'I just don’t understand why any woman would want to parade themselves around on stage semi-naked, while some creepy old man leers at them and decides who he thinks has more sex appeal.'
I remember saying this once while having a conversation with someone about beauty pageants. I don’t really recall how the conversation started, but all I know is that for the longest time growing up, I was really against beauty pageants. I thought they were degrading, bad for female self-esteem, sexist (when was the last time you saw a male beauty pageant?), and also reinforced the message that women have to compete with each other in order to be the most visually desirable.
So with that in mind, you might be surprised to learn that this year, I have entered a beauty pageant myself.
Yes, yes, I know, I see the hypocrisy in my saying one thing and doing another, but isn’t a girl allowed to change her mind about something? Just bear with me, I promise I can show you that I haven’t completely lost my mind (I know some of you are thinking it - don’t worry I would too in your shoes).
Okay, where to start? So, when I was younger — yes, by the way I am acutely aware that most of my articles include anecdotes from my childhood... What can I say? I like to reminisce! — I loved performing. Singing, dancing, and acting were some of my favourite things to do, though I was admittedly not the most promising rising star. I craved the spotlight so much that I started doing shows with a performing arts school, something which I adored doing, especially when we performed at the Hazlitt, a theatre in Maidstone.
However, as I began to grow a womanlier shape and put on weight, I realised I was quite a lot bigger than most kids my age, something which started to present a problem with partner work for dancing. Eventually, I came to a breaking point when neither my dance partner or I could lift one another, and I went home in tears and never returned.
When I try and recall memories of a time where I started to lose my self confidence, that is one that always comes up. It might seem like a small thing, but to a child it was crushing. Instead of regaining my self confidence, I steadily began to lose more and more of it, developing depression, anxiety and an eating disorder along the way. By the time I started uni last year, I felt like a mere shadow of myself, and by the end of my first year, I had barely attended any lectures, and only passed my exams by sheer luck. I knew that I couldn’t carry on that way, so I took the year off, and decided I was going to do whatever it took to break out of my comfort zone, and become more like the confident performer I once was.
It was then that I came across Miss British Beauty Curve (MBBC), a plus size pageant competition. It was unlike any pageant I had ever heard of, because rather than asking women to conform to one set body type, it was giving them a platform to promote their differences and show everyone that they were not afraid to stand out.
I entered on a whim (one of those what’s the worst that could happen moments) and I was so pleased when I was accepted and given the title of Miss Brighton Curve.
Since then, MBBC has helped me to overcome more barriers than I could possibly have imagined. It gave me a platform from which I could promote all of the causes which are close to my heart, from mental health awareness, to body positivity; I even put on my own charity event, with artists across the UK and Internationally sending me their artwork depicting their view of mental health, and letting me put it on display at an exhibition in Brighton in aid of Mind UK.
Not only did attending all of these events allow me to work on my self confidence, but the competition has also allowed me to meet so many beautiful women from across Britain who are some of the kindest, most compassionate ladies have ever met. Each of the women competing in the pageant this year have been so supportive of one another, and it's amazing to be able to get to know such a diverse group of people, all of whom just want to show the world that they are proud to be in their own skin.
“Plus-size pageants are excellent for ladies who want a chance to showcase their self worth,” Leanne Jones, Miss Warwickshire Curve, told me. “Too many people criticise beauty contests but no matter the size preference there's no doubting the confidence being cheered on stage and the process gives you. The chance to represent where you come from and what your passionate about is really important in any sense!”
Nickey Bruce, Miss Surrey Curve, told me that she has changed a lot since first entering MBBC in 2016. “I had no confidence whatsoever, I would barely go out or look in the mirror,” she explained. “MBBC for me has taught me how to love myself unconditionally, it's changed my life.”
Some of the women have even been competing in Miss British Beauty Curve for a number of years. Charlotte Phillips, Ms Gloucestershire Curve, is competing this year for her fourth year in a row, and like me, has found MBBC has really helped her self confidence. “I can honestly say that it has been a wonderful enriching experience and one that I wouldn't trade for anything,” she said, when I asked her about her experiences of MBBC. “At one point in my life, I could never have imagined myself in a pageant. I had zero self confidence. But MBBC changed that. I've learnt to love me for me and I think that shows now.”
It’s true that, no matter how diverse or supportive a pageant system is, at the end of the day, we are all still competing with one another for the crown. However, at MBBC we aren’t scored on how our bodies look, or who has the prettiest face; instead, we are told to go out there and showcase outfits which compliment our personal style, represent all of the passions and causes that we hold dear, and hold our heads high as we stand tall in the bodies which we are proud to live in. There are a broad range of awards on offer, from best dressed in each category, to best in interview.
Plus, like Charlotte (who has also won Ms Congeniality for three years in a row) said to me, “My favourite part of being in a pageant is the camaraderie. We all know that we are competing but we support each other - and we're always genuinely pleased for those lucky enough to become queens. I’ve found the most amazing kindred spirits and true friendships that I cherish.”
Where as I’ve often struggled with making friends with women in the past, for fear that they might be making judgements about the way that I look, I can tell you now that I have never felt that way while I have been competing in the pageant system, and it seems that friendship is a running trend throughout the pageant. “I think my favourite part of being within this system is that I have met so many girls which I know will be there for me, regardless of whether I am competing or not,” Nickey opened up to me. “I have had a tough year and the only girls who have checked on me have been from the system, more than my own best friends.”
This pageant has taught me, win or lose, that I deserve to take up space exactly as I am. It’s given me the chance to use my voice to spread messages of acceptance and self love, and that is something I will continue to do, whether I win the crown or not.
Do I think that all pageant systems are as diverse and accepting as MBBC? Possibly not. But many of them are heading that way, such as with competitions like Miss World making changes to become more about empowering women, rather than objectifying them.
The truth is, that just because someone chooses to showcase their body, doesn’t mean that they are being objectified: it means they're proud of the skin they are in. Unless you have first hand experience of pageants, how can you judge them all as being the same?
I’m glad that I left my prejudices behind and joined Miss British Beauty Curve, because if I hadn’t, I honestly don’t know what sort of state my life would be in now. I will be proud to take to the stage at the Hazlitt on Saturday August 4th, the same theatre that I ran away from all those years ago, and stand with these amazing women as we show that we will continue to own our bodies exactly as they are.