I’ve been very open with you guys about my journey. However, I think it’s unique and important to share my journey with you from a different perspective. This was written by my beautiful little sister, Courtney, for a school project.
I’m humbled, overwhelmed, and inspired to share this piece with you.
More Than A Label
Humans have an innate desire to place labels on everything. We often label things as being a definite one or the other as a way of distinguishing things and it gives people a sense of order. So, why do we label people? Perhaps to give people a purpose? But, people aren’t things, they are people. Each being unique and different in their own way. The problem with labels is they are merely shells that contain assumptions. These labels make us put on blinders and see only a narrow view of an expansive and complicated human being.
However, our self-applied labels can either bind you or free you. Often, we equate our value and our worth with the assumptions that come along with the label that were given. If you strip away the labels of who we are, would you still feel worthy?
I have always thought of my older sister Jordan as different, she has this rare sense of authenticity that you can’t help but to take notice. She lived by the motto of believing that there is nothing more beautiful than someone who is authentic and unapologetically comfortable in her own skin and strongly valued beauty to be relative. You speak in a way that commands people’s attention, your voice is powerful and your words mean something.
You were always worth so much more than a ‘title,’ or a label. However, for the last 7 years, you have had many different ‘titles,’ that had repeatedly tried to define your sense of sureness of yourself while also making you question your worth. After each new label you received, you fell deeper and deeper into an array of assumptions that turned you from being your biggest cheerleader to your biggest critic. At the moments, you could not cheer yourself on, I was right there to remind you of who Jordan was. However, after a while, these labels began to bound you, and I did not think you were ever going to get free.
Jordan always felt she was different and for some reason, always gravitated
towards situations which made her uncomfortable. “Discomfort is a catalyst for growth. It makes you yearn for something more, to be something more,” you would tell me.
The first glimpse of discomfort my sister faced head on was a 2-year long struggle of being considered a ‘medical mystery.’ This was the first of many labels you would have: a sick girl. In 2013, Jordan spent more time in and out of the Mayo Clinic as well as with different doctors than experiencing the thrills that a freshman year in college is supposed to offer you. After being diagnosed with several stomach diseases which left her feeling physically, mentally and emotionally depleted, she was desperate to feel normal again. The harsh effects of numerous medications that was supposed to alleviate the pain and the symptoms began to take a toll on you. This is how the doctors said you would live for the rest of your life. You did not settle with this label, instead you challenged it. After months of trial and error, who would have thought that better nutrition and exercise would help alleviate the symptoms of your stomach and help you feel like Jordan again? “What do I have to lose? I’ll try anything.” This became your rationale.
The gym became your sanctuary. For a while it was working, I mean, really working.
Working in the sense that, physically, you were in the best shape and at the lowest weight you had ever been. Her trainer would grant her, her next title: bikini fitness competitor. He made her believe the more she exercised, the stronger her body would become and the more she would be able to manage her symptoms. The un-predictableness of her body and the illness caused her to question her validity and her worth. Jordan vigorously trained for months both in the gym and in the kitchen in order to compete in the upcoming fitness competition. Right before the competition, I remember so many people reaching out asking for diet and work out tips so that they could look like her and be as “successful,” as she was. She was drained, starving, exhausted: physically, mentally, and emotionally. However, on the outside, it looked like a different story.
A measuring tape and a scale once sat among many other beauty products in our bathroom, these became staples of your everyday use. You asked me to take some pictures of you on my new camera as digitals to send to different modeling agencies and you were hopeful they too saw the natural beauty which the camera captured perfectly. You did look beautiful, but also thin and frail with an almost false sense of confidence. These few snapshots would award you of your next title, a model. This was a title I have always struggled the most.
I was so proud of you, you were proud of yourself. You knew you could do more, so
you wanted to challenge yourself for more. After the competition, you were approached by a fellow sorority sister, who also marveled in your major body transformation. “The Miss Arizona USA pageant in coming up in a couple of months. You should really think about competing!” she said to my sister.
At first, she was reluctant, Jordan had never competed or even thought of competing in a
beauty pageant. “I am not that type of girl.” Jordan said disinterested in the initial idea. This was something so out of her comfort zone, the challenge both scared and enticed her. Jordan is the type of person that no matter what she sets her mind to, she can accomplish it. She decided to go for it.
None of my family knew what to expect, not even Jordan. Her optimism and her naivety to the pageant world both helped her and enlightened her in the sense that she was a rookie. She was new to the scene and was a breath of fresh air to the judges and contestants that have been previously wrapped in this industry for years.
The moment I saw Jordan walk across the stage in her champagne glitter dress, I could
not help but have tears in my eyes. You were in the final 5, I couldn’t believe it. The host of the pageant asked each individual final girl a question to a controversial topic. Some answers were more specific than others. However, 4 years later and Jordan’s response is still drilled into my mind. The host asked you what your thoughts of the Victoria Secret model, Miranda Kurr photoshop scandal were, in which she was caught editing a photo of herself from the fashion show to make her waist appear smaller than it actually was. The question was: when is altering women’s images ever acceptable?
“The problem here lies with the beauty expectations of women in our society. Yes,Photoshop and altering one’s body is shocking, but it’s nothing new. It speaks volumes if a woman who is so idolized by the public for her beauty and her body feels the pressures to alter her size and does not feel worthy enough. She altered her waist because of feelings of self-doubt in her physical appearance after having a baby only a short year ago. She can wear the title of a mother, a woman and model if that is what she chooses. She doesn’t have to have just one title.” Your response captured the attention of everyone in the room. This answer won you your next title: Miss Arizona USA 2014.
Over the course of the year in which you reigned as Miss Arizona, you were treated like
a celebrity. There was and still is some kind of power attached to the label Miss Arizona USA. Even if people don’t know exactly what that title entails, they still acknowledge it to be
a prominent title. Yes, there was praise and people who loved and supported her. But there was also intense criticism and ignorance of something she wore every day, her appearance.
I could not understand how people online, people that have never met my sister, could so easily attack her and slap a label on her. “People are more critical of women in the spotlight because they are seen as a different caliber of a human and since they have put themselves in the public eye, they warrant criticism.” Yeah, the criticism was hard, but you handled it far better than I could have ever imagined and always admired you for that.
You had been working with a new personal trainer, one in which that valued your mental
health and happiness far more than outward appearance when preparing for Miss USA.
He challenged you to seek validation from yourself before seeking it from society. In doing so, you began to enjoy life again by finding a balance of eating clean and working out without obsessing over it. This was the healthiest I had seen you in years, you looked beautiful.
It was 2 months before you were supposed to leave for Miss USA, it was April 2014. Your modeling agency asked you to appear in a photoshoot with a client that you have worked with multiple times. It had been a couple months since you did your last clothing photoshoot, you were excited to be back in front of the camera where you felt the most comfortable. Except this time was different. After hair and makeup, you picked up the first outfit and put the shirt over your head and the jeans over your legs. The clothes were too small. How could they be too small? When she picked up the tags, each clothing item was labeled extra small or size zero. This was no longer her size, with each outfit change it didn’t work. After 2 hours into the shoot, the owner of the company disappointingly approached her and said, “I am going to have to cancel the shoot, this is no longer working. I cannot use you for my shoots until you are a sample size again. Call me when you are back to a size 0 or 2.”
This was one of Jordan’s first experiences in which she realized she wasn’t good enough.
“And not only did I realize I wasn’t good enough, I was told I wasn’t good enough.” Yeah, there was a lot of online criticism that Jordan could overlook and shut her computer off, however, face to face criticism is a whole different ball game.
Someone once told me that you have a better chance having a son that plays football in the Superbowl than having a daughter that competes on the Miss USA stage. This was news to my family because up until this point, we knew as much about the pageant world as we did about brain surgery. Fast forward a few months, I remember sitting in my seat, looking down at the dark stage in which bright lights and cameras reflected 51 sparkling dresses representing the 51 hopeful contestants all hoping to hear their name to be crowned the new Miss USA 2014. I think in that moment I was more nervous than my sister as I clutched my homemade sign displaying in bold “Miss Arizona USA Is My Sister!”
That is the most important label you have ever had to me, my sister.
So many eyes were on you whether in the crowd or the virtual eyes of the millions of viewers tuning in around the world. The commercial break was over and the first 10 states were called as finalists, Arizona was not one of them. Another nerve wrenching commercial break. Finally, the 11the state was called…. “Arizona!” I was so happy for you, all I could do was cry. You were in the top 20 finalists for Miss USA. I was so unbelievably proud of you. Everyone seemed to be proud of you, except for you.
All of the glitz and glam and excitement of Miss USA was over, that chapter had closed. I
remember your first interview when you arrived back in Arizona. The local news station wanted to do a story on you, you were thrilled. The very first question that was asked on air would again try to rob your sense of self and attempt to define you. The reporter asked, “So Jordan how did it feel to be one of the ‘biggest,’ girls at the Miss USA pageant?” For reference, at the time of the interview she was a size 4 and yet was still considered one of the ‘biggest,’ girls on stage. The interview focused solely on her size and manifested on her physical label rather than anything else. The look on your face said it all. You looked confident, fearless and beautiful, yet somehow that interview tore you apart. I just could not
understand how something that is so trivial as size can be used as a trait to identify or label
The weeks and months following the Miss USA pageant, Jordan became lost after her title of model and Miss Arizona were no longer the essence of her being. Without the formal label, you lost what the title of Jordan actually meant.
There was one day in particular I remember sitting on the couch looking at past pictures
of you. We both landed on a picture we had never really noticed before. It was a picture of you, although it did not look anything like you. Sure, it was beautiful, but it was fake and photo shopped to the point that Jordan did not recognize herself. Who was that girl? I remember reminding you about your answer on the Miss Arizona stage in which you were given a similar scenario of challenging photo shop and altering your appearance in photos. A moment that I felt was as insignificant as this would later motivate you to start your own women’s self-empowerment company focused on your worth. Ever since that on-stage interview question you have kept one common theme in mind: you define yourself and your worth before society can define you.
Fast forward 3 years, you’re modeling on your own terms in New York City. Your confidence is at an all-time high, and you encourage women all over the country to practice self-love as a way to build self-esteem. “What title has been most important to you in all of this?” I recently asked you. “None of the titles really matter to me. I feel like I’m so much more than a title.” You knew you had a purpose and you were free from the labels that once bound you. Who we are should be based upon the mosaic of choice, mistakes and experiences that we have made, not any one in particular. You were always different, and offered a unique and fresh perspective to each experience your ‘title,’ granted you to. There are a lot more words to describe people than simply one or two words or a label. Jordan is not just skinny, or plus-sized, or a model, or a fitness competitor, or Miss Arizona USA, or a pageant girl; she’s a woman, a friend, a sister, a girlfriend, a daughter, an entrepreneur, and a dreamer. She is unique, and extraordinary in her own way. She is just Jordan, and that label comes with many different beliefs, perspectives, motivations and experience
Courtney was by my side during every up & down of my journey and knows my story better than anyone. She was constantly supporting me, encouraging me, and helping me stay level headed. Looking back there was a period of time where I wasn’t the role model I should have been for her. I say this because I would never want to see her deprive her body the way that I did or let society’s pressures impact her confidence.
Labels is a topic that will be heavily discussed in my upcoming female empowerment company, and I think she summarizes my battle with titles perfectly. I am so proud to be your sister, Court. Thank you for letting me share your beautifully written paper.
You are my motivation and my inspiration sis, I love you.