Once upon a time beauty pageantry was about physical beauty, stage presence and speaking eloquently.
“Now it’s all about your personality, your confidence, what you are doing in your community and at large to make a difference,” said Madison Kvaltin of Manitoulin Island, moments after signing her contract as Miss Universe Canada.
“I’ve met the most beautiful women in the world but if they don’t stand for something more than just their beauty, you can see through that. The most beautiful people are the ones that shine from the inside. They radiate in confidence and love and the desire to make a meaningful impact and that’s what a true beauty queen is.”
Kvaltin was crowned Miss Universe Canada 2023 in a national competition held last month in Vancouver. The 25-year-old entrepreneur has a degree in sociology and business from Queen’s University and will now prepare to represent Canada at Miss Universe 2023 in El Salvador this November. Kvaltin owns and operates a marketing and web design company and also founded Skilla Athletics, a brand that promotes healthy body confidence.
Kvaltin was in Toronto this week to sign the legal document that stipulates her obligations in her new title and will be attending a few events before returning to her hometown of Gore Bay at the end of the month. She’s hoping to use the title to her full advantage, to advocate for the causes close to her heart, namely promoting healthy body confidence. In her early teens, Kvaltin struggled with an eating disorder and was even hospitalized for a few months at Health Sciences North.
“It was a really horrible experience and going through that opened up my eyes, that there are so many people that struggle in silence and even when they reach out for help, they don’t get the proper help they need,” she said.
Kvaltin said there were some health care gaps when she was hospitalized with her eating disorder and she thinks that her experience is representative of the lack of services available in rural communities.
“When I was in the hospital, their intention was just for me to gain 40-some pounds and then discharge me,” she said. “There was no address of the mental illness I was facing or proper therapy for recovery.” Kvaltin said that disconnection caused her to relapse and her illness became cyclical.
However, today HSN offers the Regional Eating Disorders Program, which includes both medical monitoring, nutrition counselling and individual/group and family-based therapy. Kvaltin said the program didn’t exist at the time of her hospitalization, so she felt alone in her recovery. She said it wasn’t until she entered a beauty pageant that she began the healing process.
Kvaltin realizes that sounds contradictory — most people would assume that being a candidate in a beauty pageant could compromise the wellbeing of someone living with an eating disorder. But her experience proved otherwise.
“When I was preparing for the pageant, they wanted us to stand by a message or story and exercise some philanthropy and use the platform,” she explained. “I said there was a part of me that I felt was an important topic. At the time I was struggling heavily with my eating disorder. I couldn’t tell people how to heal themselves because I was on the journey myself. But in those moments, in trying to understand why I was so hurt and why I was struggling so hard, allowed me to be reflective of my experiences and work through those. Anytime I would feel bad about my body or look in the mirror, I wrote down some reasons why I was thinking that way, what was triggering me and I would try to understand why I was feeling the way I was, so then I could address those feelings.”
Kvaltin said long-time beauty pageant director Cheryl Kozera of Sudbury had a significant influence on her.
“My biggest supporter during those times was my director, Cheryl Kozera,” she said. “She’s been in my life for the last decade. She really pushed me to tap into my greatest potential. She reminded me how beauty really comes from the inside. It has nothing to do with what is on the outside. Your body is really the least interesting thing about you at the end of the day. It’s your heart, it’s your mind, it’s your will to help people— that’s what makes you beautiful.”
As a result, Kvaltin said she’s dedicated the last 10 years of her life to empowering youth to accept, love and take care of their own bodies.
“I struggled so hard and I never want anyone to struggle the way I did,” she said.
The eating disorder emerged during a stressful period in Kvaltin’s life. Her parents had divorced and her grandmother, who took on a bigger role, later passed away.
“There was a lot of chaos happening in my life and I feel like my eating disorder provided a sense of control; it was the only thing I could control in my life,” she explained. “It was fuelled by this toxic chase for perfection. I’ve been a perfectionist. I always tried to get perfect grades, look perfect. Every facet of life was about that control to be perfect. It wasn’t until I realized that perfection doesn’t exist that I finally was able to address where my eating disorder stemmed from and where I could heal myself.”
Kvaltin said her insatiable quest for perfection was only made worse by the use of social media, although she’s quick to say that the tool, when used properly, can empower youth.
“Being aware of how social media can affect us is super important,” Kvaltin said. “For me now, social media is an incredible source of positive affirmation and inspiration because I audit my social media to ensure I follow people who make me feel good … I only allow people into my circle who will uplift or inspire me to be a better version of myself.”
Following this theme, Kvaltin facilitates workshops and seminars at schools and events geared to youth between the ages of seven and 18. But her message can resonate with anyone.
“My workshops and seminars are all about the skills and tools to use if you’re feeling a little less body confident one day, safe ways to navigate through social media and the importance of understanding how to create a safe space in social media or the importance of removing yourself if you have to, because there’s no problem with that,” she said.
Kvaltin said that although she is not a mental health professional, she hopes that sharing her experience will inspire others.
Recently she has created an online community, The Body Love Club, to expand her reach through social media. You can find the community on Instagram at @officialbodyloveclub.
The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.