Dr. Mandy McMichael researches pageant culture for new published book

Dr. Mandy McMichael signs copies of her new book for friends and family. Nathan De La Cerda | Multimedia Journalist

By Mckenzie Oviatt | Reporter

Baylor professor Dr. Mandy McMichael recently published a book titled “Miss America’s God: Faith and Identity in America’s Oldest Pageant,” written after years of researching pageant culture in the South.

McMichael has worked at Baylor since 2017 as the associate director and J. David Slover assistant professor of ministry guidance at Baylor. She was not only involved in pageants herself, but has also researched them for years through the perspective of a historian. Inspired by her home state of Alabama, she became motivated to learn more about pageant culture in the South.

“Growing up there, it was hard to not be indoctrinated in pageant culture if you grow up in Alabama,” McMichael said.

She sporadically competed in pageants herself, winning one title. What really drew her toward researching and writing a novel about pageants was the contrast between the religiosity of the deep South and what pageants can mean to young women.

“Part of this book is me wrestling with what it means growing up in one of the most conservative, Bible-based states in America that prides itself on teaching young women modesty, on the one hand. On the other hand, my friends and I were encouraged to participate in pageants that seemed to be about something different,” McMichael said.

Fueled by this internal question, McMichael studied the pageant world. She uncovered contestant autobiographies, pageant programs and Christian magazines. She also went to over 30 pageants across the United States, including four national pageants. She talked to contestants and was brought into their families.

“These stories deserved analysis, but they also deserve to be told,” McMichael said.

At her book signing event at Fabled Bookstore and Cafe in downtown Waco this week, David Aycock, interim director and associate director of marketing and sales for Baylor University Press, was there to introduce her to the crowd of attendees.

Aycock has aided McMichael with the publication and distribution of the book even before she came to teach at Baylor. As Aycock is a part of Baylor University Press, he briefly talked about his role in the publication house.

“As a publishing house, we focus almost exclusively at the intersection of religion, theology, biblical studies and fill in the blank. The blank could be pop culture, it could be sociology or some other field of study,” Aycock said.

Baylor University Press is affiliated with Baylor, but they do not publish books only written by Baylor professors. The press also includes various authors who write about similar themes. Publishing these books on a wide sphere of academia can enable professors to reach tenure at their university, win awards in their selected fields and get their message out to more people.

“All of our books have a moral art. We focus almost exclusively on the Abrahamic faiths, but we look at all kinds of scholars and academics studying this issue,” Aycock said.

Along with members of the Baylor University Press, there was also a group of students at Fabled who have assisted McMichael on the announcement of her novel. Boise, Idaho senior Ally Whelen is in an experimental marketing class called “Promotional Campaign” that has been assigned to work with McMichael on promoting her novel.

Whelen’s class is small, and she and her classmates are hand-picked by the professor to work on an assignment stretching the entirety of the semester, working with a real client and a real budget. This semester, Whelan has handled public relations campaigns, promoted the novel on social media and hosted signing events like the one featured this week at Fabled. As a group, she said she noticed a trend of people particularly interested in the book.

“Surprisingly, we have really been able to reach the pageant community and a lot of different southern states. I was thinking that we would have a lot of Baylor students interested, but there have also been a lot of DMs and comments from people involved in the pageant world, whether that is mothers, contestants or friends, and those are the people who have been most interested in the book,” Whelen said.

Now that the book is published, the class will work to facilitate Q&A panels with others involved in the pageant world. There will also be a Miss America watch party December 19. The class still has another month to work on the novel’s promotion and from there, the Baylor University Press will aid in the promotion.

“I hope people will check out ‘Miss America’s God’ because it really is such an artful and unique look at the intersection of identity and feminism and religion and all sorts of things within the context of Miss America’s pageant, so I really think people can find something to relate to in this special book,” Whelen said.