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To the Beauty Pageant Staff Members Who Encouraged Restrictive Eating

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To the beauty pageant staff members who encouraged restrictive eating,

The ones who just days ago tried to persuade Miss Iceland to lose weight for the Miss Grand International finals, the people who described her body as “too fat” and her shoulders “too big.” To the ignorant personnel who suggested the pageant would, “like her more if she ate less,” I’m sickened…

You see, it’s been five years since I was diagnosed with an eating disorder. It’s been five years and I’m still never prepared to happen across such negative and dangerous words when I am scrolling through my Facebook feed. I am appalled no progress has been made in our skinny-obsessed, body-shaming world and someone thinks it’s OK to actually say such things. To, in no uncertain terms, glamorize and promote disordered eating and to assume that such a thing is no big deal.

Let me tell you from my experience: it is. 

To “advise” a woman to, “stop eating breakfast, eat just salad for lunch and drink water every evening,” for the sake of a pageant, to meet your unrealistic expectations of beauty so you can further judge her body, is not showing concern for her health or well-being, no matter how you may try to explain it away as such. Because that’s not beauty, that’s disordered eating.

I don’t know where this idea came from that one must suffer for beauty, the haunting phrase, “beauty is pain.” That the sting of waxing my eyebrows or the discomfort of walking in stilettos is all worth it if it’s for the sake of someone else’s approval. But no big deal, right?


 That it was normal to skip lunch, or that the painful grumble of my stomach as I went to bed hungry was a triumphant roar of success, of achieving my “goal.”

Telling a woman to stop eating in preparation for prom, a wedding or any other made up reason is not encouraging her to succeed or selflessly giving her the tools to “do well in this competition.” Don’t you dare try to rationalize your words or suggest you are doing this in the interest of anyone but yourself and your own personal preferences. And what you think skinny means.

By the way, you’re dead wrong.

Because restrictive eating isn’t a “bikini ready” body or perfectly toned arms. You want to see what skipping breakfast will bring you? Want to see the impact on the body when it’s taking in a limited amount calories a day? Picture my shrunken body. See the reality of the bags under my eyes that no concealer is going to fix.

Is this the woman you want to wear the crown for you?

What you don’t realize is that what takes you a couple seconds to say, what amounts to a sentence or two, is something she can remember for a lifetime. Some women aren’t confident or secure enough to brush off your comment or call you on your bullshit. They will take your words as fact and do whatever it takes to please you, even though it is an impossible feat to achieve. Because for people like you, perfection is never enough. 

Don’t you write such judgments off as a side effect of pageant life, as a part of the job, an occupational hazard. No woman deserves to have her body controlled in such a way. Under no one’s direction, but her own. Parading across a stage in gowns and swimsuits isn’t a waiver that gives you permission to find fault in every part of her body and demand she change it for your benefit. 

I am proud of Miss Iceland and thankful that she publicly shared her refusal to conform to such unreasonable body standards. The groups who support and encourage such behavior deserve to be publicly shamed. And it is wonderful that she is comfortable in her own body, secure and confident enough to say, “I love myself the way I am.” But the thing is, not everyone is. At the age of 14, I was not. No, in fact, I was the very opposite. I was awkward and insecure and all it would take was one misplaced comment, such as in this case, to send me spiraling further into darkness, a deep hole it would take years for me to recover from.

I can only imagine the number of times you made similar comments before, and how many times more if someone hadn’t called you out for your insensitivity. But, unfortunately, you are not alone in your misguided ideals of beauty. The recent Miss Italy runner-up was deemed the “politically correct” choice, implying that she was only chosen because of her curvier figure and, as such, should have been in the plus-sized competition. A certain candidate for president of the United States has repeatedly insulted Miss Universe 1996, Alicia Machado, calling her Miss Piggy and Miss Eating Machine when she gained weight after winning the pageant. Unsurprisingly, the taunter in this case has yet to apologize or acknowledge that it was his misplaced comments to a young and impressionable woman that led to her battle with an eating disorder.

The threat in making such statements is very much real. Not all women are able to stand against such body-shaming, to realize the instigators “don’t deserve me.” And that’s OK. It is not their fault. Women shouldn’t be expected to take the insults thrown their way, to carry the burden they place.

Rather than women being “strong enough” to take such criticism, how about we do away with it in the first place? 

And if the advocacy and mission of the Miss Grand International beauty pageant really is “to spread the message of happiness,” you need to update your website. You have a pretty messed up idea of what happiness is.


an Eating Disorder Survivor

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Photo via Arna Ýr Jónsdóttir‘s Facebook page

Originally published: October 28, 2016
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