Miss Indiana USA, Mekayla Diehl, has been in the news recently about her body at Miss USA. First, Twitter tweeters praised her for having a "normal" body compared to the other girls on the stage who are thin and lean. Now the conversation has shifted to pointing out how she's NOT normal compared to the average American woman.
There's an underlying assumption that body shape is a result of a "healthy lifestyle."
Especially around models, actresses, and pageant girls.
That couldn't be further from the truth.
When you see the Victoria's Secret fashion show or Miss USA or Miss America, they have dedicated themselves to preparing for a specific event (which I fully support) but in that, adopt habits that are not conducive for a long-term lifestyle. Let's not kid ourselves that that's how "healthy" should look ALL the time.
It is misleading and unrealistic. We can all dedicate ourselves to hard work and dietary restrictions for a short period of time with a goal in mind, but for the sake of our psyches and our beautiful, impressionable younger girls, the wrong message is that this is how you should look ALL the time.
Let's draw a distinction for those who don't know - pageant girls and Victoria's Secret models (and the like fitness competitors) prepare for these special circumstances but live with different eating habits. It's a stark distinction.
I competed in pageants for 19 years. In my teens, I started investing in personal trainers and pageant-specific diet regimens. I couldn't comprehend how I was supposed to live on highly restrictive diets for the rest of my life if I wanted to be healthy. I lacked the distinction between healthy and goal-specific diets.
There was one trainer that drastically impacted my health. On the cover of her program book was a photo of her with the most enviable stomach. When I pointed to that and asked how I was supposed to maintain that all the time, she changed my life with this response:
"Oh! I don't look like that all the time! That's just for the photo shoot!"
I've never had a mental awakening like that since. What a relief. I spent the next few years understanding that goal-specific diets were different from a healthy lifestyle (the implication being it's a lifestyle and that's just how one lives), but I didn't know what a healthy lifestyle looked like.
Eventually, I modeled with a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and hired her as my Health Coach. For the next six months, she then coached me around finding my personal version of healthy.
So, for women and girls who look at pageant competitors and models and feel defeated, I sympathize. I was there. I hope for all of you that you can separate what you see in the media as possible, but not a vision of how "healthy" looks.
Healthy is a state of being, not a end-goal. Healthy looks like vibrant skin, clear eyes, sharp mind, stable energy, smooth temperament. A by-product of healthy may be a flat tummy or defined thighs - but those visual cues are by no means the definition of healthy.
So, ladies, explore your definition of healthy. Appreciate the discipline that goes into model-worthy bodies, but accept that it is event-specific and not the expectation to look like that for life.
*author's note: I competed in pageants for 19 years, from seven to 26 years of age. I represented Florida at both Miss America (2004) and Miss USA (2007), winning a swimsuit award at Miss America. I never experienced an eating disorder, but I did develop a difficult relationship with food. I eventually modeled in Miami and NYC for lingerie and swimwear companies. All that to say, I'm extremely aware of my body's fluctuations and have invested my energy into understanding its most efficient operations (food, physical activity, anxiety management). I still look at my shape sometimes and think "ugh, if only you were more _______..." :: shrug :: I'm OK with the results of my chosen lifestyle, because it is my lifestyle and it works for my life goals at this point in time. Also, I love pageantry and firmly believe it is an incredible tool for personal development.