Paola Torrente broke beauty-pageant ground recently when the size 14 knockout won second place at the Miss Italy competition. Though Torrente was thrilled, not everyone was thrilled for her. According to the Daily Mail, she was “ridiculed by other contestants and trolled on social media over her size after she came second in the competition.” The mother of the pageant’s third-place winner took to Instagram to suggest that women with Torrente’s curvaceous figure should “take part in the Plus Size Miss Italy contest,” per a translation by the Daily Mail.
Another vocal critic, Croatian model Nina Moric, declared on social media that Torrente had “too much flesh,” according to Refinery29. Instagram user @spillth3sugar highlighted a social media post by Moric, in which the model even commented on first-place Miss Italy winner Rachele Risaliti’s figure, translating her words loosely as, “Rachel was too fat to be a beauty queen” and “the competition was pretty much rigged for fat people.”
Moric struck back by claiming @spillth3sugar “virtually invented” her criticisms, “as it was pretty clear I have never expressed any personal judgment on any of the girls of Miss Italy,” according to her Instagram. If you’re wondering why Moric has such a strong opinion, it may be because she lives and works in Italy, and her boyfriend is from the Naples region, as she points out on her official Facebook. Moric went on to apologize for her words, after she herself received some harsh criticisms.
A body-shaming controversy erupting right after such a big victory might shake someone to the core, but it didn’t seem to rattle Torrente. In the midst of the controversy, Torrente let the negativity roll off her back by posting a beaming photo of herself onstage at the pageant alongside a caption that read, “Guys so many of you are following me and I’d love to thank you and say I’m sorry if i can’t answer all of you.. I have a photo that reminds me of all the emotions of that night!”
The beauty queen did, eventually, address the shaming words that came flying her way, admitting in an interview with the Daily Mail that the body-shaming initially made her “really upset.” Regarding Moric’s comments, she told the publication, “I always take words like hers with a smile, saying I feel good in my body, and I love myself for what I am.” In response to the angry mother of third-place contestant Viviana Vogliacco, Torrente said, “I wasn’t upset, just amused. I mean every one has the right to an opinion, even if it is the wrong one!”
According to a study cited by Refinery29, the average woman in the U.K. wears a size 16 dress, making Torrente, who is a size 14, smaller than what is considered plus-size. (Information on the average size of Italian women was not available at press time.) The possible eradication of the term “plus-size” has been the subject of hot debate, as inclusiveness slowly but steadily makes its way into the fashion industry. A movement called #droptheplus has emerged in support of this, pointing out that the average woman is a size 14, while the average model is a size 4. “The origins of the term ‘plus size’ hints at its outdatedness. It arose in the 1920s to describe the clothes that did not meet the decade’s notorious, slender body ideals,” according to the website for #droptheplus.
While #droptheplus applauds the fashion industry for making more clothing available in all sizes, it claims the actual term “plus size” is a step backward, since double-digit sizes are more common the world over than single-digit ones, according to the site, which notes, “Italy, Spain and Israel adopted laws in 2013 to prevent the industry from using models with an excessively low Body Mass Index (BMI) and France is currently in the process of bringing in the same laws. Things are beginning to change for the better.”
As far as pageants go, Torrente applauds the industry for being more inclusive of voluptuous women. “The stereotype of the tall, skinny girl started in the 1990s and girls became skinnier every year,” she laments to the Daily Mail. “Now a lot of girls that don’t fit the beauty ideal of tall and skinny compete. That’s a really good thing, it means mentality is changing,” says Torrente, who hits the gym four times a week, lifting weights and doing cardio, and says she eats fresh and organic food.
Miss Italy organizer Patrizia Mirigliani concurs and told the Daily News, “Stop the stereotypes. What we want is more female models who are closer to real people,” according to the publication, adding that the inclusiveness of curvaceous women was “a social initiative to combat anorexia.”
For her part, Torrente has taken the high road with her reactions to the body-shaming debacle, even calling out fans for their support. She was the popular choice among the Miss Italy pageant audience, according to the Daily Mail — and she’s always the top choice for her boyfriend of four years, a Brazilian-born medical student named Gabriel, who has “always been attracted by my personality and my curves,” she told the Daily Mail.