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  • Beauty pageants are just weird – why the hell do we still have them?

    As a size 10 beauty queen gives back her crown after being told to lose weight, Kat Brown asks: can we finally do a regal wave goodbye?


    31 Aug 2017

    Did anyone else think that beauty pageants might have changed since the Miss Congeniality films? Even slightly? Maybe what with social media communities around body positivity and health taking centre stage? Or was it just me being an idyllic old twat. Because news that a beauty queen has handed back her crown after being told that judges wanted her to lose weight before competing at the international level made me drip into a great big puddle of "Oh..."

    Twitter/ @Zo13y

    Zoiey Smale, 28, from Nottinghamshire, is a beauty by anyone's standards. She has captivating eyes, a joyous smile and annoyingly good hair. In June this year, she was named Miss UK in the Miss United Continents pageant, which is, I am assured, a real thing and not something made up to fill a gap between Miss Worlds. However, Zoiey describes this particular one as a "rogue pageant" of which more later.

    Zoiey was getting ready to go to the international finals in Ecuador when the competition's national director told her that she should "lose as much weight as possible" in order for her to stand a chance. Wonderfully, Smale said "Pardon?" and hung up the phone before taking two weeks to get back to them.

    "Out of the blue, it was really random, she rang me and said 'I've had some feedback from the international director'. I was like, 'OK, fine I'm always open to new ideas'. She tried to put it tactfully but I knew exactly what she was getting at," she told the Daily Mail.

    Twitter/ @Zo13y

    She said it was a shock to be told point blank to lose weight, as pageants are usually cautious of promoting stick thin bodies. However, Zoiey described Miss United Continents as one of the "rogue" pageants that put slim girls at the front of the stage, and keep curvier girls at the back.

    However, the wider pageant world has proved a huge comfort to her over the years, and she said that she is speaking out to warn girls of rogue pageants that distract from pageants that, she says, promote character and good works.

    When she was 16, Zoiey was treated for an eating disorder. "Pageants actually helped me regain my confidence," she said. "I had a really horrible relationship with food and when I entered it promoted good self esteem. It wasn't all about being stick thin, people loved me for my brains."

    I was getting ready to bend the knee to Zoiey as my true beauty pageant queen, when I googled her to find her Twitter and a really troubling story came up. While there is no doubt that Zoiey did the right thing in resigning, there are worrying signs that she has previously got overly caught up in winning.

    In 2009, Zoiey, then aged 20 and the reigning Miss Oxfordshire, competed in the Miss England pageant. There was a public vote to find the final 15. The organisers of Miss England were shocked to discover that over 1000 of the public votes for Zoiey were made late at night from her own phone, at a cost of £1 per time.

    Organisers said that Zoiey was not breaking any rules, but that they were "very disappointed" with Zoiey because she "did not enter into the spirit of the competition", by which the girls were supposed to canvas support from their local communities.

    Zoiey lost to Linford Christie's niece Rachel Christie, and to add scandal to scandal, Rachel Christie was later arrested on suspicion of assaulting Miss Manchester. While police agreed that Christie had not committed any crime, by then the damage was done and Christie withdrew from Miss World and relinquished her Miss England crown which was passed to the runner-up, Katrina Hodge.

    Fair enough – we've all done completely OTT things in our teens and 20s, and Zoiey, now older and wiser, has done exactly the right thing in resigning her crown. It's a long time since that Miss England pageant, and it's clear that she wants to do the right thing.

    "I'm not going to support a competition that can do that to people, I just think it's so, so wrong. People wonder why there's a stigma behind beauty pageants and this is not really helping the matter."

    Twitter/ @Zo13y

    The Miss United Continents pageant sounds particularly unpleasant, especially in the descriptions of the girls being treated more like potential escorts on an audition than smart girls being celebrated. We all want validation. We want to know that we are doing our lives right, and that we're approved of by other people and being a woman "properly". But pageants that focus on looks – why?

    Ironically, Katrina Hodge managed to implement some real change in Miss England after she took over the title: in 2010, the swimsuit round was replaced by a sports round. However, this year's contestants were back to posing in swimwear on a trip to Sri Lanka – accompanying news stories feature absolutely nothing about who they are, or what they're interested in, just their vital statistics and an exhaustive selection of pictures.

    "When I did the UK finals it was really big on promoting charity work and giving, which are the sort of pageants that I wanted to enter and that's the sort I've always entered," said Zoiey. "This one took completely away from promoting 'giving'; it's more you've got to be as stick thin as possible because that's what the guys want to see. So I just handed my title back and I just shut that door."

    Arguably, that remains the same of Miss England, Miss World and Miss Universe – is it really all a bit of fun?