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The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, February 2, 2008

Miss America to Kids: “Be Anorexic, Like Me”

Kirsten HaglundThe new Miss America, Kirsten Haglund, has chosen as her platform to “raise awareness of eating disorders.” Three years ago, this 19-year-old was so thin that her parents "dragged me to the doctor."

Are America and its young people really so unaware of eating disorders? Warning young women about this problem has been a major topic in the media – communicated in popular magazines for teens and others – for a decade or more. Hadn’t Ms. Haglund herself heard about the dangers of anorexia when she was a young teen?

Ms. Haglund is a beautiful woman with a remarkable body – extremely thin and muscular, yet well-shaped. That’s how you become Miss America after prancing around on stage in a skimpy swim suit!

I wonder how the average teen girl responds to Ms. Haglund and her competitors. I’m sure, like everyone else, they are struck by these women’s beautiful figures. If a girl is well-adjusted, she may (almost) shrug it off and say, “Well, I’m good at many other things, even if I’m not as beautiful and shapely as her.”

Less psychologically secure young women, on the other hand, may be filled with the kind of self-hatred we are told spurs eating disorders – “Oh,” they might lament, “if only I could look like her, my life would be perfect, like hers.”

Aside from her natural assets, I believe Ms. Haglund carefully monitors her diet and exercises regularly to achieve her stunning appearance (this is assuming that she, unlike some of her competitors, has had no surgical assistance to achieve her good looks). But how many schoolgirls have the luxury and opportunity to work on their appearance this much? After all, we hope that most of them are studying hard to advance their minds and career opportunities, rather than working out several hours a day.

We might even guess that some girls will think, “Gee, she didn’t eat much, and look how gorgeous she is! I’ve got to try that.”

So, actually, I think that Ms. Haglund won’t succeed at discouraging girls from being anorexic – just as she wasn’t discouraged by warnings she heard. In fact, I think she and her fellow beauty competition contestants actually encourage eating disorders. After all, didn’t severe dieting and exercise regimens lead them to become popular, admired, and successful?

Stanton Peele is a psychologist and the author of Addiction-Proof Your Child (Three Rivers Press, 2007).