Miss America Nina Davuluri talks weight struggles, bulimic past and racist backlash

Miss America Nina Davuluri hosted a charity ride at Flywheel Sports on October 2, 2013 in New York City.  Credit: Getty
Miss America Nina Davuluri hosted a charity ride at Flywheel Sports on Oct. 2 in New York City.
Credit: Getty

Nina Davuluri, newly crowned Miss America 2013, worked up a sweat Wednesday night during a spin class for charity at Flywheel on the Upper West Side in New York. But even after the high octane workout, she was still all smiles as she spoke with Metro about her journey to becoming Miss America and what’s next for her.

It’s hard to imagine that the incredibly fit woman, who flaunted her bikini body during the Miss America competition, was 53 pounds heavier just two years ago. Davuluri credited treatment and counseling as her first steps toward a healthy lifestyle: She struggled with bulimia in her youth and overcame it with the help of professionals and her supportive family, though it wasn’t easy.

“My family comes from India, so they didn’t necessarily understand what I was going through,” she told Metro. “But with the help of my sister, they opened their hearts and minds to be a part of it and be a part of my struggle.”

Davuluri said she believes the media is a major contributor to America’s eating disorder problem. “They portray this image that you need to be skinny and that sends a really negative message to young girls,” she said. “You don’t need to be skinny. You don’t need to be a certain size to be healthy.”

Davuluri added that she is trying to help end the stigma associated with eating disorders by speaking openly about her struggles with bulimia.

Even after overcoming her illness, Davuluri said she  still had a long way to go before she felt confident about her body. “Frankly, I was too embarrassed to go to the gym when I was heavier,” she said. “I did Jillian Michaels DVDs at home and started eating healthier, more [wholesome] foods.”

After losing 30 pounds on her own, Davuluri worked with a trainer for another year to get into Miss America shape, which she pointed out promotes “healthy” bodies over “skinny.”

Davuluri said though her Indian immigrant parents were supportive of her decision to partake in the Miss America pageant, they were also skeptical, and it took a little work convincing them to let her get on stage in a swimsuit.

“That was their biggest problem,” she recalled, “They come from a very culturally conservative background. But they loved the scholarship money!” she laughed. “I won a total of $60,000 in scholarship money, so they were really understanding about that.”

Davuluri is the first Indian-American Miss America, and she didn’t push her heritage to the sidelines during the contest: She performed a Bollywood fusion dance for the talent portion of the show. “I can’t tell you how many people said, ‘If you’re serious about Miss America, change your talent, because Bollywood will never win,’” she laughed. “But I knew that if I wanted to win Miss America, it had to be on my own terms – and it worked out OK.”

The dance, and Davuluri’s race in general, famously attracted a barrage of racist tweets, but the pageant queen brushed off the vitriolic comments and said she had steeled herself for them because she had received similar comments after winning the title of Miss New York (Davuluri hails from Syracuse.) “For every one negative tweet, post or comment that I received, there were thousands of positive remarks – not just from Americans, but from people all over the world,” she said. “And that is really incredible.”

Davuluri will soon begin her tour across the country as Miss America, and plans to attend medical school afterward. She said struggling with bulimia has led her to consider a future in mental health, but nothing is set in stone yet. “Psychiatry is on the radar, but I’m keeping my doors open,” she said.


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