The words “Beauty Queen” easily give the impression that the lucky girls named as such are, indeed, beautiful. They must have won because they meet a certain standard, and are now expected to maintain their looks until such time that they must compete in another pageant for an ultimate or grand prize.
For many, maintaining these looks is synonymous with maintaining a certain weight.
Take, for instance, Siera Bearchell. Since winning the Miss Canada title in June 2016, netizens have been critical of the supposed weight she’s gained in recent weeks.
But on January 18, the 23-year-old law school student finally broke her silence on it.
In her personal Instagram account she posted, “I was recently asked, "What happened to you? Why have you gained weight? You are losing points" This was a reference to my body of course. While I am first to say I am not as lean as I was when I was 16, 20, or even last year, but I am more confident, capable, wise, humble and passionate than ever before. As soon as I started to love who I was rather than always trying to fit what I thought society wanted me to be, I gained a whole new side of life. This is the side I am trying to bring to the @missuniverse competition. The side of life that is so rare to find: self-worth and self-love. We always focus on the things we wish we could change rather than loving everything we are.”
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Her message received public praise including that of former contestants like Miss USA 2015 Olivia Jordan.
Days later, Bearchell followed that up with another Instagram post. In it, she opened up about her personal struggle with an eating disorder and the journey of how content she feels now with her body.
She wrote, "It takes discipline to have the body of a Miss Universe. It also takes discipline to be accepted into Law School. It takes discipline to run a marathon. It takes discipline to be true to ourselves in a world that is constantly trying to shape us into something we are not. People have asked me if I changed my body to prove a point. No. Our lives are fluid, dynamic and ever-changing. So are our bodies. To be truthful, I restricted my food intake intensely at previous pageants and was miserable, self-conscious and I never felt good enough. No matter how little I ate and how much weight I lost, I constantly compared myself to others and felt like I could still lose more. My mental perception did not match the physical body I saw in the mirror. There were days I would eat a protein bar, workout for hours and struggle to fall asleep because I as so hungry. My body is not naturally lean and that's okay. I am healthy. I am fit. I am confident. I am me. This is who I am right now and I'm okay with it, so you should be too. My fellow ladies, remember that true beauty, and validation start from within. ?? #confidentlybeautiful #missuniverse"
It takes a lot of guts to share a story like that, especially on a platform where the world (or shall we say, universe) is watching.
A competition like Miss Universe is stressful enough: Girls like Bearchell are under intense pressure to look and act a certain way. It comes as no surprise then, that everything about them will be judged not just on coronation night, but even from the time they start preparing for the competition.
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On the one hand, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to improve your body—whether it means shedding excess pounds, bulking up for muscle, or simply getting off your butt to attempt exercise.
It becomes a problem when your happiness is determined solely by the numbers on a scale, or when you let negative comments from others affect the way you feel about yourself.
Miss Canada reminds us that this shouldn’t be the case. You can’t please everybody. Rather than concentrate on what anyone thinks, take the time to work on being okay with who you are.
Miss Universe 2016 is, indeed, a beauty competition. But it is also a platform for these girls to help raise awareness on important issues, to inspire societal change, and to make the world a better place.
Such strength and self-love is, in itself, deserving of its own crown. Kudos to Miss Canada!
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Photographs from Instagram.com/sierabearchell, cbc.ca / Artwork by Jana Jimenez