How my Spinal Fusion Journey Created my Personal Platform

Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

A middle school girl walked quietly through the halls, pieces of hair covering her face as she watched the floor pass beneath her feet. Books clutched to her chest acted as armor to protect her from the afflictive glares and tormenting words that constantly penetrated her skin and sank to the root of her dejection: scoliosis, fractured vertebrae, and a birth defect, all of which affected her body’s shape. For years, this was the world I lived in, and I am no longer ashamed to admit this girl is me. I never told anyone about that constant torment, and years later when I found myself explaining my past to others, the response I received was a typical “I am so sorry, but I was picked on too. I completely understand.” That statement never granted me comfort or otherwise brightened my spirits.

It was not until the fall of 2015, when I endured Spinal Fusion back surgery through Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals (CMNH), that I finally felt confident in my own skin. My pediatric orthopedic spinal surgeon provided me hope and freedom to live a happy, healthy, and practically normal life once more, and an opportunity to renounce a life that had seemed increasingly insignificant as time passed. For years, I had longed to improve my body. To be more proportional, straighter. But eventually, I had a sudden realization— my spinal problems were never the issue. I had constantly degraded myself for the arbitrary flaws that I now realize help to define who I am. While continuously looking to others for approval, I assumed their perspectives regarding outward beauty were the sole determinants of my potential threshold level of self-confidence, as if personality did not matter in the least, as if my spinal complications defined me as a person, and as if others’ opinions were the only validation to my self-worth. Beauty is never dependent upon the approval of others; it is self-defined, and the power to be beautiful does not lie in the eyes of others— it derives from deep within oneself. I simultaneously internalized this concept and began to love myself once again, all due to the grace of CMNH.

My developmental journey spanning the past few years, as well as my current involvement in the Miss America Organization, inspired me to develop a philanthropic campaign and outreach program entitled “Be Your Own Beautiful”, which not only supports a network of hospitals that preserved and improved my life, but also advocates on behalf of adolescents who struggle to feel confident in their own skins. This platform is the epitome of my narrative and an opportunity for those I identify with, those who cower through school hallways with feelings of dismissal embedded in their hearts, to receive the reassurance I never sought out. The help that I was too mute to request. While sharing the impact CMNH left on my life, I am able to reach out to others who struggle with negatively damaged self-esteems and inspire them to understand that they can overcome any obstacle life throws their way. Whether they battle mental health disorders, physical disabilities, difficult family situations, or any other adversity that affects their morale, I help them realize they are worth more than any label and any challenge they face.

From a young age, I understood the importance of engaged service, and through my platform “Be Your Own Beautiful”, I can continue to inspire adolescents who encounter the same internal crisis I faced for years. My past, which left me feeling negligible for some time, is no longer a frequently visited and bitter memory. It is the motivational and driving force behind my love of philanthropy, a representation of my determination, and the embodiment of my personal platform, which proudly announces, “I conquered bullying and so can you.”

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