She's always wanted to be a beauty queen and her dream came true with one of the biggest titles - Miss USA 2010 - Rima Fakih.
As soon as the announcement was made, the labels appeared. She was described as Arab-American, Lebanese-American, Muslim-American. She became the center of controversy overnight after pole dancing photos surfaced and spread across the globe just as fast as an outlandish rumor started by a U.S. neo-conservative blog that she's a spy for the Shiite Lebanese group Hezbollah, designated by the U.S. and E.U. countries as a terrorist group.
It's hard to gauge which claim could possibly hurt the new Miss USA more: the racy pictures or the unfounded rumors alleging she is affiliated with Hezbollah. One thing is certain, the Internet feasted on the story and different groups with different agendas jumped on the opportunity this story afforded them.
"To say that she is a Muslim is inaccurate. No Muslim woman can call herself a ... Muslim and be on stage with her bikini," Ghazal Omid, a Muslim scholar, posted on her Facebook page.
Blogs and posts from those with knowledge of the Middle East pointed out that Rima Fakih and her behavior - be it the beauty pageant she entered in 2008 for Miss Lebanon Emigrant or little-known activities such as the pole dancing competition, donât match up with the conservative Islam Hezbollah preaches.
Fakih's modern looks and open-minded interests are indicative of a portion of Lebanon's population that is Western-oriented and non-conservative even if they belong to the Shiite sect of Islam.
The opinion on the streets of Beirut, Lebanon's urbane capital, echoed this one from Teddy Hajjar, a Lebanese interior designer.
"Just because her religion is linked to what some people call terrorist movement has nothing to do with it," he said.
Hajjar also said that Fakih participated in the contest based on her looks and she won on merit, therefore politics should be left out.
A Hezbollah member of parliament, on the other hand, dodged questions about Fakih and the Miss USA beauty pageant.
According to Hassan Fadlallah, Hezbollah evaluates women in a different way.
"We have a viewpoint based on religion, schooling, moral and societal values, which differs from all the other manners that are presented in the world,â Fadlallah said.
Regardless of which city Fakih was raised in, he concluded, âthe matter doesnât differ to us because the criteria through which we evaluate women are very different from those of the West and other nations."
Many opinions and many more claims and counter claims are online and in traditional media. But the topic that's getting the least coverage is the significance of the Miss USA title and the role this young woman will play as its holder.
Very few comments are discussing how someone with Rima Fakih's background can play a constructive role in bridging the gap between East and West. For now the West calls her Eastern, and the East calls her Western, and despite all criticism, she is celebrated in many corners of her country of origin, and her country of naturalization, as the beauty queen she's always strived to be.
Update 1:20 p.m.: An earlier version of this post had a headline we thought was too provocative.