Miranda Ward parentsMiranda Ward with her parentsMiranda Ward, a third-semester student with a 4.0 GPA in the nationally ranked UAB Physician Assistant program, recently received the Miss America academic award for the state of Alabama. The honor, based on GPA and course difficulty, is given annually to the top scholar in the Miss Alabama competition.

As with many success stories though, Ward’s great accomplishments in life did not come easy. There is a back story. And it is a story that most people would not tell.

“I struggled with an eating disorder starting early in my teen years which continued through my first year of college,” said Ward, who won the Miss Marshall County pageant to qualify for Miss Alabama. “My turning point was one morning when I looked in the mirror and could see the bruises around my mouth from vigorous purging the night before. That’s when it clicked with me that I was killing myself.”

From that point forward, Ward became dedicated to helping herself and others. Since then, this 23-year-old from Rainsville, Alabama, who has an undergraduate degree in public relations, has been the face of what most in society see as a “hush-hush” issue.

Ward knows that admitting to an eating disorder is a story that most people would not tell – especially in a forum where contestants are judged and the best possible score is also a stereotype for beauty: a perfect 10.

“My mission is to help others reject the notion that beauty, desirability and worthiness are a one-size-fits-all,” said Ward.

SEE MORE: photos of Miranda Ward can be found on the SHP Flickr page

Her platform is “Unseen Obsession: Eating Disorders Awareness.” Ward spends countless time travelling across the state speaking to student groups, church groups and any other groups that include young women and men. She has even created the website http://unseenobsession.weebly.com to help spread her message beyond those she reaches face-to-face.

Miranda Ward Miss Alabama program webWard’s desire to help others face-to-face will continue to be realized when she graduates from the UAB School of Health Professions with a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies. Admitting she has “always been that kid in science class that was not shy to dissect,” Ward chose the PA profession in part because of the surgical aspect.

“The PA profession options are endless and I can choose to be a surgical PA, dermatological PA, cardiovascular PA, orthopedic PA and the list goes on,” said Ward. “I am a woman with many interests and I will likely move around in my career and the PA profession gives me the flexibility that other medical professions do not.”

Pageant competitions have helped Ward in her career pursuit as she has earned around $15,000 in scholarship money so far. The award that has meant the most to this point is the Shasta Parker Memorial Scholarship named for a former Miss Alabama Board of Directors member who recently passed away after a battle with cancer. Ward calls the honor humbling as Mrs. Parker did so much for so many while serving the non-profit organization. It is a legacy she plans to carry on faithfully.

“Miranda is a student who has set high goals for herself and has dedicated herself. I know she will graduate and move on in her career to make a difference in the lives of others as a physician assistant,” said Rick Kilgore, Ph.D., program director, UAB PA program. “Her talent in the competition was singing, but equally impressive is her talent at helping others and giving time to champion a cause many people do not want to discuss – eating disorders. We are proud of what she has accomplished and what she will accomplish.”

*Ward’s website points out that 81 percent of 10-year-old girls fear being fat and that 40 percent of eating disorder diagnoses are males. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, Ward recommends the National Eating Disorder Association’s resource links found here: http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/resource-links