Breezy ... Argetsinger conjures the shallow, spangled drama of state pageants...without judging or sneering. But a certain sadness and strangeness still cling like hairspray to the whole process ... The more the pageant’s glitzy, cheesy heart is dissected, it seems, the harder the whole thing is to hold together ... Argetsinger’s upbeat approach skirts the existential hand-wringing to focus instead on the stories of the contestants. Her sympathetic ear brings forth candid, conflicted testimony from an array of former and almost Miss Americas ... Other books have grappled more deeply with the power structures and cultural impact of the pageant, but few have done such a lively, clear-eyed job at evoking its pleasures.
All this will be fascinating to beauty (and scholarship) pageant devotees who are curious about the before, during and immediate afterward of a winner’s life ... What was new to me was the plight of the organization and the people who clutched power within it. I probably would have welcomed more of that, along with pictures of these lesser gods ... I confess I became a little impatient with all the names of all the contestants.
What keeps them vying for a title that many people think of as outdated? The best person to answer this question may well be Amy Argetsinger ... Argetsinger makes clear that the central issue is the organization’s struggle to keep up with the ever-changing definition of a modern American woman. But the history she spotlights also demonstrates that the pageant is capable of change ... Reading There She Was, a passionate and eye-opening history of an iconic and surprisingly adaptable American organization, is enough to inspire hope that a new day for Miss America might not be far off.