I always wanted to look like a toned hourglass and I worked damn hard to achieve it. But even when I had the "perfect" figure, I hated the way I looked. Here's what it's like to have body dysmorphia--and not even know it.
As many of you know, I’m no stranger to pageants. I understand there are a lot of stereotypes out there, but pageants paid for my college, introduced me to community service, and taught me everything from how to be a public speaker to how to network with professionals. But when you’re 16 and preparing for your first pageant where you’ll have to be judged in a swimsuit and heels, it’s hard. 16 is the age where many girls—myself included—start to become more aware of their bodies. I was noticing that I no longer looked like a skinny tween and that for the first time in my life I weighed more than 100lbs. Looking back, I can’t help but roll my eyes at my 16-year-old self for being upset about weighing 125lbs. But at the time, I was filled with teenage emotions and going through a tough time in a girl’s life.
I don’t blame pageants AT ALL for this, no one told me I was overweight, or that anything was wrong with me. But sometimes we choose to hear things even if no one says them.
I prepared for the pageant in a very healthy way by hiring a personal trainer and nutritionist. I ended up getting 2nd runner-up in the pageant---my first time EVER losing. Senior year, I dieted in a very unhealthy way. I luckily didn’t develop an eating disorder, but I did use diet pills and only allowed myself 1,200 calories a day. Anything below 1,200 calories is considered starvation. I would wake up at 6, eat a large breakfast, then take those pills all day to curve my hunger until 6pm at night. This is something I’m NOT proud of, but sadly it’s something I think most girls attempt at least once in their lives. I went from weighing 130lbs to 114lbs in a very short amount of time—and I loved it. My family didn’t think much of it because they saw me eat breakfast and dinner each day, and I blamed my weight loss on the dance competition team I was on.
The sad part was I still thought I was big. But, I knew what I was doing was VERY wrong and on my first day of college, I threw the bottle of diet pills away. I remember gaining the freshman 15 in the first two weeks but I didn’t care much because I knew I needed to be healthy.
My Sophomore year of school, I decided to compete for Miss Maine. I spent my year dieting in the healthiest way possible: hiring another personal trainer and nutritionist. I was working out the hardest I ever had in my life and eating so clean that my trainer said I could easily train for a bodybuilding show. Not exactly my style but that’s how strict and healthy I was. I looked the best I have ever looked in my life. Although I was still hard on myself, and thought I could look a lot better, I was toned, lean and healthy. The problem? I was using diet pills again. About a third of the amount I took in high school, but I still took them. Eating nothing but chicken, broccoli and egg whites is a lot easier to maintain when you’re not really that hungry. I ended up getting 1st runner-up in the pageant. Deep down I knew that Karma wouldn’t let me win until I ditched the diet pills.
The next year, I didn’t use any pills and weighed 10lbs more but I managed to win. Although I wasn’t happy with my body, I knew it was Karma showing me I needed to ditch those damn pills. After I was crowned Miss Maine, I put A LOT of mental pressure on myself for my body image. I would talk about body positivity in interviews and although part of me truly embraced body positivity, another part of me was so mad at myself for being 10lb more than I wanted to be. I thought I was going to be the biggest girl at Miss America. I was working out and eating healthy but every day I would look through tagged photos of me on Facebook from different events and just analyze my body image.
Not one single person told me I needed to lose weight, in fact, everyone told me I looked amazing. But I couldn’t see it. I spent my time at Miss America comparing my body to the other girls. I felt like the “big one.” Which is ridiculous seeing that I weighed about 129lbs. But when you’re with the most beautiful women in America and training to be seen in a bikini on national TV, all rational thinking goes out the window. I ended up binge eating almost daily at Miss America. I couldn’t control myself. I would eat multiple desserts and every meal and feel sick to my stomach. I think part of it was that it’s difficult to turn down gourmet cooked food when you’ve been choking down protein shakes all summer, and part of it was emotional eating.
Now I want to say that I truly had an incredible time at Miss America. I felt elated to be there, I met the most amazing women, laughed until I cried and truly felt proud to achieve my life-long dream. But I still couldn’t help but struggle with my body image. I became close with my roommate Alicia, Miss Washington. She had one of the most beautiful bodies and I knew she had a shot at winning. One night, I don’t even remember what I was saying but it obviously was something negative about my body because she grabbed me, dragged me into the bathroom where we both stood in our underwear. Alicia stood behind me and said, “LOOK. YOU ARE SMALLER THAN ME. SEE HOW YOU DON’T BLOCK MY WHOLE BODY? SEE HOW YOUR FRAME IS SALLER? YOU HAVE BODY DYSMORPHIA.”
In that moment, it felt like she had taken a defibrillator and shocked me back to life. Body Dysmorphia. Something I hadn’t even heard of. I was quiet for a moment then said, “Oh my god. You’re right.” I was instantly able to see that I really was so much smaller than I thought. Alicia ended up getting 2ndrunner-up in the Miss America competition, partly because she is unbelievably talented and partly because she believed in herself.
Realizing that I had this problem didn't necessarily make it disapear over night but WOW was it eye-opening. Everytime I'd look at myself in the mirror, I'd think "OK so I actually look a lot better than what my brain sees." And that was a huge step towards healing. If I were to redo my Miss America experience, I would focus less on how many calories I ate and more on self-confidence. But, if I hadn’t had that moment with Alicia, who knows where my health might be today. I think most girls have a touch of body dysmorphia, and if you’re one of them, I hope you’re able to snap out of it too. Trust me, life is a lot better when you’re not a slave to the negative thoughts in your head. It’s time to make peace with the girl in the mirror.