DOWNS
Mary Godleski  /  AP
Miss America 2005 Deidre Downs, of Alabama, walks down the runway after being crowned at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J, Sept. 18, 2004.
updated 8/27/2005 5:27:12 PM ET 2005-08-27T21:27:12

If you think you feel self-conscious parading around on a beach in your bathing suit, imagine what it's like to have millions of people watching — and actively criticizing — you.

That's what it's like for the women in the annual Miss America Pageant when they saunter down the stage in skintight bathing suits. While the swimsuit portion of the show — technically known as "Lifestyle and Fitness" — is the lowest-scoring event in the pageant, it is among the most popular — not to mention revealing.

Most viewers may not care very much if a contestant is able to perfectly play Rachmaninoff's "Sonata No. 2 in B Flat Minor," or make a convincing case for increasing aid to special needs schools, but everyone — contestants, judges and the audience alike — is quick to notice a girl who ate a few cheeseburgers too many.

And it's hard work getting into the kind of shape that is expected of a potential Miss America. The months leading up to the competition usually consist of hours spent in the gym with personal trainers, high protein diets and disciplined sleep schedules. Each contestant had her personalized way of getting the results she needed for swimsuit, and ten of them, including Miss America 2005 Deidre Downs, have shared their tips with us.

"I cut holes out of trash bags and wore them while I ran," says Miss Nevada 2004, Elizabeth Muto. "It really detoxified my body and, to this day, I continue to see results."

Christina Reasner, Miss Alaska 2004, keeps both her weight and cholesterol low by following a no-saturated-fats diet. "In addition, I walk and remain active roller blading, swimming and running."

But debates about objectifying women aside — and the organizers of the pageant would strongly argue that it does no such thing — looking great in a swimsuit is merely one more example of the kind of discipline that each contestant must display. Moreover, looking good in a bikini is no guarantee of attaining the crown. Other factors are far more important in the overall scoring.

Nevertheless, Miss America without swimsuits would be like football without tackling. While it has evolved since the 1940s to become a scholarship program, the pageant was originally only a swimsuit competition. The brilliantly simple idea of hosting an event showcasing pretty young woman wearing bathing suits was conceived in 1921, by a group of Atlantic City businessmen as a way to sustain tourism past Labor Day weekend. After several years of fits and starts, the current Miss American Organization, which is the world's largest provider of college scholarships for young women, awarded more than $45 million in 2004.

Like the pageant, the swimsuit has undergone many changes, which some say undermine the image of the queens. But despite its high ideals, it's still a business. In an effort to recover from a ratings slump that led ABC to drop the pageant from its lineup and to fight off increased competition from upstart contests, such as Miss Universe and Miss USA, there is a renewed emphasis on swimsuits.

The pageant is now being broadcast on Viacom's Country Music Television cable channel, and these days the 52 ladies — in addition to representing all 50 states, contestants come from the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands — can be seen strutting their stuff in Speedo string bikinis while balancing atop four-inch acrylic heels.

At the moment of truth, however, what everyone sees is the results of intense diets and workout routines, not to mention plenty of wacky tricks that go on behind the scenes just minutes before showtime. These ladies balance their personal lives, nonprofit organizations and university studies, all on a quest to, yes, save the world — and look good doing it.

So, while we imagine most people wouldn't want to go on TV in their bathing suit anytime soon, if you follow these workout tips, at least you won't have to suck it in too hard if you do.

© 2012 Forbes.com

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments