A few months ago, Laura Cliff emailed me telling me she was a fan of my work and attached links to her pages. I immediately checked her out, and instantly fell in love with her too. Her positive and uplifting attitude is rare, especially in 2017. She posts what she wants, and what she feels. She attended my Big Life dinner in Boston with 9 other girls, and we bonded over our passion for inspiring teens and finding new ways to accept our bodies. I wouldn’t never thought Laura suffered with weight issues or binge issues, and was surprised to hear her tell me her entire story. She’s blonde, tall, and freakin’ stunning. That’s the thing about people: you never really know someone until you see what’s under the surface.
Thank you for being so open and honest, Laura! Love you girl!
A: When did you get started competing in pageants?
L: Miss International was the first and only pageant I’ve ever competed in. Until the idea was presented to me, it had never been something I thought I’d ever want to do. Last summer, I met an empowering and accomplished young woman who has been competing her whole life. It took her a few months, but she finally convinced me that I had a story that needed to be shared and this is one way of getting my message out there in a positive light. Still hesitant, I supported her as she competed for another local title. After seeing her on stage, radiating confidence, I was all in. I wanted to walk across a stage and shine that light. For the girl that I used to be and for so many others who have thought “I am not enough.”
A: What interested you most about pageants?
L: When I first applied for Miss Rhode Island International, I had no idea the work that was involved in pageantry. I knew that this was a way for me to have an audience to speak to about eating disorders, recovery and building confidence. That had always been a goal of mine, but I never knew how to make it come into fruition. Not all pageant systems are the same, not all are platform based. I am so grateful that I was able to compete in Miss International, a system that is 40% interview and platform based. Because of Miss International and my title as Miss Rhode Island International, I’ve been able to reach so many people. It’s very possible that I may compete again in for another title; it has been an incredibly fulfilling experience that I would love to take part in again!
A: What advice would you give to young girls who want to compete?
L: Be unapologetically your-self, it’s not about winning. It’s about the journey; everything you want to accomplish with the crown, you can still accomplish without it! Before competing in August, I never understood why women compete in numerous systems, even if they didn’t want to win. I learned then to check my competitive needs and desire to win at the door and focus on the other benefits a pageant as to offer: personal and professional growth, opportunity, exposure for your platform, life long friendships with your pageant sisters, experience and a really cool story to tell! Ask yourself “why do I want to compete?” and make sure you’re in a system that matches your values. Other than that, have fun!
A: What are some struggles that you have had along the way and how have you gotten past them?
L: As someone in recovery and openly shares her struggles with eating disorders, I am sometimes really disappointed in myself when I slip and binge. I try to share the ups and downs of recovery and not just the successes of it. I struggle a lot with recognizing that just because I am a resource for others, it doesn’t mean that I have to be perfect. Recovery is an on going process; it isn’t being cured. It’s accepting failure and choosing to move forward. Being a role model for me means being honest with myself that I am human, I am still learning how to tame this beast, and still learning how to love myself. It means learning to change the language I use towards myself when I slip up and use positive affirmations to confidently push forward, tomorrow is always another day.
A: How did it feel to win Miss Rhode Island International?
L: I won the title “at large”, which meant there was no pageant leading up to me winning Miss Rhode Island International 2017; it was an application and interview process. After being offered the title, I felt proud, excited and terrified all at the same time. I still had no idea what being a title-holder really meant or what I could do with it. It wasn’t until I was asked to speak at a series of high schools that I realized what an amazing opportunity this was for me. It wasn’t just a title and a shiny crown; this was an incredible year of growth that I was signing up for. I had to face some issues that I had been long ignoring, recognize within myself parts of my journey that I had been hesitant to share and made the decision to make myself vulnerable by sharing some really dark moments. It still feels like a dream that this actually happened, that I competed in a national pageant, but it has been the most enlightening journey I’ve been on yet!
A: Your platform is eating disorder recovery and positive self-image. What makes you feel so passionate about this platform?
L: I am passionate about this platform because I am living in recovery everyday. I struggled with Obsessive Compulsive Eating Disorder (variation of Binge Eating Disorder, without purging) for thirteen years before receiving adequate treatment; it was ten years before I even received a proper diagnosis. Most of my life I’ve heard “Sorry Kid, these are your genetics” as an answer to why I was overweight. It took a long time to accept that I had an eating disorder, especially coming to terms with having one that was actually still medically Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS), one without a proper treatment protocol. I was forced into treatment, treated as though I had a variety of other eating disorders, so I started masking their symptoms. It was an extremely hard, long and on-going journey to recovery. My hope is that my story will prevent another from going thirteen years without a proper diagnosis and treatment plan and know that they are not alone in this battle. I often look up the hashtag #edwarrior on Instagram and am amazed at the strength I see, I love reading all the stories and I try to comment, connect and encourage as many as I can to keep fighting! It helps me realize how many people are fighting right along with me.
A: What do you hope to accomplish during your time as Miss Rhode Island International?
L: I’ve actually never thought about an end result, I’ve really just been enjoying this ride and the journey of self-discovery it has taken me on. If I had a personal goal, that would be it, this was an important journey for me to take in order to mentally get myself into the place where I could help others. It was entirely unintentional, but the person I was when I first received this honor and the woman I will be in December at the end of my reign are vastly different. With that, I hope to use what I’ve learned about becoming who I am, listening to my inner voice and trusting my gut to empower all individuals to persevere through the hardest of obstacles. I want to be a voice for everyone who at one point in their life, thought they weren’t enough. I feel the reason why I competed was for all of them, I want to use my journey to inspire others to do what they think it impossible. Ultimately, it’s a legacy I’m proud to leave behind as Miss Rhode Island International 2017.
A: How does it feel knowing that you have the ability to empower young girls?
L: It’s a really cool added bonus to doing what I am doing. I have three young, impressionable nieces all venturing into teendom and I hope to be the best role model I can for them. I strive to prove that failure is the best thing that can happen to you, because it allows you to pick yourself back up, re-evaluate and make an even stronger comeback. I hope to show them that it’s ok to be messy and not perfect, its preferred actually. I hope to show them how to be a strong, confident female with absolutely no limitations on what they can accomplish. If other young girls are learning these lessons from my journey, and me then it inspires me to keep pushing forward so I can continue to be a role model for them!
A: What advice do you have to stay positive and keep yourself going?
L: I think Oprah Winfrey actually said it best, “Surround yourself with people who will only lift you higher”. It’s absolutely true! I’m human, so I am going to have moments of insecurity, feel like I can’t accomplish something and sometimes just be in a general funk. It’s ok! It’s not ok to let yourself stay in that funk, give yourself the appropriate time to feel your feels, examine why you feel that way and then take a big scary leap forward. Having a support system of friends who are positive and are just as goal oriented as you are will help in these moments! Most of the time, the reason why you think you can’t accomplish something or why negative thoughts pop up is because of fear. How silly will you feel a few years down the road if you didn’t go after something because you were afraid?
A: Where do you hope to be in the next 5 years?
L: I would love to continue this journey! I look forward to writing a book, going back to school and obtaining a Master’s degree in counseling, and starting a non-profit. Maybe someday even getting married and competing for a Mrs. International title! The past five years have been so momentous in my life, I can’t wait for the next five, and I hope that they’re just as progressive and inspiring!