Emma King laughs when asked if she remembers being bullied in school.
“I actually had a boy write on a slip of paper and put in my pencil case, ‘Here’s a voucher for liposuction.’”
She paused. “I’ve never ever told anybody that, not even my mum.”
King, a 25-year-old plus-size model from Friars Wood, Croydon, works as a full-time resident liaison officer for Mulalley Construction in addition to her modeling work. She entered the industry on a whim after being bedridden with an over-curved spine in her last year of drama school.
At 5’10” and a size 16, she’s been successfully modeling since she was offered three jobs in the first three weeks. This summer, she was a finalist in her first pageant, Miss British Beauty Curve, winning the swimwear category.
On Sunday November 29, she was named a Grand Finalist in the UK finals of the Face of the Globe beauty pageant. The only plus-sized model in the open competition, she will represent her country in the international finals, which are held in Disneyland, Paris in April 2016.
The day before the competition, King was just hoping her first foray into a non-plus-size pageant would be a positive experience.
“I might shock a lot of the girls who maybe haven’t had someone like me in their pageant. So I don’t know. When I’ve looked through previous pictures of Face of the Globe that is what I get. I don’t see people like me in it.”
Speaking on Saturday, the day before the UK finals held at the Holiday Inn London Gatwick Worth Hotel, she said: “I really want to own it, make a mark on it, and I think it really would be good if I got through to the next round, to the Grand Final.”
King saw her participation in a non plus-size pageant as a big step into body positivity activism. When she made the final five on Sunday, Novemvber 29, she delivered a speech on being the only plus-sized model at the competition.
“I am proud of myself and hopefully girls will see that it is possible to do anything when you work hard,” she said.
Although the modeling industry consistently receives criticism for its portrayals of female beauty standards, it helped King develop a sense of self after attending drama school. Grueling hours and the pressure of watching back film tape convinced King she needed to diet.
She lost four and a half stone in a year, and says she then “basically starved myself” to keep down to size. Dress-shopping for her eighteenth birthday, King remembers confidently asserting she would fit into a gown that was much too tight when she tried it on in the shop.
“I said to my mum, ‘Don’t worry, it’ll fit me by my birthday.’ And by my birthday it was hanging, and the whole night I was pulling my dress up. So I was obviously determined, very determined to stay small.”
Diagnosed with an underactive thyroid when she was twenty, it became more difficult for King to lose weight.
“It wasn’t until I started modeling that I thought, ‘I really loved the way I am and I need to accept all the flaws and not beat myself up. And that has been the most freeing experience, saying that I love my body.”
While King gets personal enjoyment from her modeling work, she also takes her status as a public figure seriously. Being plus-size means modeling clothes that ordinary women can see themselves buying.
“I love the fact that I can wear clothes on a catwalk and my friends will go, ‘Ooh, I bought that dress after seeing you in it because I never thought I would wear that, I didn’t think it would look good.’ And I think that’s what my job is, that’s what I want to do.”
But King also wants to do more. She hopes to begin outreach work in schools across London, holding conversations with children about the impacts of bullying and the importance of body positivity.
“All these girls that start dieting to try to lose weight, they have body dysmorphia because they see the same thing in the mirror. I can completely understand how.”
She says she also hopes she can make an impact on students who don’t realize what they can accomplish. Attending Edenham High School, King says she struggled with dyslexia. She wasn’t allowed to study drama, the only subject she was passionate about, and she came out of school without any GCSE scores.
“The school was very poor, and I would have a lot of days off and I wouldn’t have consistent teachers. So I came out with no GCSEs, no qualifications in anything because I was dyslexic but back then they didn’t recognise it as something that needed to be worked on.”
“Croydon does get a lot of bad press, and that’s why I want to show that there is good there and there is a positive experience that can come out of it.”
Now King has her sights set on the big prize. “I would love to win the whole thing and really to say to everybody, everybody that’s said anything about me, look at what you can do, look at what you can achieve, you just have to believe you can do it.”
The finals of Face of the Globe will be held in Disneyland Paris April 7, 2016.
Follow Alli Shultes on Twitter: @alli_shultes92