Beauty pageants are on the rise in the UK. We sat down with Kat Henry recent winner of the Ms International Curve pageant and asked her what the appeal was 60 years after the birth of modern feminism.
We have all seen “Toddlers and Tiaras” where women live vicariously through their little girls. As an adult what do you get from being a contestant; is there a drive for personal fame and fortune?
I’ll be honest when I first entered Miss British Beauty Curve (MBBC) in 2015 I didn’t really know what to expect. My only exposure to pageants was what is often so negatively portrayed in mainstream media that pageantry is all about being judged solely on the aesthetics. Since competing I have found that there is so much more to it than that and pageants offer much more than meets the eye. Women from all different walks of life compete; strong, independent women, who often devote countless hours of their own time to various charitable causes. They aren’t out there trying to promote the objectification of women; they are out here trying to make a difference in the world. By competing in a pageant you are given a platform to promote whatever cause you feel passionate about. Many choose to raise money via holding or taking part in charity events, some embark on setting up social media campaigns to raise awareness for common issues; you have the opportunity to use your title to promote whatever good cause you see fit. I have been so lucky to have encountered like-minded women who are all fighting for the greater good. These women become your support system; you experience a certain camaraderie that is second to none. You forge strong bonds with these women, some have even become like family to me. For me I relish the excitement of preparing for the pageant, everything from planning my outfits to public appearances, to letting it all go on stage (that’s when I really come alive) it all makes the experience worthwhile. I have never once thought about what winning the pageant can do to advance my own personal fame, but more so what can I do with my title to promote change or inspire others to follow in my footsteps.
As cliché as this may sound, pageants have changed my life. My confidence has sky-rocketed, I have had the chance to encourage women with little to no self confidence to compete themselves and I have watched those very same women shed their fears and anxiety like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, it’s really empowering to see. That’s what motivates me, the fact that I can physically see that I am making a positive impact on other women, knowing that because of me, someone found the courage to step outside of their own comfort zones and follow their dreams. That’s what I am passionate about, helping women see that they are capable of achieving great things with hard work and determination.
When people think of pageants, they either think of “Drop Dead Gorgeous ” or “Miss Congeniality” – where women create and play a caricature of themselves as this ideal “non-feminist, 1950’s traditional values woman”. Are pageants outmoded as a patriarchal definition of female identity?
I personally think that these days pageants are showing more and more that women are demanding equality and fighting for the chance to be heard and taken seriously in today’s society. Margana (Miss Texas) is just one of many women who add testament to the fact that pageant contestants are not just beautiful examples of women in the aesthetic sense but also fine examples of women with integrity, strength and determination. Just look at the Miss Peru contestants who broke away from the tradition of reciting their measurements in the opening round and instead used the opportunity to recite facts about gender violence within the country, they were bravely sticking two proverbial fingers up to traditional objectification and using their platform to invoke change. These women are genuine role models for the next generation of females. Pageants get a lot of flack simply because others assume you are judged solely on what you look like, but that is simply not the case.
These women are anything but simple or basic, they are doctors, nuclear physicists, soldiers and pilots and police officers and lawyers and mothers and everything in between. These women are feminists because they believe in the strength of women, not because they want to belittle men or prove that feminism is the only way forward but to prove that women are capable of great things and that we just want to be treated fairly and equally. The whole concept of wanting “world peace” is not such a bad thing; it shows that we strive for a better world for our children… If you don’t want world peace too, then you are part of the problem! I appreciate that women are ultimately judged on their outfits and catwalk ability but I assure you (from judging pageants myself) when looking for the next queen, you are looking for someone with much more than just a pretty face.
After DT’s antics during his ownership of the Miss Universe contest and recent sexual harassment scandals now appearing in every trade across the press; have you ever experienced harassment as a contestant?
As a contestant no I have never experienced any form of sexual harassment, but as a model I have been subjected to inappropriate or suggestive advances by industry professionals and photographers. I think it’s something that has too often been accepted as the norm. The recent #MeToo campaign has really opened people’s eyes to just how widespread this is, in all walks of life and hopefully by raising awareness it will make it easier for people to open up about their experiences and in time that will make it abundantly clear to ALL that this type of behaviour is NOT okay and it will not be tolerated.
To be honest every pageant that I have been involved with has been run by women, not saying that women aren’t just as capable of making inappropriate advances towards other women, but the female directors of the pageants I have competed in have been previous pageant girls themselves so understand the work that is involved in competing so genuinely care about their contestants well-being, mentally and physically. Unfortunately being active on social media leaves you open to inappropriate behaviour from strangers. I don’t understand the “dick pic” mentality at all…like I mean am I supposed to be excited by the mere sight of a man’s genitalia? If we met on the street would you just whip it out and expect me to fall head over heels in love with you?! I’m more likely to be excited about getting to know someone and seeing what they are like as a person than being sent unsolicited photos of their manhood. I have a firm policy on those types of messages, Delete and Block!
Many pageants have moral clauses restricting conduct for contestants before and especially after for the winner. Is this at odds with modern feminism?
Okay so I am I big stickler for this, the moral clause for good conduct is very important within any business situation so why would it be any different in a pageant. Being a pageant contestant and especially when crowned the queen, you become the face of that particular brand. You are representing a business, sometimes even a small business which prides itself on positive representation. You are being entrusted with a big responsibility and as such I feel that it is only fair to present yourself in the best way possible. Your reputation is a representation of the pageant and therefore you should understand the importance of being a role model to other women. In my opinion it’s there to make you more mindful of your actions especially how you portray yourself on social media. I don’t see this as a negative thing in any way. I haven’t experienced any clauses with outrageous demands on my moral conduct, I feel that such requests are wholly justified and part and parcel of being a pageant contestant is accepting that you must carry yourself with dignity, respect and grace.
Pageants are known for their big cash prizes – but UK pageants, not so much. In fact, many of the pageants we have researched only offer the crown as the main prize. So, what is your motivation to enter when fees can be £250+ per contest?
It’s quite simple really and it’s just like marmite, you either love it or you hate it. I do it for the buzz, I adore being on stage, I am a musical theatre student so to me, being on stage is one of my biggest passions. I compete because I want to make a difference; I want to use my title to make positive changes in society. To me the title is an honour and it offers was more kudos than I ever imagined. To physically win something is a huge confidence boost and a major achievement. Plus the crowns are beautiful and sparkly and they make you feel like a million quid, so why would you not want to compete if not just for the crown!
Pageant gowns can cost thousands – what’s your budget and how much do you spend on average per gown?
Yes I am very lucky to have been financially sponsored for every pageant I have competed in but that is generally just for my pageant fees. The cost of outfits are often funded by myself, being a blogger I have forged a lot of brand connections and being a model you get to meet a lot of designers so I have networked like crazy to get to this position. As much as the designer gowns are sensational, I try not to buy dresses off the rail as I like to promote the work of local seamstresses and costume makers. We all gotta start somewhere. Custom making gowns and outfits is not a cheaper option by any means but it does ensure individuality and uniqueness. To custom make a gown could be anything from £150 to over a thousand pounds and many designers in other countries offer stunning dresses at affordable prices, but I like to have the comfort of being able to attend fittings for my dream dress to make sure it is just how I want it.
A contestant who wins is expected to “perform” at least 10 public appearances. Are they arranged for you or do you have a say as to what or where you appear? Does the pageant pick up the expenses for those appearances?
Some are, some aren’t. Pageant systems often hold events or get involved in community events which you can get involved with. Attending up to 10 appearances is totally doable, there are so many charity events, other pageants and red carpet events that take place. You can even get involved in your local community. Appearances are meant to allow you to use your title to raise awareness or even money for so many deserving causes whilst spreading the word about the pageant at the same time. On the occasions when the system arranges appearances for me yes they often pick up the expenses. One thing to remember is in life opportunities are not handed out on a plate, you need to reach out and carve your own path to success. Your reign is what you make of it, it’s not easy but hard work and perseverance pays off. You get back what you put in.
Some define pageant charity work as corny and unsubstantiated. Is charity work part of those 10 appearances? What charity work do you as Ms International Curve do throughout the year?
I don’t get that, how can raising awareness or money for charity be flipped into something so negative. Philanthropy is well respected in other situations so why should it be any different within the pageant world? Yes any charity work you take part in would form as part of your appearances. As Ms British Beauty Curve 2015/16 I raised money for various different charities throughout my reigning year. I volunteered at Crisis over the Christmas period and spent the night with the homeless, I spent the weekend at Barretstown in Dublin which is a children’s charity that offers free, medically endorsed camps and programmes that are designed for children and their families living with serious illness. Alongside my sponsors BOOSTFit, I continue to support and fundraise for various charities such as Clockwork, The SMA Trust, Holding on Letting Go and INCC.
As a United Kingdom Galaxy contestant you are asked to raise any money for their chosen charity which is The Christie and in our year our girls collectively raised over £19k for the cause. Miss International Curve has chosen to support the charity SANE which focuses on changing mental health for good. I am attending a volunteering event this week for them to see how I can get involved and use my title to help fundraise.
I am passionate about helping children and focusing on supporting them through their teenage years, helping them deal with the struggles of growing up, puberty and handling bullying and preventing child suicide so I will being campaigning with a few charities over the next year. I would also like to spend more time volunteering in children’s wards and visiting sick children in an attempt to brighten their days. I got the opportunity to visit a little girl called Melody whilst she was in hospital. Melody suffers with Retts Syndrome, she is a very poorly little girl and some of my pageant sisters organised a trip to her hospital to make her feel like a princess for the day. She is the biggest Ed Sheeran fan, so I sat next to her and sang some of his songs to her. She was transfixed on my singing and she totally stole my heart. Although she doesn’t speak you could sense how much she enjoyed the experience and I would love to meet other children and spend time making their lives more enjoyable in any way that I can.
Would you recommend pageantry to anyone else and why?
Yes totally, it’s a fabulous experience. I have made friends with some inspirational women, I have experienced some amazing things, my confidence has increased tenfold, I have been involved in fantastic events and I thoroughly enjoy competing. That being said, it’s not for everyone, but I say try it before you knock it. My daughter used to have very little self confidence and since I have competed I have seen such a positive change in her. She is now competing in her first pageant next month as Miss Teen Surrey Sensational UK and as soon as she hits 18 she tells me that she is coming for my Curve crown!
What are your top tips for winning?
My biggest tip is “Be YOU”. Let your inner beauty and true personality radiate through your actions. Tips for pageant day; interact with the audience and make eye contact with your judges, walk with poise and confidence, hold your poses for a minimum of three seconds each to make sure your photographer can capture you and most importantly; SMILE!
There is no real formula for winning, but to be a Queen you should try to embody the qualities that a queen should possess; grace, dignity, confidence, gratitude, charisma, determination, strength and resilience.