Well…It’s the New Year. To me, New Year, usually means, new resolutions. One resolution that is usually at the top of my list is weight loss. Even at my smallest weight, I would always resolve to drop 10..15..20 pounds. I needed to have the perfect body. I needed to fit the ideal mold that I created for myself. I needed to be perfect.
As a child, I was always overweight. After the age of 4, I never got hand-me-downs, because I was larger than my older sister. My first, ‘diet’ was in Kindergarten. I can clearly remember asking for more Cheerios, and my mother gently explaining that I was on a diet, and that meant that I needed to eat less. I remember being the youngest person at the Weight Watchers meeting when I was 8. I remember being weighed and gaining a pound. I was devastated.
In middle school, I just wanted to fit in. I was lucky to be in a school where I wasn’t teased about my size. I didn’t shop often because it was very difficult to find clothing that fit me. At my biggest, I was a size 22. I am only 5’1 so it was hard to find clothing that was big enough to fit, but in a petite size.
When I was 14, I decided to lose weight! I made a goal to lose 40 pounds. My mother supported me and I worked hard for months to lose weight! I ended up losing 50 pounds!
Shortly after I lost 50 pounds, I entered my first pageant. I was a runner-up in the pageant, and needless to say, I was bit by the pageant bug! A few years later, I won my first pageant! The rush of your first win is indescribable!
Shortly after my first win, I entered the Miss America Organization. As a teen competing in pageants, I knew that I would one day age into the Miss America system and I couldn’t wait. From the time I was 14, I was preparing to compete in this higher caliber pageant system. I was ready!
In the Miss America system, the ‘Lifestyle and Fitness in Swimsuit’ competition is 15% of your overall score. You are judged on your physical fitness and appearance in swimsuit. The rationale is that Miss America travels many thousands of miles during her reign and that one must be in peak physical condition to be able to successfully travel and make appearances…At least that’s the rationale.
I was always very successful in the Interview portion which is 25% of the overall score. My success in interview was outweighed by my weakness in Swimsuit. After almost every pageant, a judge would come up to me and say.
‘You have a great interview! If you work on your swimsuit you could win.’
‘You are strong in interview, but weak in swimsuit.’
‘You interview is strong, but you look a little thick on stage.’
Even though I was down 50 pounds from my highest weight, it wasn’t enough. Before I entered the pageants, I felt successful and healthy in my body. To be successful, to win a pageant, I needed to lose more weight.
I began the weight loss process, again. ‘I can do this,’ I told myself. ‘I have a good interview, if I just work on swimsuit, I can win!’
With a lot of hard work, I won my first pageant! I began to prepare myself to compete for the title of Miss New York State! I continued to work on my fitness to prepare for the next level of competition. Even though I was excited to move up to the next level, I continued to feel the pressure to lose weight.
I clearly remember trying on the sample bikinis for the swimsuit competition. At the time, I was a size 10 (From a 22 to a 10) and the samples were 2’s and 4’s. I put on one bottom and it fit my thigh, I refused to come out of the bathroom, I wouldn’t let anyone see me in it.
When I did order a swimsuit, it came in a size too small. I needed to send back the size 10 bottoms for a size 12. I called the swimsuit provider and asked them if I could exchange for a size bigger. This is the exact conversation we had…
Operator-What size bottoms would you like to get?
Me-A size 12, please.
Operator-How tall are you?
Operator-Oh my goodness. That’s a big bottom on a short girl.
Aside from swimsuit drama. I competed at the Miss New York pageant and had a nice experience overall. I knew I wasn’t going to win, and that was okay. I was happy to be there, spending time with other community-service-oriented young women like me. I always referred to Miss New York as Summer Camp Glitter and Rhinestones!
I decided to continue. The next year, I gained about 20 pounds. This year was important, because myself and my two sisters were eligible to compete. If we all won a local pageant, we would be the first set of 3 sisters to compete at a state level pageant. Both of my sisters had won pageants and were on their way to Miss New York. I felt the pressure to win.
At the last pageant that I was eligible to compete in that year, I won 1st runner up. A judge approached me after the pageant. She said to me,
‘You have a great interview! You weakness is swimsuit. Based on your physical fitness, you are not ready to compete at Miss New York. Improve your fitness and you could win.’
My sisters and I had one more year that we could all compete at the state level together. I was determined to win. I did whatever it took to lose the weight. I worked out 5 days a week for several hours. I closely examined every piece of food that I put in my mouth.
Nothing was going to stop me from fixing the one thing that was ‘wrong’ with me. The judges were ‘right’. I needed to lose weight and then I would be successful. Being ‘thin’ meant being ‘successful.’ This idea is still imprinted in my brain years later.
My hard work finally paid off. I was thin and I was ready to be ‘successful’. I competed in my next pageant, closest to my lowest weight ever and I was determined.
I achieved ‘success’ at this pageant and won the title. It was a relief that I wouldn’t disappoint my sisters and be able to compete with them at Miss New York. But this ‘success’ fueled my desire to be more ‘successful’. In my brain, being successful in pageants meant that I had to be thin. I stepped up my game and worked out and dieted furiously to be ready for the state competition.
But it turned out that the success I was feeling still did not meet the unspoken expectations of the organization. The sample gowns were all too small for me to try on. While being fitted for an opening number gown, my measurements were whispered while other girls measurements were being said at full voice.
That year, all three of us made it to Miss New York! We were the first set of sisters to compete for a state title at the same time! I had such an amazing experience competing with them, and I wouldn’t trade that time for anything!
I still had one more pageant year left in me. It was my last year and I was a veteran in the pageant world I decided to go through the motions, and do all the things that made me ‘successful’. But something was a little different. I was not about to deprive myself and obsess over the way I look to receive appreciate and reward from 5 strangers (judges) who didn’t know me. If they were going to select me. They were going to do it because I was honest and healthy. Making that decision and acting on it were very difficult.
I found myself falling into all the same obsessions. Counting calories, compulsively working out, poking and pinching myself, wishing I could just lose a little more weight.
Having gained about 10 pounds, I competed in my last local pageant. To my surprise, I won!
I competed at Miss New York one last time. I enjoyed spending time with my peers and making tons of new friends.
While I did struggle with my weight as a participant in the organization, I did have some great successes during my time competing. I met so many wonderful young women that I consider friends still, today! Miss America Organization volunteers are some of the kindest, most selfless people I know. And the relationships made through the organization are STRONG! Shawn and I probably had about 20 people from the Miss America Organization at our wedding!
So here I am. 5 years out of the organization and about 25 pounds heavier. No matter how hard I try, every pound I gain feels like a new failure. Being ‘thin’ means being ‘successful’ is imprinted in my mind. I constantly remind myself that these two things are not connected, but there’s a little part of me that always falls back into that way of thinking.
As far as the New Year Resolution? I resolve to change my way of thinking. I resolve to remind myself every day that my success is NOT contingent on what bathing suit size I wear. My success as a woman is NOT contingent on what my measurements are. I resolve to make lifestyle choices that help me become a more healthy and happy woman mentally and physically. I am doing this on my terms, where my success is decided by me and no one else!
My advice? Love yourself! Don’t let the opinions of others or infomercials on t.v. dictate your success and self-worth. You are only one that can make yourself happy. It sounds corny, but resolve to love yourself this year. I am convinced that once you do, many of your other struggles will disappear!
Happy New Year!