A YOUNG woman who battled mental health issues to become a beauty queen is now hoping to inspire others.

Lauren Abel was crowned Miss Durham in 2013 and hopes to compete in Miss England later this year.

The football loving tomboy, from Darlington, became involved in the world of beauty pageants after making a bet with her boyfriend, who didn’t believe she would stand a chance.

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The 23-year-old set out to prove him wrong and is now preparing to take part in a series of pageants that could see her qualifying for Miss England again.

The dance student said the competitions have restored her confidence, after years of struggling with mental health issues.

She would now like to use her position to inspire other people who may be struggling to cope with mental health problems.

She said: “My experiences in Miss Durham and Miss England have changed me.

“People think beauty competitions make issues like low self esteem and confidence worse but they have helped me develop so much confidence.

“I now realise it’s not about being pretty and skinny, it’s about having a healthy body and a healthy mind.”

She added: “There is still a taboo around talking about mental health issues, people think you’ll be seen as weak.

“I’m here to show that you can still do things, like Miss England – I might have issues but that won’t stop me and I want to use my position to encourage people to talk more and find the support they need.”

Miss Abel is also trying to raise as much money as possible for Beauty With a Purpose, a charity supported by Miss England that benefits good causes around the country.

To find out more or to sponsor Miss Abel, visit virginmoneygiving.com/missdurham13