Miss South Carolina Bree Boyce may be a beauty queen, but for most of her life, she says she was "miserable in my own skin" as a heavyset kid in Florence, S.C.
"I used to make fun of my weight with others to fit in and be the funny, overweight girl," Boyce tells People Magazine for its annual Half Their Size cover story.
"I'd go home and cry, not because of what others said about me, but what I had said about myself," she adds. How times have changed for the 22-year-old:
By 17, she had reached her heaviest weight: 234 lbs.! Aching knees and difficulty breathing drove her to meet with a doctor, who told her she needed to lose weight.
"It was embarrassing because a 17-year-old shouldn't be in a doctor's office having this conversation," recalls Boyce. "I knew there were so many things I wanted to do in life - I wanted to be on Broadway, go to school, get married, have a family."
Another key motivator: "I wanted to be Miss America one day."So the teenager started keeping close tabs on what she ate every day and constantly reminded herself that food was fuel and "not always comfort."
She gave up a sedentary life and began exercising 2-3 times a week.
After three years of sticking to her new lifestyle, Bree Boyce dropped a hundred pounds and competed for the Miss South Carolina title in 2010.
The following year, she had lost 12 more for a total of 112 - and won the crown on a platform committed to eating healthy and fighting obesity.
"I don't want young girls to worry about the number on the scale," she says, with the added message: "I'm really promoting health and loving yourself."
Boyce will compete in the 2012 Miss America pageant on January 14. Regardless of the results that night, it sounds as though she's already won.