Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Beauty Queens Goes Ga-Ga for Girl Power

It's this simple.

If you have a daughter, you should read Beauty Queens. Libba Bray's new YA book is the rare find that manages to float nicely along on the froth of popular culture while being simultaneously subversive.

The premise is an airplane full of Beauty Queens crash land on an (almost) deserted island. There are the familiar survivoresque moments made humorous  by the girl's forced reliance on beauty queen paraphenalia that has washed up on the beach.

That's the frothy part.

Underneath the fun and froth is an in-depth exploration of the toxic culture that surrounds our daughters. In a series of 'commercial breaks' the author pokes fun at ways corporate America attempts to manipulate girls. It would be funnier if it wasn't so true.

Be pretty, but don't be too proud of it. Be strong, but don't be intimidating. Strive to be smart because being smart is a means to a really good paying job that will allow you to buy lots of cool stuff.

Most important of all, make sure you look really, really sexy while slathering on your cleverly packaged and cutely named sunscreen with the hand that proudly sports a chastity ring proclaiming your intent to save your virginity for your husband because good girls shouldn't experiment with sex although they should strive to look supermodel hot in size 0 low-cut super skinny jeans.

Bray does an amazing job, much better than I did above, at pointing out the constant barrage of inconsistent messages targeted at the teen market. Beauty Queens also cleverly lampoons consumer oriented culture and enviromentalism repacked as guilt-free, green consumerism.

Those statements hit home but the portrayal that hit hardest was the one of the teenage girl. Brain not yet fully developed, at the mercy of hundreds of different conflicting messages and courted by every kind of media.

In three years my daughter will be a teenager. After reading this book I have the sudden urge to hide out with her on our own deserted island. I could write, she could continue on her path to strong amazingness. Girl, uninterrupted.


Maybe, instead, I'll just tuck this book away and hand it to her in a couple of years. After all, even if we lived on an island, she'd have to face the real world at some point. I guess I'll take comfort in the knowledge that, if you look hard enough, there are other messages out there too. Beauty Queens encourages young girls to figure out who they are on their own terms. And really, there's no better message than that.

19 comments:

erica and christy said...

This has always been a "do I or don't I" want to read it type of book for me. I'm sure I will, but it's on the backburner. (I only have sons, but yes, I worry about them as teenagers, too - and it's coming up quickly for my oldest!)
erica

~Sia McKye~ said...

Interesting book. I have only sons, but I do have plenty of nieces and I seem to be the Dear Mom of my son's group of friends--there are plenty of girls in this group. Drama can run high.

Thanks for highlighting this. :-)

Sia McKye OVER COFFEE

Angela Cothran said...

I need to read this :)

Matthew MacNish said...

My daughters are 16 and 10. Neither of them falls for much of the BS the media tries to bombard them with, but it's hard. There are so many messages and they are so strong.

I've been thinking about buying this for them, but you pretty much sealed the deal.

Johanna Garth said...

Erica, I think it has a great message for boys too.

My pleasure Sia!

Angela, read it and then let me know what you think.

Matt, I'm sure your girls would love it!

S. L. Hennessy said...

Hey, blog award coming your way. Check it out...
http://pensuasion.blogspot.com/2012/02/new-blog-award.html

Ciara said...

Interesting. I haven't heard of this book.

Copyboy said...

I gotta give this book to my sis.

Teresa Cypher aka T K CypherBuss said...

Nice review, Johanna. I love the concept--and the message given. The author (and you) are so right about the media bombarding teenage girls. They are being sold an unrealistic and unhealthy fantasy.

I bought a handful of books at the flea market for my 4 year old granddaughter. Little Golden Books--I can never pass them up, especially when they are a quarter each. I threw one away last week. I just got around to reading it to her and you know what? It starred Barbie as a beauty contestant. It was horrible...so shallow and mean. I was crushed...that a Little Golden Book contained such garbage.

A Little Golden Book???

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I think it's wonderful that you're sharing books like this one with your daughter, especially because of what she can learn from the books and you. I agree with you about the mixed messages that are being sent to young girls. What also bothers me are shows like Toddlers in Tiaras and Dance Moms, where the girls aren't even teenagers yet and are dancing like they're Britney Spears. I like Britney, but even I don't think that her style of dancing is appropriate for girls who are that young.

Johanna Garth said...

S.L., thank you!

Ciara, let me know if you read it.

Copyboy, perfect book for a little sis.

Teresa, when did Golden Books start featuring Barbie?

Neurotic, the mixed messages are so hard for girls. Which ones do they accept and which ones do they reject?

Alison said...

I really want to read this now!

Connie J Jasperson said...

I think I will send this to all 7 of my granddaughters. Love them, worry about them. Try to lead them. Bake for them.

Sarah Pearson said...

I've had this on my tbr list for a while. My girls don't go much for all the hype, they're more likely to spend time poring over an advert pointing out where it's been photoshopped, but it never hurts to make sure :-)

jenny milchman said...

That sounds like a great message--thanks for the review, Johanna. I have hope that keeping the house television and beauty mag free might help a bit with this, though I recognize the limitations there. Maybe the best thing to do is happily eat cookies, tolerate the extra pound or two, and share the joys of living, thinking, reading, being with our daughters?

naida said...

Sounds like a worthwhile read. It is unbeleiveable the way young minds are manipulated. And it's everywhere.

Jennifer A said...

Oh! I have this book sitting on my bookshelf! (I found it for a great price at Powells). I haven't yet cracked it open! I need to.

I'm terrified for my 3 year old to grow into a teen. I don't want her to have to face all these crazy pressures!

Great review. :)

Jennifer A said...

Oh! I have this book sitting on my bookshelf! (I found it for a great price at Powells). I haven't yet cracked it open! I need to.

I'm terrified for my 3 year old to grow into a teen. I don't want her to have to face all these crazy pressures!

Great review. :)

Erin O'Riordan said...

I don't have daughters (or sons), but I read this, then tucked it away from my 8- and 6-year-old nieces to read in a few years.