Updated: Oct 10, 2022
As I scroll through my camera roll for Pinterest-worthy videos to post on Instagram, I suddenly stumble across a video of me eating a donut from, at the time, a newly opened Glazy Donut sweets shop in my hometown, El Paso, Texas. Instantly, I am sent a year back through time. My cheeks burn up, my eyes are welling with tears. I remember how tasty the warm chocolate and marshmallow were, but I also remember how awful it felt eating it.
The Miss Texas Teen USA pageant was a few days away, and I was to compete bearing “El Paso” across my chest, and my mental health was suffering the most it had in years. In the few months leading up to the initial Miss El Paso Teen pageant, I was told I needed to
lose ten to fifteen pounds. It was true, I gained a lot of weight as I grew up, but I thought it was just that—growing up. After all, it is normal for your body to change. Physically, I was at my strongest. I did not know the extent of the plunge my brain was about to take. I understood that in the pageant world, there was an emphasis on health and fitness, an entire category dedicated to scoring your “health” and “fitness.” Sometimes, that only looks like a 24-inch waist, only naturally attainable through genetics. Upon hearing the amount of weight I needed to lose, my heart fell. Another trip back in time: reading the comments on the ballot from the time I competed when I was just 15, “Needs to slim down and tone up.”
Unfortunately, I put my body through hell to get there. I recently have had to relearn that our
food is not just carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Each day, I consumed a smaller amount of
calories than what is prescribed for a toddler to eat in a day. Watching the number on the scale go down, watching the leg muscle I had worked for for years disintegrate.
I won Best in Active Wear. Still, I heard from someone that a girl much smaller than I should
have taken that award. That was the tip of the iceberg. Following the Miss El Paso Teen pageant, I went back to my happy diet, crepes from Village Inn on Sundays, enjoying iced coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts when I felt like it. Sure enough, my body changed again—but it felt impossible to go back. I did not want to be absolutely miserable again, hungry all the time again. So I was not. I did not want to do that to me. But that decision cost me, too.
When I wanted to restrict myself, all I could focus on was the food I wanted to eat, like the giant chocolate marshmallow donut from the Glazy Donut. It became a cycle of, “It won’t hurt to eat this...” By the time Miss Texas Teen USA weekend rolled around, my body remained in its natural state. Many of the other girls were much smaller than I, some skinny to the bone. As someone who was inside, I know they would never admit to you that they did not eat. But that is the heartbreaking, ugly truth. Some just did not eat.
I am young and do not know much about the world, and I know the pageant world is making
strides to be better, but I find it to be unrealistic to indirectly ask young, impressionable girls,
teenagers, to diet. To reach exhaustion, to kill their bodies in the gym. I did not make the Top 15 at Miss Texas Teen USA as I did the year prior. It probably showed that my confidence was on the floor because, to my knowledge, relayed by another person, there was a lump of fat under my sports bra. To add to the plate, my life was falling apart. My boyfriend was preparing to break up with me, I was moving nearly a thousand miles away from home. Everything was just too much. Preparing to leave, losing everything, killing my body. When I did not hear “El Paso,” called during the announcement of semi-finalists, I felt guilty, like I let my hometown down.
Thankfully, I know my reign touched the hearts and minds of girls younger than me, which was my goal. The sweet messages I received, the laughs at silly stories I posted. I was able to share stories of El Paso in my Latino Media class at NYU. To this day, even without the crown, I am representing El Paso. I know now that my body is so much more than what it looks like with a spray tan on a stage, and I know I am not alone in my thoughts—other pageant girls have spoken up about it: the fatphobia, the racism behind idealizing a body without hips. Our own stunning Miss Universe dealt with hate comments about her weight gain. You cannot hate yourself healthy. I have never been happier, eating foods that are delicious,
fruits, meats, vegetables, indulging in mochi donuts on a weekly basis, and mixing my protein oats with some chocolate. Tuning in with myself: moving my body daily, stretching out the tension in my hips, attending pilates classes. I have never loved my body more.
The harsh comments and expectations did get to me, especially without the support I know I
deserved, but now—I am stronger than ever. I love pageants forever and hope to compete again, but there is a harsh reality behind training for many young women out there. I am delighted that our current Miss Universe embodies the wisdom that what truly matters is who she is and the love she has to give, not what she looks like. It inspires me and the others that look up to her. It feels like a warm, comforting hug to the girl that I was a year ago, the one who cried backstage, struggling to feel like she was good enough. It feels like a warm hug to me even now.
Caitlyn is the former Miss El Paso Teen Texas, also having held other titles such as Miss El Paso Teen La Feria. She is currently a student at NYU and a digital content creator. Follow her on Instagram by clicking the button above. Her socials are also linked below: