The road to loving yourself is one not everyone takes: The National Undergraduate Body Image Conference

By Ariana Yamasaki
October 6, 2018

“I promised him I would lose that five to 10 pounds,” Dr. Debbye Turner Bell, former Miss America 1990, said.

Society makes us feel that if we do not look a certain way we are not beautiful. It can be because of our weight, looks and color of our skin. These are all things that Dr. Turner Bell was criticized for on her journey to become Miss America.

Turner Bell was the former Miss America in 1990. She went through sweat and pain to wear that crown. It wasn’t an easy road to become Miss America, she had to go through a lot emotionally and physically, but she never gave up. Dr. Turner Bell starved herself to meet the standards for Miss America. She went on any diet she could find which included the banana diet and cabbage diet.

“I needed three diamonds that shined through my legs to be fit for the swimsuit competition,” Dr. Turner Bell said. At one point, she got a burger and was so ashamed she hid it under the seats in her car. When it was discovered, she was told that she could win the pageant if she loses the excess weight. As the pageant approached, she stopped eating to lose the water weight and would carry a snicker bar around in case she felt like she was going to faint.

Dr. Debbye Turner Bell showing the audience how to wave like Miss America. Photo by Michelle Guerin

Even after she won Miss America, she still had people commenting on 

her weight. After she had her first baby, her dad asked her, “are you practicing to be pregnant or are you just fat?” She was not only hearing about her weight from outsiders, but also from her family. 

“I related to Debbye when she talked about her family judging her weight because my aunt who is really skinny told me that I was fat when I was younger,” Enajah Williams, freshman business management major, said.

Weight is one obstacle she struggled with but there were many more to go through. Many people believed that she wouldn’t be Miss America. Some thought her skin too dark to win Miss America because they thought Miss America should be a blonde with blue eyes.

Turner Bell was told that if she has to be a person of color it shouldn’t be too much color. Society made it so that if you have darker skin you aren’t as beautiful as those who are lighter. She watched her friends use Ambi to lighten their skin to be the image society put in their heads as beautiful. This is a struggle she dealt with leading up to and during the pageant.

Pageants for Turner Bell were not just beauty pageants. She signed up for them to win the scholarships that they gave out. She knew that if she wanted to get the education she desired, she needed to win scholarships. The person who was there for her through it all was her mother.

“She was the only person who never told me to give up, move on, let this go or this can’t happen,” Turner Bell said.

“I had to learn how to eat the meat and spit out the bone,” Turner Bell said. By this, she meant everyone had something to say about her. One person would tell her she talked too much and another would tell her she did not talk enough. She had to sort through everything she was told then pick and choose what she decided to listen to.

The national body image conference was held here at Cabrini University. Photo by Michelle Guerin

When she was discouraged her mom told her, “this is God’s will you can do this.” From the outside looking in, pageants look like a piece of cake, but when you are on the inside it is harder than it looks.

You do not just go up on stage, wear pretty dresses and do your makeup all glamorous. There is so much more that comes with being in a pageant. Everyone will pick apart everything that is wrong or different about you. They will criticize the way you look and speak in order to become that “perfect” version of Miss America.

Tracey Greenwood is a clinical exercise specialist who works at Eastern University. She presented at Cabrini University for the body image event. Greenwood had a presentation on her experiences helping others gain confidence in themselves again.

Greenwood brought her client to be happy again. Throughout Tracey’s whole experience trying to make her clients feel good about themselves one client in particular stuck out the most. The client she helped had a disability that affected her health mentally and physically.

This disability made it really difficult, however, everyday Greenwood made sure to be by her side throughout the whole process. The client having only one leg and being overweight proved to be challenging for the both of them. The client that Greenwood was helping had doubts about recovering because she had low self-esteem. Every day she pushed her client passed her limit to help her achieve their goal.

Going in every day, Greenwood would ask her clients why are we here today. She was a source of motivation for the people she trained, “I wanted them to love themselves again.”

Her client soon enough reached her goal and felt very good about herself after the whole process. It brought tears to Greenwood’s eyes after the client’s mother embraced her and gave her a big hug and said thank you. This is what inspired her every day because they showed that they wanted to build confidence in themselves even if it was difficult.  

These stories were told through the National Undergraduate Body Image Conference held here at Cabrini University on Thursday, Sept. 20. This event is held every other year and educates the students, staff, faculty and others who attend the conference here at Cabrini by building our knowledge on gender and body studies.

This was an all-day event that included presentations by those who study under the umbrella of gender and body. 

Ariana Yamasaki

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