I know it has been an age since I have written, but I am going to begin posting again! This summer has been incredible busy; and after travels to Wisconsin, New York, Michigan, New York, Orlando, New York, Nashville, New York, Los Angeles, KENYA, RWANDA, San Antonio, and many many others... I am finally trying to settle back in and start updating again. I wanted to post these answers to questions I received from a high school journalist after a screening of "America the Beautiful" (the documentary film by Darryl Roberts) at University of the Inarnate Word in San Antonio last weekend. Enjoy!
1. Why do you find it important to raise awareness about eating disorders?
Eating disorders affect between 10-12 million people in this country, and America has a bona-fide obsession with weight, calories, diet, and image. Because obsession with these things, coupled with genetic factors and and low self-esteem can lead to eating disorders, one can see that our culture creates the perfect conditions for these illnesses to develop. Eating disorders are also DEADLY, so a seemingly harmless diet or a habit that develops to control stress or manage pain has the potential to kill; this is why I believe so strongly in raising awareness of eating disorders, their causes, symptoms, and most importantly, ways that people can seek help and recover. I am especially interested in focusing this effort toward young women and adolescents in work that is preventative in nature, so that we can try to diminish or end these problems before they start. I firmly believe in the incredible potential of youth, more specifically young women, to use their skills and talents to change and better the world around them; their potential is severely diminished by enslavement and captivity to obsession with weight, diet, thinness, and 'look.'
2. What are some of the things you've done or been involved with to promote awareness?
On behalf of my Foundation (www.kirstenhaglund.org), I have continued to travel the country and campaign/speak for greater awareness and understanding of eating disorders. While during my year as Miss America and afterward, I have spoken (to name just a few) at the University of Colorado, University of Arizona, Harvard University, James Madison University, University of South Florida, as well as high schools and church groups across the nation, at national and international conferences on behalf of NEDA (www.nationaleatingdisorders.org) and IAEDP (www.iaedp.com), throughout southern Germany at schools, hospitals and for community organizations, and will be traveling to Brazil to do the same in March of 2011. I also have spoken to Congress on behalf of the Eating Disorders Coalition in Washinton D.C. in lobbying efforts for Mental Health Parity and the FREED Act (www.eatingdisorderscoalition.org).
3.Do you think most teens are influenced by images from the media to be a certain weight? If so, how?
You can choose how and to what extent you are influenced, if at all. However, when you are young and have grown up in a certain culture, you don't realize the power you have to reject cultural norms, media images, and the amount of them that you consume. This is why I am so passionate about educating young people about the dangers of eating disorders, and empowering them to be media literate and choose what they let affect them. The media sells lies about thinness, happiness, and success- I encourage people to be truth tellers, and live in the real world.
Most teens, however, if they have not been educated this way, are affected by media images. We are almost brainwashed, by seeing one body type consistently being held up as beautiful in the media, into accepting that that is the way we must look in order to be considered of any value. Obviously, this is false. Also, not only does the typical model body type only naturally occur in under 1% of women on the planet, but it is also often a body type crafted by digital re-touching and editing; hence, unnatural. Couple this with the multi-billion dollar industry that is the diet industry- telling people that if they only get on "this diet" or "that diet," they will finally be happy- the conclusion is, of course, the media pressures us to look a certain way in order to be happy, complete fulfilled. They feed off American's insecurities, because they are plentiful. As soon as we, as a culture, deny these industries the profit they make from helping people to feel bad about themselves, society will change. However, I don't have much hope that this will happen as quickly as is needed.
4. Do you believe eating disorders are becoming more and more common amongst teens? If so, why?
I believe they are becoming more common, but we are also getting better at identifying them, hence, the numbers have risen exponentially. Why? For the reasons I have expounded upon above. Also, my fear is that as we continue to hear about this manufactured "Obesity Crisis," a generation of young people is going to grow up with a fear, a terror, of becoming fat, which will result in deprivation and strict control of food; habits which lead to and perpetuate bulimia, anorexia, and binge-eating disorder. Many people fail to recognize that binge-eating disorder, which can lead to obesity, is also an eating disorder. In an effort to create more healthy lifestyles, American media and politicians only focus on the negative. We seem to be heading down a disastrous path to creating a sharp increase in eating disorders, the health costs associated with them, and a virtual obsession with what we all look like and weigh.
5. Was there ever a time when you felt pressured by society or media to look a certain way or be a certain weight?
Certainly; I struggled with anorexia from the ages of 12 to 17. I was trying to fit in to the body norm that is perpetuated in the ballet world, as it was my fiercest, strongest desire to be dance as a professional ballerina. I experienced the same pressures that most other elite athletes, figure skaters, gymnasts, wrestlers, etc., face to look a certain way. These environmental pressures, coupled with the horror that it is to be an American teenager, bombarded by images of beauty, caused me to tailspin into a dangerous eating disorder. Once my parents forced me to start seeing a physician, nutritionist, and therapist for treatment, however, I slowly began to change my mind, my habits, and heal. During my year as Miss America, I also faced constant scrutiny and criticism, both verbally expressed as well as in print, of what I looked like and my body type. However, it was during that time of such intense pressure, that I really rooted myself in recovery, realizing that I could never please everyone; realizing, after participating in photo shoot after photo shoot, how images are not reality; realizing that the work that I was doing, speaking, leading, and establishing myself as a woman of accomplishment and achievement was so much more important than focusing on what I looked like. Furthermore, it was during my year as Miss America that I reconnected with God and my faith, and realized that my identity was found in Christ alone, and not in what others may have thought, or how the world wished to define me. That finally gave, and has given me, peace.
Hope you enjoyed! Just a little refresher as to what I am all about, why I find passion in the work that I do, and a reminder to us all how IMPORTANT it is to reject the things from the media that are harmful, accept the things that are not, and redeem those things that can be used for good.
I'm enjoying being in Atlanta for the time being (just a week), before I head out on the road again; time to reconnect with friends and have a little peace. Hope you are finding time to experience peace in small ways today- remember, as I often have to, we have the power to choose how we let seemingly uncontrollable things, situations, or emotions, effect us. That little truism is as much for your good as it is mine. :) Talk again soon.
As Miss America 2008, Kirsten traveled the country creating an awareness and open dialogue about eating disorders in entertainment media, the fashion and beauty industries, and with the many young women who look to Miss America as a role model. My challenge to women: Define beauty on your own terms; love and respect yourself and your body first and foremost.