by Kimberley Cummins
On Sunday March 9, 2003 as hundreds packed the Frank Collymore Hall to witness the inaugural Ms. Big & Beautiful Pageant, not many would have recognised the wind of change that was gathering and would sweep across the island.
That change would come to be recognised by the shift in the attitudes of the general public toward full figured women and the confidence and esteem these same women would display in relation to themselves.
That change, understandably, did not impact on everyone and there were some who publicly vented harsh criticisms of such a pageant and what they believed it stood for.
But director of the pageant, Tonia Husbands, in an interview with Barbados TODAY said that in spite of this, 10 years onward the Ms. Big and Beautiful Pageant is still going strong and impacting positively on the lives of many plus-size women on the island.
“I never thought I would have the mental stamina to continue on for all of these years but I am very proud of how the show has grown from strength to strength,” she said with pride.
“I think now that persons have accepted the pageant is in existence,” she said. “I also find that a lot of the stores that would not have normally catered†for or even have a plus size section now do. There is not a store in Bridgetown that you can’t find clothes up to 3x. You are also seeing a change with bands, fashion shows – more plus size models are coming out and to† me that is a really big accomplishment as well.
“The way that full-figured women are now dressing has also changed. Now they are feeling more confident with themselves. You may still have the odd person that may not dress to suit their size, but the majority of plus-size women are now taking more pride in how they dress and how they look.”
One of the changes, however, that has yet to take place is the opinions of some critics towards the show. But Husbands said she was not daunted by this, adding she believed her show could be celebrating 20 years and there would still be persons who thought her contestants should never be given an opportunity to flaunt their stuff on any stage. The entrepreneur responded: “Anything that you do in life and it is out of the ordinary, you will always have critics. There will still be persons who believe the show should never been brought to the stage because people think that we are glamourising obesity, which is not the case.
“What people don’t know is that we have workshops where we educate these girls on what to eat and what not to eat. We encourage them to exercise as well because in the slimmer pageants those girls still go in the gym, they try to look there best so just because you are big and in Big and Beautiful Pageant that doesn’t mean you cannot aspire to look better on the night of the show.
“We are asking persons who are a certain size to believe in themselves and to love themselves. The reality is, regardless of how many weight loss programmes there are, how many gyms, how many times [the Barbados Government Information Services]†come on the television to tell you about health and the dangers of obesity there will always be full figured women in the world.”
In her trademark matter of fact style, Husbands added: “We are unique – no [two people are] the same. When you love yourself enough you do things for yourself and you are able to say ‘You know what? I am going to get up, go walking, eat better!’ We just need you to, at the end of the day, love yourself.
“Barbados is a critical society and I don’t think the attitudes towards full-figured women will fully changed, but what will continue to change is how full-figured women feel about themselves. That is the major and most important change. You can’t live your life to please people, you have to live your life to please yourself.”
To celebrate the tenth anniversary, even in the face of limited sponsorship, not necessarily because of the “harsh economic time” but, she believed, more likely because some of the “big name” companies did not want to be associated with the brand, the young entrepreneur said that patrons could expect a bigger and better production.
It will be nothing short of spectacular, promised. With support from God, some plus-size stores in the City, the continued backing of patrons who come year after year to encourage the girls, along with various fund-raising endeavours, when the production comes off in October, she added, it will have a major impact.
While deliberately holding back on details, Husbands revealed that all of the former queens were expected to make an appearance on the night of the show. Ten contestants will compete this year and there will be a special segment comprising six 12-to-15 year-olds who are facing challenges and criticisms about their weight at school and who would by then have participated in a workshop, organised by the pageant, called Loving Me For Me.
She told Barbados TODAY that the workshop would teach these young girls how to dress to suit their body types, about exercise, self-esteem and on the night of the pageant they will be a big reveal to show family and friends how they transformed themselves.
Husbands, while expressing some uncertainty about the future direction of the pageant, stressed that she was proud and satisfied that it was and continued to be an instrumental avenue for the confidence, esteem and pride that hundreds of voluptuously blessed women now felt within themselves. [email protected]††