Date of Conferral





Human Services


Barbara Benoliel


Miss America Pageant contestants (MAPCs) have been negatively stereotyped socially for their perceived lack of intelligence and nonconformance to feminist gender stereotypes of women. Stereotypes could affect an individual's social psyche and establish stigma, which could prevent a group from achieving their full potential. Stereotypes could also result in women having mental health disorders, low self-esteem, a decrease in self-efficacy, body image dissatisfaction, and eating disorders. The problem this study addressed was that women who participate in the Miss America Organization (MAO) preliminary pageants risk social stigma for taking part in a seemingly nonfeminist activity. Intercultural communication research (ICR) was the theoretical framework utilized to understand the role of cultural stereotypes, prejudice in communication, and self-perception among MAPCs. The main research question examined how local preliminary MAPC's decide to participate in pageantry in relation to their beliefs about stereotypes of MAPCs. For this multiple case study, a sample of MAPCs (n =5) from a Southeastern state was recruited to participate in interviews and provided narrative data that was coded and analyzed for themes of stereotypes, self-esteem, and self-efficacy. The key findings from this study revealed that the participants believed that societal stereotypes of MAPCs still exist, but the stereotypes did not influence participants' self-esteem, self-efficacy, and their decisions to compete and represent their social platform. The results also revealed a need for societal education about MAO pageant system's mission. Positive social change can come from understanding the MAPC subculture to dispel societal stereotypes and through presenting MAPCs' goals as social change agents.