In PEOPLE’s exclusive look at Monday’s episode of A&E's Secrets of Miss America, former contestants detail the lengths women went to in order to achieve “unrealistic” body standards
Miss America contestants are getting candid about the unhealthy habits they say have characterized the controversial beauty pageant.
In PEOPLE’s exclusive preview of Monday’s episode of A&E's Secrets of Miss America, former Miss America Mallory Hagan detailed some of the disordered eating and drug abuse that occurred behind the scenes of the competition after women tried to achieve a specific body type.
“While I was competing, I saw laxatives, caffeine pills, diet pills, things that probably shouldn’t be sold on a market. I saw prescription drug abuse, you name it,” said Hagen, who won the Miss America pageant in 2013 as Miss New York.
“I’ve not had water for 24 hours ahead of a swimsuit competition so that I would dehydrate myself to the point that you can see my muscles,” she continued, sharing photos of her younger self in the gym. “And I'm not the only one.”
In the clip, Miss America 2010 Caressa Cameron Jackson also talked about body image and how contestants were often trying to be as thin as possible, comparing it to the body standards she says are present today.
“I was constantly told that I was way too curvy, which is insane because I would have never thought at a size 0-2 I would be perceived as curvy,” Jackson said. “The straight, stick thin body type was like the gold standard. It wasn’t like the Kardashian super curvy like it is now.”
“It was an unrealistic standard to set and it’s an unrealistic standard to maintain,” added Hagan.
Secrets of Miss America offers a peek behind the curtain at the inner workings of the storied competition. In it, 20-plus former contestants speak out about the alleged mistreatment they experienced from execs at the Miss America organization, describing how alleged slights sometimes took a severe toll on their mental health.
"The special analyzes whistleblower leaked emails in 2017 exposing misogyny within the Board of Directors, claims of racism in the pageant’s history, the topic of mental health surrounding the competition and the banning of the controversial swimsuit competition," reads an A&E description of the series, which also promises viewers will get "a glimpse at the cost of wearing the crown and sash and how pageant culture perpetuated racism, bullying, body shaming, and much more."
Ahead of the limited series’ debut, Jackson told PEOPLE that she hopes the powers that be within the organization will watch the series and incorporate ways to become more forward-thinking.
“I'm hoping that by us being willing to share our story, that the people who are in charge now will see it, will hear it, will understand our heart behind it, and affect some of those changes so that for the next hundred years, [future] Miss America's will have nothing but wonderful things to say," she said.
A new episode of Secrets of Miss America airs Monday, July 17 at 10 p.m. ET on A&E.
If you or someone you know is battling an eating disorder, please contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) at 1-800-931-2237 or go to NationalEatingDisorders.org.
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