Size 8 beauty pageant contestant considered 'plus-size' is all about the 'in-between'

Messalina Morley is a 20-year-old woman who’s been competing in beauty pageants for the past five years, both on the state and national levels. Her initial entry in the world of pageantry was through a recommendation letter that asked her to audition for the National American Miss pageant when she was just 15 — an experience that exposed her to a deeper focus on physical appearances. Now, as a seasoned contestant of multiple pageants and a former model, Morley has been identified as plus-size through the industries in which she’s worked. However, she is using that status and experience to shed light on what she calls being in “the in-between.”

Morley at her first pageant for National American Miss. (Photo: Courtesy of Messalina Morley)

Through her immediate success in her first pageant, Morley was able to gain a certain level of confidence from simply knowing that she could step onto a stage in front of hundreds of people. But that didn’t take away from her ability to notice that she looked different than the girls around her.

“I noticed in school and everywhere I went that I was always taller, broader, and generally bigger than the other girls around me,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “And I always used to think that it was a bad thing that I was bigger, and I used to try to be smaller, I used to try to eat less. I would make myself unhappy because I was trying to achieve something that my body just is never gonna let me be.”

Noticing her own differences among the crowd, however, ended up being a good thing for Morley, as it allowed her eventually to focus on the differences all around her. Once she figured out that everyone was different in their own ways, shapes, and sizes, she realized that her own uniqueness shouldn’t be a source of shame.

But in determining that every body is truly different, Morley also became aware of a huge gap in the industry’s labeling of women: There’s no mention of the women who are the “in-between.” Though some call her plus-size and others straight size, Morley calls herself curvy. She now uses #inbetweengirl on her social media posts.

“There is that between a 6 and a 12 kind of gap where loads of women fall into, and they’re not represented,” Morley explains. “In the modeling world, you’re either considered too big or too small, so it’s definitely a gray zone in terms of what you are.”

The pageant contestant explains the lack of representation out there for the in-between women.

“I think it’s definitely very easy to feel like you’re not good enough when you’re in that sizing because you’re neither a big beautiful woman, neither are you super straight sized. You’re not Ashley Graham or Gigi [Hadid]; you’re neither.”

The hashtag has allowed Morley to share this message with a number of people, who she says reach out to her through her social media to express their gratitude for her shedding a light on midsized women. But the body-positive advocate also explains that the in-between isn’t just about that. Instead, it could expand into all areas of life.

“People can be in-between because they felt like they didn’t fit in with different social groups at school. Or you could be from two different countries, like your family might be Spanish and it might be Norwegian, so, like, which are you? Well, you’re both,” she says.

Morley is now getting ready to compete in Miss New Jersey USA this weekend, where she’ll be looking to move on to Miss USA in Las Vegas next month. But regardless of how far pageantry takes her, she knows what her platform will always be.

“It’s important to embrace what makes you you and to not feel like you have to be confined to one little box. You can be part of many boxes and just enjoy your life the way it is.”

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