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Miss USA to Behar: Pole-dancing pictures were all in fun

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Miss USA: I'm #1 on Google
  • Miss USA Rima Fakih downplays significance of photographs that emerged online this week
  • She says pole-dancing pictures were part of radio station promotion
  • She says her family is from Muslim background but not defined by religion

New York (CNN) -- Miss USA Rima Fakih is a Muslim with Lebanese heritage, but her family is "not defined by religion," Fakih said.

"I'm an American girl," Fakih said. "And just to be clear, my family comes from many different backgrounds and religions."

The newest Miss USA, crowned last weekend, was interviewed Wednesday for HLN's "The Joy Behar Show."

Fakih downplayed the significance of photographs that emerged online this week showing her dancing against a stripper's pole.

"Everyone took them as if I was stripping, which to be honest with you was just a competition," she said. "It was more of an event held by a radio station."

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The Detroit, Michigan, radio station promotion held three years ago was like a class to help women "learn how to dance and feel sexy," she told Behar.

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The photos show her dancing in short pants.

"To be extra funny, because I'm known to be silly, I put money in my bra," she said.

The controversy, however, has made her name a top search term on the internet, she said.

"Yeah, I'm the number one person on Yahoo or Google, I heard," she said.

Cheesecake photos helped last year's Miss USA runner-up, Carrie Prejean, become well known, but she was eventually stripped of her Miss California crown when racier images emerged.

Behar asked Fakih if there were any such photos of her that might eventually surface.

"Nothing at all," she said. "I've always been known to be very respectful to my family and my reputation."

The stripper pole photos did not upset her family, she said.

"They're very proud of me," she said. "They take it as if I'm not up there for beauty, or to pose in a bathing suit, but for something more significant -- for being beautiful on the inside, for being wise."

Fakih was born in Lebanon, but her family moved to New York when she was young. She moved to Michigan in 2003, where she attended the University of Michigan.

"My family comes from a Muslim background, and we're not defined by religion," she said. "I would like to say we're a spiritual liberal family."

Fakih will represent the United States in the Miss Universe pageant to take place in Las Vegas, Nevada, in August.