Stacey Kole is a lot of things: a former teen beauty pageant winner and, as Miss Arizona, a top-six finalist in the Miss USA pageant in 1998.
Things were beautiful and successful for her at the surface, but below that there was one thing she was not: secure.
In an address in front of 500 attendees at Emens Auditorium Monday night, Kole presented her personal account of a struggle with the eating disorder anorexia nervosa, detailed the specifics of two eating disorders, and shared her realization of complete recovery from a potentially life-threatening disorder.
Kole began with a clip from the movie "Miss Congeniality" to help attendees evaluate their impressions of pageants and pageant contestants. She then recounted how her self-image was battered by interactions with fellow contestants at the 1998 Miss USA pageant in Louisiana.
"As contestants, we had talked big to one another about ourselves, but deep inside we were all so insecure," Kole said. "Even the most perfect people by society's standards feel insignificant."
Kole admitted feeling "insecure ever since I can remember."
Her search for significance led to a bout with anorexia that developed at age 16.
"My once very directed life seemed aimless," Kole said.
She cited national statistics that 8 million to 10 million Americans - 90 percent of them women - suffer from eating disorders. Three of the four women in her college suite, including her, had battled eating disorders, she said.
"That was when I realized I had to take some action," Kole said.
Kole has researched and advocated eating disorder education and prevention for the past decade. A Biola University graduate, she also received a master's degree in Biblical studies from Dallas Theological Seminary.
An expert on eating disorders, Kole has written two books on the subject and received the Phoenix Sun's Quality of Life Award for her work.
She has worked with Congresspeople to pass eating disorder legislation and recently spoke at Sen. Harry Reid's national symposium on eating disorders.
Kole detailed symptoms and preventative and coping measures of both bulimia and anorexia. She reminded her audience not to discount the effects of another often-overlooked disorder, compulsive over-eating disorder, and that eating disorders can also affect men. Ten percent of men have such a disorder.
"There are a lot of people with bulimia or anorexia who don't fit the stringent criteria," Kole said.
Kole cited a study that anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness, possibly as high as 20 percent. Bulimia is also potentially life-threatening, she said.
Kole said the two reasons for eating disorder development are cultural pressure and emotional vulnerability.
She suggested that people should educate themselves then talk to a loved one in a supportive manner if they suspect he or she has a disorder. Persistence is key, she said.
"Ninety-two percent of eating disorder sufferers said in a study that they would welcome help," Kole said.
Kole said the turning point in her struggle came during a counseling session. She hearkened back to her fourth-grade teacher's personal motto, the verse John 10:10 from the Bible: "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."
"Eating disorders are not so much about having empty stomachs as having empty hearts and souls," Kole said. "So few people are living full lives and are without purpose."
Kole described how coming to know Jesus Christ as her personal savior restored meaning to her existence.
Kole was able to gain complete recovery from her disorder by accepting God's loving provision for her life, and she gained all the fullness she needed through him, she said.
"For the first time, I had hope. Someone loved me unconditionally," Kole said. "My soul found its worth through a relationship with God."
She left her audience with a parting message directly from her teacher's favorite Bible verse: "Live life - to the full."
Kole's presentation directly affected some audience members.
"I related to her because I have had problems with both bulimia and anorexia," freshman Erin Marie Whitacre said. "She was honest, and her gospel presentation was truthful."
Others also saw the talk as having a genuine impact.
"I liked that she covered satisfying a starving soul, adding the gospel for an effective presentation," sophomore Kaitlyn Snyder said.
Sophomore Medea Curry said, "I liked how she incorporated the gospel into her talk."
After the presentation, Kole reverberated the reason for her redemption.
"There is hope for people struggling with eating disorders and self-image issues," she said. "I found my hope through a relationship with God."
Kole is a national speaker who regularly travels to colleges, high schools and women's groups to speak. Her talk was sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ, Greek Life, Student Government Association, and Chi Omega, Alpha Omicron Pi and Delta Zeta sororities.