In an ideal world, beauty would have no standard and contests set up to ‘judge’ beauty wouldn’t uplift only a certain pattern of pretty while claiming to be objective and open.
But the world isn’t perfect and even still in this age of body positivity and acceptance, nationally recognized pageants like Miss U.S.A. and its counterparts still poses a quiet, shady standard for who is allowed to compete and win.
“I’m 40-years old. Coming up watching pageants like Miss America, I can’t ever recall seeing a plus-sized women on stage. They just aren’t open and diverse enough, still to this day. They have their guidelines even when they’re unspoken. Women like me are always wondering when it’s our turn. We’re just as beautiful, and we’re women. So we stopped waiting,” says Monnika Pruitt, current reigning Ms. Exquisite Full-Figured U.S.A. Michigan for 2021.
Ms. Full Figured USA was founded over 30 years ago in Newark, New Jersey by Ms. Theresa “Sparkle” Randolph, known colloquially and simply as the “queen” of New Jersey. The niche the pageant filled practically didn’t exist in 1989 and truthfully still needs more activism and attention today, but the ladies of MFFUSA bear the burden of educating and elevating with grace and, of course, beauty.
The mission statement and guiding light for MFFUSA states that they aim to “build self-confidence, empowerment and inspiring others while serving the community.”
“We live in a society where beauty, especially in the US, is judged on the color of skin, height, size and what’s “in.”. It’s a narrow, ignorant standard. Beauty is about the face, body and mind, and also about who you are and what you do as a person,” says D’Amrique Justice, Director of the Michigan branch of MFFUSA.
The only rule to being involved with MFFUSA is that you have to be considered a plus-sized or full-figured woman to compete, no matter what unique shape or form your body takes. While the organization was founded and is primarily represented by Black women, skin color has no effect on whether you can apply or the treatment received by fellow queens and sisters.
“When you see us as a group, there is an abundance of Black women and girls and we love that, we won’t apologize for it. That doesn’t mean anyone else is unwelcome, we want any and everybody. Multiple queens have been white, latina, asian, etcetera. And you don’t need prior modeling or pageant experience, either. All that matters is that you’re full-figured and you know your inner worth,” says Pruitt.
Looking fabulous to showcase the beauty of full-figured women is the cornerstone goal of MFFUSA but not the only one by a long shot. Beauty is nothing without brains, something the pageant has emphasized and enacted since its inception in the nineties.
Contestants are expected to do more than stand on stage, smile with all their teeth and mumble about world peace. After being selected to compete, girls are taken under the wing of previous queens and contestants and trained in all areas of pageantry, from balancing on the catwalk to fostering a positive, helpful platform after the lights go off. Winners and contestants often use the spotlight and affirmations gained from MFFUSA to give voice to projects like advocating for the homeless or COVID relief for underserved areas.
“It’s not a thing where we’re chosen and then they go ‘okay, see you in a couple months on-stage!’ Girls aren’t abandoned. They train and teach us, and it’s full-spectrum. We learn about makeup and how to walk in heels, but also how to build a website for your projects, and how to present yourself as a professional to people you want to connect with,” says Shuana Bebee, currently reigning Ms. Full-Figured U.S.A. Michigan for 2021.
The overall National pageant for MFFUSA was last week. Other branches and cities of the pageant host shows throughout the year, offering both an opportunity for plus-sized women all around the county to step fully into their shine and serve as an inspiration to not only the girls who watch them, but the ones they’re raising as well.
“I stumbled into pageantry. I never grew up thinking it was something I could really do. Now, I have daughters who are growing up watching me exist as a fly, full-figured beauty queen, and it’s normal to them to see it. So I know they have always seen themselves as beautiful with no questions asked. That’s what Miss Full-Figured does for women,” Bebee says.