Meredith Carter has learned a thing or two about beauty over the years — and it isn’t always pretty.
The founder of Stealing Hollywood — and winner of About’s annual Cover Model Contest — hopes her story can reach young girls before they follow in her same path.
“During junior high school, I struggled with an eating disorder and depression — and saw no real beauty within myself,” she said. “I was consumed with Hollywood’s standard of beauty and wanted so badly to look perfect.”
But, what is perfect?
This young entrepreneur explains she believes Hollywood’s standard of beauty is beyond the reach of most, including the people who live there.
“Their beauty is unattainable and unreal,” she said. “I loved looking at magazines and was pretty into exercise and being in sports,” she said, noting that she was always looking for something new.
But when she was diagnosed with scoliosis (a sideways curvature of the spine), her desire to be perfect took a turn toward obsession.
“I had to have surgery because I had a reverse ‘S’ curve in my spine and had to have two metal rods placed in my back. I wasn’t going to be able to exercise for six months and that freaked me out,” Meredith said.
She was only 12 at the time. She immediately started restricting her intake of food and watching what she ate.
“I was looking into different diets and eventually, I just wouldn’t eat certain foods. When I went back to school, my mom would pack me a lunch, but I wouldn’t eat it. Instead, I would just throw it away. I wouldn’t eat lunch especially because my parents weren’t there and I could get away with it. I would feed my breakfast to my dog somedays when my mom wasn’t paying attention. I just tried to eat the bare minimum. I was extremely concious about how many calories I consumed, knowing I had to burn more than that for the day.”
Dieting became a fad. She and her friends would compare notes about the types of diets they were on, and eventually she and one of her friends decided to try diet pills that belonged to the friends’ mother.
“They worked great for her mom, so we decided to try them. I didn’t take a lot of them, but I did take some,” Meredith said. “I was just consumed with being perfect, looking a certain way and losing weight, using Hollywood standards on what I was supposed to look like.”
Meredith, a Canton native, eventually graduated from Kingsway Christian School in Orrville and moved on to Cedarville University near Dayton.
When she left home for college, she said her eating habits got worse because her parents weren’t there to monitor her eating habits.
“I had complete control over my eating habits — and I didn’t want to gain the ‘freshman 15,’ “ she said, noting she was never clinically diagnosed with anorexia, but she did have an eating disorder. “Inner beauty was never discussed in church or school,” said Meredith, now a self-assured 22-year-old college graduate. “It was always a hush-hush topic.”
A friend that she lived with told Meredith about her own eating disorder and asked her if she would go to counseling if she did. Meredith agreed, even though she had tried counseling before and hated it.
But, she agreed to go, and met Jenny Beck, a counselor at Cedarville.
“I met with her most of my freshman year but it wasn’t until the end of my freshman year that she looked at me and said, ‘Meredith, you know there is hope, right? You know that you can be free from what you are dealing with’ — that I saw the light. I never heard that I could be free
That changed everything.
“She changed my direction in life,” Meredith said. “I knew I wanted to tell other girls what I learned and I felt like I had a new-found purpose in life.”
From there, Meredith founded Stealing Hollywood, a ministry whose mission is to provide “the hope of Christ to girls by combating the unattainable images of Hollywood.” The organization, which she is transitioning from a limited liability corporation into a nonprofit business, hosts events for girls of all ages to show them that their beauty radiates from the inside — and they don’t have to live up to an unattainable Hollywood standard.
“We want to give girls hope, unveiling the lies Hollywood gives us,” she said, explaining that through the hope of Christ, Stealing Hollywood helps women of all ages combat the feeling they need to lose weight, get a face lift, have a tummy tuck, dress younger or be more fashionable.
Saying it is her life only in organizational form, Meredith tells audiences how she grew to hate her body and everything else about herself, which led her to suicidal thoughts, excessive exercise and depression.
“Meredith is living out her faith in a very public way,” said the Rev. John McCaw, worship pastor at Canton Baptist Temple, where Meredith attends and has spoken about Stealing Hollywood. “I think it is a continuous struggle for her, but she is not afraid to let people know that it is Christ that has made a difference in her life. This has not been something of sheer willpower that she has turned it around for herself. She completely goes back to the fact that God made her the way. He wanted her to be and has taught her through these struggles to be content with who He’s made her.”
McCaw said Meredith has been able to connect with a lot of people through her willingness to share her personal story about something that remains rather secretive in society.
“I’ve been so impressed with her — that somebody of her generation has put a lot of her struggles aside and become very vulnerable as she talks about what she has been through,” McCaw said. “She has been able to connect with them because she has been public about her struggles and courageous enough to show the answers to her struggles are not in herself but in her relationship with God.”