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The Contest Is Real Beauty

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Entering beauty pageants redefined this mom's perspective on her own beauty.

Terri Graham

Maggie Baumann, M.A.: Terri Graham of Orange County, Calif., is a lot like many moms in America. She has two kids, ages 9 and 7, and a 21-year-old stepdaughter. She's been happily married to her husband, Mark, for 11 years. Her role as a mom takes her in the car a lot, running her kids to and from school.

Terri also has a career as an exercise physiologist, and is the owner of The Metabolic Treatment Center in Lake Forest, Calif. There she performs metabolic rate testing, body composition analysis, and prescribes healthy and safe exercise prescriptions to people from all walks of life -- from the elite athlete and eating disorder client to cardiac rehab patients or any individual interested in improving their health/wellness.

Besides her family and career, Terri had always felt being "average" (in terms of how she looks) was the safe way to see herself in terms of her own beauty. In her young teen years, she suffered from anorexia, body dysmorphic disorder, and athletica bulimia. She saw herself as too short and too "heavy" to be a successful runway model, too full-figured to be considered "petite," not full-figured enough to be "plus size," and too muscular to fit in with traditional modeling or beauty pageants.

But her perspective on beauty and her own inner strength changed when she entered her first beauty pageant -- the California Mother/Daughter Pageant, in 1988 -- at the age of 19 with her own mom. At 5 feet 2 ½ inches tall and a weight that can fluctuate between 122 to 150 lbs, Terri took a risk she never imagined she was capable of.

She stated, "It was my own brand of shock therapy, and something I did to help me overcome social anxiety." Terri believed if she could stand on stage in a swimsuit and heels knowing that the judges' eyes were on her, she could do anything -- even master one of her fears of presenting oral reports in college.

Well, to her amazement, she didn't come in dead last: Terri placed 18th out of 38 contestants, many of whom fit the perfect tall, thin prototype of a beauty queen. "That was my first wake-up call that I wasn't completely unfortunate-looking," she revealed with a smile.

Since this initial pageant, Terri has participated in 14 others over the years. During this time, she's overcome her social anxiety and has accepted being "average" as a sign of beauty in and of itself. Terri has held one national title, Ms. Armed Forces All-American 2005. Her next pageant, The American Renaissance Pageant, is scheduled for June 2010 in Las Vegas. Terri will be representing California, and will be competing in two divisions: Mrs. Division and Ms. Civic Division.

So What Does Real Beauty Mean to Terri?

Terri believes beauty has many different meanings -- and it most definitely comes from within the soul. "Beauty," she said, "is strength with tenderness, compassion with fortitude, empathy with intuition, pride with humility, spiritual maturity with a childlike sense of wonder and fun."

Although the 40-year-old mom remarks that she cares what she looks like on the outside, she is far more interested today in developing her spiritual attributes than her physical ones.

At her last pageant, a judge asked her, "If you were a sandwich, what would your ingredients be, and why?" She answered with a humble heart: "I would be made up of all of the ingredients of a HERO sandwich, because every woman like me who has suffered childhood sexual abuse, verbal and emotional abuse, and overcome an eating disorder, body dysmorphia, and low self-esteem is not only a hero, but a beautiful one."

Terri believes what makes her beautiful is that she is a survivor living life as a VICTOR, not a VICTIM.

For Terri, beauty is definitely in the eyes of the beholder.

next: President Palin
11 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous December 1, 2009, 8:24 AM

What an ugly beauty qeeen!

michelle December 1, 2009, 10:12 AM

This woman obviously still has a lot of issues. If beauty comes from “within” the “soul,” then why did she need validation on her looks, from other people, to feel like she was worth something? Also, enough with the spirituality cr*p. That’s code for “I didn’t go to college.”

Nicole December 1, 2009, 12:35 PM

Ha! I think she did go to college. Even if she didn’t, what does that matter? Many intelligent people never went to college.

I do agree with you when you say she is trying to validate herself through other people. At her age, she should have figured it out on her own from within. How sad is the fact that she spent most of her life trying to achieve an unrealistic idea of beauty. She is another victim of trying to meet the impossible standards set by the patriarchal assholes who run things in this world.

tennmom December 1, 2009, 5:19 PM

I’m constantly amazed any time someone tells me I’m pretty. Really? Do they not see that my head is larger than I consider normal, that my face looks “big” to me??
Perhaps not considering myself to be pretty actually makes me pretty to other people. I just don’t know.
I am thankful that the 2 daughters born borm me via my “average” looking late husband are actually beautiful. It’s so great when that happens.

Terri December 2, 2009, 3:34 PM

How people feel about themselves is refelcted in the way they treat others. The negative posts by these other readers speaks volumes about their own insecurities and percieved inadequacies. The Bible tells us that how people feel in their hearts is how they will speak. How sad for these other women that they feel so nasty inside- so much so that they feel the need to try and tear others down. There is an old saying that “misery loves company”- I guess these other readers are in plenty good company. If only they could seek positive words to lift themselves and others up instead of trying to tear them down. As women we should be eahcothers greatest supporters- laughing, crying and championing eachothers causes. These negative posts make me grateful for the positive, uplifting, spiritually mature women that I am blessed to call my friends. I pray that God will lighten their hearts and ease their spirits.

Barbara December 2, 2009, 5:54 PM

Michelle- all I can say is WOW! Satan really is alive and well- and he’s on Momlogic. “Spirituality crap”? We’ll see….

BTW- Terri has two degrees (so far) a Bachelor’s and a Master’s- and she’s not done yet. So much for “spirituality cr*p” being code for “I didn’t go to college”.

The only thing you proved with your nasty, snarky little remarks is that you clearly don’t get it. You should also make sure you are RIGHT first before you start putting other people down based on your own assumptions. You only serve to make yourself look foolish. Terri is not only highly educated she has too much class to try and build herself up by putting other people down.

Maybe if you didn’t think spirituality was a bunch of cr*p you wouldn’t feel so bad inside. You should give it a try.

Nancy December 2, 2009, 6:48 PM

I wish I could say that I am surprized by the negative comments posted here but the fact is that I’m not. Here is a woman that has chosen to share a portion of her life in order to possibly help any other woman or young lady that has suffered or is suffering the tramatic experiences outlined in the article to find a window of opportunity to escape from whatever has caged her and the best and most supportive thing that some of you can say are “ugly” and apparently incorrectly state - uneducated. These are the catty responses that were taught to us and now we pass them to our daughters; “welcome to womanhood”! Surprized I am not, occassionally embarrassed by some of our gender - most definately.

emme December 3, 2009, 10:40 AM

What prevents people from championing Terri and the cause she serves? How easy it is to judge and criticize. Sadly, we, as women, castigate successful women quickly. The negative words say far more about those who posted them than they do about the one who was courageous enough to share.
Terri has shared a glimpse of her life in an effort to help others, in an effort to promote healthier lifestyles and in an effort to reinforce the accomplishments she feels. Positive energy is evident in Terri—how is it that others are so easily drawn to be negative? Share in delight. Encourage progress. Champion her cause. And understand that you JUST DONT UNDERSTAND. A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.

Lynn December 3, 2009, 1:29 PM

Hey Anonymous (posted above), if you feel so big and powerful by calling someone else “ugly” why do you hide behind anonymity?

For you to call someone “ugly” who has survived violent crimes against themselves is truly evil. I really hope for your sake that you never have to go through or experience what this courageous woman has in her life, but if you do, I sincerely hope and pray to God that you recieve far more compassion, grace and caring than that which you display towards others.

Teresita December 3, 2009, 1:39 PM

My friend recommended this website to me and I have to say that I am terribly disappointed. This is one of the most negative websites I have ever seen- and I’m not just talking about some of the cruel and pointless personal attacks mentioned above. I’ve seen other people viciously attacked and put down for no reason what-so-ever. I will never visit this website again- I much prefer to spend my time with people and in places that are positive, supportive and uplifting. This whole website has a truly negative vibe and seems to attract very negative, unGodly people.

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