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Plus-size Derby Model Bishamber Das is Inspiration for Thousands of Girls Worldwide
GROWING up Bishamber Das was used to hearing people criticise her for her size or tell her she was "beautiful for a big girl".
But her curvacious figure has helped to launch her into the limelight as an Asian plus-size model.
She has even beaten David Hasselhoff's daughter in a beauty contest and her worldwide social media following has led to her being recruited as the face of Yours Clothing in the Middle East.
But, more importantly, she is challenging the perception of beauty and has become a role model for thousands of girls and young women, encouraging them to be confident in their own skin.
"My journey has been difficult because I don't think people have ever seen a pretty, big girl showing that it is okay to do this," says Bishamber, who grew up in Sunny Hill, Derby.
"I get trolls on the internet – people have compared me to hippos and elephants on social media. I laugh it off but I understand the impact that it could have on other people that are not as strong as me.
"I want people to know that it doesn't matter if you are a few numbers on the scales above everybody else and I also believe that women should be judged on their deeds and good qualities within, not just on how they look."
Bishamber, who is a size 18-20, is passionate about encouraging a positive body image – something which she does by posting stunning photographs of herself on social media with inspirational messages.
The 29-year-old, who claims to be the UK's first Asian plus-size model, also replies to scores of personal messages she receives from her fans.
"I get messages from young girls telling me what an inspiration I am to them and that I have made them more confident in their own skin – that is amazing.
"It is such an honour that people feel I am worthy enough for them to share their personal experiences with me."
Bishamber may now be very confident with her shape, but this has not always been the case. Growing up Bishamber, who studied law and criminology at the University of Derby and was appointed as a magistrate in Derby at the age of 22, used food for comfort and struggled with her self image.
"I am of Indian/Malaysian heritage and elders from my community used to feel it was their right to tell me that if I did not lose weight, no man would love or marry me.
"I was fed up of people putting me down for my physical appearance when in fact I was a bright young woman who had already achieved so much in her academic and professional life."
At her heaviest, aged 25, Bishamber was a size 26 and weighed 21 stone but when she started to experience pain in her knees she decided to lose some weight.
After joining a gym and dieting, the former Landau Forte student lost five-and-a-half stone, which gave her the confidence to enter international beauty pageant Miss India Europe UK in March 2014.
She made the final where she was up against 16 women from nine countries. Although she missed out on the Miss India Europe title, she was crowned Miss Photogenic.
"There were lots of slim girls at the audition and I remember thinking that I had two options; I could walk out or I could try my luck and see what happens.
"I was totally out of my comfort zone and really vulnerable because I was putting myself in a position where people would judge me. But I just decided to go for it and that was the best decision I have ever made.
"I was the only size 18 girl there and to make a mark in it was a big deal.
"I do believe if I had been slim I would have had more chance of winning, but it is not about winning – you don't have to be a winner to be successful."
Buoyed by her success, Bishamber set about building a name for herself using Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. She enlisted the help of a photographer and started uploading photographs of herself and sharing her journey and experiences in a positive light.
"I didn't wait for opportunities, I made them come to me.
"In northern India it went viral. At first the reaction was, 'Look at this fat girl' but then all the negative attention meant that people were talking about me and then the reaction turned more positive.
"I hated the negative comments at first, it was one of the worst stages of my life. I am really fiery but I found it very difficult. My friends kept telling me to take a step back and not to let them bother me.
"It was difficult but I laugh at them now and pity them. It took me a least six months to get used to the negative comments.
"Now I get positive comments all the time and for every two negative comments I get hundreds of positive ones.
"For me, just making one person comfortable with themselves is an amazing achievement."
In November, Bishamber won the title of best model at the Plus Size Awards, beating off competition from Hayley Hasselhoff, daughter of Baywatch star David Hasselhoff, and Tess Holiday, who is based in Los Angeles.
"I nearly cried on stage, It was such an amazing feeling," she recalls.
"It reinforced to me my purpose – I want to spread the message to be the way you are any shape or size."
Bishamber combines her modelling jobs with her roles as a magistrate in Derby and as a social care worker for Derby City Council.
And she is planning to launch her own fashion label in the summer, focusing on creating flattering and trendy plus-size jeans.
At the moment she is the face of plus-size brand Yours Clothing in the Middle East and last month she shot her second campaign for them.
"Photographs of me are all over the Yours stores in the Middle East. I have been out there and it is so strange to see myself on massive posters.
"I did some meet and greets with fans out there too and people were asking for selfies.
"If I go out in Derby or the Midlands I get recognised. It feels good because I have worked so hard for something and because it is what I stand for.
"It is good because it means that people are watching me, what I am doing is working and it is a great feeling to know that I have achieved this myself in just two years.
"It is about time somebody came forward and showed the world real diversity."
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