Even if you’re not the type to watch beauty pageants, you might have heard about Miss USA contestant Mekayla Diehl, who this June grabbed headlines for being “curvy” and an example of what a “normal” female body looks like. Latasha Haskins just shakes her head and laughs at the hubbub: “She’s a size four!” Haskins, a Renton native and former plus-size model and beauty queen—in 2010 she won the Miss Plus America crown—says that’s just proof that it’s time to shake up the public’s idea of beauty. She’s doing her part this August, launching the Miss Plus USA national pageant in Seattle for young women who wear double-digit sizes. Besides, who wants to be normal anyway? —Matthew Halverson
What plus-size means to me is people who were originally designed or created by God—or however you believe we got here—as larger people. But they’re still healthy, they’re still fit. When I played college basketball, I was a size 12 and solid. I had a six-pack. I could run a 32-minute game. There was nothing wrong with me. Nothing jiggled on me. But I was a 12. That was me.
When I was 25 this woman came into where I was working, looked at me, and was like, “Have you ever thought about plus-size modeling?” I didn’t know what she was talking about. I’d never heard about plus-size modeling. I’d been into Lane Bryant, but I guess I’d never really looked at the models. It was out of sight, out of mind.
It baffled me that I could actually get paid for what I look like. Like many other women, I had an ideal of what society thought was beautiful. I knew my family thought I was beautiful. I knew I wasn’t hideous. But I wasn’t thin, I wasn’t short, I wasn’t petite. I wasn’t the girl that an average-height guy could put his arm around. I wasn’t that chick.
Modeling was fun. I liked the fashion and getting-pretty parts. But I also like to talk, and I like to influence people. My father was a pastor, and I’ve always felt like my ministry, if you will, was just talking with everyday people, being out there with everybody else. I’ve never felt like I needed to be in the four walls of a church to do that.
Before I started in pageants, all I knew about them was blonde hair, blue eyes, world peace. But then I was a judge at one and saw this little girl get up on the stage and start talking about how her brother was autistic and that she’d started this foundation for kids who are autistic. And she was nine! I felt immediately inadequate. But that got me to start researching pageantry, and I realized how much good can come out of it.
After I won Miss Plus America, my photo started circulating in the media and people said things like “Look at her ham-hock arms” and “This is a discredit to beauty pageants. Where’s the real Miss America?” But of course on top of that there was a lot of positive stuff: “It’s so cool to see a real-looking beauty queen. Kudos to her.” Those were the types of things I tried to take in, but it was hard.
I’ve learned that people who say mean things are projecting their own hurt and hatred for themselves. It’s like, “I’m this size, and I don’t have the guts to do that. How dare she.” Or “I worked so hard to starve myself and throw up every day so I could be this skinny. How dare some girl who’s twice my size go out and do the thing that I’m trying to kill myself to do.” People saw a person who didn’t feel like she had to alter and change and almost destroy herself to be something. She was just doing it.
My parents were so supportive. If I had said, “Dad, I want to have a salon on the moon,” he would have said, “Let’s call NASA and make it happen.” He always believed there was nothing I couldn’t do.
My organization isn’t for women with poor self-confidence. We are here for the confident, curvy plus-size woman. Because there are so many women who actually feel like I do, but society makes it look like we’re victims who think, Oh, we wish we were skinny. No, we don’t.
A lot of plus-size entities out there have this warm, fuzzy, everybody--deserves-to-be-everything ideal. No, if you don’t get yourself together, you might die. So you need to get your health in order. You may not be meant to be stick thin, but you’re also not meant to be morbidly obese and on your death bed at 25 years old. People tell me I’m the Gillian Michaels of pageantry. I’ll take that.
The Miss Universe organization has been knocking on my door. They own Miss USA, and they have tried to imply that people are getting our companies confused. They have, in the past, tried to discourage other pageants from using the term USA, even though they don’t own USA. But when Donald Trump owns your company, people can get freaked out. I don’t care. I’m not afraid of that. Big-time billionaire goes after minority single mom for following her dreams—are you freaking kidding me right now? That’s just not going to happen.
We don’t do size bashing, whether it’s on the thin side or the plus side. I have friends who are size 4 and size 14 and size 24. So I don’t have an anti-skinny thing. I’m not that way at all. I’m like, “You do you and I’ll do me.” There’s room for all of us.