatia Lee, Tempest Storm and MarylynChambers to name a few.
  
[http://www.costumes.org|The Costumer's Manifesto]by , Ph.D. Pictures included for viewing purposes only. This page last edited on
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The next obvious step would be for strippers, male and female, toconsciously self-produce works designed to enlighten as well as entertain their audiences,in the way that certain porno film stars have created "feminist porn" productioncompanies like Femme Productions and Fatale Films that promote egalitarian sex and lesbiansex respectively.
  
[[File:Service.comBfastServe?bfmid=27253343&siteid=30999336&bfpage=horizontal|Tara Maginnis]]
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Fashion shows, because of their all- female audience, have undergone theleast criticism as a "sexist" form of theatre, and have been co-opted by moreliberal elements more often than strip or beauty shows have. As a result, they form thebest model of how a genre can be used to promote useful causes: from anti- racism topro-environment. As early as 1915, message- ridden fashion shows were in vogue. The firstin New York was the "Fete de Vanite", an anti-fashion satire of wealthy New Yorksociety with deliberately "ridiculous styles" of clothing, performed as acharity benefit for "individual cases among the poor." Lucille wrote a Belgianwar relief benefit show shortly thereafter that dramatized the shelling of a Belgian townby the Germans as part of the prologue.
  
[http://www.costumes.org|Home]
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The comparative ease of staging fashion shows has often been anencouragement to charitable groups in need of a benefit performance of some kind, and"educational" groups in search of agreeable methods of disseminatinginformation. For example, during the fabric shortages of World War II, the TraphagenSchool of Design sponsored a fashion show of student designs using made-over garments,scrap materials like shower curtains and table cloths, and non-traditional materials likestraw caning and auto upholstery fabric.
  
[http://www.uaf.edu/theatre|QuestionsSponsorshipCostume TourTheatre UAF]
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The most successful long term educational/benefit fashion show series isthe Ebony Fashion Fair. Started in 1958 by Eunice Johnson it "revolutionized thefashion industry by showcasing beautiful black models in the latest styles." Prior tothis time black models were simply not seen on runways anywhere. In 1963, Pucci hired twomodels recommended by the Ebony staff for his Paris show, and thereafter black models havebeen a permanent fixture in runway modeling and, to a lesser extent, in print work. Inaddition to promoting the concept of black women as beautiful and fashionable, the Ebonyshow also showcases the work of black American clothing designers alongside the best workof European designers, in a successful attempt to demonstrate that Afro-American designersare in no way inferior to their European counterparts. Throughout, the show is anexcellent vehicle for raising black pride and white consciousness, as well as raisingmoney for black schools and charities.
  
==Product Links==
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Most revolutionary, starting in 1982, the Ebony show began to include afull-figured model, in recognition that "more than 50 percent of the women [in theaudience] are sizes 12 to 14" and needed positive role models. The program for the1989 show described the policy as "making a statement--'being amply endowed with morecan be just as lovely as the leaner counterpart.'" The magazine Big Beautiful Womanalso sponsors full-figure fashion shows for similar reasons. These shows help to assertthe social acceptability of adult women's natural bodies unaltered by excessive dieting orsurgery.
  
[http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/6305374848/thecostumersmani|Amazon.com: buying info: Video: The Secret World of Beauty Pageants]
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The Harlem Institute of Fashion also sponsored historical fashion showsbetween 1972-1982 which showcased historical and recent clothing designed by blackdesigners and dressmakers, in order to showcase blacks' place in fashion history. Theseshows aided the H.I.F. in getting a grant from the N.E.A. to establish a museum of fashionat the Institute. This is an excellent example of fashion shows devised to educate thepublic and so move it to action. More recently, as reported in Vogue, regular fashiondesigners have included political messages in their shows, although often these"themes" are little more than cosmetic. Norma Kamali expressed concern forecology in her spring fashion collection, which was shown amidst the greenery of Centralpark last Fall. The models carried signs--ACID RAIN SQUAD, EARTH CHILDREN, ENVIRONMENTALPROTECTION AGENTS--while a song written especially for the show...bemoans the ozoneproblem and the destruction of trees. Kamali, who uses fake fur and is a vegetarian, says,"If we don't take care of our world, fashion will have to incorporate ways to protectourselves from the environment." To a greater or lesser extent fashion shows likethese are useful for enlarging the public's attitude to include positive images of blackwomen, and large-size women, as well as for promoting a number of causes fromenvironmental consciousness to war relief. The possibilities fashion shows have offered inthe past for promotion of a cause or image has only been limited by the imaginations ofthe organizers. The enormous variety of images and causes that have been promoted givehints of how the other two genres (strip shows and beauty pageants) could be shaped toadvocate different images of women and women's sexuality.
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Areas for Further Study
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This study has focused only on the interrelationship of fashion shows,strip shows and beauty pageants, and has not exhausted the possibilities for study withineach of these areas. All of these forms of performance have been under-researched, mostprobably because they are of a "popular" rather than an "artistic"nature and consequently are deemed trivial in value. Added to this is the fact that theseforms are considered sexually suspect by both conservatives and liberals, which makes anyattempt at evenhanded dealing with the material much like balancing on a seesaw. Anattempt to fairly represent viewpoints from both sides puts one in the attitude of amugwump--an awkward seating arrangement from which to attempt a scholarly study.
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Despite these discouragements, the theatre of the feminine ideal is anextremely open one for study. Virtually no one has done anything with the history offashion shows; studies of burlesque tend to focus on the comics not the strippers; and theonly really valuable studies of beauty pageants are American BeautyMissAmerica 1945: Bess Myerson's Own Story and There She Is. Fashion shows, inparticular, are largely unrecognized as a part of social or theatrical history--anabsolutely amazing occurrence when one considers the huge amount of writing, filming, andphotography that has recorded individual fashion shows in the last eighty years. Animportant study could be made of the role fashion shows and window-displays made in theearly years of the great American "invention" of advertising campaigns. It couldalso be useful for people in fashion merchandising if someone were to record the historyof the "innovations" and gimmicks used in fashion shows and some history of themethods of the trade from which to draw techniques. It was immediately apparent fromreading accounts of old fashion shows that every few years show organizers would"invent" a "new" method for lending variety and interest to the formwithout being aware that the "new" method was, in fact, something done beforebut forgotten. The lack of a properly recorded history of the staging and advertisingtechniques used in the past means that organizers are constantly asked to re-invent thewheel instead of being able to build upon past experience.
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Strip shows need to be examined along with pornographic film, art andwriting, and studied in context with the numerous surveys now available on male and femalefantasies, fears and expectations about sex. Erotic entertainment needs to be discussedrationally along with evidence about audience needs and expectations, if anyone is ever toraise the debate on the issue of pornography above the level of hysterical name calling.The history and development of strip staging, would be difficult to glean from writtenrecords, but a large number of retired strippers who could be interviewed for this kind ofinformation are alive and well and can be contacted through The Burlesque HistoricalSociety of America/Exotic Dancers League in Helendale, California.
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Beauty pageants have been studied in context with the surroundingculture at large but, except for Deford's work, pageantry has not been studied as aculture of it's own. Since There She Is was published in 1971, huge changes havetaken place in the values and aspirations of pageants and their groupies, and it isclearly time to give them a second look, particularly in view of the large body ofpublications they have produced in the intervening twenty years.
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The whole history of pageant protests in California sponsored by MediaWatch could also document the under- recorded form of political protest called streettheatre. Media Watch has made interesting use of visual symbols in their protests(chaining bathroom scales to their ankles as they jump through hula-hoops in "weightobedience school;" wearing "pageant gowns" made of stitched together meatto name just two) that play with literal enactments of commonly used metaphoric phrases.The Media Watch group also is much more cooperative and generous with their informationthan the Miss America and Miss Universe organizations are, and so offers a lessfrustrating struggle for source material. Strangely, a bizarre topic for study could alsobe made out of the improvements that have been forced on beauty pageants over the years asa result of their detractor's protests. Ironically, the greatest innovations in pageantshave occurred because of hostile criticism. A very good case could be made for consideringgroups like Media Watch an asset to pageants as a whole, if the direct link could bedocumented between public protests of a given issue in pageants, and the subsequentadoption of different pageant rules in that area.
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These are only a few of the topics for further study in this area,naturally there are others possible among strip, fashion, and beauty shows, however, theseare the ones that are most obviously suggested by the research materials available.
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A Personal Comment
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When beginning work on this study I idly supposed that the images of thefashion model, the stripper and the beauty queen were trivial, amusing and harmless, andthat strip shows, fashion shows and beauty pageants were very limited forms of theatre,capable of only minor variations. As a result of performing this research, it has beennecessary to completely change this view on both points: the images of women that thetheatre of the feminine ideal most often promotes are not harmless either to performers oraudience; however, the forms of the fashion show, strip show and beauty pageant arecapable of idealizing an astonishing variety of images, including truly positive ones.
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Through studying this topic it became apparent that it is desperatelyimportant now that we begin to positively advocate alternative ideals of female beauty.Presently, in America 150,000 women die each year of Anorexia Nervosa, more than the totalnumber of deaths from AIDS reported in the world from the beginning of the epidemic to1988. Each year a physically healthy "city of women the size of San Francisco getscut open each year in the United States" with unnecessary cosmetic surgery, a 90%unregulated industry, that uses techniques never approved by the FDA, known to causenumerous adverse permanent physical side effects--including the most permanent--death.Women in America are not only dying because of what Naomi Wolf calls "The BeautyMyth," but are being faced with job discrimination that requires women (and not men)wear makeup. Women spend 20 billion dollars a year on cosmetics in order to"improve" their appearance up to an acceptable level, a level that men areassumed to reach unassisted by paint. Worst of all women feel internal self hatred: a 1984survey found that 75% of female respondents aged 18-35 believed that they were fat,including 45% of underweight women. Wolf comments:
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More heartbreaking in terms of the way in which the myth is running to ground hopes for women's advancement and gratification, the Glamour respondents chose losing ten to fifteen pounds above success in work or love as their most desired goal.
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The present ideals of the anoretic model, the surgically alteredstripper, and cosmetically perfected beauty queen are in actuality doing damage to womenand their sense of self, as well as damage to the performers enacting the ideals. This isnot what one would expect to find, but it is what seems to be there. It is imperative thatthe men and women in the audience, and the performers and producers on stage, each asindividuals, examine the ideals they are supporting and make a conscious effort to changethem now, as they have in the past, to reflect the needs of our changing culture.
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Chapter V: Conclusions part a

File:H.t

Fashion Shows, Strip Shows and BeautyPageants:

The Theatre of The Feminine Ideal

by

TARA MAGINNIS

Chapter V: Conclusion

As discussed in the preceding chapters, fashion shows, strip shows, andbeauty pageants are linked by several common elements: runway staging, emphasis on femaleperformers, non-spoken performances, costume serving as the definition of the ideal, andevidence that the audience uses these shows as vehicles for fantasies. This suggests thatthese three forms of performance are in fact one form with three variations, a form whichmight be described as the "theatre of the feminine ideal." This form uses theabove mentioned linking elements to create and "ennoble" an ideal of aparticular aspect of femininity. The ideal chosen in each case is the one preferred by theaudience belonging to that form: all women in the case of fashion shows, all men in thecase of strip shows, and a combination of men and women for beauty pageants. The audiencepreferences in female ideals characterized and changed the role of the performers in eachgenre, and continues to characterize and change these roles now.

The all-female audience of fashion shows has led to thinner and thinnermodels who more and more closely resemble a masculine body type, seen by women (strugglingto succeed in a male-dominated culture) as superior and "successful." Theall-male audience of burlesque strip shows influenced the increasing nakedness of thestrip, and the image of strippers as physically mature , sexually secure, aggressivelyseductive figures. An originally middle-class, mixed sex audience of vacationing familieshelped to define the image of the beauty queen as the ideal daughter figure.

The performers' attempts to represent the ideals on stage as envisionedby the audience, (often in spite of their own real life identity's being in apparentcontradiction with their stage image,) demonstrate the theatrical artifice of the roles ofstrippers, models and beauty queens. Fashion models go to extraordinary lengths in orderto supply a slender body, and upper class body language. As many as half of all strippershave plastic surgery in order to reform their bodies into the ideal image, and all wearcostumes that depict a stereotyped icon of female sexuality. While beauty pageantcontestants often attempt to live up to the "ideal" they enact in their personalas well as professional lives, they too use artificial techniques like surgery andrehearsals to enhance their on stage personas, and so better portray the ideal intheatrical terms. Each type of performer is required to use artificial, theatrical meansin order to portray the ideal on stage.

The shape of the runway stage used for these performances emulates thehanimichi bridge in it's glorifying aspect of raising the performer above the audience,and also allowing the performer the position of direct "address" towards theaudience. An enormous variety of effects is available in runway staging--from the varietyof runway shapes utilized in fashion shows to the horizontal and vertical blocking instrip shows-- allowing performers to pass from formal distance, through the levels ofsocial distance, down to the level of intimate distance, simply by advancing down therunway in stages to eye level.

This evidence not only indicates that strip, beauty and fashion showsare variants on a single format--the theatre of the feminine ideal--but also, byinference, suggests that the main format is capable of including a wide variety ofsub-genres including, but not limited to, the three already in existence. The adaptationswithin each genre that arose out of the interests and desires of the particular audiencegroup demonstrate the adaptability of the theatre of the feminine ideal to the individualcircumstances of the audience supporting it.

The often elaborate artifices performers use to enact the ideals of thestripper, model, and beauty queen, from costumes and make up to dieting and surgery,demonstrate that these women are performers, not "natural" ideal figures and, byimplication, could use different preparations and alterations to enact different types ofideals than the ones they do show. The variety of effects fashion shows have created withaltering runway shapes, and the levels of movement through public, social and intimatedistance that strippers have discovered while working on runways, indicate that the stagespace commonly used for the theatre of the feminine ideal is capable of a greater varietyof effects than any one genre has utilized in the past. The variety of forms already to befound within the theatre of the feminine ideal, the evidence that these forms can respondto the changing needs of their audiences, the recognition that the women enacting theideals are performers who merely enact the chosen ideal, and the versatility to be foundin the staging format, all lead to the conclusion that the present ideals promoted by thiskind of theatre are not the only kind of image which it is possible for the theatre of thefeminine ideal to promote.

The Utility of the Theatre of the Feminine Ideal in a"Liberated" Society

Where are fashion shows, strip shows and beauty pageants going now, andwhat are their possible roles for the future? According to their critics they are allhopelessly anti-feminist and going nowhere fast. Yet these forms of theatre show no signsof disappearing: strip shows and fashion shows are even spreading into the video market;live strip shows have replaced porno movie houses as the erotic theater of choice in manytowns; and beauty pageants still pull high TV ratings in America, even as they arespreading their popularity into Eastern Europe. If these forms are so archaic anddecaying, why are they showing continued signs of life? I believe that part of the answerlies in the data here assembled.

The one fact that seems most evident from the material discussed in thisstudy is that these three forms of performance found under the umbrella "the theatreof the feminine ideal" are extremely elastic, and capable of mutating whenever achange seems to be desirable or necessary to hold the audience. As their audience's tastechanged, all three forms of performance have radically changed the "ideal woman"each one glorified, and each will probably continue to change that image to fit the natureof their audience in the future. This seems to be the main strength of this form ofidealizing theatre: it's mutability. If, for instance, Middle America should ever decidethat truly liberated women, regardless of beauty, should be the ideal of AmericanWomanhood, the Miss America contest could easily follow the lead of the Ms. Santa MonicaPageant which in 1987, in response to the liberal views of the people of Santa Monica,eliminated physical beauty as a judging category and did not include a swimsuitcompetition. Contestants ranged in age from 18 to 50 and were of varying marital status,including a single mother. The winner, an advertising copywriter who does communityservice work in a battered women's shelter, entered "after seeing feminist attorneyGloria Allred on television cutting a red bathing suit into shreds at a beachside pressconference." Her first runner-up was a 39 year old owner of a custom car detailingbusiness and the former vice president of the Organization of Women For Legal Awareness inNew Jersey. This kind of genuinely liberated contestant came to the fore once the publicaccepted Ms. Santa Monica's ideal as being a liberated woman defined by standards otherthan physical beauty. If the will of Middle America ever travels as far as this ideal ofwomanhood, chances are Miss America, Miss USA, and the other big national contestsdependent on the American majority for their existence, will follow in Ms. Santa Monica'sfootsteps, simply in order to keep up with their audience. Until then, as usual, Nationalcontests will only go as far as the majority of their public will permit, and theirjudging criteria will continue to reflect the less than liberated standards of society atlarge.

While many (if not most) performances of fashion shows, strip shows, andbeauty pageants, have been reductionist and/or demeaning to women, this does not alter thefact that there also have been performances in these genres which have been positiveidealizations of some aspect of womanhood. The "breast-giving-fantasy" stripperformance done with foam eggs and breasts taken from a shopping bag described in ChapterIII is a case in point. Connecting breasts with their actual food-function by associationwith groceries and food reaffirmed their primary role in the mothering and nurturing partof sex, and caused the audience to behave "like good little mother's boys"politely enjoying a normal Oedipal fantasy. This kind of healthy fantasy is a positiveexperience both for the audience and performer.

The fault to be found in a demeaning performance is not with the formatof the genre, which has proven to be elastic enough to be used both positively andnegatively, but with the use to which the individual performance is put. To criticize theformat of these genres because they are predominantly used for sub-standard performances,and occasionally are used for offensive ones, is much like declaring Kodak film is badbecause most photos taken with it are ill-focused vacation snaps, and some is used forchild pornography. The medium is not necessarily the message, and bad theatre is notconfined to strip, fashion, and beauty shows.

Ultimately, the hyperbolic frenzy that surrounds the theatre of thefeminine ideal is about sex, and the almost hysterical fear--shared by fashion showaudiences, conservative pageant promoters, radical anti-pageant feminists and selfappointed guardians of public morals-- that the women in these forms of entertainment maybe voluntarily ascending this pedestal and asking to be worshiped as sex objects. Theviolent moral attacks on strip shows and beauty pageants by the moral guardians andfeminists, the sexless body image demanded of the fashion model, and the conservative,chaperoned rituals of the beauty pageant, all stem at least in part from this intense fearof female sexuality. The actual problem is that we do not live in a "liberated"society at all, and the theatre of the feminine ideal usually reflects our society the wayit is--not as we wish it would be.

Fashion show models, in particular, reflect women's fear of their ownbody (and by implication their sexuality) and their desire to replace it with an"improved," sexless, female-as-male body image. As described in Chapter II, thistrend in fashion-model bodies began to be evident in the early years of this century and,as described in Chapter III, its effect on the model's body has escalated to the pointwhere it is actually dangerous, fueling an increase in eating disorders, fad diets, andcosmetic surgery. This undernourished ideal for models, and those who emulate them, willcontinue to be featured in performances largely patronized by women, until femaleaudiences demand another ideal of themselves, either due to a return to Victorian sexualroles, or to women finally truly being seen as equal or superior to men, and theirsexuality not automatically regarded as threatening or demeaning. Only then will women'snatural mature bodies be put forward as acceptable role models.

Theoretically, in a genuinely free and open sexual atmosphere, womenexhibitionisticly seeking approval would not seem so threatening, but while we live in asociety that strongly represses female sexuality, conservative people naturally see anyglorification of female sexuality as an attack on the values of that society. Radicals areequally right to question whether performances which are tolerated by a repressed societyat large are not in fact expressions of that repressed society's negative view of womenand sex. However it is the radicals, particularly radical feminists, who are on shakiestground when they criticize these forms of performance. For no other types of performancehave as much female input and participation, few offer as many possibilities for creatingand showcasing positive propaganda images of women, and few offer better opportunities forwomen to express their own abstracted images of themselves, both sexually and socially.

People who wish to improve the status of women should be attempting to takeover these forms of theatre and use them as showcases for new ideals of womanhood.Obviously, this is difficult to envision, much less attempt, since the concept of female"beauty" in 20th Century society has primarily been used as a method ofcontrolling and penalizing women for being female, but it is precisely because of thissocial evil that it is important that feminists use these media to eradicate the view that"defines 90% of women as rejects." By scorning "beauty" pageants oneabdicates the responsibility of forcing pageants to alter their "standards" toinclude women of all ages, races, body types and marital status, and leaves the judgingcriteria to be determined by conservatives who will naturally continue to enforce outdatedimages of female beauty. For example, only recently a deaf contestant in the MissCalifornia pageant was refused permission to have a person translate the on-stagequestions she was asked into sign language, a clear piece of discrimination against a"flawed" handicapped person. This kind of blatant intolerance is only possiblewhere a pageant is solely run by like minded people with extremely narrow views of idealwomanhood.

Positively, pageants traditionally have been used by racial and ethnicgroups (often excluded by conservative pageants in the past) to affirm their groupidentity, and demonstrate that their own young women are as attractive and talented as therest. Even after pageants like Miss America have chosen minority contestants, thesepageants often survive as showcases of ethnic pride. For example, contestants in thenational Miss Chinatown USA competition held each year in San Francisco are expected to beable to answer interview questions in Chinese, and the talent competition is largelyfilled with martial arts demonstrations and traditional Chinese instrumental music anddances. Another set of contests promoting an ethnic group are the Miss Russian AmericaPageants, held in both the U.S. and U.S.S.R. They select two representatives to tour eachother's respective countries. Candidates "must exhibit a good knowledge of andinterest in Russian and American history" and help to promote the Russian AmericaFestival, a festival highlighting the history of Russian colonization in North America andpromoting U.S./U.S.S.R. relations.

The ability of pageants to demonstrate that the "daughters" ofa particular race or country are beautiful and talented is one of the reasons pageants arespreading into Eastern Europe. Sick of seeing Western portrayals of their women asbackward, "butch" and ugly, Eastern Europeans have embraced pageants as a forumfor demonstrating to the West that women in the Eastern Bloc are also beautiful. Acontestant in the first Miss U.S.S.R. competition stated it this way:

A beauty contest in the Soviet Union plays an entirely different role than a beauty competition in any other country. People are so used to seeing Soviet women as tractor drivers or milkmaids, and the competition helps to show women in a different light completely. It helps to see Soviet women in their grace and their beauty and their tenderness.

Unfortunately, in the East as well as the West, pageants are often runfor a profit, not for higher motives, and the first Miss USSR pageant was no exception.The same contestant was horrified to find that she (a Moslem) was expected to representher predominantly Moslem republic in a scanty swimsuit while onstage commentariesemphasized pulchritude over talent to an embarrassing degree. Despite the awkwardness ofthe pageant, however, it did "prove" to the organizers of the Miss World andMiss Universe competitions, at least, that Soviet women were worthy of inclusion ininternational beauty competition. Now Soviet contestants take part in these globallytelevised pageants, demonstrating for a world audience that Soviet women are neitherbackward nor "factory-built." In 1991, Miss USSR placed as first runner up inthe Miss Universe competition, a significant step in destroying the negative stereotype ofSoviet women, (albeit while promoting a new stereotype).

Attacking strip shows and other forms of erotic theatre across theboards as automatically sexist, is to ignore the positive image that many of the bettererotic performers try to create. Even an average stripper usually embodies both an imageof individuality and an image of sexual enjoyment: both of which are (or should be) partof any self-respecting feminist credo. Some strippers, like "Danyel" in ChapterIII, use stripping as a way of expressing their "deviant" sexual orientation.For others, like Nina Hartley of the Mitchell Brothers Theatre, the chance to exhibitthemselves publicly is in itself a form of sexual self expression:

I discovered early on that I had exhibitionistic tendencies. But not wanting to physically endanger myself by doing something stupid on the street or in a bar, I found out about the [strip theatre] amateur night, and realized here is a safe, physically safe place for me to live out my fantasies, and see if the reality is anything like I think it might be. And it turned out that I enjoyed it even more.

Hartley, by stripping, is doing what sensible women's rights advocateshave been hoping women would feel free enough to do for years: expressing her sexuality asshe feels it and not the way society says she should. People who object to any stripperformance, regardless of its positive personal or political content, have beensubconsciously brainwashed by moralists into automatically equating sex with sexism. Thisis just a new variation on the old sexual double standard.

Any doubts that this is what is at work here are crushed when oneconsiders the case of the famous touring all-male strip show, Chippendale's. No onedecries the sexual exploitation of young men who take off their clothes for money; no oneintimates that they are symbols of the sexual enslavement of men by women, and yet they doexactly the same thing as female strippers--they are silent, they wear a stereotyped male"character" costume, they dance, writhe, remove their clothing, and do bumps andgrinds in a simulated reenactment of sexual excitement. Chippendale's male performers showwomen that one doesn't have to be a sexist pig to enjoy watching good looking people ofthe opposite sex take their clothes off, and that people who take their clothes off for anaudience don't necessarily have to be the object of pity. A female caller to a SanFrancisco talk-show, People are Talking, doing a segment on "The Women of MitchellBrothers," brought up this point: "why are we so condemning of women?" (whostrip,) she asked, while the Chippendale's men "are going all over the country whilewomen stick twenty dollar bills in their shorts?!" Annette Haven a former MitchellBrothers stripper and erotic film star (Autobiography of a Flea) gave this answer:

It's because men in this society are allowed to have sex and women aren't. Therefore if women are participating in a sexual industry they get a lot of criticism. Men in my business get asked by people: "Gee, what's it like to have sex with such a beautiful woman?" whereas the women get asked "How can you do such a thing?" and that's the societal attitude.

This "societal attitude" has a negative effect on strip-showsin general and on the women who perform in them in particular. Negatively portrayingstrippers as either immoral tramps or victims of sexual exploitation totally denies themtheir individuality, and denies the possibility that they work in stripping as a matter ofconscious choice between several possible alternatives. This is counter to the evidencefound in every empirical study of stripping as a profession, from Skipper and McCaghy toCarey, Peterson and Sharpe.

The worst effect of the prejudice against stripping is found in the areaof club management. Stigmatizing strip clubs as the preserve of sexist sleaziness, onlybarely on the right side of the law, seems to have driven out old-time semi-respectablemanagers like the Minsky's, and left largely thick-skinned, aggressive, manipulative menin their wake. In the documentary, Stripper, not one manager seen on film seemed totreat his employees with anything approaching respect, despite the obvious talent andintelligence many of them possessed. To draw a Marxist parallel, the means of (theatrical)production would obviously benefit from being put in the hands of the workers.

In one case this happened, although only for (touring)"headliners": the O'Farrell St. Theatre in San Francisco (formerly run by thewacky Mitchell brothers, who proudly claimed to have produced the first all-safe- sexporno movie) "rented" stage space to headliners for a flat fee, and thestrippers keep all their own box office receipts. While this was doubtless done to limitthe Mitchell brothers' financial risk, it also insures the artistic independence of theperformers, who are only dependant on the audience for approval, not the managers. Notsurprisingly, the Mitchell Brothers' O'Farrell St. Theatre became one of the top stripvenues in the country, attracting stars like Hypatia Lee, Tempest Storm and MarylynChambers to name a few.

The next obvious step would be for strippers, male and female, toconsciously self-produce works designed to enlighten as well as entertain their audiences,in the way that certain porno film stars have created "feminist porn" productioncompanies like Femme Productions and Fatale Films that promote egalitarian sex and lesbiansex respectively.

Fashion shows, because of their all- female audience, have undergone theleast criticism as a "sexist" form of theatre, and have been co-opted by moreliberal elements more often than strip or beauty shows have. As a result, they form thebest model of how a genre can be used to promote useful causes: from anti- racism topro-environment. As early as 1915, message- ridden fashion shows were in vogue. The firstin New York was the "Fete de Vanite", an anti-fashion satire of wealthy New Yorksociety with deliberately "ridiculous styles" of clothing, performed as acharity benefit for "individual cases among the poor." Lucille wrote a Belgianwar relief benefit show shortly thereafter that dramatized the shelling of a Belgian townby the Germans as part of the prologue.

The comparative ease of staging fashion shows has often been anencouragement to charitable groups in need of a benefit performance of some kind, and"educational" groups in search of agreeable methods of disseminatinginformation. For example, during the fabric shortages of World War II, the TraphagenSchool of Design sponsored a fashion show of student designs using made-over garments,scrap materials like shower curtains and table cloths, and non-traditional materials likestraw caning and auto upholstery fabric.

The most successful long term educational/benefit fashion show series isthe Ebony Fashion Fair. Started in 1958 by Eunice Johnson it "revolutionized thefashion industry by showcasing beautiful black models in the latest styles." Prior tothis time black models were simply not seen on runways anywhere. In 1963, Pucci hired twomodels recommended by the Ebony staff for his Paris show, and thereafter black models havebeen a permanent fixture in runway modeling and, to a lesser extent, in print work. Inaddition to promoting the concept of black women as beautiful and fashionable, the Ebonyshow also showcases the work of black American clothing designers alongside the best workof European designers, in a successful attempt to demonstrate that Afro-American designersare in no way inferior to their European counterparts. Throughout, the show is anexcellent vehicle for raising black pride and white consciousness, as well as raisingmoney for black schools and charities.

Most revolutionary, starting in 1982, the Ebony show began to include afull-figured model, in recognition that "more than 50 percent of the women [in theaudience] are sizes 12 to 14" and needed positive role models. The program for the1989 show described the policy as "making a statement--'being amply endowed with morecan be just as lovely as the leaner counterpart.'" The magazine Big Beautiful Womanalso sponsors full-figure fashion shows for similar reasons. These shows help to assertthe social acceptability of adult women's natural bodies unaltered by excessive dieting orsurgery.

The Harlem Institute of Fashion also sponsored historical fashion showsbetween 1972-1982 which showcased historical and recent clothing designed by blackdesigners and dressmakers, in order to showcase blacks' place in fashion history. Theseshows aided the H.I.F. in getting a grant from the N.E.A. to establish a museum of fashionat the Institute. This is an excellent example of fashion shows devised to educate thepublic and so move it to action. More recently, as reported in Vogue, regular fashiondesigners have included political messages in their shows, although often these"themes" are little more than cosmetic. Norma Kamali expressed concern forecology in her spring fashion collection, which was shown amidst the greenery of Centralpark last Fall. The models carried signs--ACID RAIN SQUAD, EARTH CHILDREN, ENVIRONMENTALPROTECTION AGENTS--while a song written especially for the show...bemoans the ozoneproblem and the destruction of trees. Kamali, who uses fake fur and is a vegetarian, says,"If we don't take care of our world, fashion will have to incorporate ways to protectourselves from the environment." To a greater or lesser extent fashion shows likethese are useful for enlarging the public's attitude to include positive images of blackwomen, and large-size women, as well as for promoting a number of causes fromenvironmental consciousness to war relief. The possibilities fashion shows have offered inthe past for promotion of a cause or image has only been limited by the imaginations ofthe organizers. The enormous variety of images and causes that have been promoted givehints of how the other two genres (strip shows and beauty pageants) could be shaped toadvocate different images of women and women's sexuality.

Areas for Further Study

This study has focused only on the interrelationship of fashion shows,strip shows and beauty pageants, and has not exhausted the possibilities for study withineach of these areas. All of these forms of performance have been under-researched, mostprobably because they are of a "popular" rather than an "artistic"nature and consequently are deemed trivial in value. Added to this is the fact that theseforms are considered sexually suspect by both conservatives and liberals, which makes anyattempt at evenhanded dealing with the material much like balancing on a seesaw. Anattempt to fairly represent viewpoints from both sides puts one in the attitude of amugwump--an awkward seating arrangement from which to attempt a scholarly study.

Despite these discouragements, the theatre of the feminine ideal is anextremely open one for study. Virtually no one has done anything with the history offashion shows; studies of burlesque tend to focus on the comics not the strippers; and theonly really valuable studies of beauty pageants are American BeautyMissAmerica 1945: Bess Myerson's Own Story and There She Is. Fashion shows, inparticular, are largely unrecognized as a part of social or theatrical history--anabsolutely amazing occurrence when one considers the huge amount of writing, filming, andphotography that has recorded individual fashion shows in the last eighty years. Animportant study could be made of the role fashion shows and window-displays made in theearly years of the great American "invention" of advertising campaigns. It couldalso be useful for people in fashion merchandising if someone were to record the historyof the "innovations" and gimmicks used in fashion shows and some history of themethods of the trade from which to draw techniques. It was immediately apparent fromreading accounts of old fashion shows that every few years show organizers would"invent" a "new" method for lending variety and interest to the formwithout being aware that the "new" method was, in fact, something done beforebut forgotten. The lack of a properly recorded history of the staging and advertisingtechniques used in the past means that organizers are constantly asked to re-invent thewheel instead of being able to build upon past experience.

Strip shows need to be examined along with pornographic film, art andwriting, and studied in context with the numerous surveys now available on male and femalefantasies, fears and expectations about sex. Erotic entertainment needs to be discussedrationally along with evidence about audience needs and expectations, if anyone is ever toraise the debate on the issue of pornography above the level of hysterical name calling.The history and development of strip staging, would be difficult to glean from writtenrecords, but a large number of retired strippers who could be interviewed for this kind ofinformation are alive and well and can be contacted through The Burlesque HistoricalSociety of America/Exotic Dancers League in Helendale, California.

Beauty pageants have been studied in context with the surroundingculture at large but, except for Deford's work, pageantry has not been studied as aculture of it's own. Since There She Is was published in 1971, huge changes havetaken place in the values and aspirations of pageants and their groupies, and it isclearly time to give them a second look, particularly in view of the large body ofpublications they have produced in the intervening twenty years.

The whole history of pageant protests in California sponsored by MediaWatch could also document the under- recorded form of political protest called streettheatre. Media Watch has made interesting use of visual symbols in their protests(chaining bathroom scales to their ankles as they jump through hula-hoops in "weightobedience school;" wearing "pageant gowns" made of stitched together meatto name just two) that play with literal enactments of commonly used metaphoric phrases.The Media Watch group also is much more cooperative and generous with their informationthan the Miss America and Miss Universe organizations are, and so offers a lessfrustrating struggle for source material. Strangely, a bizarre topic for study could alsobe made out of the improvements that have been forced on beauty pageants over the years asa result of their detractor's protests. Ironically, the greatest innovations in pageantshave occurred because of hostile criticism. A very good case could be made for consideringgroups like Media Watch an asset to pageants as a whole, if the direct link could bedocumented between public protests of a given issue in pageants, and the subsequentadoption of different pageant rules in that area.

These are only a few of the topics for further study in this area,naturally there are others possible among strip, fashion, and beauty shows, however, theseare the ones that are most obviously suggested by the research materials available.

A Personal Comment

When beginning work on this study I idly supposed that the images of thefashion model, the stripper and the beauty queen were trivial, amusing and harmless, andthat strip shows, fashion shows and beauty pageants were very limited forms of theatre,capable of only minor variations. As a result of performing this research, it has beennecessary to completely change this view on both points: the images of women that thetheatre of the feminine ideal most often promotes are not harmless either to performers oraudience; however, the forms of the fashion show, strip show and beauty pageant arecapable of idealizing an astonishing variety of images, including truly positive ones.

Through studying this topic it became apparent that it is desperatelyimportant now that we begin to positively advocate alternative ideals of female beauty.Presently, in America 150,000 women die each year of Anorexia Nervosa, more than the totalnumber of deaths from AIDS reported in the world from the beginning of the epidemic to1988. Each year a physically healthy "city of women the size of San Francisco getscut open each year in the United States" with unnecessary cosmetic surgery, a 90%unregulated industry, that uses techniques never approved by the FDA, known to causenumerous adverse permanent physical side effects--including the most permanent--death.Women in America are not only dying because of what Naomi Wolf calls "The BeautyMyth," but are being faced with job discrimination that requires women (and not men)wear makeup. Women spend 20 billion dollars a year on cosmetics in order to"improve" their appearance up to an acceptable level, a level that men areassumed to reach unassisted by paint. Worst of all women feel internal self hatred: a 1984survey found that 75% of female respondents aged 18-35 believed that they were fat,including 45% of underweight women. Wolf comments:

More heartbreaking in terms of the way in which the myth is running to ground hopes for women's advancement and gratification, the Glamour respondents chose losing ten to fifteen pounds above success in work or love as their most desired goal.

The present ideals of the anoretic model, the surgically alteredstripper, and cosmetically perfected beauty queen are in actuality doing damage to womenand their sense of self, as well as damage to the performers enacting the ideals. This isnot what one would expect to find, but it is what seems to be there. It is imperative thatthe men and women in the audience, and the performers and producers on stage, each asindividuals, examine the ideals they are supporting and make a conscious effort to changethem now, as they have in the past, to reflect the needs of our changing culture.

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