Valerie Alcáraz and JR Nessary don’t see themselves in the mode of the “typical” Miss America/Miss California pageant hopeful.
In a world of size 4s, Miss High Desert Hills (Alcáraz) and Miss Anaheim (Nessary) don’t fit the mode. They are plus-size.
Yet, they aren’t exactly doing somersaults over the recent decision by the national organization to eliminate the physical style and fitness – otherwise known as the swimsuit competition – from the 98-year-old pageant born to draw tourists to Atlantic City. (Miss California began in 1927).
“It started as a swimsuit competition, so I think there is something to be said there to honor the tradition of how this amazing organization came to be,” said Nessary, who returns to Miss California for the second consecutive year; along with her sister, a Miss Outstanding Teen hopeful.
Organizers revamped the competition, including tossing out the evening gown portion, earlier this year following an outcry over personal e-mails among Miss America leaders and employees that disparaged pageant contestants based on their weight and sex lives.
“We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance,” said Miss America board chair Gretchen Carlson, herself Miss America 1989. “That’s huge.”
The Miss California Pageant, which started this week in Fresno with the finals scheduled for Saturday (June 30), will include the swimsuit and evening gown competition.
It was always very fun for me, and I love being able to show off a different body type than what is typically portrayed in the pageant world.
Miss Anaheim JR Nessary
The swimsuit competition accounts for 10 percent of the total score, while the evening gown makes up 15 percent. Talent (30 percent) and private interview (25 percent) make up the biggest portion of the judging.
Nessary, who turned to pageants after an injury sidelined a promising softball career, likes the swimsuit competition.
“It was always very fun for me, and I love being able to show off a different body type than what is typically portrayed in the pageant world,” said Nessary. “Especially coming from the fact I’m a Latina and I have that kind of body more like J. Lo than maybe a Victoria’s Secret model.
“I like showing girls out there that it doesn’t matter what your build is as long as you’re living a healthy life and you’re going after your dreams.”
Nessary’s words are music to the ears of Miss California CEO/executive director Patricia Murray.
“I love that attitude,” said Murray, who was Miss California 1992. “And, that is what we tell our judges: You don’t look at the figure, you don’t look at a swimsuit, you look at the young woman who is walking in that skin.
“You can be any size, and you can exude confidence, and you can knock it out of the park by just letting your inside shine.”
Alcáraz, who is making her debut at Miss California, agrees with Nessary.
You can be any size, and you can exude confidence, and you can knock it out of the park by just letting your inside shine.
Patricia Murray, Miss California 1992 and current Miss California CEO/executive director
“I really do believe that lifestyle and fitness showcase how confident you are in the body that you have, and it really demonstrates your level of self love and confidence,” said the Fullerton State senior. “I’ve always loved the lifestyle and fitness part of the competition.”
Alcáraz said the swimsuit competition “is kind of like my little pump-up moment.”
She understands the pageant changes, and believes the audience will get to better know the contestants.
The Miss California 2018 titleholder will compete in a different format at the Miss America Pageant in September, which will include an interactive interview. Contestants will not be required to wear an evening gown. Instead, they will be allowed to wear “whatever they choose.”
“I’m definitely open to it,” said Alcáraz. “I love wearing an evening gown. I think a woman can walk on stage in a pantsuit or cocktail dress and look just as elegant as a gal in an evening gown.”
Miss Kings County Sophia Medina, who returns to the Saroyan Theatre after having competed at Miss California Outstanding Teen in 2012, said the swimsuit competition has motivated her to stay in shape.
“Whether it was in the gym or daily walks with my dog, it pushed me to live a healthier lifestyle, and, if anything, I felt more empowered every day,” said Medina.
Medina, one of at least nine Latina contestants, welcomes the changes because “there’s going to be more of an inclusiveness to girls who were shy or a little intimidated to join the organization based on that swimsuit portion.”
The swimsuit competition, said Miss Canyon Hills Jazmín Ávalos, “really enabled us to show off all of that hard work.”
“I really focused this year on making healthy choices when it came to fueling my body because all of those things are important to being a successful Miss California with all of her travels and appearances,” said Ávalos, 21.
“With the leadership of Miss America, I’m excited to see where the organization goes to focus more on scholastic endeavors because these girls are bright, intelligent, talented women who shouldn’t necessarily have to gain scholarships based on what they look like,” she said.
“I think we’re headed in a new, more positive direction that is going to benefit even more girls in our state. And, it will probably encourage more girls to come and compete for that scholarship money because they won’t have to compete in lifestyle and fitness anymore,” said Ávalos.
I think we’re headed in a new, more positive direction that is going to benefit even more girls in our state.
Miss Kings County Sophia Medina
Murray, the Miss California director, said the pageant “has evolved.”
“It’s the evolution of what woman can accomplish, what they can do, the lack of limitations,” said Murray. “I’ve lived it my whole life. There’s only 5 percent commercial airline female pilots, and I’m one of them.”
The 1992 Miss California contestants, said Murray, competed in a “one-piece swimsuits that were extremely modest. Even the swimsuits these young ladies wear are way more than you see on a beach in southern California.”
Murray said she wasn’t bothered by the swimsuit competition.
“It forced you to get out there and be the best you, and shine from the inside out because you couldn’t hide behind clothes or a costume or something like that,” said Murray. “It was really you out there, and that was an empowering moment.”
The new pageant format, said Murray, should empower many more female competitors and their platform.
“Not every platform statement will take off after she’s crowned Miss California,” she said. “With this new format, what she’ll champion her whole year is her cause, something she has lived and believed in her whole life.”
Miss California Pageant
When: June 27-30
Where: Saroyan Theatre, 7 p.m.
Details: The Miss California preliminaries will be held Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, with the final on Saturday. The Miss California Outstanding Teen Pageant final will be on Friday night. (The winners will go on to the Miss America and Miss America Outstanding Teen pageants).
Television: KJEO Channel 47, 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday.