Our society is, let’s face it, a little bit weight-obsessed. Even the most stunning models occasionally get told they have to watch what they’re eating. But why? Does being a little curvy cancel out a person’s intelligence, or heart, or other good qualities? Well, this beauty queen certainly didn’t think so – and when she was given some truly terrible, body-shaming advice she decided to stand up for herself.
Meet Arna Ýr Jónsdóttir. The 20-year-old stunner hails from Reykjavik in Iceland, and there’s no doubt whatsoever that she’s absolutely beautiful. Jónsdóttir used to perform as a gymnast, and she still has the slender and toned body of one today.
In fact, you could say she’s got the look of a real-life Disney princess. “I have to admit it, it’s true! I look a bit like Elsa from Frozen or some Disney figure,” she posted on her Instagram, mere days before the controversy hit.
However, Jónsdóttir has more talents than the average Disney princess. In addition to her gymnastic skills, she’s previously pole vaulted for her country, sold paintings, ran track for Iceland and rescued animals. Plus, she makes her own clothes and intends to train as a nurse. Now there’s a woman who’s way more than just a pretty face!
In fact, Jónsdóttir didn’t even consider becoming a beauty queen until her best friend, Hugrún Birta, convinced her to enter her first pageant. And it’s just as well she did: the titles of Miss Iceland 2015, Miss EM and Miss Iceland 2016 as well as a major modeling campaign for Nike all followed.
But Jónsdóttir also had an incredibly healthy attitude to her image-focused work. “Crowns aren’t made of rhinestones. They are made of discipline, determination and a hard to find alloy called courage,” she posted on Instagram.
It’s not surprising, then, that the beauty emerged as a vocal advocate for body positivity. What is surprising, though, is what happened to make her speak out about the issue. Unbelievably, this already slim model was told by the Miss Grand International pageant that she should shift some weight.
Yes, just days before the Miss Grand International final, Jónsdóttir was told that she had “too much fat” on her. And while appalled by the advice of the pageant founder, the Icelandic beauty took to Instagram to vent her fury. She complained that the pageant official had recommended that she “stop eating breakfast” and “eat just salad for lunch and drink water every evening until the contest.”
It’s not hard to see why advice like that is dangerous. Not only is it obviously very unhealthy to skip meals, but the feelings of inadequacy triggered by a callous “lose weight” comment can be catastrophic to many young women. Societal pressure to lose weight can even lead some to develop an eating disorder.
In fact, according to a survey conducted by the company Dove that covered 13 countries, body issues among women are reaching a “critical level.” In the USA, for example, just 24 percent of women feel confident in their body, and this is largely down to unrealistic standards around women’s image and weight.
Jónsdóttir, however, simply wasn’t having it. She dropped out of the competition, penned a letter addressed to pageant host Nawat Itsaragrisil explaining why and uploaded it to Instagram. “They told me to eat less and then you would like me more,” she wrote.
“Miss Grand International doesn’t deserve my face, body, personality or heart,” she continued. “I truly hope that the organization opens their eyes.” And she signed off with an affirmation of her own body confidence. “In my country my body shape is perfect… no one will ever tell me anything else.”
In October 2016, moreover, Jónsdóttir also spoke to the Iceland Monitor about her decision to quit. “If the owner of the contest really wants me to lose weight and doesn’t like me the way I am, then he doesn’t deserve to have me in the top ten,” she said. “Personally, I think I’m fine as I am.”
People rallied behind Jónsdóttir almost immediately – apart from, that is, Itsaragrisil himself, who clearly wasn’t pleased. “[Jónsdóttir] may be a little bit fat and [the staff] recommended her, in [a] good way, to try to lose some weight in order to improve her chance to win,” he said in a statement.
But there were a lot more people praising Jónsdóttir than criticizing her. On Instagram, for one, fans flocked to her pictures to express their admiration and support. “You are an amazing example for teenagers,” wrote one. “Good for you!” wrote another.
On October 26, meanwhile, Jónsdóttir posted a video to her Instagram page going into further detail about her reasons for abandoning the beauty pageant. “So many fans are saying ‘You’re not fat, don’t be sad.’ The thing is, I’m not sad,” she began.
“I just wanted to grab this opportunity to stand up for myself, for women in this world, for young girls,” she explained to her 50,000 Instagram followers. “It’s okay to get comments and say no, I’m not going to take this comment seriously.”
“[I quit the beauty pageant] because I like how I look, and no-one can tell me how I should look,” she finished. And the response to this video statement was incredibly positive. “I am glad you stood up to them. You are who you are and if they don’t like it, too bad,” said one commenter.
According to its website, the Miss Grand International contest is “committed to spread the message of happiness.” And well, it certainly did that, albeit probably not in the way its organizers expected. Its website also mentions “taking a stand” – which is exactly what Jónsdóttir did.
Meanwhile, Jónsdóttir has said that she will no longer be participating in beauty contests, but she is still going to keep modeling for Nike. “I guess I like my sporty badass look more than my perfect beauty look,” she said on Instagram. Badass is right!