Karista Harris has been in the pageant world for more than 16 years, and regardless of the stereotype of shallow beauty contests, she says it’s always been a supportive community for her. That’s why when she decided to enter a different competition, to be on the cover of Arizona Foothills magazine, she was surprised to receive a number of insulting emails directly from her detractors.
“Wow, I woke up this morning to some very derogatory name calling and surgery suggestions in my inbox,” she wrote on Facebook last week, after posting her profile on the Face of Foothills voting site. “This is a first for me as I have been blessed to have been met with positivity with being a plus size model. I’m just saddened that adults would take time out of their day to say such words and not accept that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.”
Harris tells Yahoo Style that people called her “pig,” and asked why she didn’t get weight-loss surgery. “They don’t really know what all is going on medically, and why I can’t do that,” she said. “It rolled off of my skin, and they’re not going to deter me. They’re just going to make me more determined.”
Harris, 34, started entering pageants when she was 18.
“I got into it because I was abused as a child, a survivor of domestic violence, I was bullied in foster care, and then I came down with chronic health diseases,” she explains. “The medication that I’m on for the rest of my life causes weight gain and it is very difficult to lose the weight. I’m battling all that and finding confidence in my new size.”
Harris, who is a married mother with a 15-year-old son, noticed a while ago that no plus-size man or woman had ever won the Face of Foothills contest. According to the magazine’s website, the contest runs from July through October. The first rounds are determined by public voting until the final round, in which a panel of judges chooses from the top 10. The winner gets to be on the cover of the magazine, in a six-page spread, and on the top banner of the site for the whole year. There are also unspecified “cash rewards” and other prizes.
“I figured, why not put myself out there and make this a challenge and see if I can maybe pull it off?” Harris said. Now that she’s spoken out about her haters, and appeared on Arizona’s ABC 15 news, her chances of succeeding are considerably higher. She says she went from last place last Monday, to 39th (out of 205) on Tuesday evening.
She hopes that she can show people, even the haters, the lesson she’s learned: “You may have some sort of tragedy that you’ve gone through, whether it’s losing someone or battling a chronic disease … you can find a way to become self-confident, to build your self-esteem, and to view yourself as beautiful.”
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