LOS ANGELES – Victoria Graham is out to show America that beauty is skin deep.
At 22 years old she has broken into the world of beauty pageants while fighting a major health battle with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) that has left a 25-inch scar down her spine.
After undergoing 10 operations on her spine and brain, she and her college roommate decided to do something they had never done before: enter a beauty pageant.
3 years ago was the worst day of my entire life • January 22, 2014 - I walked into a doctor's office and was told that I would need brain and spinal surgery. That day changed my world, forever. Over these past 3 years, one surgery turned into ten. I have had more scans, blood draws, and procedures than I can count. I still have not graduated. I can no longer physically run or play the sports I used to love. My memory is stunted and brain only works when it feels like it. My body has quite literally turned into my worst nightmare. Most days of these past three years, I try to stay positive, smile, and pretend that things are okay - but not always. Since that day, three years ago, I have seen loss, hatred, and pain greater than the 20 previous years of my life. It's hard to even imagine what my life used to be like: am I the same person while so many things are different? Some day my body hurts too much to get out of bed; some days I receive so much criticism that I want to quit; some days I realize that if all of this were to happen to ME and I am still alive when doctors tell me I should be dead, then there must be a reason. If you know me at all then you understand that I believe everything in life happens for a reason, according to God's plan. I have tried to make the most of this life; creating a non-profit, speaking out rare and chronic illnesses, and looking to be a role model for other kids like me. . On January 22, 2014 I was given the greatest choice of my life - and I chose to fight.
“One day my roommate said we need to do something crazy and do something we had never done. So we decided to either be on 'The Bachelor' or to be in a pageant. And to us those were things we would never see ourselves doing but things you always kind of wish you wanted to do,” she said. “I signed up for a pageant and my parents thought I was crazy, they literally laughed at me when I said I wanted to do a pageant because I wore shorts and a T-shirt and a ponytail and I was the opposite of what you think of a beauty queen.”
But Graham never thought she was going to be strutting the catwalk through her health scare and after countless misdiagnosis and doctor appointments. She was eventually diagnosed with EDS, which effects her body's collagen and causes cranial and spinal instability.
“From the beginning I had this fight for yourself attitude. I knew that I had been dismissed by so many doctors that the only way someone was going to listen to me was if I spoke up for myself.”
But after being crowned the winner of Maryland's Miss Frostburg 2017 pageant, she takes enormous pride in what she has overcome and doesn't shy away from showing off her scar in competitions.
She can be broken, damaged, scarred and still be whole - that's the strength of a woman. . . . Throw back to when my scar only covered half of my back. #scar #scarred #broken #strong #stronger #woman #sheis #quoteoftheday #wisewords #pageant #pageantgirl #pageantlife #photooftheday #throwback #spinalsurgery #butyoudontlooksick #makinginvisibleillnessesvisible #invisibleillnesses #myfrostburg
“I take pride in the fact that I have the opportunity to stand onstage and really show my scar and show what I have been through,” she said. “I have been asked a lot of times ‘do you cover your scar?’…I say ‘absolutely not.’ I show it off so other people can look and see it’s possible.”
And in fact, the swimsuit part of the pageant just happens to be her favorite.
“Swimsuits are actually one of my favorite parts and that’s because of my scar. I have a 25-inch scar that runs all the way down my back. You really cannot miss it no matter how many layers of spray tan you put on. I stand on stage with a 25-inch scar in a swimsuit to tell people I have EDS and people need to start talking about it because it actually affects [a lot of] Americans.”
You can follow Blanche Johnson on Twitter @blancheFOXLA.