Measuring in at just 1.66m Miss Universe New Zealand is the shortest of the 86 willowy contestants vying for the crown in the Philippines this week.

But Tania Dawson, 24, an aspiring film star and drama teacher, isn't letting her petite stature get her down.

As she prepared for the contest for the Miss Universe crown, she said it wasn't always easy to stop making comparisons with the other girls who towered over her.

But she was determined that her small height wouldn't hold her back from chasing her dreams in the beauty pageant.

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"For myself the hardest is being the shortest of all the contestants," she said from Manila.

"But big things come in small packages and I may be short, but I am mighty."

After a busy few weeks in the Philippines, visiting her mother's family and several Miss Universe events leading up to tomorrow's grand finale, Dawson was trying to get as much rest as she could between rehearsals when she spoke to the Herald on Sunday yesterday.

"It's about getting my face on, so I can show the proper energy and making sure I'm doing the right thing on stage."

While Dawson imagined others might think the heated competition might cause conflict amongst her fellow contestants - she said it couldn't be further from the truth.

"Most think we are catty and are going to rip each other apart, but that's not true," she said. "We are all here because we are good people and I'm definitely looking to the future when I get to go to another country and call one of them up and say 'hey, I'm coming'."

Dawson said her family in the Philippines was among her number one fans- though understandably loyalties were torn between her and the nation's own contestant, Maxine Medina.

"Everyone is very proud and they are all wishing me the best, telling me even if you don't win we are proud you are still a winner to us."

The 24-year-old, whose mother came from the Philippines, has also been winning over the people in her motherland.

She was selected as one of the top 12 people's choice at the preliminary event where she paraded her swimsuit, evening gown and national dress - a resplendent tiki green gown that paid homage to New Zealand's indigenous culture and natural beauty.

The top 12 that'll make it to the final round are selected on the basis of their scores at the preliminaries, interviews and the popular vote.

Dawson, a drama teacher in Auckland, didn't want to place any bets on who'd be taking the crown home after tomorrow's ceremony, which gets underway 8am in Manila [1pm NZT].

But she said win or lose it was the "experience of a lifetime".

"I'm never going to have this opportunity again; the memories and the photos are what I get to take home.

"It's anyone's game, I would love to win it, but I am one out of 86."

She also hoped to one day return to her mother's homeland after the competition was all over and fulfill her dream of featuring on the big screen.