For one woman, the title of Miss Washington means a lot more than a pretty smile and the ability to walk well in high heels.
In fact, she hopes to use her place as a contestant this year to change the simple and unflattering way she believes most people think of beauty queens.
Bainbridge Island resident Laura Sanford, 20, is set to compete in the Miss Washington pageant Oct. 18-19, at the Highline Performing Arts Center in Burien.
“I think I can do very well,” Sanford said of her chances.
However, whatever the outcome may be, she said she is working hard to keep it all in perspective.
“I watch people and try to figure them out,” she said. “At these [pageant] workshops, all the girls have to show up, and there are 10 or 15 returning girls this year who take it all very seriously. I’m just doing it for an experience. I’ve never put myself out there like this before. If I don’t win, there are other opportunities.”
A graduate of Hudson’s Bay High School in Vancouver, Wash., Sanford has lived on Bainbridge for two years and is now a full-time student at Olympic College. She also works as a hostess at Cafe Nola in downtown Winslow.
When not at work or busy with school, Sanford enjoys biking, running, rock climbing, scrapbooking and playing the violin.
Sanford became inspired to enter the pageant some time ago. When competing in a junior-level pageant, she saw an older friend of hers win, and how she handled the position.
“It’s a lot of work,” Sanford said. “She showed me you can be productive with your title and do good things.”
The pageant consists of three equally weighted areas of competition including an evening wear, interview and swimwear portion. The contest features contestants from all over the state. Winning contestants last year were awarded prizes, cash and scholarships estimated to be worth more than $900,000 according to author, model and actress Maureen Francisco.
Initially, the preliminary interview questions are off-stage and casual. It’s only the top finishers who go through the on-stage interview that most people probably think of when they picture a beauty pageant.
“They’ll ask personal questions to get to know you,” Sanford said. “The top 15 scores go on and compete again in swimwear and evening gown, and then on-stage questions. Then they narrow it down to the top five.”
Considering the three categories, Sanford said she is confident in her interview skills but nervous about the more physical aspects of the pageant.
“I’m very good at interviews,” she said. “I’m most nervous about swimwear. I’ve never been on stage in a bikini before, nor am I very coordinated in heels.”
In preparation for the pageant, Sanford said that keeping up with current events is just as important as staying in shape, since that tends to be a favorite category in the interview portion.
“I watch CNN while I do cardio for about an hour,” she said.
To the inevitable detractors of programs like the Miss Washington and USA pageants, those who have called the competition sexist and demeaning, Sanford gives a surprising answer.
“I definitely agree,” she said. “You’re kind of a sex icon. You are putting yourself out there. I disagree with that.”
Sanford said her goal for the position, if she wins, is to improve the perception of what it means to be a beauty pageant winner and to make the position “more well-rounded.”
Sanford hopes to use the publicity of the pageant to inform people about the work of her two favorite charity programs, Coffee Oasis and the Dress for Success program.
Coffee Oasis is a faith-based nonprofit organization that consists of coffee shop businesses and various programs for homeless, street-oriented youth.
Dress for Success is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of women located in more than 125 cities across 15 countries by providing them with professional clothing and employment retention programs.
“I wanted something that I could relate to myself,” Sanford said of the organizations she has chosen to promote. “I think it would be cool to raise awareness on a state-wide level.”
To younger girls who may look up to her as a role model and aspire to compete in pageants themselves one day, Sanford advises they be true to themselves.
“It’s not all about your looks or how much you spend on your dress,” she said. “It’s about who you are as an individual and, even though it’s kind of cheesy, your inner beauty. You should be an individual. You should have your own personality.”
The Miss Washington competition will begin at 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18 at the Highline Performing Arts Center, with the swimwear and evening gown portions of the pageant. The 15 selected semifinalists advance to the final competition the next day.
Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased through www.brownpapertickets.com/event/459610. The cost is $35.
To learn more about the Miss Washington scholarship program, visit www.misswashington.org.
Online viewers can also vote for the “Miss Photogenic” and the “People’s Choice” contestants, the later of which will automatically enter the semifinals. Locate the 2013 entrants under the “Contestants” tab.