While serving as Miss America 2008, Kirsten Haglund spoke publicly about her personal struggles with anorexia growing up.
When her vulnerability and raw honesty regarding her battle garnered overwhelming love and support, she realized her greater purpose. She was going to take her once restrictive, unhealthy relationship with food and her journey to recovery to a position of strength. She was going to empower those affected by eating disorders and help create real change in the way professionals treat and relate to them.
With the Kirsten Haglund Foundation, which provides financial aid to those seeking treatment for eating disorders, and her work with the Eating Disorders Coalition to pass important bipartisan legislation, Kirsten is creating that meaningful change.
As part of advocating for this public-health priority, Kirsten goes back to the emotional state of her 12-year-old self when she shares her story. Reliving that “darkness, despair, loneliness, and disappointment” assures her that relapse is not an option.
“I remember so vividly what it was like that it offers me no temptation anymore to go back. It never satisfies and it never gives you what you want. Whether it is control, success, admiration, love, or beauty. It never gives you any of that. I know it’s a big lie. So that has kept me strong.”
In the United States alone, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer at some point from a clinically significant eating disorder. As many cases go unreported and untreated, Kirsten explained that anonymous online screeners are effective ways to better grasp how eating disorders may be affecting you. If at any stage you think “meal planning, exercising, and counting calories influence your relationships, and your ability to be productive in your job … then [you] deserve help.”
Kirsten stresses that there is no shame in being honest with yourself and turning to a trusted support system. Family, friends, and a therapist are tremendous resources when you feel distressed and need to be reminded to see yourself as the beautiful, confident woman that you are. Kirsten adds, “being a true woman is knowing to accept and love the body you have.”
Easy for a former Miss America to say? Perhaps. But the truth is that receiving national attention for your beauty does not suddenly make you any happier with yourself. The love that Kirsten radiates is real. Her confidence is not because society deems her beautiful, even though she is. She sought the treatment she needed and learned to accept and cherish her body. She is proactive and very aware of where she came from and where she wants to go. When she tells us what being a true woman is, she speaks from experience. Her beauty comes from within.
Part of accepting your body is also loving it through its many stages and changes. So what about pregnancy? Many women, regardless whether they have battled an eating disorder, fear what will happen to their body during and after pregnancy, which can be a source for a whole new whirlwind of illness.
Kirsten feels that “people don’t talk about how that love and attention that you use to focus on yourself translates and totally shifts to your child. Collectively, as a society, we should celebrate pregnancy at whatever size, but we also need to focus on the miracle of bringing life into this world and how precious that is.”
When imagining her own role as a parent, Kirsten refuses to allow her experiences deprive her future child from living life to the fullest and finding a unique voice. She believes parents should present their children with as many opportunities as possible to explore new skills and interests. But “if they do want to focus on ballet or the other more high-risk fields, make sure you’re doing the parenting, not their ballet teacher or the coach. Make sure to be a real strong voice in talking about body image, food, nutrition, balance, and moderation in their life.”
Regardless of what our future or current roles may be, as consumers and producers of social media, Kirsten asks us to remember the power we have to change the culture of negative body image and body shaming.
“Be disciplined in reproducing the kind of content you want to see. It is [also] important to know how to go on a media diet. Instead of cutting out carbs or fats, or whatever the new trend is, monitor the media you consume and maybe consider cutting out some of that.”
In honor of May being mental health awareness month, Bold‘s Carrie Sheffield sat down with former Miss America, Kirsten Haglund, to discuss her work that helps de-stigmatize eating disorders.
Watch their chat on Facebook Live to learn more about how you can help pass legislation that improves treatment options for those affected by eating disorders.
Gal grew up in the world of theatre and dance. She loves using that creativity to find what moves us and awakens our inner passions. Through sharing inspirational voices on bold.global and Bold Blend, Gal hopes to help ignite the belief that when we celebrate each other, it is possible to break boundaries and live a bold life!