October 6, 2010

Meet the Leicestershire beauty contestant finalist with natural curves

In fashion, size matters. In the fickle world of glossy magazine covers and catwalks, small is still beautiful and it's a ridiculous and troubling state of affairs, says Brodie Cowlam.

Brodie is a 20-year-old hairdresser from Burbage. She's curvy and beautiful, a million miles from the celery-and-cigarettes size zeros who dominate the fashion world.

At 5ft 7in tall and a size 14, she is the size of the average British woman. If this was the 1950s, all models would look like Brodie. But not today.

Brodie – normal, healthy Brodie – is the exception to the rule.

"I just don't think that today's models are a very fair or accurate representation of what women are really like," she says.

There's a growing clamor for this to change; for the fashion industry to begin to reflect real life.

For every much-trumpeted move in the right direction – including a new magazine launched last month called Just as Beautiful – it's slow work.

Top designer Marc Jacobs is now making high-end fashion pieces for size 14-plus women. Few other designers, however, are following in his footsteps.

At this autumn's New York fashion show, organizers are staging a plus-size model show. It's the first ever held at the event – again, the exception to the rule.

Vogue and Cosmopolitan have both recently put bigger models on their covers.

Normal service quickly resumed, however, with the return of pale waifs.

More needs to change, says Brodie. Last year, she was a contestant in the first ever Miss Natural Curves competition, a nationwide beauty pageant for "real women".

The event was organized by Hinckley-based photographers, Reilly's Studios.

Brodie got involved more by luck than judgment.

"My friends at college entered me into the competition," she says.

"When the organizers rang me and said they liked my pictures and did I want to go though to the next round, I thought: 'Well, why not?'"

She had her picture taken at Reilly's Studios in Hinckley and went through to the grand final: a huge party at Bedworth Civic Hall.

She was down to the final 24. It made an unusual scene: a female beauty pageant without a skinny woman in sight. The average size of the models taking part was size 14.

The biggest was size 18, the smallest a size 10. Brodie came second in the catwalk category, eighth overall.

The event was organized by Kerry Edge, a 37-year-old photographer from Hinckley who runs Reilly's Studios.

"Last year's was the first one, but plans are in place to do it again this year," she says.

"It seemed such an obvious thing to do. We see so many girls – so many attractive, wholesome girls – who just don't fit the stereotypical model size, they're a size 12 or bigger.

"There's an obvious size 14 gap in the model market.

"We're just reflecting the need that's out there," says Kerry.

"I look at some of the pictures of today's models and they don't look well. They're gaunt, pale, skinny and unhealthy looking."

It's a slow process, but competitions like this can only help to change those attitudes.

"I look at those models and it's not a natural or attainable shape and it's not attractive," she says.

Brodie epitomizes the Miss Natural Curves competition.

"I've always been this size," she says. "It's just the way I am. I don't starve myself, I don't over eat. I'm quite fit, I do lots of exercise. This is the shape I was supposed to be."

You get the sense that Brodie is happy in her own skin. "I've had my fair share of comments and bullying," she says. "One of the girls at my school used to call me fat."

Luckily, she says, she was strong enough to cope with it. Other girls aren't always quite so steadfast.

"We are surrounded by images of skinny women in our newspapers, in our magazines, on TV," says Brodie.

"What kind of message does it send to impressionable young girls?

"Look in the shops – all the mannequins are so petite. The message is all around young girls. It screams at them: 'You need to be THIS size.' It isn't normal and it's not healthy."

Don't fall for it, says Brodie. Just be yourself, whatever your size.

Miss Natural Curves 2011 is being organized now. The final will take place at the Civic Hall in Bedworth on Saturday, April 30, 2011. For more details, keep an eye on:


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