I will never forget the day I received this swimsuit in the mail. I was prepping for Miss America and we knew Speedo was to be the swimsuit sponsor that year and provide our competition swimsuits. I held that tiny Fedex envelop in my hands wondering what could possibly fit inside this envelop. But there it was, my bright orange and black triangles held together by strings. This was going to be more skin than I had ever shown in public, let alone onstage in 5 inch heels under stage lights.
Swimsuit was never my strong suit anyway and was something I tolerated because I wanted the job of Miss Ohio and wanted an outlet to perform my talent. I was met with some hurtful comments prepping my body to be judged in this swimsuit. When people are telling you you're fat on the regular, you start to believe it. But, through some rigorous workouts, lots of chicken and broccoli, and a good dose of stress, I managed to get my 5’7 frame down to 119 pounds for Miss America. I was under weight for Miss America and still felt I wasn't thin enough for this suit.
Of course, 119 pounds was not sustainable for my body and by the time I gave up my crown, I was maintaining at about 130 pounds and stayed at that weight though my 20’s. It is still difficult for me at 38 years old to embrace my figure at 160 pounds. I always think to myself, even all these years later, you’ll never look as good as you did at Miss America. This is always followed by my self pep talk of…”yes but you were 24 and starving!” I find myself embattled in a mental struggle over what I know is real and good and healthy and my own negative self talk. I'm very aware of negative body image issues and though I don’t have children yet, this is something I would never want to pass along to my daughter or son. I strive to be kind to myself and remind myself that this unrealistic standard of beauty is simply unsustainable for my body.
With the elimination of the swimsuit competition from the Miss America Scholarship Program, I feel relieved. Relieved that we can finally focus on the great work women are doing all over the country on behalf of their platforms and Children't Miracle Network. I have seen girls struggle with this phase of competition knowing that there has been a certain proportionality that is favored by judges and the standard set by the pageant industry itself. Though I’m sure for some, this phase of competition lead to healthy habits and empowerment, there are just as many girls who have felt pressured to use drastic means to achieve an unrealistic goal for their body type that also takes an emotional and mental toll.
I am so tired of a woman’s value being measured by how much space she takes up. Here we are in a time when Miss America program alumni are entrepreneurs, civic leaders, non-profit and corporate executives, entertainers, fundraisers, educators, doctors, lawyers, news anchors….the list goes on and on, and all we can talk about is who is valued in this program based on how much actual space she takes up onstage. For me, Miss America should be representative of the All-American girl. But, then that would lead us to a discussion of what the All-American girl looks like. There was a time when we would only be talking about pretty white girls. I'm talking about women who reflect the diverse makeup of America. Women of all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds and women of all shapes and sizes. Authenticity seems to be hanging on by a thread here, and we have an opportunity to lead during a time when many people feel the need to present a fake highlight real of the best moments of their lives on social media and edit every photo of them that hits the internet. I breath a huge sigh of relief with the thought that women might actually get to participate in this scholarship program without the fear of breaking their bank, their body and their spirit.
I am thrilled to see that this program can take a direction where more women will be encouraged to join this program that I love so much. I’m so thrilled that as a former Miss Ohio and mentor, I can feel good about recruiting a more body diverse group of women to participate in this program. I applaud the Miss America board for taking this bold leap. Change is never embraced fully at first, and I’m sure there will always be those who look back instead of forward. I’m optimistic and completely open to the possibilities in store for pageantry as a whole, and can’t wait to see how all of this changes the fabric of Miss America in the coming months and years. Cheers to you Miss America!