This week I left London for a couple of days and headed to Manchester for the long-awaited final of Simply Be‘s ‘Face Of Plus Size Fashion’ modelling competition. I was absolutely honoured to be asked to join Alison and Natalie from Simply Be, Jackie from Best Magazine and Sarah from 12+ UK Model Management as one of the judges, though I don’t think I realised until I got there just how difficult it was going to be to pick just one woman from the group of amazing ladies who made up the final 16!
The rules of the competition were left wide open, with no restrictions other than the fact you had to wear size 14+. The finalists (who’d been preselected by the team at Simply Be) were a really wide range of sizes, heights and ages, which I thought was fantastic. It was so wonderful to see women of all shapes and sizes looking gorgeous – and not shying away from fitted shapes, tricky trends and bold colours – but it also made choosing an eventual winner really difficult, because I loved so many of the girls for different reasons.
For the first part of the day, the girls bought their favourite outfit to wear on the catwalk. They were treated to professional hair and makeup and had catwalk lessons, then they faced the judges for a few questions. Our first job was to make a cut from 16 down to 5. Eeek! I felt like I was at Judges Houses on X Factor – we even had the polaroid photos and the coffee table! I have so much respect for people judging any competition like this after having to make this cut. The more you sit and discuss with your fellow judges, the more you realise you’re going round in circles!
That said, I was really happy with the final five we picked. I probably could have picked a whole other five and been just as happy with them (and another after that…), but the girls we picked had everything I was looking for; women I thought embodied the brand and could represent curvy women with the right positive attitude. Obviously, they also had to have striking features, good skin and so on (this was a modelling competition, after all!) but they also had to have the body confidence, personality and sense of fun that the brand is known for. Simply Be girls are fun-loving, free-spirited girls who know how to pull off a party frock, they aren’t moody, pouty fashionistas (not that we had any of those)!
Once we’d announced the final five, the girls were whisked off for a bit of restyling, and all put into the same Simply Be dress for final round of judging. I have to say, picking one dress was a masterstroke. Not only was it really pretty (it’s definitely on my ‘must buy’ list) but it really levelled the playing field, especially for someone like me who tends to be swayed by what people are wearing (I asked more than one girl where they got their outfits on the day). One more round of judging (and lots of holding our heads in our hands) and we finally decided on a very worthy winner…Amy Sellu.
Amy completely won me over not only with her gorgeous curves, killer legs and beautiful smile, but also with her confidence, intelligence and how incredibly articulate she was. She told us about her journey towards size acceptance, and her healthy attitude towards her body is really inspirational. This is a girl who works in a gym and faces hardcore gym bunnies all the time, but she has grown to realise that though she is built differently, she just as fabulous as them!
In fact, that’s what blew me away with all the finalists I had the chance to talk to. It was an inspiration to meet so many women who’re so body-confident. None of the women I met on Wednesday were lazy, unhealthy people who’d ‘let themselves go’, as so many (awful) people seem to assume plus size women must be. They were a cross-section of British women today – some short, some tall, some with long legs, others with long torsos, some with big boobs, some with big bums (some with both!) but all of them knew exactly how to work it on the catwalk. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a room with so many smart, savvy women with so much to say about beauty, size and body confidence, and I was completely overwhelmed for most of the day. As someone with her own set of body hang-ups who can relate directly to what a lot of these ladies had to say, it was quite difficult sometimes to stay detached enough to make a decision about the winner.
But eventually, we made that difficult decision, and it was lovely to see how supportive the rest of the finalists were. I’d like to say congratulations to Amy for winning, and to all the other women for getting to the final and for being brilliant, beautiful and completely inspirational. If any of you are reading this, you’re amazing, and I mean that.
I’d also like to thank the Simply Be team, Jackie, Sarah, Claire and Sheena for being great company during the trip, and also thanks to all the behind the scenes folks, the camera crews, the hair & makeup team, and finally uber stylist Karen for being absolutely brilliant!