Not even her experience as a war refugee and hottie from the hood prepared Rima Fakih for the brutal backstage beauty pageant skirmishes she faced on her way to becoming the first Arab-American Miss USA in 2010.
This Beirut-born stunner’s strength is rooted in personal struggle, giving her powers far beyond those she’s chosen to reveal in the photo spread.
Rima Fakih was born in Srifa, a small city in Southern Lebanon. She and her four siblings were raised in a Shia Muslim household, though she attended Catholic school near Beirut.
Fleeing the Lebanese Civil War in 1993, they landed in the Jackson Heights section of Queens and opened a Mediterranean-style restaurant in Manhattan. But business declined following September 11, 2001, and soon they moved to Dearborn, Michigan, one of the nation’s largest Arab-American communities.
As Miss USA, Fakih became involved with WWE events, making appearances and even serving as ring announcer before becoming a contestant on Tough Enough, competing for a contract as a professional wrestler. She lasted until week four, but followed with a 2012 appearance at WrestleMania Axxess. Taking a break from the ring, she landed on the dating show, The Choice, as one of four celebrity bachelorettes, including Carmen Electra.
With her 2016 marriage to music executive and manager Wassim Slaiby, (who handles red-hot acts like The Weeknd and French Montana), Rima has taken time out of the spotlight to focus on her family and charity work.
As a board member of Best Buddies International, she also helps the intellectually or developmentally disabled. Not just an Ambassador for The Children’s Cancer Center in Lebanon, she is also an Ambassador for School on Wheels, providing tutoring and mentoring for homeless children. Earlier this year, she was appointed to the USA’s Board of Directors of the United Nations World Food Program.
Here, Rima teaches us how to roll with the punches, whether you’re juggling backstage bitchiness at a beauty pageant, or the women warriors of Wrestlemania.
What surprised you most about beauty competitions?
What surprised me most about the beauty competition is all the doors it can open for anything you wish to accomplish in life. It’s truly a pathway to greatness and a bigger voice. What kept me wanting to do it all the way was my passion for making a change in the world. I realized I can do so much with Miss USA crown. It combines my love for philanthropy, public speaking, and modeling.
You were only 19 years old at your first beauty contest, called Miss Wayne.
My mother always encouraged me to enter beauty pageants and modeling and finally at 18 I said, ‘Okay mom, I am ready.’ I entered Miss Wayne alongside many great young women who have been doing pageants since childhood. I was so proud that I got to make it so far, being that I had zero experience.
I was nervous but I always used nervousness as a way to make sure I am extra ready, and have researched and studied everything I would need to do my very best. I like to give everything I do in life a hundred percent!
What’s the hardest part of beauty pageants that people don’t know about?
The hardest part is maintaining confidence. Many girls go into the competition thinking they are the only pretty girl with a degree, and possibly a philanthropy background, only to discover that they are not very special because these competitions truly have some amazing women, women who have PhDs, or are lawyers or runway models.
What will make you or break you is your confidence in yourself. You have to truly be your own number one fan, and not let any family or social media comment break you or make you think otherwise.
After winning Miss USA, you did what most beauty queens do and headed straight to WWE’s Tough Enough.
I truly enjoyed competing in Tough Enough and being part of the WWE family. Training was very tough. My body was sore every day and it was so hard to get up in the morning after a hard day of training. I enjoyed it all…. I love pushing myself.
I grew up a wrestling fan and for me it was an honor to be in that ring. The hardest punch I ever took was from an inexperienced wrestler who ended up cracking two of my ribs. The hardest punch I’ve ever thrown was against Booker T, who kept telling me that I was the underdog and I had to prove myself, so I did.
Tell us about Fox’s The Choice. What’s it like behind the scenes on shows like that?
Competing on The Choice was fun! I was grateful to share the stage with Carmen Electra and many amazing women. Honestly it was nice to be with women who were so down to earth and simple; yet the world doesn’t feel the same about hot women. People tend to stress even approaching just to say hi, or even say, ‘You are beautiful,’ because they think [these women] get that attention enough.
What were your formative years like?
I was born in Lebanon and escaped the war at the age of seven, from Lebanon to New York City. I grew up in Queens and graduated from St. John’s Prep High School. My family then relocated to Detroit where I attended and graduated from the University of Michigan with a double degree in Economics and Business Management. My family managed a Mediterranean restaurant in Manhattan, New York City, called Maryum’s Kitchen. I have four siblings, Rabih, Rana, Rouba, and Rami.
How important is it to be recognized as an Arab-American in what are admittedly difficult times for some ethnicities in the world today?
I am very proud of who I am and where I came from. I encourage everyone to feel the same. It is a great thing to stand out versus fit in. I was honored and truly grateful to be a girl who escaped the war in the Middle East, survived living in the hood, grew up poor and made it this far. I wanted to show any girl that anything is possible.
How has becoming a mother changed the way you view the world?
I can honestly say it has made my heart so soft when it comes to children. I can’t just sit and hear bad news and do nothing. I want to help all children all over the world, and for the sake of my children I want to fight to make this world a better place for them.
Tell us about School on Wheels and some of your other philanthropic work.
I have been a volunteer with School On Wheels since March of 2019. Since then the crisis of homelessness has almost doubled and only gotten worse. Today I have been named their ambassador, and one of the main goals for me is to remodel one of their largest centers to ensure our homeless kids have somewhere to go to not only learn, but to eat and have support in anything they might need to survive.
What is the Best Buddies Organization, and what do you do with them?
I joined Best Buddies in May of 2010, and I just fell in with the organization and all the amazing things they do for those with special needs. Currently I sit on the board of Best Buddies, and wherever I am needed, or any opportunity that comes my way for the buddies, I am always first to jump on it and make it happen. I have amazing buddies in the organization and I am very grateful for their friendship.
And I want to thank Mark Wylie with Best Buddies for the really hard work he does for the organization, and for always reaching out to me when he feels I am needed the most.
What is the most important aspect you look for in a guy?
I look for someone respectful and a person of their word. Someone who supports my dreams more than I do…in other words my husband!
How often do you and Wassim hang out with some of his clients like the Weeknd and French Montana? What are your fondest memories with them?
My husband’s clients are not clients, they are just like family. We spend holidays together, they are always there for our children. My fondest memories with them are how they always show up to our children’s birthday parties with the best gifts and the greatest energy to run around and play like kids. Truly amazing humans!