A former bullying victim has seen her fortunes take a major turn for the better in recent years.
U.K. woman Shelley-Marie Sumner, 23, is known around her town these days as the winner of the 2014 Miss Black Country beauty contest. But just a few short years ago, the bullying she endured at school over her appearance proved nearly unbearable.
"I was picked on every day at school because of my eczema and it shattered my confidence,” she told Mirror recently. “…It was really severe. My skin was always sticky and when my hair started to grow long, I had to have it cut short so it wouldn't get stuck to the eczema on my neck.
"It was in my eyes and the creases of my arms and legs. Mum used to bandage my hands up at night so I couldn't scratch myself in my sleep. I still try to sleep in gloves now to stop myself scratching, because it's become such a habit."
Sumner tried everything she could to soothe her skin, but nothing seemed to work. Finally, in recent years, her eczema calmed down on its own. With her newfound confidence in hand, Sumner decided to take her boyfriend's suggestion and compete in a beauty pageant. She wasn’t open to the idea at first, but eventually came around.
"I never thought I would have the confidence to do a pageant, but I had read that they involved a lot of charity work,” she said. “I decided that even if I didn't do well, it would be good to do something for charity and it would give me more confidence. But in the end I don't know what made me apply. Something in me just said 'give it a go.’”
Giving it a go turned out to be a good decision, as she finished her first-ever beauty pageant a winner.
“I was sitting on a throne with this big crown on and my family were staring at me in amazement,” she says. “I was extremely happy to have won it. It felt amazing to show the bullies what I could achieve, despite all their cruelty."
Sumner now aims to take her story to schools across the U.K. in hopes of encouraging other kids who fall victim to bullying.
"Since doing Miss Black Country, getting involved in charity work and seeing how well I am compared to other people, it makes me feel lucky to even be here,” she says. “In the future I'd like to go into schools and talk about bullying and self-esteem. I want to urge victims to speak up and not suffer in silence like I did."