Many people hold misconception about the kind of girls who enter beauty contests and stereotype them as being obsessed with their looks and image.
AASMA DAY talks to teenager Holly Taylor-Smith who survived a brain tumour and is now using her work in beauty pageants to raise money for charities.
“Pageant girls are not all stuck up people fixated on their looks and obsessed with their image.”
Smiling, Holly, 18, reveals a wisdom that belies her years.
Forced to grow up quickly after being diagnosed with a brain tumour at the age of 11, Holly is keen to dispel the myths many people hold about beauty pageant entrants as she knows beauty is only skin deep.
She only began taking part in contests after being spotted while out shopping with her mum and she says it has been a massive boost to her confidence after her brain tumour ordeal.
Holly, who is now studying at Runshaw College in Leyland, was a pupil at Rivington Primary School at the time of her diagnosis.
Holly recalls: “I began suffering from a hand tremor and people started noticing that when I was holding things, my hand was shaking.
“It got to a point where it was very noticeable as it was happening all the time and my parents took me to the doctors where I underwent multiple tests.”
Holly had blood tests, scans and her blood sugar levels tested and, at one stage, medics even suspected she had Parkinson’s Disease because of the shaking.
It was only when they carried out a brain scan that they discovered a brain tumour and, three days later, Holly was rushed into hospital to undergo surgery to have it removed.
Holly explains: “The fluid in my brain was building up so much, they needed to get the tumour out straight away.
“But because I was so young, the enormity of it all didn’t really sink in and I did not appreciate how serious it was.
“At the time, I was more worried about doing well in my tests so I could get into a good high school.”
Holly had her first operation to remove the brain tumour at Pendlebury Children’s Hospital in Manchester.
Surgeons tried to remove as much of the tumour as possible but there were still bits left so Holly underwent another two operations to remove small bits of tumour.
Even after this, there were still tiny bits of tumour left, but as it turned out to be a benign tumour, doctors told Holly and her family that they should not cause any problems unless they started to grow.
The last operation Holly had was three years ago at the age of 18 as doctors were worried the bits of tumour were growing. However, it turned out to just be a small bit of scar tissue moving around Holly’s head.
Holly says: “I am now all-clear, although I have an MRI scan every six months to check that everything is OK.”
Holly adds: “I was lucky as I did not lose my hair.
“There were four surgeons at the hospital and three of them would have had my hair shaved off before performing brain surgery.
“But I got the one surgeon who did the surgery without shaving the hair.
“I have got a big scar on my head, but it is mostly hidden by my hair.”
Holly, who lives in Horwich, near Bolton, with her mum Gretchen and whose dad Malc also lives in Horwich, went on to study at Albany Academy in Chorley, where she achieved As and Bs in her GCSEs.
Holly is now at Runshaw College where she is studying health and social care and, in September, she will be going to Leeds University to study nursing.
Holly entered her first ever beauty pageant, Miss Bolton and Bury, when she was 17.
Holly recalls: “Entering a beauty pageant had never occurred to me before and it only came about when I was shopping with my mum in Bolton when the organisers who were signing people up scouted me.
“At the time, I did not have much self confidence and I initially said no.
“However, they persuaded me to do it and told me it would be a great way of building up my confidence.”
After competing in Miss Bolton and Bury, Holly entered and won Miss Teen Wigan Warriors, to her delight.
Holly was then shortlisted for the Miss Lancashire competition and is currently competing in the Face of North West England contest, which will take place on June 26.
If she wins this, she will go on to compete in Face of Europe in Paris in November.
Holly has helped Chorley Photographic Society by modelling for them at Liverpool Castle in Rivington.
As part of her work in beauty pageants, she has helped raise awareness of a number of charities and has raised funds for several causes.
Holly says: “After Miss Lancashire, I decided it would be beneficial for me to take some time out and focus on myself for a while.
“I took three months out to concentrate on work and college. However, now I have decided it would be a great idea to compete again.
“As part of competing in Face of the North West, I am raising money for Headway East Kent, the brain injury charity which was chosen by the director.
“I feel this is a great cause, especially as, after my brain tumour, I experienced similar things to those who have suffered a brain injury.
“As part of this regional pageant, I have to do appearances and help charities and raise money.
“I am raising money by asking people to complete ‘lucky squares’ and also through an online photo competition.
“I am also going to do a charity bag pack at a supermarket and have completed a sponsored silence at college to raise funds.”
Holly says that modelling and taking part in beauty pageants has really helped her personality blossom, particularly after going through a brain tumour.
She says: “I am trying to show people that pageant girls are not all stuck up and all about their looks or obsessed with their image.
“We are all a team and do a lot of fundraising for important causes and help support each other, too.
“Having a brain tumour has changed me and has made me more caring and empathetic to others. If someone has to have an operation, I know what they are going through.
“I aim to use pageants to spread awareness of different charities and raise awareness of their work.
“Before entering a beauty pageant for the first time, I shied away from the limelight.
“I wasn’t exactly shy as I always participated in things like school plays.
“However, I did not have much confidence and did not think I was beautiful.
“Since then, I have learned that it is not about your looks but your inner beauty.
“To look at me, people would not know I had had a brain tumour.
“I do still have the hand tremor, but it is not as bad as it was before the brain surgery.
“It is after having been in hospital myself and the care and treatment that I received that made me decide I wanted to go into nursing.
“I think it is the right thing for me because of my personality.”
* If you would like to sponsor Holly and support her in her fundraising, contact her by e-mail at: email@example.com