Breaking the Mold, by Tara Osseck

I was crowned Miss Missouri on June 6, 2009, a goal I had worked for three years to achieve; on January 30, I will compete against 52 other contestants for the title of Miss America 2010. Although the Miss America Organization is the world’s largest provider of scholarships for young women, let’s face it – it’s still a beauty pageant. As such, I have witnessed firsthand how easy it is to get caught up in one’s looks and physical appearance, and the pressure to look perfect.

When I decided to compete for Miss Missouri, the first thing I had to do was to choose a platform – any issue I wanted to promote and advocate for. I didn’t have to think twice. I wanted to promote awareness of eating disorders. My college roommate suffered from a severe case of anorexia for two years, and at the time, I didn’t understand it any more than she did. But I knew she needed help, and I knew I had to get her the rehabilitation she needed to recover, so I educated myself on every facet of eating disorders possible. I began sharing this information with her friends and family, and soon we were able to work together to get her the help she needed. One thing was certain – the lack of education is often a common thread for both individuals afflicted with eating disorders and for those around them. So now as a Certified Health Education Specialist, and as Miss Missouri 2009, I have made it my mission to reach as many audiences as possible to educate them on eating disorders and the development of a healthy, realistic body image.

I know what you’re thinking. Kind of ironic, coming from a girl who gets judged on modeling a swimsuit, right? It’s a fair assumption, but an unfair stereotype that all pageant girls are size 0’s and all about looks. I can’t speak for every pageant contestant, but in the Miss America Organization, most of us do not aspire to be models. We come in all shapes and sizes. We eat healthy foods and exercise, but we do not restrict ourselves from “bad” foods. I have learned not to measure myself in numbers or to compare myself to Miss Texas or to the models I see in magazines. Learning and understanding your body is a constant, dynamic process. It’s not going to happen overnight, but if you work at it, anyone can learn how to achieve their healthiest self, beginning with body image.

I am dedicating this year to taking this message across the state of Missouri and teaching others how to work toward their personal best. No two bodies are alike, in terms of bone structure, muscle growth, or genetic makeup. What we see in magazines and on television is often an inaccurate representation of reality – it’s all airbrushed, padded, taped, and sculpted to perfection. The reality is that Miss America isn’t perfect, and neither am I. But by not being afraid to share my imperfections, I have been able to slowly break the stereotypes. It is my hope that you can begin to break through your own labels and stereotypes by being comfortable in your own skin. I hope that you’ll follow my posts here, as a guest blogger for McCallum Place, and continue learning about different components of body image, self-esteem, and eating disorders.