Are beauty pageants changing? Whatever your thoughts are from a feminist point of view, there appears to be a sea change – and it might be a change you approve of.
Interestingly, Miss England 2010 will feature the winner of Miss Natural Curves – a woman who celebrates being a “real” shape and size, not a stick insect.
Rebecca Morton, who won the first title just a week ago, is a size 12 – which, admittedly, is smaller than the national average of a 16 – and she is pledging to campaign against the beauty and modelling worlds that push vulnerable girls to become skinnier and skinnier.
She is a welcome breath of fresh air when it comes to the issue: not only is she happy in her own skin, she wants to challenge young girls who feel under pressure to be thin.
The 22-year-old Coventry University graduate knows what it feels like to be anxious about her looks: as a teenager she hated wearing swimsuits, believing herself to be too big compared with her skinnIer friends. She hid herself away and it ate away at her confidence.
Rebecca is keen that other girls don’t fall into this trap. She wants to go into schools and talk to girls about the pressures they feel to be skinny.
She wants to educate them about how the shallowness of believing that only looks are important; she wants to scream from the rooftops to teens that there are more important things to worry about than being a size 8 or 6; she wants to drum into their heads that exercise is the key to being healthy.
“I really love exercising, I get a real buzz out of it. I feel much better for it. Girls shouldn’t be dieting to be thin,” she says.
“I want them to see that their personalities shining through is important, not how they look. I want them to focus on being healthy.”
Of course, deep down, most girls know this already. But many can’t help but want to be slim above and beyond anything else.
It is wonderful that Rebecca wants to be an ambassador for “larger” (or “normal”) girls, to celebrate curves and raise awareness about the conflicting messages the media bombards us with: castigating Victoria Beckham for being too thin and then filling column inches with yet another “bikini diet”.
But is she a lone voice? Let’s hope not. We need more women like her – intelligent young women whom teenagers can empathise with and respect – to do this work. Girls need proper role models they can discuss these issues with. Teachers and mums can do it until they are blue in the face, but there will only be a positive effect if there are more Rebeccas banging the drum.