In 2008, Kirsten Haglund entered the Miss America beauty pageant. It was only her third pageant ever.
She instantly became society’s image of perfection. But as she traveled the country and made appearances as Miss America, Kirsten began sharing a different story. Not one of perfection, but one of failure.
“When I was turning 12 years old, my life imploded.” Facing puberty and junior high is no treat, but on top of that, Kirsten’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and her older brother had started developing OCD.
She had fallen in love with ballet very early in life, and that summer she went away to a competitive ballet school where she realized, “I don’t look like these girls.”
She began chasing perfection and turned on her own body. She became anorexic.
Suddenly the girl who used to eat fried food and pizza was the girl throwing her lunch away and blacklisting foods. “My life just became following the rules of my eating disorder,” Kirsten says. “It’s slavery.”
“By the time I was 15, I was just a total shell of my former self. The lie of anorexia said to me, “’f you just stick with me, I’ll give you everything you want. You’ll be beautiful, you’ll be loved, you’ll be light as a feather, you’ll be exquisite, you’ll be gorgeous.’”
The rules she had created for herself, the standards she held herself to and the punishments she’d force her body through, completely controlled her life. ”I was such a terror. It was such a depressed, dark, anxious zone. I was like, always on edge, always having a major temper. I was just a totally different person than the girl that my parents knew before.” That’s when Kirsten’s parents took her to the doctor.
She was put on a treatment plan, but Kirsten was not about to have that. She was furious at her mom for taking her to the doctor, and for betraying her. “I was just doing what I needed to do to be a professional ballet dancer,” she says.
“I thought, I will play their game. I will just gain a little bit of weight in order to make them feel like I am playing along. And then they’ll okay me, they’ll give me a check mark, and I’ll go back to being anorexic again.
That was my plan. But that was when I kind of started to realize that I couldn’t fool God. He saw everything. He saw the front I put on for people, and He saw the Kirsten who was still dissatisfied and upset and anxious and afraid, and that I couldn’t half get better. He wanted everything. But I wasn’t willing to give it up yet.”
It wasn’t until an incident on the treadmill six months later that left Kirsten no longer in control of her body.
Shortly after, God did something so incredible. He awakened these desires in her soul to feel and to be a real person again.
“Out of the pit of my stomach, out of nowhere, three years of basically feeling so few emotions just came like this desire, just like a volcano like just erupting up out of me. All of a sudden, I realized I wanted to eat pizza again, I wanted to eat birthday cake and I wanted to travel the world. I wanted to have a boyfriend, get married. I wanted to fall in love! I wanted to feel love! I wanted to learn another language, and I wanted to help people.
Just so many of these desires coming up out of nowhere, exercising some other passions that I had. Getting more involved with things at school, going out with friends—I wanted to feel, I wanted to be a real person again. What if there’s more to life? What if I can do other things? It was that moment that I really realized I wanted to change.”
After being given a book that began with a Bible verse, Kirsten’s interest in pursuing her relationship with God was ignited. “I was like, wow, I didn’t know the Bible had that kind of juicy stuff in it.” She started reading the book of Psalms.
“…and David’s like, ‘my tears have been my food day and night,’ kind of like what you feel like in your heart when you’re at the depths of your eating disorder, just like oh, my gosh! It was real! I found the words to be my words.”
At 17, Kirsten went on to enter a local beauty pageant in order to hopefully win scholarship money to pay for college. She won.
Her story is raw and honest. It’s rich in the truth of God, and Kirsten now uses her platform to share her testimony, and to constantly be reminded of how truly good God always is.
“When you’re in bondage to an eating disorder, your life is constantly consumed with meeting certain standards, following certain rules, and punishing yourself so that you’ll be good enough.
But through my relationship with Christ, and understanding my identity as a child of God, I realized that love and acceptance was a free gift that I could never earn. That grace was given to me by God, and there is nothing that I could ever do and no failure or brokenness that I could ever have that would keep Him from loving me.”