The girls of the UK’s first transgender beauty pageant give the secrets to their looks including the secret “tape and tuck
By: Boudicca F0x-Leonard and Nicola Bartlett/UK Mirror
Head to toe in glitz as they strut down the makeshift catwalk, it’s all broad smiles and swishing gowns for the contestants in the UK’s next big beauty pageant.
Fourteen glammed-up hopefuls are here for one final bootcamp before the rivalry gets real.
But there is something that makes these stunning women special… they were all born men.
The air thick with hairspray, steam rises as Charli Darling, 38, from Salford has her hair styled into a halo of dark brown curls.
Akiko Obillo is squeezing into a glitzy cocktail dress helped by her friend, Vanessa Lacsamana, 40, from London. “It fit me yesterday,” pleads the 20-year-old, rearranging the diamante top.
In the make-up chair being put through her paces, Ashley Chadha, 18, learns to style her long blonde hair extensions.
For these girls, this is not just about putting on some slap and a blow dry – for some it has taken years to bravely step out on to this catwalk and take part in Miss Transgender United, the nation’s first trans beauty contest.
“Transgender girls don’t get the opportunity to do this sort of thing,” says organised Rachael Bailey, 35, who founded Miss Transgender United and has put in £20,000 of her own money to make it happen.
“We’ve never had this many girls together before, they are absolutely buzzing. But it does mean we get to see all their personalities.”
Kara Malik, the diva of the pack, has arrived late and is scrolling through her phone. “This is how I want my hair,” she tells the stylist, pointing to a photograph of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
The 23-year-old from Manchester has come with her own tiara and is adamant she will look like a star.
A professional make-up, hairdresser and catwalk coach are on board to help, and Kara is not the only one determined to dazzle.
Vanessa, her hair in large rollers, slips into a beaded orange gown to get in front of the camera.
Originally from the Philippines, the NHS cancer nurse is no stranger to the catwalk and has already won a host of international beauty titles.
She is quick to take Ashley, the baby of the group, under her wing, helping with the huge train on her dress – actually, a bridal gown.
The youngster, from London, excitedly shows off a pair of glamorous Kurt Geiger shoes bought for the occasion. “I’m not sure I’ll be able to walk in these,” she confesses, slipping on black trainers instead.
There are no trainers to be seen as Melanie Hayes, the reigning Miss Cardiff, sweeps in to put the girls through their paces.
The catwalk expert teaches them to walk the walk. At first, Jennifer Lopez Gomez struggles. “The key is to keep walking – never stop or you’ll tangle,” coaches Melanie.
In the make-up room tips are being given by hair and make-up pros Amanda Clarke and Oona Connor. Some of the girls have grown their own hair long, while others go for wigs, weaves or extensions. Amanda explains how styling can be used to soften the jaw line.
Jennifer, the Caitlyn Jenner of the group – at 57, only two years into her transition – still has a lot to learn. Oona advises against the pink eyeshadow she has paired with bright pink lippy and a pink dress.
Competition for the mirror is strong. “Who is prettier?” one asks as insecurities bubble to the surface.
But it does not stop many flaunting their boobs, and even a flash of designer vagina. Fay Louise Purdham, 28, from Newcastle, is proud of her £12,000 bust. “Come and feel them,” she says, strutting in a black string bikini.
For some pre-op finalists, the swimwear stage is all about “tape and tuck”. Rachael reveals: “One friend used to tape everything, then layer two pairs of pants and a sanitary towel. You couldn’t see a thing.”
What is clear is that all the women are at different points on their journey – some years post-op, while others have gone only a few months on hormones. For Rachael the pageant is more than just a beauty competition. She says: “It’s not about who got rid of their back fat or toned up down the gym.
“I’ve already eliminated a lot of girls who think you ain’t a woman unless you’ve got great boobs.”
Still, Charli, eyeing up the slimmer competition, is keen to make her mark. The curvy make-up artist has had a difficult journey.
Tears well up as she explains she has Klinefelter syndrome. Born with an extra X chromosome, she has struggled to be accepted as a woman by her family. The stories are all different but the pain is a common theme – the reason this means so much to all the women.
The London final next month brings together 24 winners from six city heats. After glamming up for the catwalk, they can model swimwear, display a talent or showcase a design creation.
Jai Latto, 22, from Edinburgh – transitioning since April – is already cossie-confident, while Jossy Yendall, 29, from Newcastle, is shown how to do a victory roll with her hair.
She rocks her tiger-print one-piece. “It’s from Primark,” she confides. Sport-mad Chloe-Louise Fearn, 25, will show off her keepie uppies in high heels, and brave Fay will performa fire trick – on stilts. Stage three is evening wear. Joker Fay pushes herself to the front, complaining: “There’s something wrong with my sash – it doesn’t say winner.”
But the £5,000 prize is no joke – it is a chance to speak for the community. “They’ll be going round hospitals and festivals, and will present the LGBT Icon Awards,” says Rachael.
Transgender herself, she knows what each has been through. “I can’t have surgery because I have a heart deformity,” she says. “I feel really proud of every one of them. When they tell their stories, we’ll see some real tears.”