In 2008, Kirsten Haglund put on the sash and bore the crown that made her that year’s Miss America. She had won the United States’ national competition for beauty
Beauty in our culture is synonymous with a very particular body type. "You need to be thin," a voice will whisper in the minds of nearly all women and girls at some point in their lives.
Kirsten first heard the voice when she was 12 years old, studying one summer at a competitive ballet school and noticing she was no longer the thinnest one around— or the best.
"I realized: I don't look like any of these girls," Miss America 2008 tells the website IAmSecond. "Maybe I'm not thin enough. Maybe I'm not good enough to be a professional dancer."
"I would let myself eat fried food and I would have dessert and cookies, but those very serious girls, they didn't eat that same food. For the first time I thought maybe I should be dieting. Isn't that what every fashion magazine says?"
Kirsten remembers throwing her lunch in the trashcan the first time, remembers the illusion of power it gave her.
So began a three-year battle with anorexia.
"I started blacklisting foods," she says. "Carbs are supposed to be bad so maybe I shouldn't eat any carbs. Fats are supposed to be bad so maybe I shouldn't eat any fats."
"I just started making all these rules for myself."
"All ballet is is rules. Point your leg, straighten your knee, be in line, be on the count— and do it all while you're smiling. My life just became following the rules of my eating disorder."
“I still wasn’t anorexic enough”By 15, Kirsten says, she was a shell of her former self. "As long as you stick with me, you can have everything you want," her anorexia told her. "You'll be beautiful. You'll be light as a feather. You'll be exquisite. You'll be gorgeous."
But Kirsten didn't see it. "My thighs, my butt, my stomach; my face, my cheeks. All I saw was failure. I still wasn't there yet. I still wasn't anorexic enough," she says.
"[Anorexia is] about food, and it's about losing weight and creating the body you want. But it's about so much more than that. It is... slavery."
Kirsten refused treatment. She decided she would put on just enough weight to get a tick of approval from her treatment team, then go back to being anorexic.
But no matter how much she tried to fool herself and others that she was in control, that she was only doing what she needed to do to achieve her dancing dreams, she realized she could not fool God.
She had given her life to Jesus Christ in second grade, Kirsten recalls. But she did not really know who Christ was. So when she became consumed with the fear of being fat and her dream of becoming a ballerina, it easily took the number one spot in her life.
She knew God saw the front she put on for people and saw the Kirsten that was still dissatisfied, upset, anxious, and afraid. She couldn't half get better— Jesus wanted everything.
Not until she nearly passed out from overexertion did Kirsten understand she did not have control; did she understand this could really kill her. Then she decided to get better.
"I realized I wanted to eat pizza again and I wanted to eat birthday cake and I wanted to travel the world and I wanted to fall in love and I wanted to learn another language and I wanted to help other people," she says.
"What if there's more to life? What if I can do other things?"
Kirsten says she found comfort in the Psalms, in the Bible.
"I found the words to be my words and it wasn't an answer, it wasn't like I opened up and it was like here is how you release your perfectionism, but it just brought comfort to my soul and it made me realize that I wasn't in it alone. Jesus was reaching down into the pit and saying, 'I've got you, I'm here with you, I love you, I love you so much that I died for you'.
"When you're in bondage to an eating disorder your life is constantly consumed with meeting certain standards, following certain rules, and punishing yourself so that you'll be good enough."
"But through my relationship with Christ and understanding my identity as a child of God I realized that love and acceptance was a free gift I could never earn; that grace was given to me by God, and there was nothing I could ever do, and no failure or brokenness that I could ever have, that could keep Him from loving me."
After winning Miss America 2008, Kirsten used her platform to travel and speak on body-image issues and eating disorders. She continues to do so today through the Kirsten Haglund Foundation.•