Published: 06:00, 16 August 2019
| Updated: 09:46, 30 August 2019
A beauty queen who battled depression after struggling with acne and low self esteem at school says pageants have helped rebuild her confidence.
Zoe Hetherington, 21, who has reached the regional finals of Miss Kent GB, credits the contests with helping to improve her mental health by teaching her to be comfortable in her own skin.
The former Cornwallis Academy student, of Lenham Road, Harrietsham experienced depression for many years as a teenager but was only clinically diagnosed in 2017 while studying for her marketing degree at Reading University.
Scroll down to hear from Zoe.
She said: “It’s something I think started in school. I never felt that I fitted in and I had really bad acne and no self confidence.
“It took me so long to speak about it because I didn’t have anything specific that had happened. I felt guilty for feeling that way and I thought I had no reason for it.”
Though it didn’t affect her university education, Zoe’s battle with depression did have an impact on her social life.
She would often opt out of seeing friends and use the excuse that she needed to study as a way to conceal how she was feeling.
“I wasn’t myself and I didn’t want to do anything,” she explained.
"I felt guilty for feeling that way and I thought I had no reason for it...” Zoe Hetherington
“I would keep myself to myself and pushed my friends away. I was very low and I’d lost my happy, bubbly self. It got to the point where I thought, ‘I can’t keep waking up and not feeling like me’ and got help from a professional.”
To tackle the problem, she began taking anti-depressants.
The student’s biggest fear was becoming reliant on the drugs and so, once she began to feel more stable, she made the decision with her doctor to slowly come off the medication a year later.
“One year without the tablets and I’m still in a fantastic place,” she said. “I don’t really suffer with depression now and I understand that to have down days is totally ok.
“I know the warning signs but I do still have down days like every other person. I just wish I had plucked up the courage sooner.
“I always tell others to speak to people about how they are feeling and build up a support network.”
The Miss Kent GB finalist now finds that safety net in the form of the camaraderie shared by the girls she meets when competing. At events they cheer each other on and encourage one another.
She said: “Pageants have been a large part in my journey. Before I felt like I couldn’t express myself.
“You have to have a lot of self love to get on stage. I look back at myself and think ‘you had no idea’, I have changed so much. I feel like I have grown up and gone from a little girl to a woman.”
Zoe has been competing in beauty contests since she was eight, when she was crowned queen at the Bearsted Carnival in 2003. There she met the then reigning Miss Kent who inspired her to pursue pageantry.
Now Zoe is keen to encourage others to get involved. She says the focus of the contests has altered drastically in the last decade and is now centred around being comfortable in your own skin and embracing diversity.
"I feel like I have grown up and gone from a little girl to a woman...” Zoe Hetherington
In recent years, she has competed in several events, including Miss Kent England in 2015 and Miss Brighton GB in 2017 - both of which earned her a place in the top 10.
The regional Miss Kent GB final will be held on August 30 and involves an interview with the six judges, plus three rounds showcasing dance, fashion and the girls’ personalities.
The winner on the day will go on to represent Kent at the Miss GB final later this year.
Before the competition all entrants are expected to undertake charity work.
For her contribution Zoe hosted a tea party which raised more than £300 for Inner City Mission, which helps to educate children in disadvantaged countries.