Toeing the tiara line - Page 2

Why compete in a beauty pageant? Miss City By the Bay explains

Erika Ari Alexandra, 2012 Miss California aspirant

"They increase their value enormously by associating with us," DeSando says. He emphasizes from the beginning that "his girls" probably won't win and that they should focus on goals besides the crown.

By marketing themselves with the Miss USA brand, contestants are able to create huge community followings well before November's three-day event. Campaigning doesn't help contestants directly: their supporters can't vote or influence the judges' decisions in any way. But Alexandra says fundraising in the community creates momentum for important causes. "It's a way to get people involved, to get people excited and talking," she says.

"We're involved in creating something that's big and bold, something that says 'this person's special,'<0x2009>" DeSando explains. Of course, he points out that contestants are usually the "right type of girl" to begin with.

In his book, that's a girl who is "five-fingered": loving, caring, giving, nonjudgmental, and — the thumb — beautiful. "I couldn't believe the quality of female I was dealing with," he says, describing his first day at Miss USA. "I thought the competition was just a bunch of hotties trying to be hottest. But these were real wife-quality girls, which is about the highest compliment there is, coming from a guy."

Indeed, potential "wife-liness" is big with Miss USA. Contestants must be between 18 and 27; must never have been married, given birth, or been a parent; and must remain single during their reign.

Those of you waiting for a competition to judge "husband-quality" men may be out of luck. In DeSando's words there's no Mr. USA pageant because, well, "I just don't think men like to be told what's wrong with them."

And should you be of the steadfast belief that beauty pageants are Neolithic rituals promoting airheads who eat nothing, you will be vindicated to know that DeSando makes no bones about promoting physical beauty.

"Studies are coming out all the time that emphasize the importance of attractiveness," he says. "Attractive people have a 25 percent added value over average-looking people."

For comparison, DeSando claims, an Ivy League education creates only an 8 percent to 10 percent added value. So to enhance salaries, job productivity — and, yes, the ability to raise money for a charity — it might be better to just go ahead and enhance yourself first.

"I think most people in America should care more about their looks. Most of them could try harder," DeSando says. "Participating in Miss USA teaches that. I want my girls to come in as Arrowhead water and leave as Fiji water. It's the same water, but it costs $3 more per bottle."

If DeSando's unabashed endorsement of eyebrow-plucking (not to mention plastic-encased H2O) has you cringing, it may be heartening to know that not all the women he advises see things in the same light.

"If you're selfish, if you only care about yourself, it will affect how you look on the outside no matter what," Alexandra says, explaining that hard work, inspiration, and commitment really can translate to physical beauty. "If you see someone who's glowing from the inside, it makes them something unique."

Which, Alexandra says, may make all the difference.

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