Siera Bearchell, Miss Universe Canada 2016. Photo: Voltaire Domingo, NPPA and Siera Bearchell's Instagram
Every pageant system has a brand, and if you are going to be successful in that system, you must understand that brand and be able to embody it, while at the same time remaining true to yourself and your own values and ideals.
The Miss Universe brand
The Miss Universe pageant has a 65-year history of crowning stunningly beautiful and accomplished women while celebrating diverse ideals of beauty from up to 100 countries from around the globe. The Miss Universe organization builds its brand on the quality that it considers most important, and that is confidence. Here's what the Miss Universe organizers state on the website. “The winner of the competition must be confident. She must understand the values of our brand and the responsibilities of the title. She must have the ability to articulate her ambition. A contestant should demonstrate authenticity, credibility and exhibit grace under pressure. The women who compete embody the modern, global aspiration for the potential within all women.”
It is no secret that to be successful in a pageant, one must demonstrate that she is fit and healthy and can successfully fulfill the responsibilities of the job. Every pageant that awards points with regard to physical fitness will state in its requirements that they want a queen who takes care of herself, respects her body and, therefore, makes fitness a priority. Miss Universe is no different, stating that the swimsuit or athletic wear segment of the pageant is its contestants' opportunity to display their dedication to a healthy lifestyle.
The low BMI controversy
In recent years, beauty pageants like Miss Universe have been criticized for creating a culture that expects contestants to have unreasonably thin bodies. Some of the top pageant systems have gotten negative feedback for promoting an unhealthy body image by selecting titleholders that have a low body weight in comparison to their height, in other words, a low Body Mass Index, or BMI. The Miss Universe pageant stipulates that measurements are not considered when assessing a contestant’s chance at the title or success in the pageant, but it acknowledges that judges look for evidence of physical fitness and proper body care and maintenance.
Here's is a brief segment of the Miss Washington USA website. “Measurements are not considered! This is a pageant that is focused on inner beauty and character. Whether you're 4' tall or 7' tall it doesn't matter. In the swimsuit (MISS only) and athleisure wear (TEEN only) portions of the competition, the judges will acknowledge physical fitness, which includes a healthy and fit body with no requirements for the shape or size. There's usually a wide range of body styles and types for the Top Semi-Finalists each year.”
A Miss Universe titleholder must be capable of interacting with a wide variety of people and always be poised, professional and diplomatic. She must be deeply caring and committed to the causes and concerns of the Miss Universe organization as well as her own personal platform. She is required to be tirelessly upbeat and personable, giving her time and energy despite how she might feel. In short, she must be a queen who is beautiful in many, many ways.
Fitness has nothing to do with size
It is true that many Miss Universe titleholders have been a size 4 and even smaller. But, it is also true that many have not been. And, it does not mean that you have to be. There is nothing at all wrong with being a size 0, 2 or 4 if your frame is already on the petite side and you are healthy and fit and not engaging in harmful, unhealthy behaviors to maintain that size. There is nothing at all wrong with losing excess body fat and pushing your fitness level so that you can obtain pageant fitness. Because, to be completely honest, “pageant fit” is different than “everyday fit.” Just as being an athlete requires taking your physique and level of fitness to a higher level, being a titleholder requires that you hold yourself to a higher standard, and that includes your eating and exercise habits.
But, that is far different from engaging in destructive compulsions like starving yourself, over-exercising or purging just to reach a certain dress size. Sometimes when a person has a dream that they are committed to achieving and have been working exceptionally hard for years, they can be tempted to compromise their convictions or what they would normally do for the chance to succeed. Our dreams are powerful, as they should be. But, sometimes those dreams are so powerful and so alluring, and you want them so badly, that it can be tempting to give up a piece of yourself in order to achieve them.
You tell yourself that it’s not really a big deal, you lie to yourself, and minimize the potential damage and danger, and you tell yourself and others that it’s a necessary sacrifice and that everyone does it and that’s just the way it is. But in the end, there is no right way to do the wrong thing. If you are feeling tempted to do the wrong things, you need to know that there are women who are reaching their pageant dreams on their own terms.
Titleholders who are playing by their own rules
Regardless of the dress size that a prior Miss Universe may have worn, and undeterred by established norms and the personal preferences of some judges, there are some remarkable titleholders in the pageant community who are unashamedly embracing their unique and curvaceous figures. These women are courageously challenging stereotypes while attempting to change idealistic and often unrealistic standards of female fitness and beauty.
Siera Bearchell, Miss Universe Canada 2016. Photo: Miss Universe Organization
During the 2016 Miss Universe competition, Siera Bearchell, Miss Universe Canada, received worldwide media attention not only because of the relentless and vicious criticism of her weight but because of her unflinchingly positive response about her size. She went on to become one of the Top 10 Finalists in the pageant that year, strutting her bikini-clad curves with no shame or apology.
“It takes discipline to be true to ourselves in a world that is constantly trying to shape us into something we are not…" Bearchell said. "To be truthful, I restricted my food intake intensely at previous pageants and was miserable, self-conscious and I never felt good enough. No matter how little I ate and how much weight I lost, I constantly compared myself to others and felt like I could still lose more. My body is not naturally lean and that's okay. I am healthy. I am fit. I am confident. I am me. This is who I am right now and I'm okay with it, so you should be too. My fellow ladies, remember that true beauty and validation start from within." (Read: How to be a Role Model)
Mirella Paz Baylon, 2016 Miss Universe Peru contestant. Photo: The Daily Mail
Another titleholder in the Miss Universe system, Mirella Paz Baylon, representing Lima, Peru, became the first plus-size woman to reach the Top 10 in the Miss Universe Peru pageant. She competed against 30 other women in the qualifying round and in the end, was awarded first runner-up. As thrilled as the national audience was for the winner of Miss Peru, Baylon’s success electrified not just fans in her home country but around the world. During the Miss Italy (Miss Italia, not affiliated with Miss Universe Italy) competition, Paola Torrente owned her size 14 figure while being ridiculed by other contestants and harassed on social media after she became first runner-up in her pageant.
Torrente stated, “I started to receive messages from girls who thanked me for participating, for showing that curvy is beautiful and thanks to me, felt better about themselves. I want to tell young women to accept themselves and to understand that feeling good and being happy is the most powerful thing to fight people's words and thoughts. Now a lot of girls that don't fit the beauty ideal of tall and skinny compete. That's a really good thing, it means the mentality is changing.” The Miss Italy pageant organizer, Patrizia Mirigliani, agreed, saying, “Stop the stereotypes. What we want are more female models who are closer to real people. The popularity of curvaceous women is a social initiative to combat anorexia and that to win this fight it is important to have the support of the fashion industry.”
Paola Torrente, 2016 Miss Italy contestant. Photo
Competing by your own values
Women compete in pageants for many different reasons, but pageantry at its highest and most noble level should be about personal development and growth, serving in your community or for an important cause, and forming relationships with like-minded women. The rewards that pageantry can bring are enormous. But, you should never compromise your convictions and deeply held beliefs for anything, let alone a crown.
If your sister, best friend or daughter told you that she had to starve herself, exercise to exhaustion or purge in order to fit into a certain dress size in order to win a pageant, what would you say to her? And, why would you treat yourself with less love and respect that you would treat a loved one? If you are getting pressure from people telling you that you must do extreme things to force your body to become a certain size to have a chance at winning a title, do you believe that those people have your best interests at heart? And, if that is the case, perhaps you should find another system that values you just as you are, as well as all that you have to offer. Because at the end of the day, you have to be responsible for your own choices. You have to answer to yourself. If you truly envision yourself to be a queen, then you must treat yourself like a queen and live your life like a queen.
A queen is about being a mature adult who is in total control of herself, her choices and her life. Being a queen is about knowing your beliefs and holding fast, not being easily swayed by critical voices in times of temptation and trial. Being a queen is about assertively owning your thoughts and feelings and opinions and encouraging others to do the same while being diplomatic in a winsome way when you encounter conflict. Being a queen means comporting yourself honorably, with integrity and character and taking responsibility for your actions when you do not.
Thinking like a queen and celebrating all that you are
Being a queen is about owning who you are in total, and not only accepting yourself but appreciating and celebrating the magnificent and unique being that you are. In short, a queen is a woman who values herself so highly, that she does not require the approval, accolades and acquiescence of others to determine her worth. And, a woman like this does not need to contort her beautiful body into a form that it was never meant to be because she already knows that she is enough just as she is. And, if a group of judges is unable to recognize the splendorous creature that she is, then they and the organization they represent are not worthy to have her as their titleholder.
If you want something that you have never had, you will have to do things that you have never done. And, if you have never held yourself to the standards of the queen that I just described, maybe it’s about time that you do. Because if you want to become worthy of wearing the Miss Universe crown, or any other crown in the world, you are going to have to become that kind of woman. It is the queen who makes the crown, not the other way around. If you believe that you are meant to be Miss Universe or any other titleholder, and you believe that with all of your heart, then commit yourself to that path, and become the best version of yourself that you can be. You have to fight for what you believe in. And, anything worth having is worth fighting for. Believe in your dreams, believe in yourself and believe in the queen that you already are. We believe in you!
Lydia has won several awards, including Preliminary Talent, for her voice!Learn More