Margot Mifflin

Nonfiction Writer
Social Historian
Travels from: Newark, NJ

“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.

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

Counterpoint |
Nonfiction

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

From an author praised for writing “delicious social history” (Dwight Garner, The New York Times) comes a lively account of memorable Miss America contestants, protests, and scandals—and how the pageant, now in its one hundredth year, serves as an unintended indicator of feminist progress

Looking for Miss America is a fast–paced narrative history of a curious and contradictory institution. From its start in 1921 as an Atlantic City tourist draw to its current incarnation as a scholarship competition, the pageant has indexed women’s status during periods of social change—the post–suffrage 1920s, the Eisenhower 1950s, the #MeToo era. This ever–changing institution has been shaped by war, evangelism, the rise of television and reality TV, and, significantly, by contestants who confounded expectations.

Spotlighting individuals, from Yolande Betbeze, whose refusal to pose in swimsuits led an angry sponsor to launch the rival Miss USA contest, to the first black winner, Vanessa Williams, who received death threats and was protected by sharpshooters in her hometown parade, Margot Mifflin shows how women made hard bargains even as they used the pageant for economic advancement. The pageant’s history includes, crucially, those it excluded; the notorious Rule Seven, which required contestants to be “of the white race,” was retired in the 1950s, but no women of color were crowned until the 1980s.

In rigorously researched, vibrant chapters that unpack each decade of the pageant, Looking for Miss America examines the heady blend of capitalism, patriotism, class anxiety, and cultural mythology that has fueled this American ritual.

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

powerHouse Books |
Nonfiction

Bodies of Subversionwas the first history of women’s tattoo art when it was released in 1997, providing a fascinating excursion to a subculture that dates back to the nineteenth-century and including many never-before-seen photos of tattooed women from the last century. Newly revised and expanded, it remains the only book to chronicle the history of both tattooed women and women tattooists. As the primary reference source on the subject, it contains information from the original edition, including documentation of:

·Nineteeth-century sideshow attractions who created fantastic abduction tales in which they claimed to have been forcibly tattooed.
·Victorian society women who wore tattoos as custom couture, including Winston Churchill’s mother, who wore a serpent on her wrist.
·Maud Wagner, the first known woman tattooist, who in 1904 traded a date with her tattooist husband-to-be for an apprenticeship.
·The parallel rise of tattooing and cosmetic surgery during the 80s when women tattooists became soul doctors to a nation afflicted with body anxieties.
·Breast cancer survivors of the 90s who tattoo their mastectomy scars as an alternative to reconstructive surgery or prosthetics.

The book contains 50 new photos and FULL COLOR images throughout including newly discovered work by Britain’s first female tattooist, Jessie Knight; Janis Joplin’s wrist tattoo; and tattooed pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. In addition, the updated 3rd edition boasts a sleek design and new chapters documenting recent changes to the timeline of female tattooing, including a section on: celebrity tattoo artist Kat Von D, the most famous tattooist, male or female, in the world; the impact of reality shows on women’s tattoo culture; and, therapeutic uses of tattooing for women leaving gangs, prisons, or situations of domestic abuse.

As of 2012, tattooed women outnumber men for the first time in American history, makingBodies of Subversionmore relevant than ever.

“InBodies of Subversion, Margot Mifflin insightfully chronicles the saga of skin as signage. Through compelling anecdotes and cleverly astute analysis, she shows and tells us new histories about women, tattoos, public pictures, and private parts. It’s an indelible account of an indelible piece of cultural history.”
-Barbara Kruger, artist

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

University of Nebraska Press |
Nonfiction
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.

Renegades of the Flesh: The Body Politics of Tattooed Women

Art, Sex and Power: Tattooed Women Today

Margot’s Articles and Other Writing

Honors, Awards & Recognition

Cosmopolitan Best Nonfiction Book of 2020
New York Post Best Book of 2020
Publishers Weekly Best Summer Book
PureWow 12 Best Nonfiction Books of 2020
Library Journal 2020 Title to Watch
LitHub Best Reviewed Book
National Book Review 5 Hot Books Pick

Media Kit

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