People talk a lot about health, weight, and how the two correspond. The general consensus seems to be that "healthy" does not look the same on every body type. Agreed. But what if each body type -- each individual -- doesn't have one weight or look that reflects personal health? Can the same person be equally healthy at 125lbs and 150lbs? Can we be just as healthy with normal, flat-ish stomachs rather than six packs... even if our bodies are proven to be capable of the latter?
Men and women alike look to the cover of Fitness Magazine or at their marathon-running friends for proof that their bodies are unhealthy or unattractive. These harmful body-to-body comparisons are constantly critiqued and analyzed by talk shows and blogs and Facebook statuses and "real" celebrities. But what about the comparisons we all make with our past selves? Most of us were at an "ideal" weight at one time in our lives. We have pictures that we look back upon with a sense of anxiety...Why don't I look like that anymore??? That's my body's happy weight. That's when my arms were toned and healthy. I'm ready for the underexposed discussion about the battle many of us face -- the one where we use ourselves as the weapon.
I am an ex-beauty queen.
At this time, please take 15 seconds for silent reflection. Think of all of the pageant stereotypes you may have immediately placed on me. Let them sink in. Accept them. Now take a deep breath. Let them go. Good, good, now we can move forward.
Before becoming Miss New York 2012, I competed in my fair share of pageants within the Miss America Organization. This means I spent years getting into fighting shape for the swimsuit portion of pageants. I cannot speak for every woman in pageants, but for me, I was healthy as a horse for swimsuit. Sure, I was really thin, but I was in great shape thanks to hours in the gym. I ate mostly protein and veggies, but didn't deprive myself of every little thing. At the end of the day, I rocked that bikini like I was Alessandra Ambrosio (okay, maybe only in my head...).
Surprise, surprise -- my body does not look like that anymore. I still eat relatively healthily and go to the gym 3-4 days a week (rather than 6-7), but am a size 4 instead of a size 0-2. Sometimes I catch myself looking at pictures, thinking "I am not as healthy as I used to be. I have got to get my pageant bod back." HOW RIDICULOUS. My doctor says I am currently the epitome of health. Funny thing, though... he told me the same thing when I was in pageant shape. You see, muscles are healthy, but so are hips and boobs. Guess what boobs are made of? Not muscle. Just saying.
L: Associate at a strategy and management consulting firm/Aspiring Writer; R: Miss Virginia 2011 Competition (I don't have a full length picture of when I competed for Miss New York... womp)
L Work Out: 3-4 days a week/30-45 mins; R Work Out: 6-7 days a week/1-1.5 hours
My take on health: I've gone through stages of not working out for X or Y excuse, but found that I felt constantly tired and spent way too much time stressing about my looks. Eating healthily and hitting the gym even just a few days a week takes about 2-3 hours of my time each week, which is an amazing trade for the countless hours I spent feeling lethargic and insecure. Health is objectively seen in your body, but it's also about subjectively how you feel... and hopefully, those things align!
I'm not telling anyone that gaining bunches of weight isn't a health problem. I'm talking to the crowd who still works out regularly and doesn't eat like they're Michael Phelps. To those folks, keep in mind that you don't need a booty that can bounce a penny in order to be fit! Your body can display more than one representation of happy and healthy. With basic maintenance and balance, post-pageant (or baby or career) bodies are just as desirable and healthy as the pre-[fill in the blank] bodies!
My friends are great examples... my friends being Miss America 2013, Miss America 2010, Miss Virginia 2010, and Miss Virginia 2011 (does this count as name-dropping?). These women were incredibly beautiful and healthy on the Miss America stage, but are still incredibly beautiful and healthy today. Most of them are like me, however, owning their health in bodies that don't look the exact same as they did when they were focused on competing in a swimsuit (though they still look pretty darn fantastic). They did not starve themselves or take unhealthy measures to reach that competition physique (self-control and deprivation are different beasts), plus they continue to treat their bodies with respect in their new daily routines that don't revolve around bikini-wear. The only difference in their health is that they may look slightly different. And you know what? That's okay.
The women below are 10-25lbs heavier than their lowest pageant weights. They are brave and proud and strong to bare their health in honesty while facing a culture full of critics! May any reader bear that in mind (though I'm sure most of you will agree that they look fantastic in both bodies).
Miss America 2013, Mallory Hytes Hagan
L: Newly signed talent to William Morris Endeavors with the hopes of becoming an Entertainment Host; R: Miss America 2013 competition
L Work Out: Weight Training 4 days a week (approx 45 min)/Cardio twice a week (20-30 min);
R Work Out: Alternated Weight Training (45 min) and Cardio (45 min) every other day; Tap Dancing (1 hour) three days a week, Bikram Yoga (1.5 hours) three days a week
Mallory's take on health: I truly believe that health cannot be measured with the eyes. Health is a combination of consistently choosing nutritious food, maintaining an active lifestyle, being spiritually fulfilled, being connected and engaged with your friends and loved ones but, most of all, enjoying your life. While competing in swimsuit, I may have been overjoyed with how amazing my body looked, but I never felt as though I was "living." As I've been quoted before, "sometimes you just want potatoes!" I'll take a glass of champagne, an occasional piece of bread and even delicious dessert every once in a while over the "perfect" body. Why? Because that's what makes me HAPPY! To heck with the rest of it.
Miss America 2010, Caressa Cameron Jackson
L: Director of Client and Community Engagement at FAHASS an HIV/AIDS non-profit in Virginia; R: Miss America 2010 Competition
L Work Out: 2 days a week, mixing workout tapes with gym time; R Work Out: 6 days a week with strict diet plan
Caressa's take on health: Being mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy is critically important as a young woman. Finding the time to nurture all of those areas amidst our ambition, careers, school, volunteering, friendships and families can often be hard. The most important thing is to find the space where YOU are happy with you and not allowing society to dictate what you SHOULD look like. Side note: My husband loves my curves.
Elizabeth Crot, Miss Virginia 2011/Top 15 at Miss America 2012
L: Nanny and aspiring singer/actress in NYC; R: Miss America 2012 Competition
L Work Out: 1-3 days at gym doing mostly body weight workouts, yoga, and a ton of walking in NYC (yes, that's a workout); R Work Out: 5-6 days a week and very plain food
Elizabeth's take on health: I grew up with a southern cook for a mother so nutrition and organics were kind of foreign until recently. I've found that what you put into your body has the most impact on how you look, and I've been experimenting with healthy cooking. I use garlic in everything!
Katie Uze, Miss Virginia 2010/Top 10 at Miss America 2011
L: Associate Producer for CSPAN/Student at Harvard University; R: Miss Virginia 2010 Competition
L Work Out: 3-4 days a week (workout DVDs and gym)/30min-1 hour; R Work Out: 6 days a week/1-2 hours
Katie's take on health: Healthy isn't about a number -- it's about having a body that that is strong and capable of carrying us through life. We should celebrate our bodies for all they do for us daily rather than punish them for the small superficial ways we feel they don't live up to society's unrealistic ideals. We are so much more than a shell, so much deeper than we appear. There are so many more valuable ways to judge a person and so many truer measures of a woman than her waistline or dress size. Respect your body as a vehicle to take you where you want to go in life, and remember that true beauty is demonstrated through the way in which we live our lives.