Study Guide

Beauty Queens Lust

By Libba Bray

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Nicole shook her head. "Public school Sex Non-Ed. When I'm surgeon general, I am so fixing that." On the walk, she explained hormonal, and Tiara nodded, smiling. (8.17)

Abstinence education only taught Tiara to fear sex and her body. And you'd think a bit of biology or a useful fact or two would be a better teaching method. And that's just what Nicole is out to fix.

In school, they would tell you that life wouldn't come to you; you had to go out and make it your own. But when it came to love, the message for girls seemed to be this: Don't. Don't go after what you want. Wait. Wait to be chosen, as if only in the eye of another could one truly find value. The message was confusing and infuriating. It was a shell game with no actual pea under the rapidly moving cups. (11.124)

The idea that women aren't allowed to be forward about what they want in love, but should be that way about other parts of their life, is kind of a contradiction. Sure, these beauty queens seem to think being forward about anything is a big no-no—but luckily, that's just at first.

A minute ago, he had been doing much the same to her. Why couldn't she answer in kind? She pressed her lips to his, tasting, enjoying, wanting. The itching in her palms began. But this time, it spread fast as a brush fire on a windy day. Her hunger was uncontrollable. Billy's eyes widened at the sight of her in her wild state. "What's wrong with you?" (14.9-10)

Why do you think Billy asked Mary Lou what was wrong with her, when they seemed to want the same thing?

That was the shameful part—how good it felt to command her body in this way. How erotic the thrill of it! Like a caged beast finally allowed to hunt. Her mother called it a curse, and she understood that it was, that she had to control her urges. But somewhere deep down, she loved the sheer heady freedom of it. In this state, she was not afraid of the jungle, but part of it. (14.55)

Mary Lou thinks she's acting the wrong way, running through the jungle naked. But she still likes the feeling. She hasn't quite accepted her wild side, but she's on the right path. And running that path, no less.

The Corporation would like to apologize for the preceding pages. Of course, it's not all right for girls to behave this way. Sexuality is not meant to be this way—an honest, consensual expression in which a girl might take an active role when she feels good and ready and not one minute before. No. Sexual desire is meant to sell soap. And cars. And beer. And religion. (15.61)

Well hello, satire. Between a naked Mary Lou kissing Tane and the kissing between Jennifer and Sosie, The Corporation is running into trouble. Neither scene falls into stereotypes at all. And The Corporation thrives on stereotypes. Just like Bray thrives on satirizing them.

Adina tugged on the line and it moved easily. Duff trudged back through the waves. His body glistened in the sun. Why was her heart speeding up? It was an autonomic betrayal. Stop it, she told her senses. Stop being so dumb. (21.106)

Adina thinks being attracted to a boy at all is dumb. She doesn't want to end up like her mother, so she tries to deny any feelings she might have for the glistening pirate in front of her.

Duff's little moans traveled up her spine, made her head buzz. And another thought grabbed hold: She was doing this. She had the power to do this. That she could be both completely vulnerable and totally in control was mind-blowing. (22.244)

Adina's fallen pretty hard for this Duff guy. Here, she's marveling at how good it feels to have sex with him. And feeling empowered at the same time. Sounds like a win-win.

Her mother had told her they were cursed women. But in this moment, it seemed to Mary Lou that the curse was in allowing yourself to be shamed. To let the world shape your desire and love into a cudgel with which to drive you back into a cave of fear. And Mary Lou had had enough. (23.29)

Watching Adina feel bad for having sex, even though she'd wanted to and liked it, makes Mary Lou abandon the idea of the curse altogether. If there is curse, she thinks, it comes from letting yourself feel bad about your feelings. File that one away in life lessons to remember.

"I don't know about you, but if I'm gonna be chained to a rock by the gods, I'd rather go out as the person who brought fire back from the mountain than as a pure princess who didn't have the sense to say to everyone, 'Oh, hell no, you are not sacrificing me to some sea monster!'" (29.30)

While being dangled above a piranha tank, Tane and Mary Lou talk Geek mythology—er, Greek mythology. Our wild Mary Lou would rather go down fighting than following the rules.

Part of her wanted to kiss Duff McAvoy, the tortured British trust-fund-runaway-turned-pirate-of-necessity who loved rock 'n' roll and mouthy-but-vulnerable-bass-playing girls from New Hampshire. But he didn't exist. Not really. He was a creature of TV and her imagination, a guy she'd invented as much as he'd invented himself. And this was what she suddenly understood about her mother: how with each man, each husband, she was really trying to fill in the sketchy parts of herself and become somebody she could finally love. It was hard to live in the messiness and easier to believer in the dream. And in that moment, Adina knew she was not her mother after all. (41.15)

Whoa—this is a pretty big realization. Adina's not anti-sex, but she makes the decision not to use boys to give her a sense of self-worth. That's a girl power moment. Boom.

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