I came home with a bikini for my then 11 year old, in preparation for our upcoming holiday.
She looked at me horrified and said “I cant wear that mum, I'm too fat”
I was horrified. I went straight online to look for the biggest stage I could find to wear a bikini, determined to prove that if her 6'1, size 22 mum could wear a bikini, so could she!
It was a slightly premature response seeing as I wouldn't even wear a swimming costume without shorts over the top. But there is nothing that spurs a Mama Bear on than someone doubting her baby, even if its the baby themselves.
I stumbled across the page for a beauty pageant. Yes! They wear bikinis, that's what I need.
I entered. I then found two more and entered those. Within 48 hours I had heard back from all 3 saying I had been successful. Me. The overweight, freakishly tall tomboy who preferred motor cars to make up. Me. They actually wanted me to be a beauty queen. #
The reality of entering started setting in; I was so very much the opposite of a beauty queen. I wasn't even remotely girly or demure. I was brash, and a more like a “fella with boobs” as I was once described. I would just make myself look a fool! Then I read the actual entry requirements. One was a typical beauty pageant, big dresses and swimsuits and lots of glitz. The other was charity based and the idea was to work hard to promote the charity chosen and raise funds.
The third, Miss Voluptuous, was a platform pageant. Instantly I knew that if I was going to do one, it needed to be this.
Having suffered but survived quite extensive domestic abuse, I had campaigned and championed charities supporting women survivors of abuse for some years, and my absolute passion is to reduce the number of women finding themselves in need of refuge spaces, and the decade long statistic of 2 women per week dying at the hands of a current or former partner. To me it was an obvious fit. It was a plus size pageant so I could show my daughter that strong beautiful women come in all shapes and sizes, whist simultaneously raising awareness for something that means so much to me. So I signed up.
I was still nervous and forever questioning myself. My partner, who you'll come to call Shrek, was unwavering. “You have to, you'll be amazing and just think of all the women you can help!” I was unconvinced, but who could argue with support like that?
Over the coming months I grew to know my fellow competitors, though it was hard to think of them as such. They were quite honestly the most inspiring, incredible women I had ever had the pleasure of being acquainted with; not only were they all stunning but the passion they had for their own individual platforms, each one as worthy as the other, was breathtaking. Quite how I would ever be able to compare to these ladies I couldn't even begin to comprehend.
By the time we reached the finals weekend these were no longer my fellow finalists, these were my friends. Some I had met at events during the year but most we had only talked over text or Facebook, yet upon meeting we all hugged like lifelong pals.
To say I was a frantic, panicking mess was an understatement. I'm not a real girl. I can't do hair, and make up was a slick of coffee shimmer and some Kohl liner! Looking ready for a beauty pageant just wasn't in the plan - so my pageant sisters rescued me. They helped teach me how to do my face and after a 15 minute meltdown over a wig that just wouldn't work, they even helped me do my hair. The girls were supposed to be my competition, but there was no competing here.
We made it to the stage, most of us complete beginners experiencing our first ever runway or stage moment. Terrifying doesn't even come close.
The judges had ruled and our positions announced. Shockingly I had made it to the top 10! I was quite honestly dumbfounded. I was then announced as Miss Publicity which was a huge honour, I know how hard these ladies had worked so to win that side award was quite the achievement.
I have been asked since as to whether I felt disappointment not to win. I can state without hesitation and in all honesty that no, I don't. Because I genuinely feel that each and every single one of those women deserved a crown, so watching someone I admire and respect take the title gave me nothing but joy.
But then my world changed.
3 days after the final my beloved partner, my absolute world, my soulmate Shrek had been involved in a car accident on his way home from work.
Time stood still. He was in intensive care and needed a lot of operations to try and fix his very broken body. Word got to my pageant family and the messages of love and support was astounding. My Facebook newsfeed was a sea of Green cartoon faces in silent acknowledgement, thought and prayer for me and my Shrek.
Sadly the prayers weren't enough and 13 days later Shrek died of his injuries.
My world collapsed; I had no idea how I would get beyond the pain that I physically felt from the moment I saw him take his last breath. My heart had broken irreparably. Yet each and every day I would receive messages of love and support from my pageant family. These ladies who had met us just once, who were supposed to be my competition, who despite being hundreds of miles away in most cases were offering to visit, to hold my hand and to tidy my home. They sent cards and flowers, made arrangements to attend his funeral, started collections to help with the costs....the support and love I had received was astonishing, and in some cases surpassed that of the friends I had known in the “real world” for years.