Miss Indiana has gotten a lot of press lately and for a reason you might not expect.
Mekayla Diehl, 25, isn’t being praised for making it to the Top 20 in the June 4 Miss USA competition. She isn’t being praised for her efforts to raise money and awareness for child abuse. The Bristol native is being praised for her “normal” body.
Since the competition, Diehl has been featured in People magazine, the Los Angeles Times, on “Good Morning America” and countless other media outlets. She has received more than 10,000 tweets and seemingly endless compliments because she wasn’t as thin as her competitors. Tweets addressed to Diehl praised her for looking like an average woman and for demonstrating that women don’t need to be super skinny to be beautiful.
Now, before you jump on the cheerleader bandwagon, I have to tell you that Diehl is not exactly “normal.” She is 5-foot-8, wears a size 4 and has a body mass index of 18. Just for comparisons, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the average American woman is 5-foot-3, weighs 166 pounds and has a body mass index of 29.
My opinion is far from an attack on Diehl. I’m proud of her for her success at the pageant and for her commitment to maintaining a healthy body. I loved her comment on “Good Morning America.” She said, “Your body is a gift. And you have to love it and have confidence because that’s the only thing you can do. You can’t worry about being somebody else. You have to be yourself.”
I’m not questioning Diehl at all. In fact, I hope that her example can inspire other women to lead healthy lives and to be proud of their bodies.
What upsets me is our obsession with a concept I call body shaming. American women have this crazy idea that if we all hate our bodies and recognize our faults, we are somehow united. We pay millions of dollars on products to instantly hide our imperfections or make us appear slimmer. We do whatever it takes to avoid being called fat, skinny, flat-chested, busty, short, tall or plain.
I am writing this column because pageant season is upon us. The 2014 4-H Fair Queen Pageant is at 7 p.m. June 29 in Columbus North High School’s auditorium. And, Columbus native Elizabeth Cox will be competing in the National Indiana Miss pageant July 4 through 6 in Indianapolis.
Contestants for both pageants help others by volunteering in their communities, they work hard in school and aspire to pursue meaningful work. These are the characteristics that should be emphasized, not what size dress they wear or how much body fat they carry.
I hope this column can serve as a reminder to contestants, judges, parents and friends that beauty is revealed through character, not makeup.
Remember also that words are powerful and can hurt or heal a person for life.
I recently found a great video that shows that beauty truly does come in every shape and size. I hope it will remind you, as it did me, that every body is beautiful.
The video features Swiss charity Pro Infirmis’ brilliant campaign called “Because who is perfect? Come closer.” For the campaign, Pro Infirmis paid artists to create a series of mannequins based on real people with physical disabilities. They beautifully molded the bodies of a woman with severe scoliosis, another with a deformed spine and a man with brittle bone disease.
When the mannequins were complete, they were dressed and placed in storefronts on Zurich’s main downtown street. This campaign is such a striking example of the reality that beauty has no constraints, that we are all beautiful.
There is a quote by American writer Amy Bloom that fits perfectly with this column. She said, “You are imperfect, permanently and inevitably flawed. And you are beautiful.”
I hope that you will take some time today to think about what makes you, and the people around you, beautiful. We spend so much time wishing for whiter teeth or smaller thighs that we run out of time to celebrate what makes us stunning. Please take some time to think about the things, both physical and nonphysical, that make you you and celebrate.
Paige Harden Langenderfer is a proud lifelong resident of Columbus. A former Republic newspaper reporter, Paige is now a freelance writer and public relations consultant. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.