The newly crowned winner and scientist says she didn’t want to compete until the pageant dropped the swimsuit portion

By Julie Mazziotta and Hanna Flanagan
December 20, 2019 03:42 PM
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MISS AMERICA 2020
Credit: Eric Liebowitz/NBC

Camille Schrier was just crowned the newest Miss America, but she never would have made it to the pageant stage if the organization hadn’t decided to remove the swimsuit portion for the first time this year.

Schrier, a scientist from Virginia, has past experience with an eating disorder, and “chose not to compete until [the swimsuit portion] was gone,” she tells PEOPLE just hours after her win.

“I think that a lot of women in our world really struggle with body image and have had things that might qualify as an eating disorder and they might not even recognize it. And as someone who has struggled with body image and body positivity throughout my life, I didn’t ever want to put myself in a situation to be judged on my body,” she says.

“I don’t think that the number of abs I have necessarily defined how healthy I am,” she adds.

The Miss America Organization, now led by former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson, agreed to scrap the swimsuit portion last summer to focus more on empowering the young women who compete each year. Schrier says she felt like that gave her an opportunity to show her intelligence and skill as a PharmD student at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy.

“I think that being able to focus more on what I have to offer with my confidence and my public speaking and my intelligence is a lot more meaningful to me, and something that I wanted to focus on,” she says. “And so I just chose not to compete until that was gone.”

RELATED VIDEO: Miss America Eliminates Swimsuit Competition: ‘We Are No Longer a Pageant’

Schrier officially won the crown on Thursday night, earning more than $300,000 in scholarship money, and will spend a year representing the organization.

The annual competition was held live at Mohegan Sun Casino & Resort in Uncasville, Connecticut. Access Hollywood’s Mario Lopez and Kit Hoover hosted, while Kelly Rowland, Queer Eye‘s Karamo Brown and Superstore actress Lauren Ash sat on the judges panel.