Beauty pageants are changing as Charlotte Harding finds out.
‘I hate having my picture taken’ is not something you would expect a beauty queen to say.
“I am probably the most un-beauty queen you will ever meet,” laughs Michelle Bell.
“On the weekend you are more likely to see me walking around a car showroom than going shopping.
“But I think that is the great thing, anyone can be a beauty queen.”
In September Michelle will be taking part in Miss Voluptuous UK, a pageant which gives plus-sized women (size 14 and above) from across the country the opportunity to share their ideas and visions for the future.
“I am a fierce feminist and a few years ago if someone had said to me about entering a pageant I would have laughed and said about it being misogynist and all about looks,” she reveals.
“But the ones I enter, including this one, 20 per cent of your points is on the night and the other 80 per cent is about you as a person and your ‘platform’ the work you do and the charity you are involved in so it is much more than just how you look in a swimsuit.”
However, it is because of swim wear that Michelle entered a pageant in the first place.
“Last year I bought a bikini for my 11-year-old daughter as we were going on holiday and she said to me ‘I can’t wear a bikini I’m fat’,” recalls Michelle.
“I told her she wasn’t and decided that I needed to do something and tried to think of the most public place to wear a bikini. I came across a pageant. I entered three and got in the final for three.
“I couldn’t believe it, I was just proving a point to my daughter that it doesn’t matter about your size. You can wear what you want.”
The platform that Michelle has decided to stand for is to raise awareness about domestic abuse and to empower its victims.
“As a survivor myself, I have worked with the charities Refuge and Women’s Aid a lot over the years,” she says,
Michelle’s charity work started when Refuge put something on Facebook about its Christmas present collection. She left a comment saying that she had stayed there over Christmas and got a value sandwich maker which had ‘meant the world to her’.
“It was the first time I had got a present and not had someone staring at me while I opened it, waiting for a reaction,” she says.
“It was a great feeling not to have that nervous reaction. They got in touch and asked if they could use my quote and it snowballed from there talking to the media and my story grew.”
Part of her confidence growing came in the form of plus size couture company Scarlett and Jo.
At 6ft1 and a size 22 Michelle admits that when she was invited to do a talk, she realised the high street wasn’t going to provide her with a viable option.
“But then my friend tagged me in a Scarlett and Jo post,” she explains.
“I answered on there that I don’t always like ordering online as you never know what size you are. You can be tall or you can be big but you can’t be both.
“We just had this massive conversation on the post and they got in touch and invited me to their showroom and I tried on loads of dresses and they custom made one for me at no extra cost and I just felt amazing.”
Part of her charity work has also seen her involved with Q4 - pageant queen’s collective, through this they create handbags which includes toiletries and essentials for women who have left a domestic abuse situation.
“When you leave and go to a refuge you have nothing. Most of the time you get up and leave,” she says.
“So it has toiletries, a hair brush, bra and knickers in. I also put in a little note in mine to tell them they have done an amazing thing, that I have been there and it will get better.”
Michelle is also a founding member of body positivity group - postivelyperfect.uk. Its aim is to not only raise the level of body acceptance across the board but Michelle also believes that by improving the confidence of the young, it will help to decrease many cases of domestic abuse, self harm, bullying and depression.
She may not describe herself as a beauty queen but through her pageants she is doing all she can to help empower women.
In the lead up to the competition Michelle is looking for sponsors be it to sponsor her dress, make-up, or hair for the evening.
Anyone who is interested in sponsoring Michelle should email - email@example.com
For more information on Miss Voluptuous UK, which takes place on September 2, you can visit its page on Facebook - www.facebook.com/missvoluptuousuk
This first featured in the July edition of etc Magazine pick up your copy now.