Miss America 2008, Kirsten Haglund, said she found hope in Christ as she struggled through recovering from an eating disorder. She now is a national eating disorders awareness advocate and community relations specialist for Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center near Chicago. She shared her story in a new, 12-minute "I Am Second" White Chair Film.
"There is so much shame and stigma that surrounds eating disorders," said Haglund. "I hope that sharing what I went through and the freedom I experience now in recovery will help give others hope: to know that they are not alone, and that eating disorders are serious, but can be overcome. Life can be beautiful and full and free."
Haglund wasn't the favorite to win the Miss America pageant that year. In fact, the national competition was only her third-ever pageant. She became a relative unknown to one of the most recognizable faces in the country in a matter of seconds. But years before she became a world figure, she was waging a secret battle. A battle with herself. "My life imploded," she admitted.
After falling in love with ballet at a young age, Haglund found herself at a competitive dance school. There, she realized she didn't look like everyone else. That started a years-long battle with body image and food. "The lie of anorexia said to me, 'If you just stick with me, I'll give you everything you want.'"
Eventually Haglund was put into treatment for anorexia. But it wasn't until an accident on a treadmill that she realized there was so much more to life than an unhealthy obsession with food.
"I wanted to feel. I wanted to be a real person again," she shared.
As a nonprofit in Dallas, Texas, I Am Second's team inspires people to live for God and for others. Prominent actors, athletes, musicians, business leaders and former drug addicts have shared their stories of recovery and hope with I Am Second.
In 2011, Haglund joined the Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center outreach team, where she travels throughout the United States to share her personal recovery story. It is her mission to encourage young women, and to be outspoken about the fact that these serious deadly illnesses are not glamorous.
She said she also wants to reinforce that women have the right and the responsibility to define beauty on their own terms; to love and respect themselves and their bodies first and foremost.
As Miss America, Haglund joined the efforts of the Eating Disorders Coalition in Washington, DC, to lobby Congress for the passage of Mental Health Parity, as well as speak at a Congressional Briefing introducing the Federal Response to Eliminate Eating Disorders Act (FREED) Act.
Haglund also founded The Kirsten Haglund Foundation to provide financial assistance to families and individuals seeking treatment for eating disorders.
In 2012, she became an ambassador for the National Eating Disorders Association.
She has a bachelor's degree in political science at Emory University in Atlanta, and resides in New York City with her husband.