St. Matthews resident Sharon Bennett may not look like an average model, but she doesn't necessarily want to be. With a national pageant title in hand, the plus-size model says her message is more about knowing your worth regardless of size.
Bennett was recently crowned Miss. U.S. Plus Intercontinental, a division of Miss U.S. Plus World, an exclusive pageant for women size 12 and up. The pageant was held virtually earlier this year in Houston.
The 51-year-old, a technology instructor at Elloree Elementary School, was excited about winning the national title and looks forward to representing the United States in the International Miss Plus World Pageant in February.
She had one word to describe her win.
"Surreal. I really hadn't imagined. I went in and was just myself. I did my best under unusual circumstances, just made the most of it and poured my heart into it. Just being authentic and transparent is very important to me," Bennett said.
As Miss U.S. Plus Intercontinental, Bennett will have the opportunity to further promote her platform: W.O.R.T.H.: Working on Reviving and Transforming Herself. It is a movement through which women can find their inner strength and value.
“During my reign as a state titleholder, I had the pleasure of hosting several activities like, for example, a women’s empowerment tea, breast cancer awareness brunch, back-to-school hot dog supper, dedication to COVID-19 essential workers and other relevant activities. I am excited to take W.O.R.T.H. nationwide; to uplift and empower women of all shapes, sizes, and colors!” she said.
For Bennett, it's all about building self esteem in women and making them realize that they should love the skin they're in.
"That's always been a passion of mine before I got back into pageantry," said Bennett, who applied to compete in the Miss U.S. Plus World pageant competition after having already made her mark in the pageant world.
"Last year I participated in the Ms. Full-Figured South Carolina Pageant. It was the first year. I was one of the first nine contestants for that. I saw the advertisement for Ms. Plus World and applied. That consisted of me submitting videos about my platform, doing a Zoom interview with the judges, community service and that kind of thing," Bennett said.
She participated in the Ms. Black Calhoun County Pageant as a teen and was crowned first runner-up.
"Then life happened, but I've always loved pageants and have always been interested in them. As a plus-size woman, I saw the opportunity to participate. That's when you want to change the perception of what is beautiful and have it taken just as seriously as mainstream pageants," Bennett said.
She added, "It's all about changing the perception of what society says is beautiful. Anytime I can contribute to that, then that is wonderful. That's one of the things I'm all about."
The New York native appeared on the cover of BBW Magazine, an online publication for plus-size women, in October of 2019. She was also on the cover of the Black History Edition of Iconique Magazine in February of 2020.
As she awaits the International Miss Plus World Pageant in Februrary, Bennett will be busy.
"I will be working on my interview questions, getting my gown made. We also have a denim couture outfit that we have to get made and a national costume. In competing with ladies from Guam, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas and all those different places, they're going to bring their best. So when I'm representing the whole United States, I have to bring it," she said, laughing.
The vision of the Miss Plus World pageant is to showcase the diversity, creativity, leadership, style, grace and beauty of women worldwide. Bennett is prepared for the challenge.
"I've always been a talker and good in front of crowds. So I don't get nervous in front of crowds. I'm excited just to get the opportunity to meet sisters like me from Africa, and then you got my Polynesian sisters. I'm just excited more so than anything, and I want to bring my best to the table.
"I probably did get a little nervous the day of (May) competition, but I've just embraced it. It's a competition, but at the same time it's a sisterhood. We're there to lift each other up. Everybody's not going to win, but we're winners already just by getting that far. Everything else is all good," Bennett said.
She added, "The (pageant) in February is also in Houston and, hopefully, we will get to actually be face-to-face. I've never been a shy person. My parents tell me I've been talking since I've been able to talk."
Her message is simple.
"Beauty is not determined by the size of your dress. God made us in his own image. We are all beautiful in his eyes and should just embrace that. I embrace every roll, every stretch mark. It's all me.
"Of course, I do promote health and wellness. I do walk two miles a day and try to be healthy. Don't just assume because I'm plus size that I'm not healthy. ... If you're going to improve yourself, do it for you and not anyone else," Bennett said.
Bennett, a candidate for the St. Matthews City Council District 6 seat, is involved in her community. She is a member of the EmpowerHer Orangeburg Chapter of the American Business Women’s Association, Orangeburg Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., Trinity Chapter #3 Order of the Eastern Star, NAACP and the Caring Greeks Organization.
The mother of three adult children and the grandmother of one granddaughter, Bennett recently received the "Hand of Friendship" award from the American Business Women's Association and hosts a monthly virtual tea called "Tea Time with the Queen".
For more information about the Miss U.S. Plus World Pageant, contact Adrienne Lester, pageant executive director, at 334-259-9009 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact the writer: email@example.com or 803-533-5534. Follow "Good News with Gleaton" on Twitter at @DionneTandD
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