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Pageant Contestants Say Miss America Represents ‘Total Woman’

September 9, 1985

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) _ The 51 women gathered here to compete for the title of Miss America 1986 see no reason to put the 64-year-old pageant into a time capsule and bury it.

A contest that awards $5 million in college scholarships nationwide and launches women on careers in fields such as entertainment, modeling and business is quite modern, contestants said in interviews over the weekend.

Contestants also said that preparing for state competitions and for Atlantic City compelled them to develop their talents and physical fitness.

″I think it is more relevant than ever,″ said Miss Pennsylvania Lea Schiazza, 23, of Philadelphia. Miss America scholarship funds have increased to meet rising tuitions, she said Sunday.

And as for controversy over the swimsuit competition, she asked, ″Isn’t physical fitness such a big part of today?″

″People don’t fault Jane Fonda″ for posing in exercise clothes, said Miss Schiazza, a Temple University student.

Women representing the 50 states and the District of Columbia are beginning preliminary competition in the evening gown, swimsuit and talent categories. They also under go personal interviews with the judge’s before Saturday’s nationally televised finals.

The pageant ″promotes the total woman,″ said Miss Nebraska Julie Meusberger, 22, of Lincoln. ″I think of Miss America as a career woman.″

″The prettiest girl does not always win,″ added Miss Ohio Suellen Cochran, 21, of Heath. ″The best rounded girl wins.″

Women who criticize the pageant as exploitive are ″cutting their own throats,″ said the Miami (Ohio) University student.

Miss Illinois Karen Marie Moncrieff, 21, said the pageant ″promotes honing all your skills.″

The Northwestern University student and other contestants said they have spent two or three months doing rigorous workouts, reading newspapers to prepare for judge’s questions, perfecting their talent performances and equipping themselves with clothes and makeup.

″One thing the pageant has done is it’s taught me I really do care about what’s going on in South Africa. I really do care that people are dying of hunger over there (in Africa),″ said Miss Moncrieff, who grew up in Rochester, Mich.

And several contestants noted that several Miss Americas have achieved fame in the entertainment and news industries.

″Just being a state winner is a wonderful thing. ... It opens doors,″ said Miss West Virginia Rebecca J. Porterfield, 21, of Martinsburg. ″I wouldn’t mind a modeling career.″

″It’s a wonderful career base for all of us here,″ echoed Miss Alabama Angela Tower, 25, of Birmingham. Striking out in the business world will be ″a breeze after this type of pressure.″

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