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Baby, Got Back?

The inaugural Miss Plus Olympia Pageant comes to Memphis.

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Melissa Stamper loves things that sparkle: "My motto is: If it doesn't shine, it isn't mine."

Which may partly explain why she's the founder of the Miss Plus Olympia pageant, scheduled for December at the Pink Palace.

"I love all the pomp and circumstance that only a pageant can bring," she says.

Stamper began competing in pageants as a young girl, but as she got older, she started gaining weight.

"When I found out how hard it was to lose the weight, I realized I'd never compete

in another pageant again," she says, "and I had loved it."

But the Louisiana resident did compete again, after she stumbled upon a traditional pageant with a plus-size division.

"I'd held every title but a national title, so I entered the pageant. The other contestants treated me okay, but there were still those looks," she says. "[The plus-size division] was such a new concept people had trouble with it ... but hey, I was there to win."

Stamper won her division and was shocked when she came close to winning the overall pageant. Afterward, she decided to start a pageant exclusively for larger women: Miss Plus America. The inaugural event was held in 2000.

Miss Plus Olympia, her latest venture, is an international plus-size pageant. It is open to women ages 18 and older who wear a size 14 or greater. Delegates do not need pageant experience. The pageant will include a casual-dress, an evening-gown, and an interview component.

"First thing in the morning, all the delegates will write down one question. [Delegates] will draw out of the fish bowl and whatever question they get, that's the question they have to answer during the interview," Stamper says. "It can be anything from 'What, in your opinion, is the perfect society?' to 'How do you think Condoleezza Rice is faring as secretary of state?' It depends on how competitive the person who is writing it is."

Stamper advises delegates -- especially first-time participants -- to be themselves. And like Miss America, each delegate picks a cause or a charity to support.

"People ask me, how can you justify having a plus-size pageant when obesity is such a problem in America? I tell them, we're not here to make a statement. We're here to make a difference," she says. "It has nothing to do with prancing around with a crown on your head; it's about helping people."

Women interested in competing should visit PageantChampions.com for information.

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