27/06/2017 11:22 SAST | Updated 27/06/2017 11:22 SAST

This Former Miss SA Finalist Is Done Battling With Food Every Day

"My natural happy size is a 14."

Remember Marciel Hopkins? The Miss SA 2016 finalist who lost 14kg in 4 months to participate in the pageant, but is today a proud curve model?

Lately I've received a number of messages around weightloss advice and questions about which diet I followed for Miss South Africa. I want to give you honest feedback: I never followed a specific diet, but I made drastic lifestyle changes and literally trained my butt off. The picture on the left was after 5 months of intense training and absolutely NO carbs, red meat or alcohol. Chocolates, cake and sweets were swear words! I trained 2 to 3 hours a day and I even worked cardio sessions in over weekends. My boobs shrunk 2 cup sizes and my period stopped. On this specific day of the picture, I got home, freezing after the shoot, and I had a baby apple for dinner. From the picture on the right, more than a year later, I want to say, it's NOT worth it to fight a daily battle with food or your body. Bodies are different, we can't all look the same. Instead of having #bikinibody unrealistic-nonsense-goals that are being spoonfed to us on a daily basis, strive towards being the healthiest and happiest version of yourself (mentally and physically). Don't fight against something that is part of who you are. Self acceptance is a relationship that you have to work on daily. Be sure to make your body your new best friend. Light and love! #bodypositive #bodypositivity #bodyconfidence #loveyourbody #dietculture #unrealisticgoals #bebodyaware #healthnotsize #beautybeyondsize #droptheplus #everybodyisbeautiful #swimwear #bikini #curves #iamallwoman

A post shared by Marciel Hopkins (@marcielhopkins) on

HuffPost SA caught up with Hopkins, who's now signed with ICE models and recently got international recognition as World Swimsuit Girl of the Day, in all her curvy glory. Hopkins, who calls herself a body-positive activist says there's no shame in putting on weight "if your body wants to be healthy in a different size than you were forcing it to be."

When did you realise modelling is something you wanted to do?

I've always wanted to become a model, but by the time I reached high school, I realised there are specific body and size requirements to become a model. Whenever I paged through magazines or watched beauty pageants on TV, I felt unworthy and not good enough about myself. I couldn't relate to any of the bodies that were perceived as "beautiful or desirable", so I was constantly criticising my body for not being small and petite enough.

So how do you overcome that in a pageant like Miss SA, where 'beautiful or desirable' bodies are largely, if not only, the small and petite ones?

It was a massive challenge for me! I had to fight a daily battle with my body to try and keep her smaller than what she wanted to be. I made drastic lifestyle changes by training 2 to 3 hours a week and I cut out all alcohol, red meat, sugar and starches from my diet. I lost 14kg in 4 months but I struggled to keep down the weight during the 7-month process of the competition. I remained a size 12 throughout the whole completion, even though my body got tired of being put under so much pressure to be lean. My natural happy size is a 14.

And what does that do to you mentally?

It was a mental challenge to compete in the competition because you are constantly compared to 11 other beautiful women. Some of them were working just as hard as me to keep their bodies in perfect shape and others were genetically slim. It was difficult to get up at 5 am every morning to go to the gym, while my roommate was still sleeping, because her body was naturally small and petite. But that's life, healthy looks different on every body. Bodies are different; there is no fair way to ever compare bodies against each other. Every body is beautiful in its own unique way!

There is no shame in putting on weight if your body wants to be healthy and happy in a different size than you were forcing it to be. In the picture on the left, I was training for 2 to 3 hours a day and having veggie soup for dinner after double spin classes. People criticize me now for not having followed "the right diet" and training too hard, but please tell me who does when they are desperate to lose weight? When I decided to enter for Miss South Africa, I had only 4 months left to be in pageant shape. Why? Why put myself through all of this blood, sweat and tears to fit into a beauty pageant mould? Because I was the girl wanting to take part in pageants in school, but I was always too big and too bossy. In high school the pretty girls were always more popular than the "bossy," smart ones like myself. And through this whole process of growing up in a judgemental society, girls start believing that they are defined by how desirable and beautiful they are. We become obsessed with being smaller, literally and figuratively, because we are desperate to fit in. Fit into the jeans that are one size smaller. Fit into the inner circle of the popular group. Fit into the perfect ideals of what a well behaved woman should look like, because we think it's the only way to get that peer group stamp of approval. Please learn from my journey: Your appearance, body shape and weight does NOT determine your worth as a person! Stop putting yourself out of the game of life thinking you're not good enough because of the way you look. I am not less or more worthy in one of these pictures, I am worthy either way. My body is a fascinating vehicle enabling me to live a full and wonderful life. I refuse to ever fight a daily battle of negative self image with her again. She deserves better. She deserves love and appreciation in abundance. You will only find true happiness when you fully accept who you are and what you look like, without wanting to change something about yourself. There is NO wrong way to have a body. Your only responsibility is to look after it to the best of your ability. Self love is the greatest middle finger of all time! (continues in comment section)

A post shared by Marciel Hopkins (@marcielhopkins) on

What do you have to say to people who are now accusing you of promoting 'being fat'/'making fat okay' just because you have embraced your curves?

I have made it part of my daily entertainment to read these nasty comments. They actually make me laugh. I usually screen shot them and share them with my followers. For people accusing me of promoting obesity: You are clearly not reading my captions properly. I always say: Strive towards being the healthiest and happiest version of yourself. Healthy looks different on every body.

And now living as a curve model, do you think South Africa is at a place where it embraces all body types?

No, not at all. I think there is still immense potential for growth in terms of body diversity in the South African market. We are a diverse, rainbow nation that is represented by different shapes and sizes, but we unfortunately don't see all bodies represented in the media.

A screenshot of a post on the public Marciel Hopkins Facebook page. Picture: Marciel Hopkins on Facebook