Sophie Lavers ... will contest Miss World for Australia. Photo: AFP
Sophie Lavers knows beauty pageants have a bit of an image problem.
But Miss World Australia is doing her best to change that as she prepares for next month's final in South Africa.
"In Australia especially, I think that people do get the wrong idea about beauty pageants and they think that it's very superficial and almost demeaning for women but I've found this to be the complete opposite," Lavers said.
In London as part of the Miss World 2009 Festival, a month of events leading into the December 12 Miss World 2009 Final in Johannesburg, Lavers joined more than 100 other title hopefuls on Monday.
The 24-year-old from Canberra, who lives in Sydney, says she has learned a lot, grown in confidence and enjoyed working for charity.
An important lesson has been dealing with quips about beauty queens gushing that they want "world peace" courtesy of the satirical Miss Congeniality films starring Sandra Bullock.
"If I say I'm in Miss World, they say: `Oh, so world peace and everything,"' Lavers said.
"Someone said to me, `well it's not such a funny thing to say because it would be nice to have world peace.'
"I'm just me and I like doing all the different things ... I'm not really a beauty pageant girl so I like to challenge people when they say that to me."
She said the Miss World competition was more about "inner-person stuff" than looks - with its fitness, public speaking, team-work and talent sections as well as charity work.
Lavers comes from a performance background, rather than modelling.
She studied classical ballet for years before dancing on a cruise ship and joining a US-based performance troupe that held touring workshops for children, as well as going to acting school.
"No matter what, I just want to continue on the path of performing and entertaining," she said.
"Ideally I'd love Hugh Jackman's career because he's done everything.
"He's done presenting, he's done films, he's done television, he's presented at the Oscars, everything. I just want to give it all a go."
In her own words, her chosen career is a tough industry but she has developed a thick skin.
"I used to be terrible, any little knock I would fall apart. But I'm 24 now ... I now know a bit more who I am and what I believe in and what's important to me," she said.
"If I know I'm a good person and someone else does something, then I'm ok."
Meanwhile, a soldier who was drafted in late to represent England hopes to help charities working with British servicemen and women.
Lance Corporal Katrina Hodge received a last-minute call-up when the previous Miss England, Rachel Christie, stepped down to concentrate on clearing her name.
Heptathlete Christie was arrested over an alleged nightclub brawl with another beauty queen last week.
Lance Corporal Hodge, dubbed "Combat Barbie" had been due to be sent to Afghanistan before she was crowned but was granted leave from the British Army to take part in the pageant.