Would You Take Body Image Advice from Miss Universe?

Can the newly crowned queen really help eating disorder patients?

Last night, Mexico’s Jimena Navarrete was crowned the 2010 Miss Universe. About halfway through the competition, the 22-year-old stunner strutted her stuff across the stage in a violet bikini and heels, nary a square inch of skin a-quakin’. (She wound up with the second-highest swimsuit score and bested everyone in the evening-gown portion.) As Navarrete struck her final pose, the emcee announced her likes and dislikes, what accomplishments she’s most proud of and her goals in life. One of them: To help eating disorder patients.

So here I am, myself a recovered anorexic who battles a fairly awful body image dialogue in her mind from time to time, splayed out on my couch, eating Craisins by the fistful from a 6-lb Costco sized trough-bag, and you’re telling me I should be open to accepting advice about eating disorders from a woman who looks like this? 

Oh, OK, sure. That should be easy. Let me just go run a quickie half-marathon and swallow a half-box of laxatives and I’ll be ready for my first study session.

Please realize, this makes me a gigantic hypocrite. Last year, I blogged about pretty women giving body image advice, and in writing, I rushed to the defense of well-meaning beautiful women everywhere.

“A sea of conventionally attractive -- even downright beautiful women -- spend their days worrying about their weight, obsessing over calories eaten and hours exercised,” I wrote of the controversy surrounding Australia’s official body image advisory group, helmed by three very pretty women: Minister for Youth Kate Ellis, chairwoman (and former Cosmopolitan editor) Mia Freedman, and model/TV producer Sarah Murdoch. “These women starve themselves and beat themselves up and abuse drugs just like their less-than-gorgeous or plus-sized sisters. And if some of these women are able to get help, to strengthen their inner resolve and do the difficult work and emerge recovered/ing, happy and healthy, well then, who better to speak out and help lead other women who stand in their old shoes?”

Back then, I rebuked comments to the contrary, like this one from Jami, a reader from the blog You’d Be So Pretty If…:  “It may be wrong of me, but I just can't [take body image advice from a pretty woman]. I can't listen to a beautiful, thin woman telling me to accept myself, because she's never lived through all that. She may have big ears or small breasts. But she's never had her own family tell her that she'll never succeed at anything because she's too fat. All that has happened to me and then some.”

But you don’t understand! I wrote/whined. It doesn’t matter what we look like on the outside! Pretty girls hurt too!

So what’s with my gut-level, 180-degree turnaround? How did I go from embracing advice from the host of Australia's Next Top Model (Sarah Murdoch) to vomiting over the idea of eating disorder guidance from Miss Mexico? Surely my distaste of corn tamales and fondness for furry kangaroos couldn’t be biasing my opinion?

Navarrete is hardly the first beauty queen to tackle body image. Miss America 2008 Kirsten Haglund, a former child ballet dancer, built her platform around the issue, urging audiences to “Love your body, rock the world.” She’s spoken candidly about striving to cope with the increasing pressure of the cut-throat world of ballet. As a 12-year-old at a competitive summer dance camp, “All of the sudden I was kind of out of my league. I was very, very intimidated. I started to equate the success and talent of each girl’s ability with the way they looked.” She began to lose weight and soon no longer had the energy to complete a ballet class, struggling just to climb the stairs without stopping to catch her breath.

Maybe The Beauty Queen Formerly Known As Miss Mexico simply caught me on a bad body image night. Maybe the site of her exceedingly taut, tan, shiny body blinded me to the possibility that she could have something valid to offer on the topic. It might be my love/hate affair with beauty pageants and the knowledge that women often have to starve themselves and workout like animals in preparation for them. Perhaps I was too catty to see that behind Navarrete's beauty queen smile may be a history of pain, anxiety and weight struggles. I’m the first to say “Shame on me” for jumping to conclusions and counting her out before she even had a chance. Maybe one day I’ll be strong enough to allow myself to be helped by a woman who looks like the Goddess of Planet Gorgeous… and has the banner to prove it. But for now, I’ll stick with my decidedly non-threatening male therapist, my non-judgmental girlfriends, and my sweat-soaked workouts to get me through my body image drama.

Would you take eating disorder advice from Miss Universe? Chime in below.

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