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| Thursday, April 24, 2014

Former Miss America speaks on body image

BEAUTIFUL ON THE INSIDE - Kristen Haglund, 2008 Miss America, recounts her battle with an eating disorder at AU on Thursday night. Haglund, a former ballerina, discussed the importance of maintaining a positive body image.

It is important to maintain a positive and healthy body image, Miss America 2008 Kirsten Haglund said during a speech in the Ward Circle Building Thursday night.

"Love your body, rock the world," she said.

Now an aspiring Hollywood actress, 20-year-old Haglund is originally from Michigan and grew up studying ballet and dance.

"Every second that I wasn't in school I was at the ballet studio," she said.

Haglund said she never had issues with eating or body issues as a child.

"I was a chicken fingers and fries girl," she said. "I never thought about what I was putting in my body. I was always very proud of my body."

But, as she started to study ballet more seriously, the intensity of the program and the pressure to "look good" became too much to handle. She referenced her experienced as a 12-year-old attending a competitive summer ballet camp.

"All of the sudden I was kind of out of my league. I was very, very intimidated," Haglund said. "I started to equate the success and talent of each girl's ability with the way they looked."

Three summers later, the body image problems worsened. She began to drastically change her eating habits. But despite losing weight, she became increasingly discouraged.

"Seeking the answer for losing weight was actually making me lose talent, lose energy and lose happiness," Haglund said.

She said she no longer had the energy to get through a ballet class and remembered not being able to climb the stairs in her house without stopping to catch her breath.

Haglund said her mother decided to take her in for treatment. She said she spent the trip to the doctor's office crying and screaming.

"I was so much in denial that I even had an eating disorder," Haglund said. "It was like being slapped in the face."

But in hindsight, she said she appreciates the initiative her mother took.

"I am very, very, thankful that my parents did catch it early," Haglund said. "It's smart to seek professional help; it's smart to reach out."

Haglund's story is becoming increasingly more common among women in America, according to Wellness Center Director Alan Duffy.

"A lot of people don't understand the seriousness of eating disorders," he said.

In the United States, approximately one in five women suffers from a clinical eating disorder or some form of disordered eating, he told the audience.

"It's a problem that is starting to really pervade the nation and it's something we really need to tackle head-on," Duffy said.

Haglund said she hopes to use her celebrity to continue forwarding positive and open discussion about body image.

"It's very important to be candid about this issue," she said. "What's really important for me ... is [to reverse] this idea that you have to be perfect."

The most important thing to do is to be healthy, both inside and out, Haglund said.

"We can change the attitudes that people have about their bodies," she said.

People who struggle with eating disorders should not feel ashamed because "it was not their choice," she said.

"Our bodies are incredible things," Haglund said. "Let's use [them] and love [them] right now."

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