The organization is teaming up with Mallory Hagan, who was named Miss America 2013, as well as Jonathan Bailor and SANESolution to launch a wellness program for all of its candidates. According to a press release, the goal is to empower “the next generation of female leaders with a modern wellness platform.”
“The Miss America Organization is committed to being inclusive to ensure everybody and every ‘body’ can achieve greatness as they pursue their missions in the world, rather than their greatness being defined by their physical appearance,” it added.
Hagan previously won the pageant as Miss New York while she was living in Brooklyn, People magazine reported. However, it was revealed in 2017 that she was one of several women ridiculed in internal emails by Sam Haskell, former CEO of Miss America.
Hagan spoke to Fox News about becoming Miss America, how she coped with being body-shamed publicly, and how she hopes to continue being an inspiration for all women.
Fox News: Looking back, what was it about the Miss America pageant that made you want to try it out?
Mallory Hagan: Well, I’d love to say it was my idea, but I’m actually a third-generation participant if you will. My grandmother was heavily involved in the Miss Tennessee organization through choreography. She owned a dance studio. And then my mom did the same, she was involved at the local level in Alabama, where I grew up. So, I had watched them volunteer their time and talents. And as a teen, the very first year that the teen organization of Miss America was established, I was just becoming of age to compete.
Someone asked if I might participate. So the first time it was someone else’s idea, but I had been around the organization quite a long time. That was when I was 13… I really stayed involved because it encouraged me to find my personal passion for what I wanted to do as a community leader. And then as I got older, my passions changed and Miss America helped me evolve into the young woman I am today.
Fox News: Take us back to that day when you won Miss America. What was going through your mind?
Hagan: I was in complete and utter shock. I fully did not expect to do well. And I don’t think many people expected me to do well either. I went into the competition in Las Vegas at that time just with an open mind and open heart wanting to have fun and make friends. So I was really shocked to win.
Fox News: How much did your life change after that win?
Hagan: Most people don’t realize it’s actually a full-time job. You literally get on a plane that day and fly out for an entire year of travel. It was challenging for me to understand how to take that structure… I was traveling on the road in a different city every other day.
Fox News: Before Miss America, how would you describe the relationship you had with your body, especially at such a young age?
Hagan: Well, to be honest, I don’t think it was something I thought too much about. I did grow up dancing and that does require quite a bit of self-awareness when it comes to your body and how it operates. But I was really young. I was 13 when I began competing in the teen program. And when I was 14, it was the first time someone told me, “If you would have lost 10 pounds, you would have won.”
Looking back at those photos, it’s alarming to me because I was tiny. I’m glad that I had the support system and the village, if you will, around me that allowed me to channel that into positive action. But I do understand that that’s not the case for all young women and that’s why this conversation around body positivity, or evidence-based body positivity, is so important to me.
Fox News: And social media, as we know it now, didn’t exist at that time.
Hagan: I was actually the first Miss America to use Instagram. I created the account. Now, our young people, young women, in particular, are growing up in that social media world. I don’t want them to struggle with the same things that I did. That’s one of the reasons that Miss America decided that the swimsuit portion of the competition just wasn’t important. It just really isn’t something that matters when you’re going out there and talking about social impact initiatives. Mine was child sexual abuse prevention. So it’s good to see that change.
Fox News: Unfortunately, you were body-shamed very publicly. How much of an impact did those words have on you?
Hagan: It’s had a huge impact on my life. I would be lying if I said it didn’t. It’s taken me the last eight years to get to a healthy relationship with food, with fitness. I took a gut health test… Because there’s a lot of shame around our bodies. Like, “Why am I not successful? Why am I not losing weight? What am I doing wrong? Something’s inherently wrong with me.”
And all of those thoughts ran through my mind as well, especially as I began to put on even more weight due to different life circumstances, of course. I’ve always had this feeling like when people met me that they didn’t believe that I had been a Miss America because I didn’t look like it anymore if that makes sense. That’s detrimental to a person’s spirit. And it’s taken me a long time to get out of that mindset and to truly be healthy in both mind and body and spirit again.
… It shouldn’t have taken any years for that to happen because we shouldn’t be shaming people for their bodies. My hope is that this conversation is really elevated in a way that allows people to understand A, your words are harmful and B, there is no shame in loving yourself and doing what is best for you and your body in whatever way that looks like.
Fox News: Some critics will argue, of course, and say something like, “I don’t mean it in a negative way. I only mean it because it’s best for your health.”
Hagan: That is a misconception. Someone’s personal wellbeing, fitness, body – you just never know what someone’s going through or what they have endured or where they’re at in their journey. And so, your commentary is not welcome period. Just don’t say anything at all.
I think we need to be better about that from the perspective of commenting on young women. “Oh, you’re so lanky.” Or, “You’re so tall.” Or, “You’re, so this or that.” We really, really should as a society, try and shift away from commenting on anyone’s body, but especially young people. It’s just not welcome. Just don’t do it.
One of the other things that I hear a lot is that there’s a difference between promoting body positivity and promoting unhealthy lifestyles and things that could lead to things like diabetes or obesity. That’s why this conversation about evidence-based body positivity is so important. It’s about loving yourself enough to take the steps to live a lifestyle that allows you to thrive.
Fox News: What has kept you going?
Hagan: If I’m honest, I think a little bit of it is just my inherent spirit. I’m a fighter and I don’t like to give up. I can be very stubborn. I definitely went through a phase where I was like, “You’re not going to tell me I’m fat. That’s not how this works.” I do see that speaking on the topic and celebrating wins and loving myself only encourages other people and other young women to do the same.
I experienced that during my year as Miss America. I can’t tell you how many times people came up to me and said, “This is the first time that I ever felt like I might win too.” And so that encouragement, it’s contagious. When one of us steps out and continues moving forward, then we encourage other people to do the same. Those little moments with people that I meet, or people who leave comments on Instagram or message me privately, they all matter. If I can encourage someone else to take the steps to gain that confidence in themselves, then that’s going to be a ripple effect. And that’s important to me.
Fox News: Miss America is celebrating its 100th anniversary with a new program that aims to promote body positivity. Can you tell us more about that?
Hagan: Miss America has always been about empowering women, providing scholarship opportunities and encouraging them to become leaders in their local communities and across their state, should they win their state title. A couple of years ago the Miss America organization, while it started out as a swimsuit competition, decided to get rid of the swimsuit portion of the telecast and up the competition process.
And so, we have been looking for a way to bring holistic wellness into our program because we do believe that a healthy lifestyle allows for the candidates to be the best version of themselves so that they can be the best version of themselves for their communities. So what we were looking for was a partnership that was based on education and science, and that provided a curriculum for the candidates to live better. This partnership is one that’s really exciting to see, just based on some of the histories of the program.
Fox News: What advice would you give to any girl who wants to try out for Miss America today?
Hagan: I would tell them that we have just had the most body-diverse year of the Miss America competition ever in history. And that we are no longer judging on physical appearance. It’s really about what you bring to the table and what you want to do to make a difference in the world around you. And in doing so, getting scholarship money along the way.
Don’t get me wrong, winning is fun. But ultimately in every competition, whether it’s at the local level or at Miss America, only one girl wins. But you also walk away with incredible networking opportunities, friendships that do truly last a lifetime and skills that you would be really surprised that you learn throughout the process. You learn a lot about yourself too, so there’s so much more to it than just the actual win. And I highly encourage anyone who’s thinking about it to give it a shot, because I think you’d be really surprised by how much you’ll enjoy it.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.