What doing a beauty pageant is really like

I’m not sure how it happened, but I’m in the running for Miss Great Britain

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I’m five foot three. I’ve never been on a diet that lasted more than me eating no (see: slightly less) carbs for one day, nor have I gone to the gym for more than an hour. I have fat rolls when I sit down, my skin is so pale it’s almost see-through, I have cellulite on my bum, my boobs are big and gravity is therefore, unfortunately, taking its toll. I’m nowhere near perfect, and, in many ways, not typically beautiful. For this reason, I’ve always found the idea of me taking part in a beauty pageant laughable.

However, a few months ago, I was approached by someone who had competed in a British pageant and asked if it was something I’d ever considered. Before that point, I hadn’t even realised pageant contests were even a thing in England, having only ever seen them on naff reality shows from America like Toddlers and Tiaras. All I could think of when I was asked were the hundreds of über-skinny, bitchy girls who’d be taking part, just like I’d seen on TV.

As fate would have it, the date of the competition was when I was busy anyway and so I moved on with my life, taking my lack of availability as a sign it wasn’t for me. When I told my mum I’d decided not to do it, I could see she was disappointed. She said I’d missed an opportunity and should have done it just to gain confidence. After all, if nobody was doing it, I had nothing to lose.

Definitely wasn't expecting this to happen

Definitely wasn’t expecting this to happen

As it happened, Miss Great Britain South East (a direct heat for the Miss Great Britain competition), ended up getting rearranged. Suddenly, I was available to take part. Ten minutes before the deadline, and after much to-ing and fro-ing, I decided to take part and sent in my paperwork.

On competition day, I woke early and turned up at a Starbucks in Mayfair next to the venue. Already in there were a cluster of girls with rollers in, garment bags, huge suitcases and helpers close by. My own small case, packed with swimwear and dresses I already owned, felt very inferior. I hadn’t had time to buy new clothes for the pageant. Assuming the other girls were my competitors, I sat down with them, nervous and a bit intimidated.

As we began chatting, one girl told me about her three-year-old daughter and job as a life coach, giving motivational speeches about empowering women across the country. She was so lovely, I instantly relaxed in her company. In fact, all the girls seemed super-chatty and kind, and it didn’t take long for us all to exchange numbers and social media pages.

Squad goals

Chatting in Starbucks, everyone looked similar: hair scrunched into messy buns, tracksuits, no makeup. Taking a moment to look them all up on Instagram though, I realised most of them had done professional modelling before and looked stunning when dressed up. I’ve never modelled, or had my hair and make-up done by professionals, I was quite clearly out of my depth. Taking a breath, I calmly reminded myself I was just here for practice, I didn’t expect to win.

During the day, we practiced walking to the music for each of the fashion, swimwear and evening-wear rounds. The fashion round was sponsored by OT Couture, who had custom-made two dresses for every girl (except me due to my last-minute sign-up). Luckily, a girl who had dropped out of the competition was similar in measurements, so I took one of her dresses to wear. It was incredible, all the dresses were: each cost £4,000 with the import tax paid to get them all in from Dubai adding another £13,000. By the end of the night I think everyone had heard me say “I want to get married in this dress” at least twice.

Our beautiful OT Couture dresses

Our beautiful OT Couture dresses

As the evening got nearer, I could see how seriously some of the other girls were taking the competition. Hair and make-up artists arrived to prepare some of them, transforming them into real-life princesses. This being my first time, I was confused how prizes worked so asked an experienced pageant girl to explain what the various titles are you could win. In our heat, there were prizes for Miss Charity, Miss Publicity, Miss Congeniality, Miss Popularity, Miss Fitness (sponsored by Slendertone) and Miss Bikini Body, as well as the Top 5, second and first runner up, and overall winner. The overall winner would then gain a place in the Miss Great Britain final representing the South East, though anyone who was unlucky tonight could enter heats in other areas to have another try at reaching the final. (Confusing huh?)

Looking back, the actual show is a blur. I remember the music, walking down the catwalk in a swimsuit laughing at something someone had said backstage, and messing up my introduction due to stage fright. The pageant was so friendly and relaxed I was able to laugh the mistake off. Besides, I thought, the weirder I was, the more likely I’d win Miss Personality.

Laughing through the nervousness at being in a bikini in front of hundreds of strangers

Laughing through the nervousness of being in a bikini in front of hundreds of strangers

When the winners were called, I was sure one of the very skinny girls would receive the prizes for their bodies. Instead, two girls with healthy, curvy size 10-12 bodies won, demonstrating how the pageant is more about self-love, acceptance and confidence than a perfect physique. The greatest shock was still to come though. When the top five girls were called, I was announced as the overall winner. I was so shocked and confused. Instantly, photographers appeared from nowhere, getting me to pose for what felt like 500 photos, cheeks dying from having had to smile all evening.

Myself and the two runners up

Myself and the two runners-up

Although my win was completely unexpected, I’m now super-excited to compete at Miss Great Britain. The experience was nothing like the TV shows you see which portray pageants in a negative light. I made some great friends, had a wonderful time, got to dress up (like every girl, I love a pretty dress!) and won some fab prizes. It gave me a confidence boost, and helped me feel so empowered. As a feminist that supports body positivity and self-love, I would really recommend taking part in a pageant to any girl, regardless of shape or size. Although I did, you don’t need to win to come out of the experience feeling better.