LAURINBURG – When Earlene Williamson looks in the mirror she sees a beautiful, dynamic woman ready to take on the world.
Williamson wants other full-figured women to see similar images when they look at themselves.
Williamson is the founder of Curvaceous Divas, an outreach group that focuses on teaching women to see their beauty inside and out and to love themselves. Their motto is: Self-love, self-worth, self-respect.
The idea did not come easily to Williamson. It was the result of a long journey.
Williamson had a strict religious upbringing where she learned that external validation was necessary in order to feel worth.
“I grew up feeling like I needed people’s approval to be somebody,” she said.
Williamson became pregnant as a teenager and married at the age of 19. The marriage was turbulent and further undermined Williamson’s image of herself. After 11 years, she decided to leave.
“I was tired of being unhappy,” she said. “I wanted to show my children better.”
After the marriage she decided to focus on her two children. Along the way she “rediscovered” who she was, and “found [her] value.”
Williamson, who is called “Ms. E” by friends, lost weight and pursued an education.
“I went from a size 24 to an 18 and got an associate’s degree in Human Services,” she said.
Williamson would go on to find a job at a Moore County group home plagued with numerous state violations. Williamson took it as a challenge to correct the problems, gaining confidence as she went.
“That position helped me discover I could do anything once I set my mind to it,” Williamson said.
She eventually moved back to Scotland County.
Three years ago, Williamson began looking for a way to make a difference. She knew that she had always tried to be positive and tried to encourage other people.
That was the beginning of Curvaceous Divas outreach and boutique.
“I made up my mind to do something to encourage women, and because I’m a plus-woman I know the obstacles that plus women face, so I decided to focus on that,” Williamson said.
The name of the group caused a stir and created a little confusion early on because people attached a sexual connotation to the word curvaceous.
“But, I wanted a name that didn’t just say fat girls,” Williamson said. “To me, [curvaceous] is a nice way to say plus woman.”
The boutique, located in Hill Top Plaza on North Main Street, sells gently used clothes and jewelry from size 14 to 6x because Williamson knows how expensive plus-size clothing can be and wants to give full-figured women a place to find nice clothes they can afford.
The organization is run by Williamson and a small group of volunteers and is largely funded by Williamson. The Divas hold events to reach out to and encourage women to let go of past hurts and the negative stereotypes plus-sized women have long endured.
“So many plus-sized women believe just what society says about us, that we are not worthy,” Williamson said. “So we adopted that same belief about ourselves.”
The women organize two events a year that let women shine and inspire them to have love for themselves.
Williamson and friends put together a fashion show tailored to plus-sized women. Curvaceous Divas works with local retailers, hair dressers and makeup artists to show women how to show off their beauty and then strut it down the runway. Participants pay a $25 registration fee, but they get something intangible in return.
Each show has a theme that helps women reconcile themselves to appreciating what they have to offer the world and themselves.
Last year’s theme was baggage. Williamson had the models exchange a bag symbolizing something painful in their past like depression for a black rose and an encouraging note. At the end of the runway the women dropped the rose and lay to rest all the hurt, scars, and bitterness they and the world had buried themselves under.
Williamson’s approach is working.
Regena Covington said before she began working with Williamson she liked to dress up and wear makeup but she lacked the confidence to take pride in herself.
“I was never out there with it; I used to not smile, but I smile more now,” Covington said.
“You can see the confidence in her pictures now,” Williamson added.
Pastor Tammy Farmer Campbell believes God sent her to one of Williamson’s shows. Campbell, like Williamson had been raised in a strict church where women were taught to cover up and not take pride in themselves, especially big women. That undermined her confidence and caused her deep depression.
“I was ministering to people, but I was broken and depressed,” Campbell said. “It was frustrating because I was wearing a mask.”
Campbell almost didn’t go to that show, but she is grateful that she did.
“When I saw that little lady there walking down that runway, I said to myself ‘Who is that bad little lady?’ She stepped out with such grace and elegance,” she said pointing to Williamson. “It was like a light bulb went off in my head − That’s how it’s supposed to be.” Campbell said.
Like Covington, Campbell smiles more and has more confidence. She said people in her ministry see the difference.
Felecia Brown is excited about Curvaceous Divas and what it can do for full-figured women. After shopping at the boutique, talking with Williamson and attending fashion shows Brown’s confidence in herself grew. The pride she saw in the women at the first show left her “floored” and made her see how alive she could be.
Brown supports the group because she knows someone like her needs to hear what the women have to say.
“There’s somebody somewhere who doesn’t know about Curvaceous Divas who could benefit, somebody with low self-esteem, a curvaceous woman and they don’t know they can be fabulous,” Brown said.
Curvaceous Diva’s also awards $500 scholarship money. Last year, the prize was divided between two recipients. Recipients must be a high school graduate, male or female. Williamson said it does not matter if the person is attending community college or university as long as they are “trying to better themselves.”
Williamson also gives makeovers to help instill self-confidence. She says she is not a professional but will take time to show others how to wear their hair, makeup and clothes in ways that will compliment them.
Williamson wants her three granddaughters to see her work as part of their legacy.
“I don’t want them to ever feel like they are not beautiful or they don’t have worth or value,” she said.
Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169