Sister Queen: Salisbury woman uses pageant to help others

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, September 19, 2023

SALISBURY — For Erica Averill, it took her a long time to get to where she is now. Averill had struggled for years with anorexia to the point where doctors told her she was going to die if she didn’t change her habits and get help. Up until then, she was in denial to how badly it got.

Averill was raised around Charlotte and began dancing at an early age. Due to her dancing background, her mom started pushing diet pills on her as she got older. She even took her along to her Weight Watchers meetings, too.

“All I saw growing up was diet culture and everything like that. In magazines, all I saw was diet culture. So, I thought that was just a part of life, that’s what you had to do,” Averill said.

She developed an eating disorder in high school and by the time Averill attended the Savannah College of Art and Design, she was going above and beyond to prevent herself from eating no matter how dangerous it got.

“We had pictures up on our fridge in college of these supermodels so we wouldn’t go into our fridge. We wouldn’t eat anything. I think I went to the dining hall maybe twice the whole time I was in college. I just wouldn’t eat anything,” Averill said.

Over time, her conditioned worsened. Right after she turned 30, her doctors sat her down and gave her a dose of reality to all of the harm she was inflicting on her body. Since she was not receiving enough nutrients, she had become susceptible to heart disease, even though she was staying active with her dancing.

“I didn’t realize how bad it was. I had gone to see my doctor and she said she wouldn’t treat me anymore unless I got help,” Averill said. “I didn’t understand until these doctors had told me, ‘This is going to happen.’ So, reluctantly, I went to treatment and I didn’t think I was sick enough. I didn’t think being anorexic was a form of sickness.”

Averill described herself as “kicking and screaming” in the first few weeks of getting treatment, still not believing she belonged. Eventually, her eyes opened to the damage she was sustaining both physically and mentally. She recognized not just what was happening to her, but also the source of why she was doing it in the first place.

“Finally, it slowly sunk in and that’s when I realized I had a real problem. I started focusing on the treatment, I started realizing why I needed to be there. I started digging into why I had these problems, realizing, I had deep down trauma that made me this way,” Averill said. “I think eating disorders are a slow form of suicide sometimes. You just don’t want to be here anymore, you don’t want to be seen, you just hide.”

It has been five years since Averill first got treatment for her eating disorder. She still regularly sees a therapist and a nutritionist to make sure she travels on a healthy path towards recovery, which is a continuous process that requires regular attention. After she ended her professional dancing career, Averill began working at the Spotlight Dance Company in Salisbury, where she now lives with her partner, Jared Tice.

“I love it here! I love the area, I love the people, everybody seems to almost know each other even if they don’t know each other. It’s like you’ve already met before,” Averill said. “I love working with kids and encouraging them, not only with dancing, but also emotionally and teaching them how to be authentically themselves and helping them grow.”

When Averill first got help for anorexia, she saw it as a stepping stone for her and those dealing with what she went through to get better.

“I came out of it and I realized I don’t want this to happen to anyone else. Before I could help anybody else, I needed to help myself,” Averill said. “I also wanted a platform to be able to help other people.”

As she tried to figure out the best way to share her story, she stumbled upon Ms. Petite USA, a pageant for women 5’6″ and shorter. What differentiates them from other pageants, besides the height requirement, is that volunteerism plays a central role in who the winner is.

“It’s really rewarding, it’s not so much about how you look because having an eating disorder and then going up on stage in a swimsuit, that for me was life changing…I try to do one thing everyday that scares me, but this was big because I’m not afraid of my body anymore. I’m so proud of it,” Averill said.

Averill has partnered with multiple local organizations like The Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders and To Write Love on her Arms where simply speaking with similar people can inspire them to get healthier.

“It was fantastic. It was awesome to see how far I’ve come and where they are right now, to show them it gets so much better and listen to what they had to say, I’m really big on listening,” Averill said.

Through The Renfrew Center, Averill has been invited to do video calls with people around the country, give speeches and participate in Q&As with medical professionals on the subject of eating disorders. She additionally works with Project Light in Rowan County to spread awareness of human trafficking.

Averill has goals to open her own non-profit someday. When she first was getting treatment, she didn’t know about agencies like The Renfrew Center and To Write Love on her Arms. She wants to start a place where people can go and learn about organizations and what to expect when it comes getting help.

“I didn’t know anything else. ‘Where do you start?’ ‘Where do you do?’ I felt like I was on my own. I don’t want anybody to feel like that. I also want to explain, ‘What does I.O.P. mean?’ ‘What does in-patient mean?’ ‘What does it feel like?’ ‘Can you describe to me what your experience was like?’ I would really like to have something with people with experience that could tell you what that was like,” Averill said.

After going through a rigorous interview process, Averill was chosen as Ms. North Carolina Petite, where she went on to nationals and competed in an in-person pageant, coming in 12th place out of all 50 states. She has already been asked to be Ms. North Carolina Petite for 2024. Averill says people message her online to ask for advice on how to deal with their own eating disorders, where she leads them to the kind of treatment that works best for them.

Entering Ms. Petite USA gave Averill an opportunity for her to acknowledge what she went through and how she has transformed her life to assist people encountering the same obstacles she faced. To her, that’s all that really matters.

“Pageantry isn’t about having a crown, it’s not about that at all. It’s about, how many people can you reach? How many many people can you tell your story to? What you can use that platform for and what you can do with it? It’s brought so much light into my life. I hope it brings a lot of light to other people’s lives, too,” Averill said.

If anyone would like to reach out to Erica Averill for support, call 704-698-8190 or email