As part of our “In Conversation series” we had a chat with former Miss Universe Great Britain, Grace, about beauty pageants, the misconceptions and why they empower her.
UV: First of all a massive congratulations on winning the title of Miss Universe GB! How has the experience been?
GL: The experience has been amazing; pretty dresses and crowns aside, it has given me the opportunity to travel around the world, meet both inspirational and everyday people who both have opened my eyes and mind and whom I would have not met otherwise. It has also made me grow as a person; I was very disciplined whilst preparing for the actual competition and really had to prioritise things in my life. I worked very hard and was extremely focused, and only upon being so dedicated to something did I truly realise in life what is important and what is not.
UV: You’ve been taking part in pageants for a number of years now, what inspired you to take part?
GL: I suppose you can say I started quite young as my mother entered me into the local carnival princess competition when I was 7. But once I grew up, it wasn’t until I was at university and was watching Miss Congeniality with friends and we joked about entering our local Miss England heat. We stupidly filled out the application form and a week later I had a call from the directors. I decided to give it a go, and it wasn’t actually until taking part I realised how much fun it was. So you could say that I randomly fell into pageants, it didn’t strike me in the middle of the night that I must enter one. Like all hobbies and interests, you randomly try it and enjoy it. It is slightly addictive; you meet lots of like minded young women and have such a great time, I kept entering again until I won a title and even then I kept entering to try and win a national title.
UV: There’s a lot of misconceptions about beauty pageants – they’re shallow & just about looks, “world peace” & that girls taking part are bitchy & hate each other etc. In reality, is it actually like this?
GL: Not at all! It does sadden me that there are so many misconceptions about pageants and the stereotypes of the girls that take part. To some degree, pageants are about looks, after all it is a beauty pageant. But the type of beauty that is sought after is more than skin deep. The winner is someone who is a spokesperson, a role model, a public figure who just so happens to be beautiful as well. So the winner is not the tallest, or the skinniest, or the one with the shiniest hair. She is the one who has the whole package, with beauty being the cherry on top. In my personal experience, I have only ever met really nice and friendly girls and most of my friends today are those who I have competed with, and against. Winning a beauty pageant gives someone a platform to stand on and be heard from; therefore the types of girls that compete are usually quite passionate about their beliefs and enter so they have that voice. Everyone has their own story to tell, and why they are there. Most tabloid articles about pageants ignore this and the reasons why girls compete in the first place abad focus on stupid things like a girl being terrified on stage and giving an awful answer to a question.
UV: Do you feel pressure to look a certain way and how do you remain body positive?
GL: I felt extreme pressure in the lead up to Miss Universe to be in good physical shape. But this was pressure I put on myself because I wanted to be the best I possibly could be and if I didn’t push myself I would never have known. Miss Universe is famous for its swimsuit round and I didn’t want to wear my countries name across me and have wobbly thighs! I was in it to win it therefore I wanted to be among those seen as winners. But now I am not competing any more I have gone up two dress sizes to a more curvy size 10 and I am still very happy and confident. I run, I work out in the gym, but I also enjoy food and wine. I think to remain body positive you need to have a good balance by exercising regularly and making healthy choices when it comes to food: this will make you feel good about yourself and obviously look better. But then you have to nurture your mind and soul too, so its nice to have an indulging cheat meal and actually think you really deserve it.
GL: I think international beauty pageants are brilliant; you get to see different forms of beauty from all over the world, different races, cultures, religions. I think its a great way also of breaking stereotypes. For example, Miss Universe Japan is causing an uproar because she is mixed race rather than having more traditional pale skin and is being criticised for not being ‘Japanese’ enough. I think its great that she has broken moulds and is proving that there is not a single type of beauty, in Japan, and the rest of the world.
UV: You say taking part in pageants make you feel empowered as a woman. You’ve started your own business to pass this on to other girls, can you tell us a bit about it?
GL: I love taking part in pageants; you really do grow as a person and learn about yourself. You want to win, so you be the best person you can be in every sense possible, and that in itself is empowering; to journey through that self development to believing in yourself and why you are a good person. Its about knowing your strengths and magnifying them and celebrating them. Its about being a woman, and being proud to do or be whatever you want, AND do it in style at the same time. Upon returning from the Miss Universe competition in Miami, I set up The London School of Pageantry to help girls entering pageants. I want to help them not only look good, and walk, talk and present themselves with class and elegance, but I make sure they are entering pageants for the right reasons and to help make them aware of the type of person they are and how to channel their positive passion and energy. If a young woman doesn’t know who she is inside, looks become irrelevant as she will not be able to stand up against someone who knows who she is and what she will make a stand for, and it is in that point which pageants can be destructive to ones wellbeing. It then becomes about being the prettiest or the skinniest, and that will lead to negative comparisons and resulting in feelings the complete opposite of empowerment. The London School of Pageantry helps extract and celebrate someone’s strengths and individuality so they can compete knowing they have purpose and passion on the inside; and THAT is what is empowering.
GL: I feel that pageants need to stay current with the times in order to be taken seriously. Too many people see finalists lined up in little bikinis and compare it to an outdated swimsuit competition from the 50s. People say they are pointless, however I could say that about football, or the Eurovision song contest. For me, it’s not so much about the girls, its about being patriotic and supporting our country! Every year a few selected girls from OUR COUNTRY go to huge finals like Miss World and Miss Universe and get completely mocked by our society and faux ‘feminists’. Where is the support? Its no wonder our country has not won, because to be honest, no one really cares. In light of this, with The London School of Pageantry, I aim to train some of our countries finest contestants for international finals in hopes they can win a title of Miss Universe or Miss World. I think it will take a huge win like this to grab the attention of our country again, and to celebrate young beautiful women with purpose, not just looks. So, until GB, England or the UK win, LSP will keep training. I would love to get Miss Universe and Miss World on TV again, I think that will gain more interest and help break the stereotypes of those involved. A lot goes on behind the evening gown and the crown. The personal stories of girls, their ambitions and the extraordinary things they have done with their lives deserve a whole reality series as it is!
UV: What would you say to any young girls considering taking part in a pageant?
GL: Come and train at LSP! if you are serious about wanting to win, go for it. If you are not serious, don’t feel upset or down if you don’t win, as its a fun and fabulous way of meeting new friends and travelling.