Not even 24 hours after being crowned Miss USA, Rima Fakih was forced to defend herself over Internet pictures of her apparently pole dancing. But things aren’t quite as scandalous as they appear, she tells PEOPLE.
“I was just being silly and jumping up and there were a few pictures exchanged,” Fakih says. “I know it looks really negative but it’s not really what you’ve seen. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
The “Stripper 101” promotion, she says, is an annual radio event focusing on female fitness and increasing female confidence in the form of dance. She was simply helping out at the event and didn’t doff any clothing at the promotion.
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“At the very end, we had all the women jump on stage and show what they’ve learned,” she says. “Of course, the pictures won’t show that. It was something where we were having fun.”
The Second Arab-American Miss USA
The 24-year-old bested 50 other women to be crowned 2010’s Miss USA Sunday at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. She’s only the second Arab-American to win the crown.
Fakih is used to defending herself, whether it’s in the public spotlight or in the sporting arena. Not long ago she was lighting up her opponents on a New York basketball court and knocking volleyballs back at her opponents.
“And for the record, my fantasy football team did win our league,” says Fakih, who entered the competition as Miss Michigan, proudly. “I beat 12 guys.”
After growing up in a Christian community in Lebanon, her family relocated to New York when she was 7. Fakih lived there until moving to Michigan and eventually attended the University of Michigan
Fakih is relatively new to pageant scene, entering her first competition in 2005 where she took 5th place while vying to be Miss Wayne County in Michigan.
“My mom got her dream of her little daughter going from being a tomboy to a princess again,” Fakih said, noting that in high school she played competitive basketball, volleyball, softball and participated in cross country and track.
But after that first pageant, she was bitten by the competition bug – her second and third pageants took place in South Africa and Dominican Republic. As far as entering the Miss USA competition, that wasn’t really on her mind at first.
“It always seemed like such a difficult thing and so expensive,” she says. “After college, I sold my car and used the money to enter Miss Michigan. After I won that, I was able to enter Miss USA.”
Already moving on from the Internet dustup, Fakih is now living in New York and focusing on her yearlong reign – and beyond.
“I’m hoping it will open such doors as the Ambassador to the United Nations or stuff that I’ve always wanted to do,” she said. “And I want to use my position to take on that mission of [raising] breast and ovarian cancer awareness.”
Next up: She’ll compete in Miss Universe at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas on Aug. 23.