Tiara is written a bit differently than the other eight protagonists. We don't get her questionnaire, or a section that narrates her backstory. We do get her backstory from other characters' points of view, and we do watch her change. But without a closer peek into how she thinks, we're left with some questions.
First and foremost: airhead…or not?
Tiara starts out as a caricature: she's the dumb one. She can't spell her home state (who can?) and when asked during a practice interview what her favorite color is, she gives an incomprehensible answer that is almost exactly like the Miss South Carolina 2007 answer that went viral (Head over to "Videos" to see why.)
In fact, Tiara might be a way for Bray to talk about pageants in pop culture in general. We soon learn that the character has been doing beauty pageants since she was two weeks old, that it's all she knows how to do. Kinda makes you wonder whether Tiara's lack of smarts is more her parents' fault than hers.
As the story goes on, it turns out Tiara does have some good ideas: she's just hesitant about saying them. She comes up with a workable idea for the Teen Dreams to collect rainwater, and later asks why Agent Jones didn't keep Mary Lou on the island if he wanted them to do a pageant—making her the one to unravel his whole deception. Way to go, Tiara.
It might seem like Petra is a funny choice for Tiara's best friend, since Tiara was raised to believe that transgender people are bad. But when Tiara has a breakdown, she'll only see Petra, giving the reason, "She says she's a freak, too, and you're the only one who would understand." (13.9) Um, flattering. Tiara's a girl who feels like she can only do one thing: beauty pageants. She feels like a freak for being geared for endless pageanting and nothing else.
Tiara's problem is feeling like she has to go along with everything. She tells a story about the root of her problem, the only time she said no. "That's when my mom told me that I was being a bad little girl and nobody loved bad little girls. So I'd better straighten up, stop crying, be quiet, and get my best smile on, or she was gonna sell all my crowns and trophies." (13.50) Her mom's message? Tiara would only be loved if she stayed a beauty queen. And shut up about her feelings, and everything else.
Toddlers and Tiaras, anyone?
Petra asks Tiara wants she really wants to do, again and again. And Petra's message seems to get through. At the jungle pageant, when Adina asks Tiara what she learned one of the things Tiara says is, "Mostly, I've learned that I don't really care if you like these answers or not, because they're the best, most honest ones I've got, and I just don't feel like I can cheat myself enough to give you what you want me to say." (34.36)
YAS, Tiara. You tell 'em.