Last night’s episode of Extreme Weight Loss was about a woman, Brandi, who ultimately decided to give up on her dreams. Focusing heavily on her childhood desire to become Miss America (who surprised her and did a great job), Brandi spoke about standing on stage at pageants, time after time, being told she ‘needed to lose weight,’ a sentence I’m all too familiar with. When Chris showed up at the Miss Atlanta Elite Pageant (which he misquoted as a Miss America Circuit Pageant, but we’ll forgive him) with his tried and true scale, Brandi weighed in at 329 lbs, approximately 175 lbs overweight. The entire episode of is riddled with psychological issues of self-esteem and confidence in herself.
Now, I know each ‘story’ on television is exaggerated, I can’t help but wonder if all of this started with what seemed like a simple pageant. I once was quoted as enjoying (as a guilty pleasure) Toddlers and Tiaras, but as my relationships with pageants, body-image and self-confidence has grown (in good and bad ways), I’m starting to think the real story will be those T&T girls in 20 years. It all seems like fun, games and good entertainment right now, but what will these girls be dealing with in 20 years? While I wasn’t reaaaaallly in child beauty pageants, I certainly have had my fair share. I was little Miss Lee County Fair Queen once or three times over the course of the years. The friends and family I grew up with were always involved in on-stage activities and pageants were no different. I got involved with Miss America at 13 and at 14 I was told (and I quote) “If you would have lost 10 pounds, you would have won.” For so many girls, myself included, every day is a battle of the body. It’s exhausting.
We often discuss the effects of the entertainment industry on young girls and their need to be thinner or more beautiful. Feeling inadequate is nothing new for most of us, and talking about Bulemia and Anorexia are common, but what about how those same feelings can be what leads to Obesity? I’m here to say I know exactly how Brandi feels. Even the most confident person believes what people say about them. “She’s fat” when she’s really not can do wonders on a young woman, in the same way telling someone who’s suffering from anorexia “You’re so skinny” can be detrimental to her progress. I can’t tell you how many times the thought ‘Well everyone already thinks i’m fat, anyway’ has popped in my head before ordering pasta instead of a salad. On the other end, the times i’ve heard a girl say, “I just wish I could have a few french fries” is alarming. Life is supposed to be able finding a balance that works for you. Unfortunately, as a nation, it seems we are far too polarized.
There’s a whole ridiculous group of people who say if you enter a pageant, you are opening yourself up to criticism in that arena. I’m going to respectfully disregard you right now, because that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.
Over 70% of girls age 15 to 17 avoid normal daily activities, such as attending school, when they feel bad about their looks and 75% of girls with low self-esteem reported engaging in negative activities like cutting, bullying, smoking, drinking, or disordered eating. This compares to 25% of girls with high self-esteem. Is this what we want to be doing to our society? We have got to do better, be better and live better for our next generation of girls (and guys). Can you imagine someone (a judge) telling your six or seven year old daughter that she needed to lose weight? If I were a mother, that person would give a swift kick in the
ass face (that would hurt more).
For the first time ever in my life, I discouraged a young woman (not too long ago) from competing in a pageant because she was consistently being told to lose weight. She. Was. Stunning. To me, walking away from that sounded like a much better option than a lifetime of self-doubt and feeling like she’s not good enough. Who knows, she could have ended up feeling just like Brandi. I don’t wish that on one single soul. I’m not saying pageants are bad, or they don’t stand for many wonderful things (including learning to live a healthy lifestyle). I’m just saying… being told that you’re fat sucks because words hurt and they stick with you forever. Whether you are or are not. End of story. Choose them wisely.
That being said, in order for us to live better, we have to make better choices. These past couple of days i’ve been working with a girl who is competing in local pageants in California. As we began to develop her personal platform, which encourages children to live healthy, I learned startling facts about our health as a nation, but especially the health of our children. 1 in 4 children in the United States will develop diabetes, but that number increases almost 30% for African, Asian and Latino Americans. 1 in 4.
Cancer/Smoking/Automobiles Heart Disease is the number one killer in America and it’s only getting worse. I’ve watched several documentaries in the past 48 hours and I am truly alarmed that we are not FIRED UP about our health, the FDA and the CRAP that is on the shelves and in our schools. I digress.
Brandi had an incredible transformation, but most people don’t end up on Extreme Weight Loss with a hot coach and an entire nation watching. Even then, the psychological issues she was facing didn’t disappear. Her relationship with food wasn’t broken. Most people are working, studying, parenting, tired and plagued by the machine that is marketing in our country. I don’t know how many times we have to say,”enough is enough!” I am as guilty as the next person, but it doesn’t mean it’s all impossible to change.
I am happy to have watched Brandi succeed, but I am sad that a childhood of pageantry and self-doubt lead to an adulthood of insecurity and pain. Those words…”she needs to lose weight” have been sitting on her shoulders since childhood. We have to do better.