US & Canada

Miss Canada Siera Bearchell slams body shamers on Instagram

Miss Universe Canada Siera Bearchell Image copyright Facebook
Image caption Miss Universe Canada says anonymous online commenters told her she needed to lose weight.

Miss Universe Canada has taken the fight to body shamers where they live: on social media.

Siera Bearchell spoke out about "self-worth and self-love" after receiving a number of negative comments online about her weight.

"We always focus on the things we wish we could change rather than loving everything we are," she said.

The 23-year-old Saskatchewan law student is in the Philippines competing for the title of Miss Universe 2016.

"While I am first to say I am not as lean as I was when I was 16, 20, or even last year, I am more confident, capable, wise, humble and passionate than ever before," she wrote on Instagram.

"As soon as I started to love who I was rather than always trying to fit what I thought society wanted me to be, I gained a whole new side of life."

Ms Bearchell told the BBC she was inspired to speak openly about the online harassment because she wants other women to know that it's okay to be comfortable with their body.

"I decided to stick true to myself," she said.

Image copyright Facebook
Image caption Miss Universe Canada is competing for the title of Miss Universe 2016 in the Philippines.

It was a hard-earned confidence, she said. Last year while preparing for a different pageant, she said she subsisted on chicken and asparagus to try to stay slim.

"I caved in to the pressures of wanting to do well, I was eating very little and working out a lot and absolutely miserable," she said.

"I was not happy getting the results I was getting because I was constantly being told there was more I could do, I was never good enough."

Since then, she's eased up on the dieting, although she says she still eats healthily and works out.

While she may no longer be stick-thin, she says she's never felt better about her body.

"I'm certainly way more confident now because I'm being more myself," she said.

While the majority of the criticism comes from online haters, she says there is pressure from beauty pageant organisers in general to look a certain way.

While preparing for a different pageant, the show's director asked her to take scale-selfies to prove that she was losing weight.

After she won the title of Miss Universe Canada, she was told that she'd have to give up junk food and get in "the best shape of her life" in order to compete on the world stage.

"Being healthy, eating healthy, it doesn't mean you're going to look a certain way," she said.

Beauty pageants have long been criticised for reducing women's value to their waist size.

But that attitude is starting to change, Ms Bearchell said.

Plus-size model Ashley Graham is hosting this year's Miss Universe pageant, and a sign the contest is trying to change its own image.

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