“Mifflin is as alive to the pageant’s historical grotesqueries as she is to the weirdo details of its founding.” —Lauren Collins, The New Yorker

Margot Mifflin is an author and journalist who writes about women’s history and the arts. She wrote the first history of women’s tattoo culture, Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo, and The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman. Her new book, Looking For Miss America: A Pageant’s 100-Year Quest to Define Womanhood, is the first feminist cultural history of the Miss America pageant. Margot’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Vogue, Vice, Elle, ARTnews, Bookforum, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Believer, O, The Oprah Magazine, The New Yorker.com, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Washington Post, and other publications.

Margot is an English professor at Lehman College/CUNY and teaches arts journalism at CUNY’s Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. She’s served as a consultant on exhibitions at The Museum of Modern Art, The New York Historical Society, and The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, and she curated the exhibition “Body Electric” at Ricco/Maresca Gallery.

Margot has appeared as a lecturer and keynote speaker at colleges, universities and museums nationally, including Barnard College, Parsons School of Design, Rhode Island School of Design, Los Angeles MOCA, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, The Heard Museum, and The Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum. She’s been a guest on Katie Couric’s show, Katie; on The Leonard Lopate Show; on the podcast Talk Nerdy; and on many public radio stations. She’s discussed her work at book clubs, tattoo conventions, literary festivals, a country club, a social club for women with autism, and in public schools.


Margot's Featured Titles

Looking for Miss America: A Pageant’s 100-Year Quest to Define Womanhood

Counterpoint |

From an author praised for writing “delicious social history” (Dwight Garner, The New York Times) comes a fast-paced account of memorable Miss America contestants, protests, and scandals, showing decade by decade how the pageant has both resisted and reflected the gains of feminism. Looking for Miss America examines the heady blend of capitalism, patriotism, class anxiety, and cultural mythology that has fueled this American ritual for a century.

Winner of the Popular Culture Association’s Emily Toth Best Book in Women’s Studies Award

A New York Post Best Book of 2020
A Cosmopolitan Best Nonfiction Book of 2020

A Publishers Weekly Best Summer Book
A Library Journal 2020 Title to Watch
A Lithub Best Reviewed Book (“rave”)
A National Book Review 5 Hot Books Pick
A PureWow 12 Best Nonfiction Books of 2020

A 2021 NYTBR  Paperback Row Pick
Excerpts in Lithub and Lapham’s Quarterly

Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo, Third Edition

powerHouse Books |
Published in 1997, Bodies of Subversion was the first history of Western women’s tattoo culture, starting in the 1850s. Subsequent editions in 2000 and 2013 added 100 new photos (including Janis Joplin, Natasha Kai, and Margaret Cho) additional historical information, and a chapter on tattooing trends in the new millennium. Of interest: new applications such as therapeutic tattoos used for women coming out of gangs, prisons, and situations of domestic abuse; the impact of reality shows on the industry; a profile of a heavily tattooed Lutheran pastor, new artists from Virginia Elwood to cover artist Roxx; and Shelley Jackson’s “Skin” project — a short story tattooed word by word on people around the globe.
“In this provocative work full of intriguing female characters from tattoo history, Margot Mifflin makes a persuasive case for the tattooed woman as an emblem of female self-expression.” Susan Faludi
“…Essential reading for anyone interested in the subject.”Ed Hardy
“…Insightfully chronicles the saga of skin as signage…” Barbara Kruger
“Perceptive and moving…insinuating and complex….’Bodies of Subversion’ is delicious social history.” -Dwight Garner, The New York Times
“The first conclusive study of women and tattoos Bodies Of Subversion: A Secret History Of Women And Tattoos by Margot Mifflin has been released, and it shows that love ’em or hate ’em tattoos are on the up.”
-Grazia (UK)
“Margot Mifflin’s newest edition of Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo pays rightful homage to the foremothers of tattoos and highlights modern goddesses.” Inked

The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman (Women in the West)

University of Nebraska Press |
2019 Tucson Weekly “40 Essential Arizona Books” pick
2014 One Book Yuma selection
2010 Best of the Best from the University Presses (ALA) selection
2010 Caroline Bancroft History Prize Finalist
2009 Southwest Book of the Year

In 1851 Olive Oatman was a thirteen-year old pioneer traveling west toward Zion, with her Mormon family. Within a decade, she was a white Indian with a chin tattoo, caught between cultures. The Blue Tattoo tells the harrowing story of this forgotten heroine of frontier America. Orphaned when her family was brutally killed by Yavapai Indians, Oatman lived as a slave to her captors for a year before being traded to the Mohave, who tattooed her face and raised her as their own. She was fully assimilated and perfectly happy when, at nineteen, she was ransomed back to white society. She became an instant celebrity, but the price of fame was high and the pain of her ruptured childhood lasted a lifetime.   Based on historical records, including letters and diaries of Oatman’s friends and relatives, The Blue Tattoo is the first book to examine her life from her childhood in Illinois—including the massacre, her captivity, and her return to white society—to her later years as a wealthy banker’s wife in Texas.   Oatman’s story has since become legend, inspiring artworks, fiction, film, radio plays, and even an episode of Death Valley Days starring Ronald Reagan. Its themes, from the perils of religious utopianism to the permeable border between civilization and savagery, are deeply rooted in the American psyche. Oatman’s blue tattoo was a cultural symbol that evoked both the imprint of her Mohave past and the lingering scars of westward expansion. It also served as a reminder of her deepest secret, fully explored here for the first time: she never wanted to go home.
Purchase the audio edition.


Beauty Pageants and National Identity

A slide lecture about the history of Miss America and pageants both inspired by and launched in opposition to it. Based on Looking for Miss America: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo.


Women’s Ink

A slide lecture and discussion of western women’s tattooing and its artistic, political, and cultural significance, linked to Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo.


The Life of Olive Oatman

A slide lecture on celebrity captive and Mohave adoptee Olive Oatman, who was raised and tattooed by Mohave Indians in the 1850s. Based on The Blue Tattoo: The Life Olive Oatman.


Female Trouble: Gender, Race, and Class in American Pageantry

This talk will focus on national identity (through pageants like Miss Navajo, Miss US Latina, and Miss Nisei Week) but will also address the question of gender/defining womanhood now that trans contestants are changing the parameters of women’s pageantry.  I’ll also mention some male pageants since they’re growing internationally and seem quite fascinating. (especially Mister Global).

Margot’s Articles and Other Writing

Honors, Awards & Recognition

The Blue Tattoo
Finalist for the Caroline Bancroft History Prize, 2010
Southwest Book of the Year, 2009
Best of the Best from the University Presses (ALA) selection, 2010
One Book Yuma read, 2014
Tucson Weekly “40 Essential Arizona Books” pick, 2019

Looking for Miss America
Winner of the Popular Culture Association’s Emily Toth Best Book in Women’s Studies Award, 2021
New York Post Best Book, 2020
Cosmopolitan Best Nonfiction Book, 2020
Publishers Weekly Best Summer Book
Library Journal Title to Watch, 2020
Lit Hub Best Reviewed Book (“rave”)
PureWow 12 Best Nonfiction Books, 2020
NYTBR  Paperback Row Pick, 2021

Media Kit

By clicking the link below you will be directed to a Google Docs Folder
where you can download author photos and cover images.

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