We all have a hero. Someone we look up to, place on a pedestal, and see as invincible. Heroes depict true success; lacking imperfections, and attaining triumph and prosperity. We may have an array of role models. Heroes usually transpire based on our personal interests. Specifically, a young soccer player may idolize Mia Hamm; a little singer may worship Mariah Carey; while, an emerging actor may see Julianne Moore as the end all be all. But, these heroes all represent the intangible star, one of who we see on televisions, magazine covers, or on the Internet.
Other heroes we inherently admire, appreciate, and respect are the people we are closest: family members. Whether it be a mother, father, brother, aunt, uncle, or cousin, we can all agree that we place certain individuals in a distinguished category. Once we determine who our idols are, we have a tendency to only see the unblemished version; a version which far portrays authenticity or truth. But, to us, role models remain flawless until otherwise proved differently.
I began babysitting my cousins when I was a junior in high school. They were 5, 3, and 2 years old at the time, with one more on the way. They were adorable, and I loved being in their presence because of their innocence and energy. They enjoyed nothing more than playing soccer outside with me on their front lawn. Their giggles and screeches symbolized their joy and admiration for me. I could see in their little teeny eyes how much they looked up to me as their big cousin; mesmerized by my ability to teach them how to play soccer, while they constantly were reminded that their cousin was a soccer star. These kids were my biggest fans.
I remember the day vividly my sophomore year of college. My mom called to tell me that my cousins were coming to see me play at Michigan State — all four kids, even the baby. They had never been to a game before, and they were all ready and geared up in State gear to cheer me on. I was their hero, there was no doubt about that. But, the perfect, flawless, and heroic girl they saw on the outside, was in fact, battling a disease they could never have fathomed. And, though they were too young to understand what an eating disorder was then, their hearts would have been crushed if they learned anything that may have altered their perception of their role model. To even think of ruining their idealistic impression of me, in itself, is truly agonizing.
The truth is, we are all human, even our heroes. No matter how successful we are, in our sport, career, or life, we all endure challenges and obstacles that impede perfection. Unfortunately, we are not typically exposed to personal issues people face. But, those intimate, rarely publicized, experiences are what truly identify and shape us as individuals. It is essential to have role models, and place them on a pedestal with goals to attain the success they reached. But, it is more important to remember that looks can be deceiving; and, we never know what actually goes on behind closed doors.
When I publicized my eating disorder this past April, my cousins were the people who continued popping up in my head. Would they still look up to me? Would I still be their hero? Would I still be someone they perceive as successful and accomplished? These were questions that repeatedly recurred in my mind prior to pressing “publish” that day last year. But, at the end of the day, I decided it was more important for them to know I am real. I have personal struggles. And, I am not perfect. And, little do they know, they are my heroes; whom continue to inspire to me be the best I can be, to be their role model, in far more ways than being perceived as “perfect.”
The oldest of the four children is now a freshman in college at the University of Michigan. The strange part is that she is now at the age I was at the time of developing my eating disorder. She is in a sorority, in challenging academic classes, and in a dormitory with thousands of other students. I keep telling her to learn from my mistakes, and not to make the same ones. And, to use my story as a resource to help someone she may come across on campus who needs her support. And, to share my website and experiences to pass along to her roommates. And, if this helps someone, or saves a life, then taking the chance to lose the title, “Hero,” is beyond worth it.