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Interview: Miss Nottingham 2005

2 October 05 words: Sadie Rees Hales

"The fact that I'm a curvy size 12 made me stand out! Also, being Iraqi means I had a different look from the others"

Many people haven't even heard of the Miss England competition, however over five thousand of you voted for Sarah Mendly to be this year's Miss Nottingham. British beauty pageants lost popularity in the Sixties when the role of women began to change. This year's Miss Nottingham is more than just tits and arse with a tiara on though, she's a Notts Uni graduate who knows her stuff about social and political issues. Mendly is also the first female Muslim Iraqi to win a beauty pageant, but unfortunately can't talk about British or Iraqi politics. Apparently beauty pageants and politics don't mix! So is there still really a place in our society where women have to shut up and look beautiful?

What made you decide to go for Miss Nottingham?
I thought it would be something fun to do. I'd seen an advert for a beauty pageant looking for ethnic minorities and decided to go for it. Then I saw the Miss Nottingham competition and went for that instead as it's a local thing. For entering the competition you got loads of freebies, like getting for nails done and a fake tan. I'm getting an evening dress designed for Miss England and a £650 modelling portfolio. Also, I really want to open up Goose Fair. I've always loved it since I was a child and think it would be funny be there for the opening. I'll have to ask the Mayor.

The stereotypical beauty pageant winners are blonde, love small children and animals, and want to bring world peace. What do you think sets you out from the rest?
The fact that I'm a curvy size 12 made me stand out because all the other girls were thin and had modest chests… my boobs stood out! Also, being Iraqi means I had a different look from the others.
What were the other Miss Nottingham contestants like?
To be politically correct I'll say they were all friendly and lovely. However only five turned up to the show when they knew they hadn't won. I also found them to be awkward with me and only congratulated me at the end of the evening as they were leaving. We were having a group photo taken by the photographer and none of them really wanted to stand next to me. I guess jealousy is natural in this type of event. A lot of people have swollen egos but some of the girls were friendly. I entered last year and didn't win, so I just laughed it off. Beauty pageants are not my life. I'd only do modelling as a sideline. You're buggered when you start to sag.
What's your plan to tackle the Miss England crown… blackmail, poison and other subversive techniques?
I don't have a plan. I'm surprised I got this far. All of the other girls were attractive. People are even betting online about who might win Miss England. I'm the favourite to win online and have actually had 37% of the bets. It's crazy that people are betting money on me, it's like betting on horses.
How's your life changed since becoming Miss Nottingham?
It hasn't changed really as British people are generally so reserved and don't make a fuss about this sort of thing. In America beauty pageants are massive, even women like Halle Berry have won them. I bully my family though and make them get me stuff because I'm Miss Nottingham. They just laugh at me! My family never wins stuff, so this has been a nice change. This is many girls' dream, so it's an honour for anyone.
How can you help our fair city since being crowned?
There's nothing I can do to directly benefit you, but I can act as a spokesperson as I've now got a voice in the media. It's the popularity of the title that works, so if people wanted me to raise awareness about an issue I could then speak to the press about it.
What made you choose to support the Children of War charity?
I support charities that deal with children who's lives have been torn apart by war, because it's such an awful thing. I also support Breast Cancer charities too.
The Iraq situation is obviously something close to your heart as your family are from there. Were you involved in any of the Notts anti-war protests?
No I didn't. It's not as simple, there's no black or white. I was in Baghdad in the Gulf War when I was 12 years old. I remember the sirens going off and feeling the ground shaking even when the fighting was miles away. I have empathy for the people of Iraq.
Houzan Mahmood from the Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq recently said that "women are more likely to find themselves with fewer rights than under Saddam." As an Iraqi women, how do you feel about this further persecution from the West? Do you that you winning Miss Nottingham can be seen as a middle finger up the treatment of Iraqi women?
It's very hard to stay out of the political dimension, but Miss England isn't a political thing… It's a beauty pageant. I can't answer that question.

Let's talk about your poetry then. What makes you want to write? Tell us about your work.
I started writing poetry in school when I was 9. They used to make us write poems and I enjoyed wracking my brains while writing. Poetry came quite easily to me as I found it a good release of emotion and I write best when I'm either upset or angry. Not enough emotions go with happiness, but when you're pissed off there's so much more to say. It's an endless release of emotion and frustration. I wasn't open as a child and very much kept to myself, so I wrote my feelings down in my poems instead.
Do you worry that events like Miss England give out the wrong impressions to women about what they should look like?
That can be said though about the media as a whole. Pick up a copy of Vogue and that will make women feel like they should look a certain way. There was no criteria for Miss England, so you didn't have to be a certain height or weight. Our whole society is to blame for making women feel they should conform to a certain beauty, not a single even like this.

In terms of a progressive view towards women, and as an intellectual woman yourself, how do you feel being judged solely on your looks and treated as a sexual object?
Your personality is very important, and for Miss England there's a bit where we have to show a talent so hopefully I'll read some of my poetry out. The competition is like being a model, as you're showing off different clothes. It's a choice that you make to do it or not. For many girls, it can be a stepping for to a future career. It's not for blokes perving on you as we model stuff like the Miss England sportswear range, which is like tee-shirts and shorts. You have to have talent and charisma, as well as good looks, to win.
Who's your biggest rival for the crown of Miss England?
Everyone, as they all have a chance to win. Perhaps Miss Rugby, Kate Solomons. She got into the finals for Miss Great Britain last year. But you never know if the judges may agree. The judges are very varied and use scoring sheets out of ten. Amongst the judges are someone from CNN International News, Natalie Pike (voted 26th most beautiful in the world by FHM) and a person from News of the World.
Miss Personality is sponsored by Pukka Pies (but has blatantly never ate one). Who are your sponsors?
This year I'm sponsored by Saks who will be doing my hair and are designing my dress. Last year I was sponsored by Harry Ramsdens… give the fat chick free chips!
You've had poetry published, a Biomedical Science degree and are this year's Miss Nottingham. What are you crap at?
That's actually a good question. (Thinks for a while) I don't want to be arrogant and saying I'm good at everything but I can't think. I know, I hate the gym! I had a personal trainer for a while. After trying for last year's competition, a rep from David Lloyd came up to me and said "I can get you the perfect body". I couldn't motivated myself without him there. At one point I could leg press 250kgs. Men in the gym used to stop and stare while my trainer would keep on adding extra weights. I prefer doing a few sit ups at home when I'm feeling a bit fat. When I was younger I was never the attractive one. In fact I was spotty, wore glasses, had a moustache and weighed 16 stone. Men never looked once at me, let alone twice. My Dad always said that I was big boned, but I actually have
quite small bones. I was fat because I ate lots, nothing to do with my bones! So now I've proved everyone wrong by becoming Miss Nottingham. You have to be careful with diets though, the organisers have told me not to lose lots of weight when I said I was trying to drop a dress size.
In that case, could a twenty stone beauty enter the competition?
Yes, they could enter the competition. If you're confident and can carry yourself properly then you've got a chance. At my 'fat stage', I weighed 12 ½ stone and managed to get this far in the pageant. The judges are looking for someone who looks like a woman, with curves in the right places, and has that x-factor.
Your parents used to be judges for Miss Nottingham ten years ago. Has this got anything to do with your becoming Miss Nottingham this year?
Not at all. The judges don't even know my parents. My Dad just did it as a favour at the last minute for someone. All my family keep asking how I managed to win. They reckon someone slipped the judges a fiver. My family are blatantly honest with me and tell me if I don't look good in photos. My mother says an old Arabic phrase which is "A monkey in a mother's eye is a dear."
Why do you need the reassurance of being told that you're beautiful?
I see it as a stepping stone if life, as I'm content with myself now. By entering Miss Nottingham, I've combated my fear and my insecurities. If someone is afraid of heights, they'll go up a tall building to try and get over their fear. I'm come far from the fat kid with a moustache. 

I've resigned myself to the fact that I will never be crowned Miss Nottingham. What tips would you give to next years' hopefuls?
Just be yourself otherwise you'll come across looking awkward. Hold your head high. I don't look like a doll and have managed to come this far, so anyone can do it!
This year the voting was done by text message. Did you send a few sneaky ones for yourself?
Yea, I sent one. My family sent a couple as well!
You got over 5300 votes. How did you raise publicity?
I work for a company that sells pharmaceuticals, and I told the manager to encourage people to vote for me. An email was sent round to all the staff, but I'm not sure how many of them actually bothered to vote. A friend that I work with decided to call himself my campaign leader and he was in charge of sending emails and getting people to text their vote for me. As I'm a medical rep, I'm always in contact with other people so I'd try to get the other reps to vote. My nephew tells people that I'm a drug dealer, but I only work with legal medicines.
If you can get one message out to our readers, what would it be?
Get drunk and have a kebab. Oh yeah... and of course world peace!

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