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Gretchen Carlson, , like so many of her Miss America sisters, looks better today than ever.  It’s not just because she, like they, takes care of herself – it’s because she has pursued a productive life. She is currently co-host on Fox and Friends. In a More Magazine article she says, “I feel so much prettier now than I did when I wore that crown. I’m more sure of myself and feel I deserve the recognition I get.”

Me and Gretchen at the 2009 Miss America Gala

Me and Gretchen at the 2009 Miss America Gala

People say that because the women who become Miss America are beautiful, doors open for them. The former Miss Americas interviewed for my award winning book, Pretty Smart: Lessons from our Miss Americas, admit to that. But what they will also tell you is that the door closes with a bang if there is no substance behind the beauty.

As a 23 year old graduate of Stanford University and a child violin prodigy, Gretchen who became Miss America in 1989, pursued the crown because of the opportunity that pageant participation afforded her to perform as a violin virtuoso and for the scholarship money she could win.

Though Gretchen now shops in the petite department, she will tell you that she packed a few extra pounds when she was younger. “I was a tomboy, not into my looks at all. I struggled with my weight my whole life, especially as a child. I was a chubby kid who faced a tremendous amount of ridicule. When I overheard a guy I wanted to go out with say, ‘She’s a really nice girl, but she’s too fat,’ I got my act together and lost thirty pounds.

“The morning after I became Miss America I shared that story at my first press conference. I thought it would be inspirational to young girls to know that you don’t have to fit into this perfect mold to end up becoming Miss America. I told the press that my brother used to call me nicknames like Blimpo. The next day the headline in the National Enquirer read ‘Blimpo Wins Miss America Pageant.’ That’s how they spun it. I thought I was giving a positive message.”

Though the National Enquirer chose to spin Gretchen’s comments to create controversy, in fact, she has continued to live a life worth emulating.

What a relief. After my many travels around the country to interview former Miss Americas for my book, Pretty Smart: Lessons from our Miss Americas – to places like Raleigh, Nashville, Louisville, Naples and Birmingham – down and back in one day, my commute to meet Gretchen Carlson who is currently a co-host on “Fox & Friends,” the number one rated cable news program, was a mere 25 minutes. I met her at the Starbucks in Greenwich, CT where she lives with her husband and two children.  I wished that we had met someplace quiet – but it had been hard enough to get her to respond.  I didn’t want to jinx anything by asking for another venue when we had been working out the arrangements.  When she walked in, she was shorter than I had thought she would be.  She turned out to be a petite 5’1,” giving lie to the stereotype that all Miss Americas are tall and willowy.   She wore a sleeveless v-neck top and black Capri’s, slim and chic, her blond hair cut in a bob just above her shoulders.  Her blue eyes were wide and engaging as was her personality.

Me & Gretchen at the Miss America Pageant Gala 2009

Me & Gretchen at the Miss America Pageant Gala 2009

I am struck once again, by the warmth and graciousness that all these formers exhibit.  You might question whether it is genuine.  It is.  Maybe they don’t always feel it, but the core of it is within them at all times and good breeding shows.  Her large blue eyes focus on my face as we talk.  She is more candid and forthcoming than I had anticipated.  She too is generous with her time.  It is almost two hours before I turn off my recorder and head out the door, more impressed than ever with the quality and depth of the women who become Miss America.  Each one is so different, different personalities, different ways of approaching life and yet the common thread is their drive and ambition and the desire to make a difference in others lives.

Gretchen’s story is one that leaves me breathless.  She was a child violin prodigy, performing at the Aspen Music Festival long before she could drive.  Though she came from a small town in Minnesota, her brains took her all the way to Stanford University in California and on to the University of Oxford in England.  In her teens she decided not to pursue the violin as a career, looking for a life that had a broader outline than her music stand.  At her parents’ encouragement, she participated in the Miss America system as a way to continue to showcase her extraordinary talent.  After winning the crown, she pursued a career in television news reporting, but found in the beginning that she was judged on her beauty not on her brains.  And for this scary smart woman, that was an a huge disappointment.  But Gretchen, like all her Miss America sisters, didn’t let that stop her. She pursued her goals until she reached the top.  She is now co-host on Fox news channel #1 rated cable news show, “Fox & Friends.”  Gretchen is so much more than pretty, she’s pretty smart!

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