Lisburn model Jordan Humphries on her trip to take part in Miss Swimsuit USA
Jordan Humphries, a make-up artist, model and blogger from Lisburn, has just returned from Mexico where she took part in Miss Swimsuit USA. Here, she reveals the dedication, hard work, excitement and nerves that were part of the build-up to the most incredible week of her life so far
Okay ladies, I need you all lined up in order - NOW! Sashes on, number pins visible, ready to go. Remember your choreography, smile and have fun. It's show time!"
These are the last words I heard from our pageant producer before taking to the stage of the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya, Mexico, to compete in Miss Swimsuit USA last Saturday night.
In the backstage corridor I was surrounded by 58 of the most stunning women I have ever seen, who all looked like real-life Photoshop personified. Among them were famous bikini models, Playboy and Maxim cover girls, world title pageant winners and big-time influencers with millions of social media followers, all gleaming with body oil in tiny, matching purple bikinis.
How on earth did I, a wee girl from Lisburn, end up among these goddesses, about to strut across the world stage to be judged in the most minimal of clothing?
Well, it was a hell of a journey, I'll tell you that.
I stumbled across the Miss Bikini Ireland pageant while scrolling through Instagram last year and discovered that, for the first time, they would be holding a standalone Miss Bikini Northern Ireland contest in 2018.
At the time I had just competed in my first bikini contest (NIFMA) and after reading that the prize for this competition was a trip to Mexico, I decided to send in my picture and an application, then forgot about it and went about my normal life.
In that time, I began dating someone and, as you do in the early stages of a relationship, I gained a bit of weight - nothing drastic but constant brunch outings, romantic dinners and cocktail drinking certainly made sure that I was no longer in my peak physical condition.
That relationship ended at the beginning of August, which is exactly when an email landed in my inbox notifying me that I had been selected as a finalist in Miss Bikini Northern Ireland.
The competition itself wasn't to be held until early October but with a promotional photo-shoot for all the competitors just three weeks away, I replied saying that, while I was honoured to have been selected, I would sadly have to decline my place as I wasn't in good enough shape.
That's when the then Miss Bikini Ireland, Eileen O'Donnell, stepped in and encouraged me not to worry too much about how I looked for the shoot, to choose swimwear that I felt comfortable in and to then work really hard to look my best for the final. I had a word with myself and after careful consideration decided I should just go for it. What was the worst that could happen?
Fast forward to October 7 and after two months of rigid dieting, zero alcohol and rigorous training in the gym with my amazing personal trainer, Chris Cummings, I was in the best shape of my life and ready to fight for the title.
It was a long and nerve-racking day at the Cosh Bar and Grill, Londonderry as we had our hair and make-up done, practised our walks and had pre-show interviews with the esteemed panel of judges.
In the run-up to the show I had watched every YouTube video going on pageant walks, presentation and interview techniques, and I was waxed within an inch of my life, spray tanned, lean, toned and feeling quietly confident - but my nerves were still absolutely raging in my belly.
After what felt like an eternity, the first and second runners-up were announced and, finally, I was crowned the first ever Miss Bikini Northern Ireland.
I'm not someone who is often lost for words, but I was truly speechless and couldn't quite take in what had just happened. I was a winner, I was off to Mexico for the world finals... in the words of Sally Field, in her iconic Oscar acceptance speech, all I could think was: "You like me! You really like me!"
The day after my win, 16 emails tumbled in, one after another, from Swimsuit USA organiser Aadel Bensreti. I battened down the hatches, ordered myself a huge coffee (black, no sugar) and ploughed my way through each one, replying with my passport details, body measurements, release forms, social media handles and any other piece of personal information you can imagine.
The emails included our itinerary, rules to abide by and 100 other important things to know that I committed to memory between nervous breakdowns.
The next two weeks went by in a haze as I continued my clean-eating and exercise regime, ordered several dozen bikinis online, frantically hunted for dresses and once again underwent the pageant beautifying process of tanning, nails, hair extensions, waxing, teeth whitening and general freaking out.
Then, the day finally arrived to set sail (or, rather, take flight) to Mexico for Swimsuit USA.
As I sat in Dublin Airport ready to depart for Atlanta, then on to Cancun, I stupidly looked at the Swimsuit USA Instagram page for the millionth time. But this time, as I scrolled through the pictures of all the women who were attending, each one more beautiful than the last, I had a serious confidence crisis. What on earth was I doing? I couldn't compete with this bevy of beauties! I felt way out of my depth. Was I skinny enough? Too skinny? Should I have had a boob job? Were the swimsuits and dresses I'd packed okay? Was I going to perform well? Would people be friendly?
Luckily, I only had a 22-hour journey from the Dublin departure lounge to the lobby of the Hard Rock Hotel to drive myself absolutely insane with these questions!
Happily, the first person I saw when I landed in Mexico was Pamela Ryan, who had been crowned Miss Bikini Ireland a week after I'd gained my title.
As we shared a shuttle bus to our resort we calmed each other's nerves and promised that we'd stick together should it turn out to be a horrible experience.
From that moment on, we never looked back. Arriving at the five-star Hard Rock Hotel, where we were staying all week for free on an all-inclusive basis, was like arriving at the gates of Heaven. The opulence and grandeur of the lobby was overwhelming and as I walked into my room, which was complete with a Jacuzzi in the bedroom, a balcony with a Caribbean Sea view and a fridge stocked with Grey Goose vodka and Champagne, I knew this was going to be an okay week. Add to that the fact that my two room-mates, Miss Vancouver and Miss Oklahoma City, were ridiculously friendly and welcoming, I was able to relax and have a very easy first night's sleep... until my alarm went off two hours later, at 3am, to get up and get ready for my first photo-shoot.
After that first shoot, I knew I never, ever wanted this experience to come to an end. Picture this: sunrise on a white sand beach, crystal clear waters, a group of beautiful women all supporting each other, four of the world's top photographers shooting and constantly complimenting us, and tequila shots and mimosas before we'd even properly woken up.
I beamed from ear to ear from the beginning of that shoot until I stepped on the plane home.
So, what did the rest of the week entail? Was it all work, work, work? Well, don't get me wrong, it was certainly exhausting and when it was required (shoots, rehearsals, preliminaries and the final) we did genuinely work very hard.
And if you scoffed at that and think bikini models have an easy job, I implore you to stand in heels for six hours straight while your feet are already swollen from the heat, contort your body into shapes that leave you feeling crippled, suck in your tummy, stick out your butt and have a constant smile on your face, all on a maximum of three hours sleep per night and while trying to remember where you should be, what you should be saying and your combination of walks, poses and turns. It really was strenuous.
But my goodness, I cannot complain. Highlights of the trip included swimming with dolphins; a wild night out to super-club Coco Bongos; a yacht trip; massages in the world-class spa (that were free with our resort credit); more cocktails and gourmet food than I thought humanly possible to consume; pool parties with free-flowing Moet; the beach Olympics; and dancing in Heaven, the resort nightclub with a swimming pool conveniently located at its centre.
On top of all this we got to meet sponsors and VIPs from all over the world who are at the top of their fields.
We made big industry contacts that could literally be life-changing and, amazingly, I was chosen as one of only a few girls to be featured in the reality TV show about the pageant, Beyond The Sash, which is being aired next year.
The competition itself almost became secondary to the overall experience. However, I still took it very seriously and gave it absolutely everything I had.
While I didn't place, I did win the title of Miss Congeniality, which was voted for by my fellow competitors, and that meant more to me than the words can say.
The friendships and genuine connections I made with beautiful ladies from all over the world are by far what made the week the most amazing of my life. Not to sound like a cliché pageant girl, but I could not be happier for the models who did place or more proud to now call every single one of the women involved my sisters. I have been invited back to compete again in next year's competition and I could not be more excited.
Swimsuit USA, I could not be more grateful for the incredible experience you gave me, which has instilled in me a new feeling of self-confidence, self-belief and a fire in my belly to really, really 'be somebody'.
Oh, and to achieve world peace. Obviously.