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Swimwear Competition Deemed Ill-Suited for Miss Downey Pageant : Events: Organizers drop bathing suit and high heels contest, saying it intimidated some qualified candidates.


Contestants in the Miss Downey Pageant no longer will have to strut across stage in swimsuits and high heels, organizers have decided.

"Sticking someone in a swimsuit should have nothing to do with being Miss Downey," said Lisa Weiss, the pageant's co-director.

It is the first time in the pageant's 41-year history that swimsuits have been eliminated. Contestants, instead, will be judged on sportswear and business clothing during this year's event, which will take place Nov. 12 at the Downey Civic Theatre.

Contestants between the ages of 16 and 22 will don blouses, skirts, dress shorts and sweaters. "It will be more like what they would wear to an afternoon at the theater," Weiss said.

The Downey Rose Float Assn., which sponsors the event, uses pageant proceeds to build a float for the annual Rose Parade in Pasadena. Miss Downey and four runners-up ride on the float during the New Year's Day parade.

The group's 10-member board of directors agreed to do away with beachwear at the suggestion of Weiss and other coordinators. They contended that qualified Downey residents were not entering the contest because they felt uncomfortable wearing swimsuits in front of an audience.

But many women who have participated in previous Miss Downey Pageants said they oppose the decision to cancel the swimsuit competition. They argue that a woman's body and how she takes care of it is as important to the contest as her talent, poise, intelligence and personality.

Julie M. Swender, the pageant's coordinator from 1983 to 1993, said the swimsuit contest boosted the self-confidence of many participants who were initially shy about getting up on stage.

"Any girl who has the confidence to walk on stage in a swimsuit will have the confidence to go out and represent the city," Swender said. "We were not looking for a girl with a perfect body. We were looking for a girl with the poise and confidence to carry herself in any situation."

Carrie L. Francisco, a 1991-92 Miss Downey runner-up, said the swimwear competition gave her confidence. "Once I conquered the fear of being in a swimsuit competition it built up my self-esteem," she said. A fit body also reflects discipline and a commitment to health, Francisco added.

"I feel it should be left in since it is part of a beauty pageant," said Monica R. Vargas, the 1991-92 pageant's first runner-up. "What makes Miss Downey better than Miss America or any other pageant where they have do it?"

Eddie Valencia, co-director of the pageant, said this year's contenders will be judged on academic achievement, community service and career advancement, as well as beauty, intelligence and personality.

"There is always the young lady who is a straight-A student who could win scholarships in the pageant but will not enter because of the swimsuit portion," he said.

Miss Downey hopefuls will also participate in an evening gown competition, personal interviews, dance productions and an impromptu question-and-answer period with judges. Talent and essay writing contests are optional.

Many Southern California cities, including Lynwood, Moorpark and Ojai, have done away with beachwear competitions at their pageants.

Bernard H. Lake, executive director of the Lynwood Chamber of Commerce, said the Miss Lynwood Pageant replaced swimsuits with leotards about six years ago. Then, in 1992, the leotards were dropped, a competition for men was added and the name was changed to the Lynwood Scholarship Competition. The city now has both a Mr. Lynwood and Miss Lynwood.

"We wanted more emphasis on scholarship rather than beauty," Lake said.

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