Written by: Kaitlin Rowen, Miss USA Ambassador | Curated by: Nicole Friets
What is an obstacle if you don’t embrace it, learn from it, and share with others what you have gained from it?
Early on in life, I allowed the criticism and bullying of others to diminish my self-worth. To protect myself, I aspired to be perfect. I’m not sure whether it was because of society or my peers’ definition of perfection, but I pushed myself both physically and psychologically to the limit and sacrificed everything for a number. To me, a number was more than an arithmetical value; it served as a measurement in which I defined my self-worth. A number on a scale, a number in my jeans, and a number on a test became representative of who I thought I was and how I defined myself. It was much easier than having others define me, but the number was never enough. Instead, the number slowly started to kill me.
Physically and mentally I was deteriorating, and in the blink of an eye, everything was taken away from me. I had to leave school for the treatment of an eating disorder. I began the toughest challenge of my life to define myself as Kaitlin, rather than a number or how others defined me. Learning who Kaitlin was and what her aspirations, goals, and values were proved to be a lot more grueling than hiding behind a numerical value. So who was Kaitlin? That’s a question I still can’t fully answer today, but I know she has a lot more to offer the world than her grade point average or weight on a scale. Only she has the power to define herself.
Fighting my battle towards recovery was not easy; it took a lot of hard work, determination, and strength. The mysterious disease tried to sneak back into my life if I let down my guard. However, I became strong enough to combat it with the mindset that I am worth it. I deserve to live a life free from an eating disorder, and to know that I, Kaitlin, can make a difference. Therefore, with the adversity I had faced, how could I make a difference and help others gain strength from their hardships? That’s what I’m working towards today.
Recently, I became a national titleholder, Miss USA Ambassador, for an organization that celebrates success through leadership, integrity, confidence, and character. The old Kaitlin did not define success this way. Today, however, I embrace these values and define success as an individual who overcomes hardships instead of drowning in its aftermath; who transforms negative experiences into something powerful to help others achieve freedom from the chains that hold them enslaved by their own adversity.
I began studying at Columbia University this fall to receive my Masters of Social Work degree in hopes to work with children from all socioeconomic statuses who suffer from chronic illnesses. I have vowed to make a difference in the lives of children who are battling life-threatening illnesses in order to help them see the light at the end of tunnel and give them hope that miracles exist. I want to let them know that they are not alone in their battle and to help them overcome their challenges while retaining some semblance of childhood. I also currently work as an ambassador for the Warrior Princess Initiative, an organization that serves to recognize girls who are truly warriors, fighting with courage and grace against terminal illnesses. It has truly opened my heart to the power, strength, and optimism in even our youngest “sisters”. They have made me believe in miracles.
I now no longer define myself as a size, grade point average, or weight. I define myself as a woman who against all odds has overcome her challenge and found a way to support others to have hope and find strength in their darkest hours. Know that in every challenge, there is a light at the end of the tunnel; for every obstacle, there is something to gain from it. Even the most horrific experiences can provide you with the inner strength to move beyond it. These personal battles can give you the ability to make a difference in another’s life. The way I found happiness might be different from what makes you feel accomplished, but I urge you to discover who you are and find out what is meaningful to you, because you are so much more than a numerical value.