Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Dr. Hollis F. Glaser


The author was a contestant in the 1985 Miss America Pageant, choosing to research how participants of that event made sense of their participation and how that participation affected their construction of themselves. Eleven state representatives were interviewed, including the winning Miss America and her 2nd and 4th runners-up. Interviewees were chosen upon consideration of region represented and final placement. This qualitative study utilized a semi-structured style of interviewing and protocol of 15 questions. Contestants’ narratives were analyzed within the frameworks of objectification theory and patriarchy. Results indicated that making sense of the Miss America experience could be a lengthy process, a struggle impeded by post-pageant rumor and innuendo. Contestants concluded that the Miss America Pageant is about big business with politics playing a large part in the competitive outcome. Contestants are the commodity. Also, the Pageant’s effect on how contestants constructed themselves has been pervasive and long-lasting. Its narrow script for femininity has influenced what contestants define as appropriate dress, conduct, appearance, body type and image. Respondents report a present identification with their former contestant status and will still practice performances of self in uncomfortablesituations. A state title is perceived as having great cache’ in the marriage market. This study concluded that participation in the Pageant has provided some contestants with an identity, one they continue to use in defining themselves. Some contestants also continue to perform themselves as Miss America contestants and to compare themselves to the feminine ideal. Furthermore, participants construct themselves as privileged and as losers. The struggle between these two constructions can take years for a contestant to reconcile, if they ever do. Effects include a proliferation of self-esteem loss and emotional bankruptcy among contestants, regardless of placing. This catch-22 situation puts contestants in a situation in which there are no ultimate winners.


A Thesis Presented to the School of Communication and the Faculty of the Graduate College University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts University of Nebraska at Omaha. Copyright Debra Deitering Maddox December, 2001