Once a NAM Girl, Always a NAM Girl

SURPRISE! If you haven’t heard yet, I was crowned your 2019 National American Miss Ohio over the weekend. Yes, I formally announced my retirement from pageants last spring, but I couldn’t be more excited about my decision to get back on the pageant stage.

National American Miss came into my life in the form of a letter back in 2014. I was then battling depression and in the midst of another anorexia relapse. At first, I was so confused. Why would someone pick me to be in a pageant? I had ZERO confidence, no social skills and no motivation to even give recovery a try. I was the complete opposite of a “pageant” girl. Why me? Confused as ever, I decided to take my leap of faith and go for it!

Let me tell you, the nerves were REAL when I went to my very first NAM Open Call! I had absolutely no idea what AMAZING things I was about to get into. First, they took me to a room with a white screen and a photographer to do a quick modeling photo shoot: my very first one! I was so nervous in front of the camera at first, but the photographer put me at ease, and I actually had some fun with it! (I look back at those pictures now and laugh. That poor girl had no confidence or self-esteem. If I could go back in time, I would tell her that it’s okay to believe in yourself and smile!) We then went into the ballroom for the presentation to learn all about NAM. From beginning to end, I knew I needed to do National American Miss because it was going to help me develop confidence, public speaking skills and social skills: things I completely lacked. I also knew it was my last shot at recovery. If this couldn’t help me learn to love myself, what would? I did a short interview with a NAM Staff Member before leaving for them to determine if I would be a great fit for the program. Two days later, I found out I was a finalist for National American Miss Ohio Teen!

Simply becoming a finalist for the Teen title changed me. I held my shoulders back, held my head a little higher and walked through the halls at school with a little more pep in my step. No more could the kids at school define me or beat me down; I believed in myself and my worth. Remember how I said NAM came into my life during an anorexia relapse? Crazy enough, I was able to maintain a healthy weight leading up to the pageant. I started eating again and stopped working out so much so I could be my absolute best, healthy self during pageant weekend. It was my first taste of recovery (pun intended), and man, did it taste good!

 

Pageant weekend was nothing short of a dream come true. Stepping onto the NAM stage for the very first time was simply transformative. I went from the quiet, shy girl with an eating disorder, to a confident young woman with a purpose. I graced the stage in formal wear with a big black ballgown and stumbled during my circle turn, but it didn’t matter because I was the happiest (and most confident) I’d ever been. I wore an over-sized, pink suit for intro and interview because it made me happy, and I felt like a boss. At the finale, I was devastated to not make top 25, and although, it took me a while to realize it, I had won something so much more important than a crown: my desire to live. For the first time, I wanted to fight my eating disorder to become an inspiration for other girls. I wanted to be an inspiration for others fighting these illnesses to never give up because recovery is possible. I AM a girl with dreams!

I carried all of that motivation, all of that confidence with me into my second year with National American Miss. I even started developing my now platform, Girl in the Mirror, which is dedicated to empowering young women to recognize their true beauty. I stepped out in the gown of my (then) dreams, and felt like a whole new woman. I knew I was beautiful; I was confident and I felt like the queen. I had several optional wins and placements, but the most meaningful moment was being called into the top 20 for Miss Ohio Teen 2015. I later found out I placed sixth overall out of one hundred girls and was out of the top five by just two points! “Miracles can happen when you believe.”

 

Year three was all about soul searching and finding the root of my confidence. Rather than spending a lot of time practicing walking and talking, I spent most of my time journaling, praying and being mindful of my self-talk. Being a queen comes from within, so it was important to me that my confidence was genuine and sincere while I was on-stage and in the interview room. Let me tell you, I’ve never felt more confident in my life than I did on the Miss Ohio 2016 stage. There was something about it where I just felt so proud to be myself. I was proud to be in recovery; proud of my platform; proud of who I am! I can’t watch the videos of that pageant without crying because I was sincerely the BEST version of myself! Several optional wins and placements, plus placing second runner up to the title was the perfect way to round out my time as a teen at the state level.

 

But the fun doesn’t stop there because my family and I traveled more than 2,000 miles to sunny Hollywood, California for NAM Nationals 2016! The friends and memories I made truly will last a lifetime, and I’m beyond excited to do it again this November! Placing top five Spokesmodel and placing top 10 in the nation are two moments I will cherish forever, but it’s really the life skills learned that I hold onto the most. Shortly after nationals, I started my reporting career at our student news station, and within one semester, I was promoted to a paid, lead anchor and producer position. NAM gave me the confidence to nail my first “real” job interview and score an internship with 13abc, my DREAM station! It’s all snowballed into my first gigs as an on-air talent, first in Wisconsin and now in Ohio. Dreams really do come true!

 

NAM has made me a girl with dreams, and it’s equipped me with all the tools and skills I need to achieve them. Over the past year, there’s one dream that’s constantly been on my mind: to reign as the National American Miss Ohio queen. Why? Because I want to empower women and young girls to recognize their true beauty through my platform, Girl in the Mirror. Because I want to give back to the organization that believed in me before I believed in myself. To represent the organization that quite literally saved my life from anorexia. The list goes on…

I’m not one to give up on my dreams, no matter how big they may be, so when it started popping into my head again, I knew I needed to go for it. Whether it was in God’s cards for me or not, I needed to seize the opportunity to build confidence and to change the lives of women all across the state. Going into interview, I’ve never felt more like myself. I truly connected with the judge and had a blast sharing my story and who I am. I never in a million years expected to be crowned the state queen, but God whispered to me and said, “It’s your turn.”

This year is going to be dedicated to Girl in the Mirror! Expect more blog posts, social media motivation, body image workshops, classroom visits, school talks and so much more! I am determined to touch the lives of everyone I come across throughout my reign and beyond!

To National American Miss, THANK YOU for giving girls like me a place to learn and grow. Thank you for giving me the tools I needed to recover from my eating disorder: you truly did save my life! Thank you for believing in all of us girls, even when we can’t yet believe in ourselves. I will forever be indebted to this AMAZING organization, and I am truly humbled and honored to be Miss Ohio 2019!

Forever a NAM girl ❤

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XOXO,

Madison

 

Out of the trenches

Good morning, lovelies!

I hope you’re all doing well on this beautiful Monday morning. Girl in the Mirror Blogs has been on a bit of a hiatus, and you deserve an explanation as to why.

Life isn’t always easy, especially while trying to navigate the world of recovery. Despite my best efforts, body dysmorphia started winning. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t function. To be honest, my depression hit a whole new low I hope I never, ever have to experience again.

My goal with Girl in the Mirror is to be a role model. I want girls to be able to look up to me and say, “because of you, I didn’t give up”. Over the past year, I haven’t felt like I could be that positive role model or inspiration, and that killed me on the inside. How was I supposed to help others when I couldn’t even help myself?

I’m here today to say, “I’m back!” New treatments, medications and routines have slowly but surely been helping me get back on track to where I need to be. Over the next few weeks, I hope to open up to all of you and share my experiences to hopefully shed light on mental illness and spread inspiration. I’m ready to be a positive role model: the role model I needed when I was at my lowest point.

What do you want to see on Girl in the Mirror Blogs? Leave us some comments below and give us some ideas!

XOXO,

Madison

There’s Hope for Health Care: An Update

Earlier last week, I came to you all to discuss a horrible experience I had with a nurse at my primary care physician’s office in a blog post entitled, Health Care NEEDS to Change: More Sensitivity, Less Judgement. While I still feel strongly about there needing to be mandatory sensitivity training for all medical professionals about treating eating disorders, I want to share with you the reason I feel there is hope for health care.

I had a follow-up appointment yesterday at the same practice to discuss some test results, and I was very politely greeted by a new nurse who actually took my needs into consideration. Again, I asserted my needs, and she kindly allowed me to not be weighed, and unlike last week’s nurse, she didn’t judge me for my decision. I was very impressed by how thorough she was in taking down my health history and how well she treated me. Additionally, my doctor spent more than 25 minutes just discussing my test results, drawing diagrams along the way to help me understand what is actually going on with my body. She took my needs as an eating disorder patient into consideration and treated me accordingly.

The difference between last week’s visit and this week’s visit is night-and-day. Maybe I hit the health care lottery yesterday by having an understanding nurse and a phenomenal doctor, but it truly illustrates how much better our health care system will be when we implement mandatory training for medical professionals that will help them understand and better treat eating disorder patients. I walked away from this appointment with a smile on my face because I felt I was truly taken care of, and I want to do what I can to make sure all eating disorder patients can go to their doctors and feel the same.

I am putting the finishing touches on the letters I will be sending out to the practice regarding last week’s incident, and I will do everything in my power to start a conversation about eating disorder patient sensitivity in the health care community. Will you join the movement and write to your health care provider about the importance of eating disorder education? Girl, if we all come together, there’s no telling how much of an impact we’ll be able to make in the lives of eating disorder patients across the country.

What do you think? Leave me some comments down below, and let’s talk about it!

I love you all,

XOXO

Madison

 

 

 

Life Lessons from “I Feel Pretty”

There’s a lot to be said about the powerful messages found in Amy Schumer’s latest film, I Feel Pretty, and whether you had the opportunity to see it or not, I wanted to share the positives and the negatives of what this movie has to offer. A little bit of background: the film features Schumer as Renee Bennett: a young woman who struggles with extreme body image, confidence and self-esteem issues. Her one wish is to look and feel beautiful. (Sound familiar?) After she wakes up from falling and hitting her head during a Soulcycle class, she starts to view herself as the most beautiful girl in the world and starts living her life without fear, gaining a boyfriend and landing her dream job along the way. (You can view the official trailer here.)

Here are the five life lessons I pulled away from the film:

  1. Even the most beautiful women struggle with body image

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I appreciate how the film included extremely thin, beautiful women in the body image struggle because we tend to get wrapped up in the mindset of, “if I were thin, my life would be so much better.” Seeing incredibly thin women express how insecure they were about their bodies made me aware of how beauty standards impact all women, regardless of their shape or size, and it helped me grasp the concept of how being a different size will not make us more confident or feel better about ourselves! At the end of the day, positive self-talk, lots of self-care and a positive attitude about who we are will help us feel better about what we see when we look in the mirror!

     2. It’s okay to struggle with body image, but it’s not okay to let it define you

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At the very beginning of the movie, we see Renee allowing her thoughts about her body control her life, and because these thoughts are negative, she misses out on a lot of opportunities, including applying for her dream job and having a boyfriend. (Again, sound familiar?) When she woke up from her nasty fall at Soulcycle with a brand new attitude about herself and her body, a whole world of possibilities presented itself. Because she felt like the most beautiful woman on the planet, she applied for and landed  her dream job, picked up a man at the dry cleaners and started walking down the street with her head held high. While it is completely normal to struggle with body image in our society, it is not okay to let it define you or stop you from chasing after your dreams. Just like Renee changed her attitude about her body and found happiness, you can start to define yourself by all of the amazing things you bring to the world rather than by your dress size.

     3. An instant cure for negative body image doesn’t exist

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As awesome as it would be, an instant fix for negative body image is non-existent. One of the things the movie did not portray well is how much time and effort actually goes into retraining one’s mind to think positively about his/her body: it was all instantaneous for Renee. We only get to see what life is like when we do accomplish a healthy body image, and I think the film could have done a much better job of demonstrating what it’s like to develop a healthy body image in our society.

     4. Every(body) is beautiful

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This one goes without saying! Regardless of size, shape or weight, YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL! One of my favorite parts of this film is that it does not encourage women and girls to lose weight to conform to societal beauty norms, but rather to embrace the skin they’re in because they’re worth it<3

     5. Hollywood has a long way to go

While I think Amy Schumer is an incredible actress and played the role of Renee very well, I did a little digging to find Schumer is only a size 6, sometimes an 8. While I understand in Hollywood those sizes are considered plus, I believe Renee’s role could have been even more powerful had someone who’s a 14 or a 16 played the part. A majority of American women are a size 16, and if a film truly wants to accomplish helping young women achieve a healthy body image, they should appeal to the average size 16 rather than to a size 6 or 8 to illustrate beauty at all sizes. Hollywood is certainly trying to move in the right direction, but it must consider representing and speaking to all women in order to send the right message!

'I Feel Pretty' film premiere, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 17 Apr 2018

Well, there you have it! My complete and unbiased thoughts and opinions on I Feel Pretty! Have you seen the film yet? What do you think? Do you think Hollywood is moving in the right direction?

Leave me some comments down below, and let’s talk about it!

I love you all,

XOXO

Madison

Health Care NEEDS to Change: More Sensitivity, Less Judgement

I had a doctors appointment this morning at a new practice to get my medications refilled, and as someone in recovery, I always dread getting weighed because most of the time, practices have no sensitivity towards patients with eating disorders and either say the weight out loud or show it to you against your wishes.

As soon as I went back, I said, “I must warn you I am in recovery from anorexia, so I cannot see or know anything about my weight, or it will cause a relapse.” The nurse looked me up and down, slyly said, “mmhmm,” and rolled her eyes at me. She continued to make no effort to conceal my weight from me, and eventually, she put it right in front of me, and almost instantly, my world shattered. I haven’t been aware of my weight for the past three years, and seeing the number killed me. It took everything I had in me to not break down in the office.

First of all, this is no way to treat anyone’s preferences about knowing or not knowing their weights, let alone the wishes of someone who’s in recovery from an eating disorder. I cannot express how invalidated I feel or the impact this has made on my body image and self-esteem, and all of this could have been avoided if they took the needs of an eating disorder patient into consideration. While this situation pains me, I refuse to sink, and I want something good to come of it!

From my experiences today, I am led to believe our health care system lacks sensitivity training for treating patients with mental health conditions, especially eating disorders. We’re supposed to be able to turn to our doctors and nurses in our darkest times to get answers and understand what is going on in our bodies, not to be judged and belittled, and unless our health care professionals are knowledgeable about these conditions, they will not be able to properly help us.

What can we do to make this better? How can we try to make sure no other ED patient has to go through this? For starters, I am going to write a letter from Girl in the Mirror to this particular health care system explaining what I went through today and pushing for sensitivity training and eating disorder education for all employees. I will offer to help organize an eating disorder education seminar for employees and provide resources for anyone needing to know more. While it’s such a small step, I hope it will start the long process of ensuring no one has to go through anything like this ever again.

Have you ever been through something like this? Will you join me in demanding eating disorder education for all health care professionals by writing a letter to your health care provider? Please share your stories and comments down below, and let’s talk about it.

I love you all,

XOXO

Madison

Thoughts on “What Pageant Should You Compete in Based on Your Dress Size”

On January 2, The Pageant Planet posted the article, “What Pageant Should You Compete in Based on Your Dress Size“. I encourage you to read the original, but for my fellow recovery warriors, I am putting a trigger warning on it because I definitely did not feel good about my body after reading it. In sum, it breaks different pageant systems into the size brackets 00-2, 00-6, 00-12 and 12-24+ and encourages girls of the noted sizes to compete in particular systems if they want to be successful.

Before I go any further, I want to make the disclaimer that I respect The Pageant Planet and ALL pageant systems mentioned in the article, and my intention is not to bash the organizations mentioned or the writer(s); however, I will be questioning this controversial article to a great extent and will be unapologetically sharing my thoughts and feelings.

Firstly, I’m aware now more than ever about the size discrimination going on within the pageant industry, and it saddens me as much as it enrages me. I believe a girl of any size should be able to walk onto a pageant stage for any pageant system without her size or shape determining the outcome. From watching USA and America, it’s clear they brand themselves as pageants for real women; however, according to the article, women primarily between the sizes of 00 and 6 are successful in these systems. Now, that’s not to say women between the sizes of 00-6 are not real women; however that is me saying real women come in ALL SIZES!!! Imagine a world where our Miss USA’s and our Miss America’s represent all women’s bodies! With that being said, I cannot be mad at The Pageant Planet for the current state of body exclusivity in pageantry; however, I am mad because I believe the organization is perpetuating the current state of pageantry by posting this article.

I think by separating these pageant systems into narrow size categories, The Pageant Planet is continuing, and almost encouraging, body exclusivity in pageantry. In its response, Pageant Planet says, “We do apologize to anyone who may have felt discouraged by the article that was posted and we want to assure you that was not our intent. We hope instead that this article will serve as a starting point for a conversation surrounding inclusivity and body positivity in pageantry. The climate currently in place will continue to stand as is unless we, as a community, demand change from pageant systems and pageant directors who do not value diversity.” I understand what The Pageant Planet was looking to accomplish, but in my opinion, it completely missed the mark with this article. To me, it’s reinforcing the body exclusivity already in place. How are we supposed to focus on body inclusion when they’re encouraging us to compete in systems based on our dress size? If The Pageant Planet wants to start a conversation about body inclusion in pageantry, why wouldn’t they write articles about how to change the pageant climate and start a progressive social movement to change the current climate? As I’ve mentioned over and over, an article separating girls by size and sending them in the direction of specific systems is not going to change body inclusion; in fact, it’s only going to keep things the exact same.

I know some people will come back and say the article emphasizes it’s not meant to discourage girls from competing; however, I don’t think the commentary at the end is enough to compensate for an entire article separating girls into size brackets: “When it comes to pageantry, size really isn’t an issue. There is a place for everyone! Do your research and find the system that you feel is right for you. Just because you didn’t succeed in one system, doesn’t mean you won’t succeed in another. Maybe it just wasn’t the right one for you.” Size really isn’t an issue? Wasn’t this entire article breaking down where certain dress sizes will succeed? While there may be a pageant out there for every size, why can’t every pageant be for every size? To me, size will no longer be an issue in pageantry when a girl of any size can walk on stage for any pageant system and succeed, and by saying size isn’t an issue, what is The Pageant Planet really saying about the current state of body exclusivity in pageantry?

Another point of concern I have is in the pictures they used throughout the original article and whether or not they asked for consent before using them. I cannot even imagine how it would feel to have my picture used in an article of this nature, whether I’m a size 00 or a size 20. Emily Ramsey, a NAM contestant, shared her thoughts on Instagram: “I’m actually in this picture, and I don’t appreciate the content of this article at all. The point of pageantry does not and should not depend on the dress size of a girl competing. I’ve competed in NAM since I was a young girl because of what the system represents, which is intelligence, respect and enhancing skills that will be used later in life, not because the system is accepting of a certain dress size. NO ONE should ever feel like they shouldn’t compete because a system may not support their size. This is just absurd.” {Emily, you are so beautiful and a shining example of positive pageantry. I’m so sorry this happened to you, and I’m proud of you for standing up for the true meaning of pageantry. Congrats on top five at NAM Tennessee Teen <3}

Final thoughts and feelings… This article genuinely broke my heart. It’s not easy when an article says you probably won’t be successful in a given pageant system because of what the tag says in your dress despite every thing else that would make you a great titleholder. For that, I am grateful to be a part of National American Miss. I will forever be indebted to this organization for continuing to celebrate who I am, what I stand for and everything I’ve accomplished, both on-stage and off, regardless of my dress size. If you’ve known me for any length of time, you’ll know I credit this organization for saving my life from anorexia because of the confidence its given me.

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NAM Nationals 2016

To all of my pageant family and fellow recovery warriors, please don’t let this article define who you are or where you’ll find success in pageantry or in life. I know it’s hard… believe me, this article has been on my mind A LOT, but it is possible to put it aside and go back to defining who you are without even considering your dress size. You are capable of achieving absolutely anything you put your mind to, and don’t ever let anything or anyone tell you otherwise. I’ll always believe in you<3

XOXO,

Madison

Life is Too Short to be Anything but Happy

“Life is too short to be anything but happy”

My mom whispered this into my ear back in the fall of 2015 when I was miserable at my “dream school”, and to be quite honest, I think it is the most truthful thing I’ve ever heard.

Think about it; how much are we living our lives and contributing to our community if we’re miserable, angry, hurting, etc? How are we able to take care of ourselves if we keep subjecting ourselves to environments that instigate negative self-esteem and neglect the idea of self-care? How are we to be happy if our body and mind’s needs are not fulfilled?From my experience, we can’t be happy unless we are in situations and environments that allow us to take care of ourselves: mind, body and spirit.

Last year, I was a waitress at a sports bar. Now, I didn’t realize how much my work situation negatively affected me until I started having panic attacks every day before work, crying my eyes out after every shift and eventually having full-blown breakdowns on the clock when I was tired of putting up with the unfairness of it all. Between not getting breaks, getting treated unfairly and never seeing my family, I was the shell of the girl I used to be. My depression became deeper, my anxiety got worse and I turned to using ED behaviors to cope with the stress. I couldn’t enjoy school or my second job anymore because I was always worried about what would happen while waiting tables

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that night. One day all of the anger, sadness and pain hit me like a train, and without thinking about anything other than my mom’s advice, I spontaneously put in my two weeks. No words can describe the weight that was lifted off of my chest at that moment: I was FREE. 

I was free from what I once thought I deserved. Having a background of being bullied, harassed and belittled, it’s not uncommon for me to accept verbal/emotional bullying and/or abuse, internalize it and think that everything these people say or do to me is something I deserve because I’m “bad” or “flawed”. By standing up for myself and saying enough is enough, I broke the vicious cycle. I started to think, “maybe I am worthy of better”.5822e1320c78f21fed1adebc2163afe1--new-quotes-quotes-inspirational

In the days and weeks to follow, I recognized my worth more and more. I realized that I deserve to go to work and be respected, valued and treated fairly. I deserve to take breaks, eat a snack or take a minute to go to the bathroom. I deserve a workplace where I am not belittled or “screwed over”. I deserve to have a job that allows me to take care of myself. I deserve to feel worthy and important. I deserve to be happy!

That’s the thing about happiness: we have to recognize that we deserve it and surround ourselves with people and things that make us feel valued and loved. It’s not easy to shift your mindset to always feel deserving. Believe me, I still have to remind myself at least five times a day that I deserve happiness, and some days, I just can’t do it. But do believe me when I say that it is possible. For instance, I recently channeled the same courage to quit another serving job because I was treated like I was unimportant and unworthy. As my depression’s worsened over the summer, I realized it was finally time to make a move, and now that I’m done serving, I’ve never been happier.

Am I terrified to cut off my major source of income: I’m absolutely scared to death!b374b3e9985a61818d432ee33f6af33f--quitting-your-job-quotes-quitting-job-humor But they didn’t lie when they said money can’t buy happiness. I am now the anchor and paid student producer for my university’s news station, something that not only brings me pure bliss but also gets me one step closer to my dream of being an anchor on Good Morning America. I’ve also secured an unpaid internship at a top news station to continue following my dreams. Combined with running Girl in the Mirror and having more time to expand my platform, my heart has never, ever been this full. Life is way too short to be anything but happy: happy in what you do, happy in what you are and happy in who you’re with. Thank you God for giving me the courage to change the things I can and giving me the guidance to create a happier, more fulfilling life for myself!

Girl, if your job is killing your mental health, if you are unhappy with your college decision, if you are in a relationship that’s bringing you down: YOU DESERVE BETTER!  You do not have to keep living a life that doesn’t bring you pure happiness, and I hope you realize that you are deserving of all of the happiness in this world. Making big life changes is scary, especially when you’re so familiar and comfortable with the way things are or think you deserve the negativity, but I can PROMISE you that you will not regret removing the negative pieces of your life and replacing them with people and things that will serve you, help you grow and make you feel loved. Take the leap of faith. Trust the process. Take care of yourself, chase your dreams and do what will make you happy ❤message-you-are-worth-it-052216-2-638

What’s one thing that’s holding you back? What’s the first step you’ll take towards making a change?

I’m here to support you on our journey, girly! I believe in you and am excited for you to realize just how amazing, deserving and beautiful you are ❤

XOXO