By PAM SCHIFF
Set your television sets now to watch Cranston’s own Alexandra Coppa compete in the 92nd “Miss America” pageant on Sunday, Sept. 9 on ABC.
Coppa, who graduated last year from Brown University, has been involved with many pageants over the course of her 22 years. Though she has a full scholarship to get her Master’s Degree from Salve Regina and has aspirations of going to medical school after, she’s put those plans on hold as she has been selected as this year’s “Miss Rhode Island.”
Coppa wrote in an email that she first began competing at the age of 15. First, she competed for the title of Miss Rhode Island’s Outstanding Teen 2011 after learning that it could lead to a college scholarship program.
“As a dancer, I loved the idea of being able to perform my talent and win scholarships for school,” Coppa wrote.
She competed again the following year and won the title of Miss Rhode Island’s Outstanding Teen 2012 and then competed at Miss America’s Outstanding Teen in the summer.
“I ended up being in the top five for the interview portion, which was a huge deal for me, as I was always pretty quiet and kept to myself,” she reflected. “Being a part of the Miss America Organization really brought me out of my shell and taught me a lot of skills that I didn’t have prior.”
This year, Coppa competed for the title of Miss Rhode Island 2018, and “took home the crown.”
As for her current title of Miss Rhode Island, there really is no set job description.
“Miss Rhode Island is a lot of things,” she continued in the email. “She is a scholar, a volunteer, a mentor, and an inspiration to others. Not only did I compete in order to help pay for my education, but also, I entered the competition to make my mark here in Rhode Island. My favorite appearances are those that inspire others and when I know I’m making a difference to at least one person.”
Coppa said she is hoping to inspire others this year especially through her chosen platform, HEALing Souls: Eating Disorder Treatment and Awareness. She began a chapter of the national nonprofit organization during her junior year at Brown. The program raises money through grants to provide treatment for those struggling with eating disorders who cannot afford expensive medical care.
The platform is especially close to her heart.
“My platform is extremely personal to me, as I suffered with an eating disorder for two years in college,” Coppa wrote. “Eating disorders are highly stigmatized although they are quite common, so this year not only am I educating students about these illnesses, but in doing so, I am giving the message that it’s okay to talk about it and to get help. Lots of people don’t understand eating disorders, but that doesn’t mean you have to suffer alone. Everyone deserves to live their life without the depression, anxiety, and constant exhaustion that comes from having and hiding an eating disorder.”
Coppa currently works for the National Eating Disorder Association Helpline as well, and stressed that there are many resources available through the agents accessible over the phone or through online chats.
“It’s okay to not be okay, but talk to someone,” Coppa said.
Beyond HEALing Souls, Coppa said her national platform is Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, a nonprofit that raises money for 170 members consisting of children’s hospitals, medical research facilities and community awareness groups.
She is raising money on my Miss America for Kids page in order to compete at nationals at missamericaforkids.org/Donate/alexandracoppamissri and is working on beginning another nonprofit organization here in Rhode Island for CMNH called Buckets of Smiles. The goal is to raise money or receive donations to fill buckets with hospital approved items for the children at Hasbro, she said.
This year’s elimination of the swimsuit portion of the competition was met with mixed emotions from Coppa.
“I have mixed feelings about it, not because I think it was a negative change, but because I felt so strong as a woman in eating disorder recovery in my swimsuit on the Miss Rhode Island stage,” she said. “When I was suffering from an eating disorder, I knew I couldn’t get on stage and be judged on my body because it would’ve been triggering and stressful to me. I dreamed of the day I would be healthy and able to get up there to compete, but it also seemed impossible at the time.”
Now that she has recovered, Coppa said she would have liked to been an inspiration of healthy aspirations for others watching who may have been going through similar struggles.
“Seeing how far I’ve come and showing people that recovery is possible and that if you work for it, you can have a positive body image was an incredible thing to me,” she wrote.
On the flip size, Coppa said she understands how the swimsuit portion of the competition could compound on negative stereotypes in comparison to what it truly important in life.
“Your size doesn’t dictate how scholarly you are or how involved in your community you are and there are probably many women who feel as though they cannot compete due to the swimsuit competition,” she wrote. “If this change brings more women into the program who can reap the benefits that I have through the years, then I think that is a great thing.”
Coppa says topic of pageants versus beauty contests is always an interesting conversation.
“I think it depends who you talk to,” she said, adding that she took a class on beauty pageants at Brown. “At the beginning of the semester, it seemed like many of my classmates were opposed to pageants, or thought they were demeaning or insignificant. As they learned more about the Miss America Organization and heard about the platform issue, the interview, and the other behind the scenes aspects of the competition, the more they grew to appreciate pageants.”
“Ironically, one of my classmates, and my best friend, Cara Mund took home the title of Miss America 2018, so knowing her personally, seeing her intelligence and understanding what constitutes a Miss America made a big difference to many people,” she continued.
Coppa attended Hope Highlands Elementary School and Western Hills Middle School. While she was a freshman at St. Mary’s Bayview Academy, Olivia Culpo – who would go on to win Miss Rhode Island, Miss America and Miss Universe – was a senior.
“She visited Bay View as Miss USA the year I was Miss Rhode Island’s Outstanding Teen, and it is really funny because our last names sound similar and we held titles the same year so when she won Miss Universe, people kept congratulating my mom thinking it was me,” she said.
Coppa is leaving for Atlantic City on August 29 and will be spending most of the week with her Miss America sisters in rehearsals and at appearances.
Keeping in mind Coppa has already been awarded a full ride scholarship to Salve Regina, she said if she were to win the crown it would alter her plans for her education and her future, but only temporarily.
“I plan to go to medical school after receiving an M.A. to become a neuropsychiatrist,” she said. “If I win the title of Miss America, I will just have to defer for a year but I will win around $50,000 more.”
Coppa will be performing a jazz dance as her talent.
“I am so excited. I have been dancing since I was two years old and as a college graduate, it is really amazing to have an opportunity to continue performing,” she said.
The advice Coppa would give younger girls who want to pageant is to do it.
“Just go for it,” Coppa advised. “I didn’t even know pageants existed in Rhode Island until someone happened to mention it to my mom. I didn’t grow up doing them and it’s never too late to try something new. I would say to be yourself and to be confident in who you are. Once my confidence in myself grew, I performed much better in the interview competition, which is even just a good life skill to have. Also, don’t take it too seriously because it is a lot of fun if you let it be and you can meet some really amazing people.”