The longer I live away from Minnesota, the more I appreciate it every day. I cherish the way I was raised and the Minnesota values I carry with me everywhere I go as I navigate a much different world.
When I am sitting in sometimes-seemingly-never-ending-New York City-traffic, I love to reminisce about growing up in Anoka on the Mississippi River. Everything was natural and healthy, and there was such an emphasis on appreciating everything nature had to offer. The closest I encounter nature on those drives is a potted plant I see in an apartment window!
Regardless of whether you grow up in New York City or Anoka, young girls today are confronted with issues of self-worth as society puts more and more pressure on young women to look a certain way. Thanks to the Minnesota values of my family, I was raised to believe we were beautiful from the inside out, but that wasn’t always the case with the outside world.
When I started writing my autobiography, “Getting Real,” I did go back to a painful time in my life growing up in Minnesota when people tried to base my self-worth on my looks. I struggled with my weight my whole life and was always on a diet. My most notable characteristics before age 2 were eating, talking and performing. Isn’t that a great calling card? Thankfully, how girls feel and their self-esteem are becoming something we increasingly talk about seeking to improve.
According to a revealing study by the Dove Self-Esteem Fund, “7 in 10 girls believe they are not good enough or do not measure up in some way, including their looks, performance in school, and relationships with family and friends.” Seven out of 10! That is heartbreaking.
It hurts even more when you hear that 92 percent of teen girls would like to change “something about the way they look, with body weight ranking the highest.”
So many young women living day-to-day with these thoughts; imagine if you met a group of young women who just went out on a stage and said: “Here I am; I am beautiful not for what you see on the outside but for the struggle I have overcome on the inside.”
After 25 years in the news business, I have met those young women. Abbey Curran is the founder of the Miss You Can Do It pageant. The national nonprofit pageant is for girls of all ages with special needs and challenges. Through the environment Abbey has created, these young ladies are celebrated, and they are changing the way we define “beauty.” They are overcoming their fears to walk out in front of everybody and say, “This is me.”
Curran competed in the Miss USA pageant in 2008 as Miss Iowa, and was the first to compete with a disability. She was born with cerebral palsy and lives with staring eyes every day because of the way she walks. Curran set out to change the way we define “beautiful” for every girl, disability or not.
Acknowledging girls for their courage and perseverance — now, that is what I call true beauty.
We all share struggles about self-worth as the outside world wants to place our value solely on our outside appearance. As I travel across the country and talk about these experiences from my book, young women constantly come up to me and tell me they identify with these same struggles.
This is a conversation we must have to help young women who do not believe in their own self-worth and who are susceptible to eating disorders, bullying and shame.
I will be honored to be the master of ceremonies at this year’s Miss You Can Do It pageant on July 30. I hope you will take this journey with me as fellow Minnesotans to honor the strength and determination of some pretty incredible girls. Together, we can all help change the way “beauty” is defined and self-worth is defined.
Gretchen Carlson is the author of “Getting Real” and host of “The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson” on Fox News.