Ever dreamt of being a pageant queen, but thought your size would stop you from ever realising your dream? Then think again.
Meet Ellen Miller, the 31-year-old Miss Voluptuous Ireland 2021/22 titleholder, who’s not only a national pageant queen but a senior sister at one of London’s busiest A&E departments. Originally from Northern Ireland, she took part in the Miss Voluptuous pageant, a plus-size pageant for size 14 beauties and above, in order to represent her home country and to embrace her Irish heritage.
Ellen sat down with Missy to chat about her pageant journey so far and what it takes to be a plus-size pageant queen.
How did you first get into pageantry?
“I did the Rose of Tralee (a festival which is celebrated by Irish communities all over the world) in 2019 and got to the London finals. The Rose of Tralee is quite big in Ireland – in all of the home counties, they have a rose that they select but you also have a London Rose, a Dubai Rose, a Perth Rose, a Texas rose, etc. and then they all come down to Tralee and compete and they pick one rose out of all of them.
My granny studied Irish history at university, and she used to always tell me stories about mythology and old Irish songs, including The Rose of Tralee which is what the festival is based on. I saw online that applications were open, and I thought to myself, ‘I’ll have a go at that’, thinking nothing of it and then they came back to me and said, ‘We’ve shortlisted you and are putting you through to the London finals’. I didn’t win but I loved it because I got to meet all these girls and I really enjoyed dressing up.
But then I got into that negativity of ‘Did I not win because I’m plus-size and don’t look a certain way?’ It definitely wasn’t because of that, those were just my own insecurities but I thought there must be something for a woman like me so I hopped onto the internet and found the Miss Voluptuous pageant system.
I then went through the whole process of applying and getting the finalist sash, but we had to do it all online because of COVID-19. We had our interviews over Zoom and had to submit videos of our evening and fashion wear rounds. I remember I was sitting on my kitchen stool and when they announced that I was the Irish winner, I fell off it! It was very exciting, but I was like, ‘Gosh, what am I doing? I don’t know anything about pageants!'”
Were you plus-size growing up? Were you comfortable in your body before you started doing pageantry?
“I’ve never been skinny or slim, I was always probably about mid-size. Up until I started university, I was probably a comfortable size 12-14 but then with the student lifestyle of having too much fun and not eating well, I put on a little bit of weight. In terms of my weight post-Uni, it kind of coincided with emotional trauma and emotional eating so I ended up in a bigger body.
I’d be lying if I said I was completely 100% confident in my body because I feel nobody probably truly is, but I think that being comfortable is acknowledging that there are going to be days where you don’t feel confident. I definitely feel though that since doing the pageant, I’m a lot more confident in my body and myself in general.”
Which cause do you champion as a pageant queen and why is it so important to you?
“My platform is ending sexual violence against women, specifically challenging rape perceptions. I’m a rape survivor and also a revenge porn survivor and I’m an associate member of the End Violence Against Women Coalition. They are a charity but also a government pressure group. They were the charity of my choice throughout my reign, and I fundraised just shy of £1000 (€1178) for them. I also won the Advocacy award at the Miss Voluptuous International finals.
I find sharing my story healing in itself. I remember two girls from school messaged me and said, ‘I saw what you put on Facebook – sadly I know what that’s like’ and they shared their story with me. They said, ‘I haven’t really told anybody about this but it’s nice to see someone who’s gone through it who seems to be doing well.’”
How have you managed to incorporate your Irish heritage into your pageant journey so far?
“I grew up near the Antrim coast and the Giant’s Causeway. I might not live in Ireland but I’m still Irish and my whole family’s from there. When I first moved to England at the age of seven, I was bullied for ‘sounding funny’ and I remember making a conscious effort to lose the accent. People back home are like, ‘You’re so English now, you haven’t lived here for most of your life’ but when it comes to the pageantry stuff, I’m like, ‘No, this is my identity.’
I recently watched Nadia Sayers and Shannon McCullagh compete for Ireland and I identify with these women and their heritage. Whenever I do my pageant stuff, I’m always aware of what I’m representing and how I grew up and how I see the Irish community. I feel like the Irish are known for being very generous and charity-driven and that’s something that I aspire to.
When I did my national costume, I wore an Irish flag. I dressed up as Irish warrior queen, Queen Maeve, and I had a shield with EVW on it for ‘End Violence Against Women’. It was so empowering, I loved it!”
What has been the best part of your pageant journey so far?
“It’s the confidence thing. Competing has made me realise that if you go out and seek opportunities, they are actually there. Being able to say that I’m Miss Voluptuous Ireland makes people listen a little bit more and think to themselves, ‘She’s obviously got something about her’.
The doors it has opened for me have been unreal. I got the chance to compete at Internationals in Nashville this April and I’ve always wanted to go there because I’m a big country music fan!
I’ve also gained a whole new group of friends – the pageant community is wonderful, not just within the Miss Voluptuous system but also the other girls and finalists and competitors I’ve met from other systems, and everyone just wants each other to do well. I think we’re made to feel as women that we’re pitted against each other – which is a bit ironic as I know it’s a competition – but it’s like you’re competing with, not against each other.”
What has been the biggest challenge of your pageant journey so far?
“Probably imposter syndrome. Some days, I’m like, ‘I’m just a nurse. What’s so special about me?’ and you look at the other girls and think ‘Oh god, look at what they’re doing’. So, the challenge is feeling that you’re deserving of it too.
Also, speaking about my trauma. Whenever you have a louder platform, there’s always that risk that not everyone’s going to be kind. I’ve seen some pageant girls who have been in magazines or newspapers and people saying horrible things about them online. But I feel those are challenges we all have in everyday life. I guess it’s just on a slightly larger scale (without any pun intended)!”
What do your non-pageant friends think about you competing?
“They love it! One of the consultants at work refers to me as ‘Your Majesty’ rather than ‘Sister’!
When I was in Nashville, my whole work team sent me a picture saying, ‘You’re our winner! Go, Ellen!’ I’m really lucky that my friends and my work colleagues are so supportive.”
What do you think the most common misconceptions about pageantry are? Is it anything like you see in the movies? (e.g. Miss Congeniality)
“A lot of people still have this preconceived idea that you have to look like a model 24/7 and that pageants are very much based on looks. I’m not going to lie, I think all the girls that compete are beautiful and there is an element of glamour to it, but people don’t realise that that’s just the icing on the cake or realise all the work that goes on underneath it. It’s almost like a second job and if you’re going to do it, you can’t half-ass it. That was one of the things I did struggle with as my job is very full on and I work ridiculous hours.
There’s also this misconception that pageant girls aren’t smart but that’s all changing now within the pageant world. Look at all the Miss Universe and Miss World winners – some of them are athletes, doctors and lawyers, and they all model and do charity work on the side. Pageantry is more about who you are as a person, rather than just your looks.”
What is your go-to fashion/beauty advice as a pageant queen?
“Dress for you. We all want to follow trends but I know for a fact that I don’t feel comfortable in really tight-fitting, slim dresses. Wear whatever you feel comfortable in, whatever you feel beautiful in and whatever is reflective of you – don’t just wear something because somebody else is doing it.
A lot of people think you have to wear clip-ins and hair extensions, but if you look at the current Ms Voluptuous England titleholder Laura, she actually has really short dark hair, is queer and covered in tattoos! Don’t spend money on expensive things just because everybody else is doing it!”
What are your plans next in terms of pageantry?
“I’m hoping to go to Internationals in Colorado next year and have another chance at the International Crown. When you’ve already been to the finals, you get the opportunity to compete the next year as a nickname of a state or a country – so for instance, Miss Ohio came back as Miss Buckeye State because that’s the nickname for Ohio. It’s almost like an honorary title so to speak. I’ve not decided on my nickname yet but I’m looking at either Miss Voluptuous Emerald Isle or Miss Voluptuous Éire. Everyone says they like Miss Emerald Isle, but I like Éire as it’s a nice nod to the Gaelic language.”
Finally, what advice would you give to any young girl or woman thinking about trying out pageantry, especially those who are plus-size?
“It’s so cliché but if you want to do it, then go for it because you’re always going to regret the things that you don’t do. If you’re in a plus-size body, so what? That’s the beauty of life – not one size fits all.
I think for younger girls if they’re thinking about doing pageantry, and really enjoy community service and want to make a difference, or if they just want to do something for their confidence or want to put a dress on and feel beautiful, then they should definitely do it.”
The Miss Voluptuous Pageant returns for a sixth year in July 2023, with winners being crowned from Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales, as well as a Miss (ages 18-30) and a Ms (age 31+) United Kingdom Titleholder too. The prize package includes a custom rhinestone crown, gifts from sponsors, professional coaching as well as the chance to represent your respective country at the International Grand Final in Denver, Colorado. Applications are open until June 15th, 2023.
For more info and to find out how to apply, visit the Miss Voluptuous website.