This article originally appeared on People.com.
On Sunday, Miss Egypt Farah Sedky could be crowned Miss Universe — but just a few years ago, she was considered “morbidly obese” at 220 lbs. and getting cruelly bullied by her classmates.
The pageant hopeful and recent college graduate says that the other students at her all-girls high school would constantly taunt her.
“Growing up in an all-girls school wasn’t the simplest. I was brutally bullied and to the point that I was once beaten by one of my peers,” Sedky, 23, tells PEOPLE. “To this day, I still remember her looking down at me on the ground and saying, ‘I’d like to wake up tomorrow and not see you at school, no one will miss you if you’ll be gone forever.’ ”
She hit 220 lbs. by age 15, and her doctor said that she would be diabetic in the next six months if she didn’t change her habits.
“This was the first time that I saw my father weep, which motivated me to lose the weight and start to maintain a healthy lifestyle,” Sedky says.
At first Sedky, who now lives in Cairo, struggled with eating well, but she was determined to make a change.
“What clicked with me on an emotional level to start my journey was the fact that I knew I wasn’t living up to my full potential,” she says. “Also seeing how sad my father was pushed me to make these changes.”
Sedky learned to cut her part sizes, limit carbs after 7 p.m. and add lots of lemon to her meals.
“[Lemon] is so vital Queen B [Beyoncé] made an entire album about it,” she jokes. “I like yogurt with half a lemon and cinnamon, and lemon with hot water in the morning helps with your digestive system going.”
Along with daily workout classes, Sedky lost nearly 80 lbs. and changed her entire outlook.
“I’ve learned how to like myself, which was the toughest thing I had to learn,” she says. “I want to be a role model for small girls, just as I needed to have at their age. I want them to know that nothing is their fault; challenges will pass and they’ll go on with their lives to become successful individuals. They key is to learn to like and accept themselves.”
That self-like and body positivity is what pushed Sedky to compete for Miss Universe. Though she lost weight for her health, she sees the bullying she faced as a result of unrealistic standards of beauty.
“I truly believe it’s time to show women that they should appreciate, accept and like their bodies the way they are,” she says. “It’s about time that we all come together not just for women but also for children, to make sure they grow up in a healthy environment where they won’t feel pressured to focus on fitting in, and fitting a certain perception on beauty. Instead, they will grow to focus on developing their aspirations.”
The Miss Universe pageant will air live on Sunday, Nov. 26 on FOX at 7 p.m. EST.