Read Excerpt: 'Beyond the Cleavage' by Raquel Welch

High Heels and Bathing Suits
Only a year earlier, my life had taken an unexpected turn. It was one of those nonsensical things that happens and somehow changes every¬thing. One day, out of the blue, I got talked into joining a beauty contest. My home economics teacher recruited all the girls in her class to participate as models at a photography convention. As part of this "field trip," we would also compete in a contest for the title "Miss Photogenic."

Huh? It had come out of left field, and I balked. We were being asked to wear one-piece bathing suits and high heels, of all things. I really didn't want to go. High heels and bathing suits sounded kind of cheesy to me, and I said so. But all the other girls thought I was trying to wriggle out of it and sort of shamed me into going along for the ride. So despite my grumbling, about a dozen of us ended up in Balboa Park one Sunday afternoon as models and rather unwilling contestants.

There were about 150 girls in the pageant from all over the city. What a big deal our glorified field trip had turned out to be. It was quite a scene backstage, with all of us primping and posing and stumbling about in heels. Before long I discovered that I actually liked to strut around in a pair of high heels and a bathing suit. It was fun! And because of the ballet, I was quite good at it. Those heels sure gave a girl tons of attitude. In the end, I walked off with the trophy.

Monday morning, the school campus was abuzz. My picture started appearing in the local papers, and complete strangers began to recognize me! It was my first taste of small-town fame, and it was exhilarating! But when the adrenaline stopped pumping, there was a bitter aftertaste. Even my friends treated me differently.

My win kicked off a series of events. Now the town council wanted me to enter the Miss La Jolla pageant. That was one I really wanted to win. After I became Miss La Jolla, I was automatically obligated to represent La Jolla in the countywide competition for Miss San Diego—the Fairest of the Fair. It was the beginning of a long line of beauty contests that eventually led to the state title of Maid of California. This was too much of a good thing. I was so done with all that . . . or so I thought.

That same year, I graduated with honors and received a scholarship to study theater arts at San Diego State College, where I also joined a sorority. But my heart wasn't in it. I couldn't stop thinking about Jim. I wondered when and if he would ever come home. He wrote to me from Peru, but his letters took forever to arrive. His mother, Tahnee Land, was always very sweet to me and kept me posted.

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