When she entered the 2011 Miss Plus America beauty pageant — the premier national pageant competition for plus-size women of every age—Michelle Anderson became the first out HIV-positive woman to compete for a national pageant title. And when she walked away with a crown, she became the world’s reigning HIV-positive beauty queen.
A survivor of childhood sexual abuse, Anderson was pregnant at 15 and by her 20s a suicidal drug user who lost custody of her two children and ended up in rehab, where she was offered an HIV test. She decided to get the test, as she “thought HIV was a gay white man’s disease and black women didn’t get it,” she told HIV Positive magazine.
Although she learned then that she was HIV-positive, she didn’t seek treatment until her own daughter gave birth. Having a grandchild was the impetus Anderson needed to turn her life around.
She entered the 2010 and 2011 Miss Texas Plus America pageants, competing as an openly HIV-positive contestant, then won at the national level in Miss Plus America, receiving the Ms. Plus America title, one of several the pageant bestows.
“I just didn’t win that night,” Anderson has often said. “Every HIV-positive woman won that night!”
Anderson has used her title to raise awareness about HIV and the stigma around it, especially among women of color, as part of the CDC’s “Let’s Stop HIV Together” campaign. Working at the Afiya Center in Dallas, Anderson is also cochair of the Campaign to End AIDS Texas, a board member for the ADAP Advocacy Association, and a member of the Ryan White Consumer Council Committee.