Looking for Miss America is, in the language of pageantry, lavish in its research, and its prose is sparkling. It is a riveting, multivalent history. About this, if nothing else, most feminists and pageant enthusiasts will agree ... This history of the Miss America pageant is probing, scintillating and tremendously entertaining—a pleaser for feminists and pageant devotees alike.
Mifflin is no Miss America apologist. She’s cleareyed about the pageant’s many hypocrisies and failures, which include a legacy of racial exclusion ... The marks she hits are largely familiar, and her galloping pace through a century of pop culture—310 pages pass swiftly—produces some moments of Wikipedia on speed .... Looking for Miss America is at its best when Mifflin pauses this sweeping summary to tell the stories of individual contestants. The pageant’s tensions and ambiguities emerge most vividly through the way particular women understood them in the context of their particular time ... The commercial promise that saw the pageant through shifting winds of feminism and fame would seem, at present, to have mostly disappeared. Mifflin’s lively book reads as an obituary.
Mifflin’s deep research, numerous support texts, nuanced analysis and punchy writing weave an engaging account. (The history of the bathing suit portion of the pageant is especially fascinating.) She interviewed over a dozen past pageant contestants, pageant employees, a judge and others for a comprehensive behind-the-scenes narrative ... Even if you’ve never watched a single Miss America pageant on TV, anyone with an interest in American history would benefit from this deep dive into a complex cultural figurehead.