Beauty Pageants and Regional Identity: Miss Brazil and Miss Universe in the Brazilian Northeast

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 9:30 AM
Columbia Hall 1 (Washington Hilton)
Courtney J. Campbell, Institute of Historical Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London
This paper analyzes Northeastern Brazilian participation within Miss Brazil and Miss Universe pageants from 1954 to 1968. I trace the development of the pageants and the successes and failures of the candidates while examining discourse in newspapers, magazines, songs, and cordel literature that inscribes cultural and geographical characteristics on the bodies of the contestants. Writers evaluated contestants in terms of whether their physical characteristics were in agreement or clashed with popularly held perceptions of the state or region whose “customs, charms, and value” they were supposed to represent. The contestants’ success or failure in the Miss Universe contest was often accepted as indication of differing standards of beauty across both regional and national borders. Further, writers drew some states’ contestants together as “Northeastern”, while noticeably and consistently excluding other states from this category. This discourse offers an important counterpoint to studies that emphasize regional identity as a consolidating, homogenizing campaign, as notions of difference, exception, and exclusion frequently accompany discussions of pageant participants. Through a study of pageantry in the Brazilian Northeast, we gain a more nuanced understanding of the process of regional and national identity formation as both consolidation and division.
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