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Main » 2016 » April » 17 » Pageant Celebrates Plus-size Women and Challenges Notions of Beauty
2:46 PM
Pageant Celebrates Plus-size Women and Challenges Notions of Beauty

Pageant Celebrates Plus-size Women and Challenges Notions of BeautyThis is a pageant like no other. Only women size 14 and up need apply.

Plus-size women from throughout the state will reflect the message that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes during the California Plus America beauty pageant in Anaheim on April 24.

"We're beautiful no matter what size we are," said Cher Rue, California Plus America executive director. "Beauty is inside."

The pageant comes at a time when strides toward body acceptance and more diverse industry ideals of beauty have been reflected on fashion runways and on television.

This year, plus-size model Ashley Graham became the first full-figured woman to pose for the cover of Sports Illustrated's annual swimsuit edition.

More mainstream retailers also are selling clothes in a wide range of sizes. Plus-size women's clothing generated $17.5 billion in 2014, according to global information company NPD Group.

California Plus America is unique also for its inclusion of pageant participants who are atypical for other reasons.

One woman is a sergeant major in the Army. Another is an amputee who does karate. And one is a homeless woman who won the pageant last year in the teen category. (The teen pageant will be held later in the year.)

They all share a desire to inspire women.

The beauty competition, founded in 2012, invites full-figured women of all ages, races and backgrounds to participate, and it focuses on accomplishments, community involvement and charitable service to others.

The candidates must also be U.S. citizens and have good moral character. Felony convictions aren't necessarily a barrier but must be disclosed.

They may be single, married, divorced, widowed or separated.

The women pay a $495 entry fee that includes a crown, sash, pageant admission tickets and a mention in a program book.

From there, the contestants — this year there are 12 who range in age from early 20s to mid-50s — will be critiqued on their conversational skills, personality, fashion sense and charitable pursuits, Rue said.

They will answer questions on current events before a panel of three judges and model a pant suit and an evening gown. They have the option to participate in a talent portion, singing, dancing or playing the piano, for instance.

The winner will then receive an invitation to compete on a national stage at the Miss Plus America pageant in Dallas beginning June 29.

The adult pageant is broken down into three divisions, Ms., Miss and Mrs. Winners in each of the three will receive a paid entry fee into the national competition, a photo shoot, a jewelry set and private coaching, among other prizes.

One contestant vying for the crown and sash is Kristie Rodrique, a Lake Elsinore resident and single mother to two.

Rodrique, who works at Saddleback Memorial in Laguna Hills, learned of the event from a friend who had participated. She noticed that her friend's self-esteem and confidence rose after the experience.

After signing up for the pageant, Rodrique declared her platform as support for Limbs for Life Foundation, an Oklahoma-based organization that raises awareness of the challenges facing amputees and provides prosthetic care to those in need.

At age 6, Rodrique lost her right leg because of a birth defect. She walks with a prosthetic, has participated in charity walks and has practiced martial arts for over 10 years.

The pageant has been life-changing, she said, noting that she has built friendships with fellow candidates and even calls them "sisters."

It's a feeling of sisterhood that Rue has wanted to cultivate since becoming executive director two years ago. Throughout history, women have been faced with the challenge of fitting into a certain mold or ideal in order to be considered beautiful, she said.

After hosting a series of plus-size fashion shows, she turned to the designers she had collaborated with and joined forces with brands like Loft2Be and Plush Cat Style so the contestants could model the latest fashions during the pageant.

But aside from showcasing current fashion trends, Rue, an actress and event organizer on the front lines of the curvy-body-positive movement, said the pageant is about celebrating a woman as she is.

And the loudest message Rodrique plans to deliver before judges and the audience, she said, will be sent to her 8-year-daughter, Autumn.

"I want to share with my daughter to be positive and to give back," Rodrique said. "It doesn't matter what you look like. The beauty is inside, so project it for everyone to see."

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