The Miss USA competition, not to be confused with the Miss America pageant, aired March 24 at 8 p.m. on NBC and featured, among its fifty-one glittering contestants, a woman named Kristen Luneberg, or Miss North Carolina USA. Luneberg is five feet, nine inches, mostly leg and blue eyes. She is strikingly attractive, but what is surprising about any of this is that she regards her beauty in the way that an athlete might her speed or an artist his dexterity.
It is her and it is hers, but it is, like any asset, a means to an end, to be enjoyed, but, more important, to be employed. It is as much an extension of her character, her work ethic, and confidence as it is natural to her body. In conversation, she projects authority with an offhand grace. She will sweep an arm through the air to emphasize a point, and float it back to her knee, at once elegant and ardent. Seldom does she break eye contact.
Luneberg loves to lead. In fact, she has something of an obsessive leadership condition, whereby she is compelled to lead almost any group or organization she finds herself a part of. At various stages throughout her twenty-two years, she has held all of the following titles and several at the same time: president, captain, queen, and chief executive officer.
In high school, she was the captain of three teams: softball, field hockey, and basketball.
" I was the class jock, and I was going to play Division I basketball," she says. "That was the plan anyway, until I tore my ACL. I didn't get surgery on it--worst decision ever--and tore it again along with my meniscus."
After recovering, she competed in the Miss Teen Rhode Island pageant. "I was modeling for this bridal boutique, and the woman who owned it also ran the pageant. She came up to me one day and said, 'You should really think about competing,' and I was like 'No thanks,' you know, 'not my thing.' But she kept pushing me and pushing me, so I finally said, 'All right, I'll do it.' And I won."
As a freshman, Luneberg got a job with Devil Delivery Services delivering food on campus. By the first semester of her senior year, she'd become CEO of the student-owned company. "That's what I'm most proud of so far," she says. Meanwhile, she joined a sorority, Delta Delta Delta, and was elected president.
A public-policy major, Luneberg has plans to work overseas in international business. She is an economics minor, and she speaks German.
Of the Miss USA competition, Luneberg says, "It's more modern than Miss America. It really emphasizes achievement." What began as the Catalina Swimwear Competition in Long Beach, California, in 1952 has grown in numbers and sponsors and, according to Luneberg, in standing, although it has seen fit to retain that most marketable feature: the swimsuit.
Luneberg is visibly anxious about this: "I'm not nervous about the other stuff, just that. You're up there in front of 15 million people in a bikini."
After being crowned Miss North Carolina USA in October, Lundberg told The Chronicle that one of her plans was to promote higher self-esteem among females. She would set up workshops in various schools to address female-targeted media pressures to succumb to unhealthy eating habits.
Aren't those mixed messages, given that she is, essentially, the embodiment of that pressure? "No," she says. "When I go around the state and talk to high-school girls, I tell them, 'Look, I'm Miss North Carolina, because I exercise and I eat right. I don't starve myself. Those emaciated types aren't winning these things.'
" Look at last year's winner. She's muscle-bound. She's very pretty, but she's jacked. The pageants have changed, I think. Judges aren't looking to see if you've got the skinniest hips. They're looking for how much confidence you can project, how you carry yourself."
Besides working out and eating right, Luneberg trains with a "runway coach" and studies possible interview questions in preparation for the pageant.
One question a lot of contestants get and are often surprised by, she says, is "Why do you want to become Miss North Carolina or Miss USA?"
She answers her question: "It's a once in a lifetime opportunity to help people. I work with the American Cancer Society, and I volunteer at the hospital and visit with cancer patients. It would be one thing if I were to do that as Kristen Luneberg, a senior at Duke. It's another thing if I'm Miss North Carolina. I want to do as much of this stuff as I can while I have the title, while I'm Miss Something. It's amazing what it does for them, how much they love it when I wear the crown and the banner and smile for a picture."