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This Brown University sociologist just wrote the definitive book on beauty pageant culture – and it’s awesome

"Here She Is," by Hilary Levey FriedmanHilary Levey Friedman


Happy Friday and welcome to Rhode Map, your daily guide to everything happening in the Ocean State. I’m Dan McGowan and I’m just not sure that I can support a pumpkin spice lemonade from Del’s. Follow me on Twitter @DanMcGowan or send tips to Dan.McGowan@globe.com.

ICYMI: Rhode Island was up to 21,589 confirmed coronavirus cases on Thursday, after 108 new cases. The most recent test-positive rate was 1.3 percent. The state announced three more deaths, bringing the total to 1,044. There were 82 people in the hospital, 10 in intensive care, and three were on ventilators.

It’s hard to believe that it has been almost eight years since Cranston’s Olivia Culpo captured the Miss Universe crown and cemented Rhode Island’s status as the best state in the union.


Now, a new book from Brown University sociologist Hilary Levey Friedman looks at the role beauty pageants play in our country and how they’ve shaped feminism. “Here She Is” offers a comprehensive look at the highs and lows of the pageantry world, while also offering insight on the future of the industry.

You can buy the book here, and check out my Q&A with the author below.

Q: This book is not a history lesson about beauty pageants. It delves into society, politics, and other facets of life. What do you want readers to take away from the book?

Levey Friedman: The story of the American beauty pageant mirrors the many monumental changes to women’s lives since the 19th century - while still showing how far we have to go in our expectations of and for women and girls. I hope readers make connections they have never thought about before (I see lightbulb moments when I explain the suffragist sash inspired the pageant sash, for example) and reflect on how this complicated American activity has impacted their own lives.


Q: Your mother was Miss America 1970, and you write about what it was like to grow up around pageants, even if you didn’t compete yourself. What’s the number one thing parents should know about getting their children involved in these contests?

Levey Friedman: I have attended scores of child pageants over the years, and interviewed dozens and dozens of child pageant moms. Like most parents, child beauty pageant moms seem to have the best intentions for their daughters’ long-term success in life. But those intentions come with a high price tag and lasting implications related to appearance and the maternal relationship. It is imperative to think if some of the money being put into child pageants might be better invested in other areas, like saving for later schooling.

Q: You write a lot about the intersection of pageants and politics, and not just because of President Trump’s connections to both. What can these contests teach us about politics?

Levey Friedman: It used to be that pageant queens married the politicians (think Miss Rhode Island 1967 and third runner-up at Miss America, Marilyn Cocozza, who married former state Representative and gubernatorial candidate Joe Trillo), now they want to be the politician (Miss Rhode Island 2015 Alexandra Curtis competed with the platform of supporting women running for office).

On a surface level, pageants and politics are similar because they both are about one person winning a title that represents a specific locale. Digging deeper, pageants, and especially Miss America, seem to help women cultivate some of the skills of a successful politician. Those skills include: developing a public narrative; being verbally quick on your feet; advocating for an issue (that “platform,” which borrows from political language); raising funds in order to compete; and having the stamina to do multiple events in one day (especially when it comes to giving the same stump speech over and over while gripping and grinning before and after).


Q: You have an entire chapter on the future of pageants, but where you do think the industry will be 10 years from now?

Levey Friedman: I can’t imagine beauty pageants going away completely by 2030, and certainly pageant culture will still be with us (think “The Bachelor,” “American Idol”, and lots of other competitive reality TV shows). However, do I think once-a-year two-hour pageant specials will still appear on network TV? That I’m far less certain about. With the rise of streaming services I think there could be an opportunity for reinvention of the traditional formula that has been around since the 1950s. That could be serialization of the events, or in-depth coverage/documentaries of more specialized pageants, like Ms. Wheelchair America or Miss Indian World.


⚓ As schools prepare to reopen, Linda K. Wertheimer has a smart piece on why it’s important to teach about racism in a thoughtful way that does right by all students.

⚓ If it feels like you’re getting texts from political campaigns this year, it’s because you are. Beth Teitell explains how not everyone loves getting these messages from strangers pretending to be their friends.


⚓ In the Globe’s Ideas section, Rebecca Long and Larisa Klebe suggest that if all job postings included salary ranges, pay inequity would become harder to hide.

⚓ Elsewhere: WPRI’s Eli Sherman looks at why Rhode Island travel is still restricted in Massachusetts.

⚓ Rhode Map readers have sent another round of Happy Birthday wishes to: Julia Gabarra (8), Florence Marie (104), Jill Panciera (89), Terry Hahn (70), North Providence Council President Dino Autiello, Christopher Bizzacco, Marissa Masiello, Jay Wegimont (29), Larry Berman, Jim Primeau (40), Deanna Casanovas, Lynn Costa (59), Richard Calvin Hemphill, Tyler Pinch (10), Benjamin Santacroce (10), Andrew Adamson, and Marilyn Cepeda.


Politics: James Pindell breaks down the final night of the Republican National Convention, including President Trump’s speech.

Opinion: The Globe’s Kimberly Atkins writes that the Red Sox missed the moment by choosing to play on Wednesday while other professional teams boycotted their games.

Education I: My colleague Felicia Gans looks into how one school district in Massachusetts plans to reopen.

Education II: If you have the money for it, you can do distance learning in style at this resort in the Berkshires.


Each day, Rhode Map offers a cheat sheet breaking down what’s happening in Rhode Island. Have an idea? E-mail us at RInews@globe.com.


⚓ The East Greenwich School Committee meets this morning to discuss school reopening.

⚓ The Board of Elections meets at 11 a.m. to discuss its rules for drop boxes.

⚓ Providence officials and volunteers are holding an event at 10 a.m. to celebrate the cleanup of the Pleasant Valley Stream. It will be held at the corner of the Pleasant Valley Parkway and Justice Street.

⚓ Do you ❤️ Rhode Map? Your subscription is what makes it possible. We’ve got a great offer here.

Thanks for reading. Send comments and suggestions to dan.mcgowan@globe.com, or follow me on Twitter @DanMcGowan. See you on Monday.

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Dan McGowan can be reached at dan.mcgowan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.