GOING clothes shopping used to fill Cathryn Vallance with dread. It meant admitting she was a dress size 22 in front of her naturally slim friends.

Instead, she avoided the shops and hid her size in baggy clothes, and went on a series of diets in an attempt to slim so she could fit in with her friends.

Cathryn says: “I used to hate going shopping when I was a teenager. I was always large and I didn’t want my friends to know what dress size I was.

“I tried millions of diets to lose weight and fit in, like Atkins, and I even got hypnotised! My whole family is big and now I accept myself for me.”

Now Cathryn, 20 from Basildon, has embraced her size and loves nothing more than hitting the shops to buy clothes.

She has even been shortlisted for the Miss Plus Size International.

Cathryn is one of 30 through to the final. Next, she faces a model boot camp and the finals will take place in London on Saturday, November 23.

Cathryn says: “When I went to London to have the initial interview for the competition I was surrounded by 900 gorgeous girls. “I never thought I would make it through, so I was thrilled when I found out I had!”

She has been supported by last year’s winner, Gemma Cruikshank, from Grays.

Cathryn says: “I applied for the competition last year and didn’t make it through, and my confidence was really low. It was Gemma who gave me the self-belief to go back and try again this year.

“She helped convince me I could do it. She said I should just be myself and let them see the real me. That really stayed with me and gave me the boost I needed to get through.

“She has been a great support and inspiration to me.”

Cathryn believes the competition is important to women generally and sends a message that people should accept and love themselves whatever their shape.

She says: “It is more than a competition for me it is also for other women who have struggled with weight.

“It is about inspiring women as much it is about winning for me.” A lot of Cathryn’s confidence issem from the fact she was badly bullied throughout school.

She says: “From the age of 13 to 16, I used to have no confidence because I was bullied all through secondary school.

“I was once slapped round the face and pushed down the stairs by a girl that took a dislike to me. The damage has been done, but I am stronger for it.”

Cathryn has done a lot to help other victims of bullying and was named young volunteer of the year for her work on the Basildon Youth Council and the Young Essex Assembly.

Cathryn, who works at Barnett Bears Nursery, in Basildon, said her proudest achievement was helping organise a bullying awareness day for schoolchildren at Wat Tyler Park. She says: “I am a proactive person and want to make change.”

Now she has made amends with the past and is focusing on the future. “The bullies have contacted me on Facebook, but I just say thank you and have nothing to do with them.” Cathryn used to want to change the way she looked now she loves fashion.

“I love shopping now and go to Your Clothing in Lakeside and Basildon and Billericay. “I also love independent shops, like Love your Curves in Canvey.

She says: “I want to show people just because you are big does not mean you have to wear baggy clothes.”

Got to www.missbbwinter national.com for details.