There I was: 5’9” tall, thin, pretty, looking like I had it all together. I was standing on the Miss USA pageant stage, and feeling like I didn’t belong there at all. In the pictures, I look overjoyed—confident, even—to compete for the coveted beauty queen crown. I was competing against women from all over the United States who had won the same competition in their state. And I was considered one of the prettiest women in the country! What did I have to be unhappy about?
Well, on the inside, I was struggling. A lot. And in the years since that day, I have had the opportunity to work with thousands of people, who admit that this has happened to them, too. From students to CEOs, appearing to “have it all” can be the biggest misconception of their lives, and the very thing that can keep you from achieving the success you desire. You might look at my pictures and see a beauty queen wearing a crown and a title but in my mind, that title could easily be: “Miss Conception.”
I struggled with body image and eating disorders for many years. Food was on my mind 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So what people saw was this put-together, tall, beautiful girl competing in the Miss USA Pageant. What they didn’t see was the internal fight I had going on in my head about the way I looked. What they also didn’t know was that because of my eating disorder and not feeding my body nutritionally what it needed, I ended up with a huge chemical imbalance, so, for almost a year prior to the pageant, I had been taking an antidepressant, too.
The truth is that I was being bullied. But rather than being some mean kid in class spewing all the hate, it was my own mind issuing all of the put-downs, taunts, insecurities, negative emotions and fear. It was the kid I lived with day in and day out. How we talk to ourselves is a very powerful thing. That was exactly what was happening to me when this all began in my teenage years. All of a sudden, my mind started telling me that my body wasn’t perfect—that something was wrong. I wasn’t the “ideal” that everyone expected of me or what I saw in magazines or on television. My mind started playing tricks on me when I was looking in the mirror.
I was stuck in this maddening perception about how I had to look a certain way. I had to have this perfect body and I didn’t even know what that was supposed to look like. Now, when I look back at pictures, I wonder what was it that I didn’t like? It is amazing how we let our minds rule how we feel about ourselves and we don’t just allow ourselves to live in the moment. As I write this, I cry tears for that young girl that was bullying herself so badly that she missed out on an experience of a lifetime—that she was so deep into her own misconception of what she thought she was supposed to look like and feel. I don’t want anyone of any age to feel that way about themselves, ever.
Our minds can be our biggest enemy, and when we start feeding our thoughts more and more negative information, we start believing it. We get dissatisfied, critical, sad, and depressed and we lose our joy. And we dedicate ourselves to the misconception that other people have it all together while we are not worthy of all that perfection. If I could tell my younger self one thing of importance about this subject, it would be to understand that you cannot live peacefully in your body if your mind is constantly at war with you. It took me decades to truly grasp and live this truth, but it is absolutely this very thing that holds many of us back.
I tell this to the people I coach today: Don’t let your mind bully you!
We have incredible opportunities laid out before us. We have education, networks, perhaps supportive parents, friends, and the training and information we need to attain the goals we desire. We have all that it takes to capture whatever proverbial crown we seek for ourselves. Advancement in our jobs, seats on the board, opening new markets, starting that non-profit, writing the book, moving across the country, coming up with that next great idea, finding a life partner. Whatever that goal is, we actually have what it takes. The difference is not what is going on around us, or to us, or for us, but what is going on inside us, in our own heads. No matter how brazen, bold or brave we are, everyone experiences insecurity at one point or another. It’s how we silence that internal bully and move forward that can make the difference in our lives.
My story of insecurity on a nationally televised stage may ring familiar to you, because many of us listen to the bully who says we are merely impostors, undeserving of even the smallest win. Let me assure you that none of that negativity is true. Whatever your desired title, dream, or crown, it’s yours for the winning. Silence the bully. Achieve the goal. And make sure you smile and wave when that crown is being put on your head. You deserve it.
Lisa Moser is an author, coach and speaker whose passion is to inspire people to live their best lives and stop comparing themselves to others. As a national pageant queen, she has had to deal head on with the misconceptions attached to pageantry, living life in the spotlight, and dreaming again as we get older. In her book Miss Conception: 5 Steps to Overcome Our Misconceptions and Achieve Our Own Crowning Moments, she shares her life-long battle with low self-esteem and body image issues.