More Than One Healthy Body: Former Pageant Queens Weigh In

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.

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.

health blog Shannon

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).

Mallory Hytes Hagan, Miss America 2013

health blog mallory

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 mins)

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 swim suit, 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.

Caressa Cameron Jackson, Miss America 2010

health blog Caressa

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

RWork 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

health blog elizabeth

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 the city (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

health blog Katie

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.



Filed under Food and Health, Pageantry

13 responses to “More Than One Healthy Body: Former Pageant Queens Weigh In

  1. Gina

    OMG!! That’s hard work and motivating. I have done the Mrs Utah pageant before and now am in Idaho and thinking about doing a Mrs. Idaho pageant. I just read about a lady Jill Knapp here in Idaho who was in her 40’s who after she was diagnosed with a illness she lost 100 pounds. She did the Mrs. Idaho pageant and than ended up being on the Dr OZ show and on some Magazines. It’s pretty amazing to see transformations like this. I also went to a national pageant and met this lady Maria who lost over 150 pounds and has won many pageants. I don’t have weight issues but always applaud those who have and than change so greatly.

  2. Chelsea Adams

    You are so inspirational, Shannon! Thank you for this post. I have followed Mallory, Elizabeth, Caressa, and Rosemary as my role model for years, and I think that this post is very necessary. Thank you for sharing! God bless!

  3. LOVE LOVE LOVE this article and the perspective that so many women of the pageant world share! I am in that same boat with you ladies having been Top-10 at Miss America 2006 & Top-15 at Miss USA 2012. I can attest to the difference in my personal focus, happiness, time management, and truly what the definition of “attaining” vs. “maintaining” means to me in regard to fitness, health, and beauty. All are healthy beautiful chapters of my life, but I’m writing a FIERCE new chapter at the moment and my “eye of the tiger” mentality is heightened toward different areas of aspirations right now (not just that of bikini ready physique)… AND (shocker) it’s OK!!!! In fact, It’s awesome! I’m moving forward, not living in the shadow or reflection of the past. I desire to only be a truer, better version of the person I was yesterday! If I had pageants to do over, I would do it all the same way because I have no regrets! However, the pageant equivalent of a SUPER BOWL moment was realized with dreams in place and goals set for myself with a finite time limit. I was driven and disciplined to ATTAIN perfection defined by a moment in time. It was not meant to be a realistic, consistent life plan that I pressure myself to MAINTAIN. I think it is empowering to have realized results with the right effort and perspective and I now have the knowledge to train myself and recognize my body’s ups and downs at various stages of my exciting life!
    More power to women everywhere to DREAM BIG & BeYOUtiful!

    – Erika Grace Powell
    Miss South Carolina 2005
    Miss South Carolina USA 2012

  4. I so enjoyed reading this post as a former pageant girl myself! I actually started out in the MAO system but actually went to Miss USA as Miss WI USA 2008! I am a bit older than you, but for sometime struggled with desiring to be at the weight I was when competing on the national stage! Great article! I actually even posted about it on my own blog, Hope you like my summary and take on the article 🙂

  5. Paige Alexander

    Where’s Bree Boyce!?!? Ummmm hello??

  6. We have to realize their is no certain weight for healthy, I am very short 5’1″
    My best is 140- 145. my Dr said my correct weight should be 110 that is way too small for my body type i looked like i had an eating disorder . I stayed sick. my health and best weight was 145, and I wore dress size7 It will take me longer to reach goal. I can get to that size again, I am 67 now my matabolism is waby ethey dowm because my betablocker meds keeps my heartrate way down.I am going to get there by summer.

  7. Teanna Devnew

    This was exactly what I needed Shannon. While I can’t relate to pageant life, being a dancer, weight and health have always been a huge part of my life. Now that I’m a mother living a hectic life (don’t we all), I don’t have the time or energy to spend 5-6 days a week working out. You hit the nail on the head when you mentioned looking back at old pictures and feeling anxious and frustrated. Too many times do I compare myself to pictures of the “glory days”. This article is an inspiration and a great reminder to me to stay confident! My stretch marks and extra fat on my tummy are more of like battle wounds that I am proud to own! Someone once said to me “Comparison kills joy”. It’s soooo true and I am constantly trying to remember that. Again, great article Shannon! I love reading your blog!

  8. Marisa

    This was very inspiring to see. I have never been a pageant competitor, but at my previous weight of 110, I was thin, ripped, and I was told I was very healthy. I now weight 125, which has been hard for me to accept, but I am just as healthy as I was at 110, and while I don’t think I look as good as I did when I was 15 lbs. lighter, I’m proud to still be healthy (and more strong and athletic!) in my new body.

  9. Kara

    I read this article because a friend had posted it on Facebook. Very interesting and nice to hear the perspective of someone who’s been what most people would call “perfect”. I’m glad that you are now finding happiness with your body, I definitely believe we need more woman to realize it’s not a number that matters, whether that’s a pant size or a number on a scale. However, don’t you think that pageants help encourage and enforce this skewed image of “beauty”? You yourself, as well as many of your other firends, have found that happiness and health isn’t dependent on what you look like. So maybe instead of trying to defend your downfall from “perfection”, you should consider the source of the problem. Because you shouldn’t have to defend being happy and healthy.

    • Kara- thanks for your thoughts! I don’t mean to “defend” my body at all- I simply want women to know that it’s possible to be healthy in two different bodies. Pageants are far more than the swimsuit competition and were nothing but a positive experience for me! The swimsuit portion is an excellent motivator for learning about health and fitness. Maintaining that body isn’t an expectation- just as with any sport for which people train. If the media would look past the swimsuits and learn more about the women involved, I think they’d be surprised at the role models they’d find scholastically, health-wise, and philanthropically.

  10. Rachel Barker

    I love this article. Thank you so much for writing about the struggles, triumphs, insecurities and health related issues that us pageant gals and the rest of the female population. As Miss New Hampshire 2007 I was 112lbs and healthy, muscular and feeling my best. I am now 129 lbs, work out regularly and eat very well with exceptions that I would not have had while motivated to be on the Miss America stage. I struggle with wanting to get back to “where I was” but continue to be thankful for my experience and to love my curves. Thanks again for this.
    Rachel Barker
    Miss New Hampshire 2007

  11. Kendria

    I’m definitely 18-25 lbs heavier than I was during my pageant days. For me, it’s the difference between a size 0-2 and a size 4-6. I’m so thankful that I had that time to really focus in on nutrition and exercise. I showed myself and the world what my body is capable of. Yes, I have moments when I feel nostalgic or have trouble getting rid of a beloved article of clothing that , realistically, I will NEVER fit into again. But, who cares?! When I look in the mirror, I know the woman staring back at me is smart, talented, capable, poised, generous, valuable, and loved.

    Kendria Perry-Madden,
    Miss Pennsylvania (MAO) 2008

  12. Two Wheels

    All absolutely gorgeous women – then and now!

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