Southern Beauty

Race, Ritual, and Memory in the Modern South

Title Details

Pages: 210

Illustrations: 36 b&w images

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in

Formats

Hardcover

Pub Date: 08/15/2022

ISBN: 9-780-8203-6231-1

List Price: $114.95

Paperback

Pub Date: 08/15/2022

ISBN: 9-780-8203-6232-8

List Price: $29.95

Southern Beauty

Race, Ritual, and Memory in the Modern South

The enduring power of a particular performance of southern womanhood to reify race and class

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  • Description
  • Reviews

Southern Beauty explains a curiosity: why a feminine ideal rooted in the nineteenth century continues to enjoy currency well into the twenty-first. Elizabeth Bronwyn Boyd examines how the continuation of certain gender rituals in the American South has served to perpetuate racism, sexism, and classism.

In a trio of popular gender rituals-sorority rush, beauty pageants, and the Confederate Pageant of the Natchez (Mississippi) Pilgrimage-young white southern women have readily ditched contemporary modes of dress and comportment for performances of purity, gentility, and deference. Clearly, the ability to "do" white southern womanhood, convincingly and on cue, has remained a valued performance. But why?

Based on ethnographic research and more than sixty taped interviews, Southern Beauty goes behind the scenes of the three rituals to explore the motivations and rewards associated with participation. The picture that Boyd paints is not pretty: it is one of southern beauties securing status and sustaining segregation by making nostalgic gestures to the southern past. Boyd also maintains that the audiences for these rituals and pageants have been complicit, unwilling to acknowledge the beauties' racial work or their investment in it.

With its focus on performance, Southern Beauty moves beyond representations to show how femininity in motion-stylized and predictable but ephemeral-has succeeded as an enduring emblem, where other symbols faltered, by failing to draw scrutiny. Continuing to make the moves of region and race even as many Confederate symbols have been retired, the southern beauty has persisted, maintaining power and privilege through consistent performance.

Southern Beauty is written with verve and takes a subject that is easily dismissed and transforms it into a revealing spotlight on the performance of gender in the contemporary South.

—W. Fitzhugh Brundage, author of The Southern Past: A Clash of Race and Memory

Boyd's arguments about the significance of gender performances to regional identity and memory are persuasive. As she writes, these performances do important memory work, through processes of both remembering and forgetting.

—Blain Roberts, author of Pageants, Parlors, and Pretty Women: Race and Beauty in the Twentieth-Century South

Elizabeth Bronwyn Boyd documents how performative southern rituals fulfill imaginative needs of the present by distorting the past. This book is not salvage ethnography but something much smarter, as she captures the necessary and sometimes painful dialogues about our shared racial past and the possibilities for reconciliation.

—Cynthia Shearer, author of The Celestial Jukebox

Boyd's important study examines how scripts linking 'southern beauty' and White womanhood have helped to conflate Southernness with Whiteness ideologically, while maintaining racial distinctions and stratifications in contemporary social life. This deeply engaging book is a valuable resource. It also adds important layers to the contemporary public dialogues on monuments and symbols, which, as it illustrates, have typically ignored the seemingly innocuous raced and gendered symbolism linked to White femininity in the U.S. South. As this study shows, while White feminine performances premised on southern nostalgia have not gotten a lot of attention, they continue to speak volumes in this day and time.

—Riché Richardson, author of Emancipation's Daughters: Reimagining Black Femininity and the National Body

About the Author/Editor

ELIZABETH BRONWYN BOYD is an independent scholar who lives and writes in Takoma Park, Maryland.