Beauty Pageants And Body Image: Why A Pageant Winner Turned In Her Crown

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Zoiey Smale, 28, was thrilled to be crowned Miss United Continents UK in June 2017. Before she could travel to Ecuador to compete in the pageant’s final round, however, she turned in her crown.

The organizers of the Miss United Continents pageant, which pits “beauty queens” from around the world against one another in a contest of, well, beauty, had a message for Smale. If she wanted to keep any hope of winning in Ecuador, they reportedly told her, she would have to begin dieting. Immediately.


Smale described her reaction to the MailOnline. She blurted out a single word—”Pardon?”—and hung up the phone.

“It was one of those things,” she said. “In the 21st century, you don’t actually expect people to be that blunt.”

Now’s a good time to note that Smale wears a UK size 10, which equates to about a women’s size 8 in the United States. By no definition could she be considered “overweight.”


Still, shortly after taking the crown at the UK contest, the organizers called Smale to express their bizarre judgements about her award-winning body.

“Out of the blue, it was really random,” she said. “She rang me and said, ‘I’ve had some feedback from the international director.’ I was like, ‘Okay, fine, I’m always open to new ideas.’ She tried to put it tactfully but I knew exactly what she was getting at. She said to me, ‘They want you to go on a diet plan and they want you to lose as much weight as possible for the finals.'”


The High Price of Beauty: Pageants, Body Image, and Health

Studies suggest that women who participate in beauty pageants face a greater risk of developing eating disorders. One 2003 study found that 26 percent of the beauty pageant contestants they surveyed had been told they had an eating disorder. Nearly half of those women wished they were thinner. More than half of them were actively trying to lose weight.

Around the same time, the prevalence rate for anorexia nervosa in the general population of the West maxed out at 5.7 percent. The rate among Western women for bulimia nervosa reached up to 7.3 percent. Neither one comes close to the more-than-a-quarter of beauty pageant contestants who reported suspicions of eating disorders in the 2003 study.

In a Facebook post announcing her withdrawal from the competition, Smale described some of the behavior that might lead to this body image disparity.

“Having been in the industry for over 10 years I have seen it all,” Smale wrote, “from amazing competitions to international pageant directors bullying young aspiring girls into believing the only way to be successful is to be thin.”

” … 8 years ago I was one of those girls,” she continued. “Those rogue competitions that claim to be pageants […] yet insist you eat less, parade around in a bikini for a few days and sit at the arm of a man over dinner whilst pushing an olive around a plate… Honey let me tell you, this is NOT a pageant. I was branded ‘fat’ because I am size 10.”

I actually believed that I was so disgusting that no one would ever love me. How sad is that?

Smale, who actually came out of retirement to compete in the UK event, wrote that the pageant industry has changed for the better in the past decade. But it saddens her, she wrote, that there are still pageant directors who equate skinniness with beauty.


“If a pageant doesn’t want to [utilize] my capabilities because I am a size 10, then it’s their loss,” she wrote. She leaves her fans with some words of wisdom that sound just about right to us:

All in all, we never know when our time on this Earth is up. So love yourself, eat a bit of cake, and laugh until your belly hurts.

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