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Women in South Africa Find Their Voice in Plus Size Beauty Pageant

The beauty queens of Miss South Africa Plus World are working to redefine beauty norms around the world.

In fact, the organization’s official website states its mission as: “dedicated to promoting, elevating and celebrating the accomplishments and humanitarian services of women from across the nation. It is our goal to build a sisterhood of confident and influential women who share their cultures with each other and the world as they promote education, peace, wellness and community service.”

To compete in this beauty pageant, women must be size 36 and up (in US sizing that’s a size 10 and up), they must be born female, must be between the ages of 20 and 40, and must not be a convicted felon.

Chiefonna Leeuw, the founder of Miss South Africa Plus World, says that there are other factors involved when choosing contestants as well. You need to be beautiful, of course, and you need to be intelligent, of course, and you need to be committed,” he said.

Overall, the women want to take away the stigma against curvy figures in South African culture. Many experienced bullying at a young age because of their size and want to change that for future generations.

One such contestant and queen, 22-year-old model Lindokuhle Mlotja, said she feels empowered by the competition. “I took part because I love modeling and I love my body, so I want to show the world that plus size is alive,” she said.

Mlotja has since started her own organization to fight body shaming. “I love the fact that I have accepted my body the way it is now because I hated my body. I was bullied in high school. I was in grade seven. They used to tell me that ‘I’m so fat. I’m so ugly,’” she said.

Because of the setup of the competition, only allowing plus size women of good character to compete, the atmosphere is incredibly different. Women who were called fat and ugly now find themselves in a room full of women just like them.

Mlotja is happy to have found such a welcoming group of people. “In this community, I found love, people who love themselves, and they are so friendly, and I thank God that I met them,” she said.

For other women, it’s not just about finding a community, but about finally being able to fulfill their lifelong dream of getting on stage. One contestant, Sikwari Tondani, said she has been waiting for this moment for years.

“I have always, always been interested in pageantry…it’s quite fun and exciting. I like dressing up, make-up, looking pretty cute, and I like challenges. Being in the pageant industry helped me gain a lot of confidence,” she said.

Many of the women are finding that confidence on stage, strutting their stuff in bikinis and ball gowns alike. Women who have always been curvier as well as women who  used to be thin but are now bigger now have a place where they can feel confident and supported. As Tondari said after she won the 2019 competition in her advice to young girls, “…their body is not their limit. Their body is not who they are. Their body doesn’t define what they can accomplish.”

Featured Image by Saúde Bahia on Flickr.

Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0

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