sport and weight issues and self esteem

Weighed Down

Self esteem story about a girls weight and appearance issues and judgements of her mother

One of my first memories in life is of Christmas when I was eight years old. Through the thin old walls of my Grandmother’s house I could hear my mother, telling her sister, how she was worried about me. She was near tears, saying she was afraid I would get sick and die early; that I would never be able to get a job or husband because I was too overweight. So at eight, every ounce of my self-esteem was crushed by my own Mother, in a conversation she never knew I heard.

Up until that moment I had always planned to be an elite athlete. I wanted to be a gymnast, a swimmer, a soccer player, or any other number of things I loved to do. I wasn’t always the best at them, but in my childhood innocence, it hadn’t occurred to me this could be an obstacle. I wanted to be a World Champion, so that was what I was going to be.

Afterward, I started to notice things. Being picked last in P.E. class at school; the smirks people gave me when I mentioned athletic dreams; the tone of voice in which my teachers humoured me. By the time I left primary school at eleven, I had given up.

My two years of intermediate school were one of the lowest points of my life. It was the first time I had to wear a school uniform, and it took a week to find and order the right size. When it arrived it was too big, which my mother told me was so I wouldn’t outgrow it too quickly. It was probably meant in the same way most parents mean it; kids grow fast. But in my mind, what she meant was I was going to get too fat for my uniform. At school, I didn’t join any clubs or teams and barely made any friends. I just kept my head down and tried to be invisible.

One day in P.E. we played field hockey. I had loved the game for as long as I could remember, but was told it was “too dangerous” for me to play. Thinking back, it seems a bit counter intuitive—my mother was worried about my weight, but wouldn’t let me play the sport I most enjoyed. Two girls in my class both played for the school team, and when I was doing well and clearly enjoying myself, they asked me why I didn’t play too. I shrugged it off, and tried to keep my head lower so I wouldn’t be noticed again. For most of that year I ate lunch in a bathroom stall, so no one could laugh at the fat girl eating. I considered suicide multiple times, but could never bring myself to go through with it.

The second year things got a little better, I even made a few friends. Feeling adventurous, I signed up for a school ski trip. I met new people, tried a new sport for the first time in years, and generally had a great time. That week was amazing up until the last day, when I took a tumble on some rocks and sprained my ankle. Still, I wasn’t too bothered—after all, the trip was basically over, and I’d had a good time despite the pain. Injuries were something I was prepared for, a fact of life for an athlete.

While I was away, the rest of the school had been practicing for the annual cross country run. It was only about two kilometres long, but with a sprained ankle it was impossible for me. After a few days of missing practices, I was called into the Principal’s office. As a generally well-behaved and intelligent student, this had never happened before. I was nervous, and with good reason, it turned out. “I’ve just seen you skiing for four days,” she yelled at me. “You can’t just pick and choose which exercise you do and don’t want to do.”
I was lost for words. I had been towed down the ski slope by paramedics because I couldn’t walk. I had to have x-rays. She was there. “I know you don’t like P.E.,” she continued, “but you can’t choose to not do it any more than someone can choose not to do math.” I was sent back to class in tears. I was confused, but I understand her point of view: ‘fat people don’t like exercise.’

When I started high school, I finally convinced my parents to let me play hockey. I was on top of the world for a year and a half, getting better at the game and making new friends. During my second year, a piece of paper was passed around my class, and we were supposed to write down what we wanted to do when we were older. I wrote that I wanted to play for the national hockey team. Two boys started laughing when they were writing their own dream down, but I didn’t realise why until the paper had circulated and I got another look. Underneath my own pen, in one of the boys’ handwriting, were the words, “Not good enough.”

Once again I was crushed, and all my earlier insecurities came flooding back. This was the same boy who had labelled me “most likely to choke to death on McDonalds” in the school yearbook. When he found out I played hockey the year prior, he had asked “what position? Bench?” I knew I shouldn’t let him bother me; he had always been a bully. But of course, as a young teenager, every word hit a nerve. Just like that, all my dreams which had taken so long to build back up were shattered. I did my best to get on with my life, but those words never left me.

It wasn’t much later that I was struck with glandular fever, and subsequently with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I could rarely go to school, I had to abandon hockey and soccer, and I couldn’t attend the Taekwon-Do classes I had recently joined and come to love. I thought people might pity me: bedridden, unable to do the things I enjoyed doing. Instead, I was told: “Stop being lazy” and “Just get out of bed and do things.” My school decided I was skipping classes because I didn’t want to be there. They threatened to involve the police and have me dragged to school. When I did finally make it to a class I was sent to the counsellor, who asked, “why do you hate school so much?”

No one believed I was genuinely sick, because being overweight automatically labelled me as lazy. During the two years I was housebound, none of my friends even seemed to notice I was gone. Multiple doctors blamed depression or being overweight for my issues and wouldn’t run real tests. When someone finally did my blood work, the glandular fever results came in. I finally had an irrefutable medical diagnosis for the problems I was experiencing. But life is never easy, is it? Some people claimed I was making it up—that my illness didn’t exist.

That was probably the most deprecating part. Something which destroyed my hopes and dreams was blamed on a part of me that had always been overtly different, that everyone but me saw as a barrier in life. Even years later, their words are always at the back of my mind, telling me I am lazy and not good enough.

It has been five years since I was diagnosed, and in that time I have found other ways to grow my self-esteem. With a lot of patience and effort, I was able to rejoin the Taekwon-Do classes I once loved. I progressed through the ranks and earned the respect of the people around me. In 2016 I will get to trial for a place at the World Championship, and attempt to achieve my dream of being a world-class athlete. Meanwhile, I instruct classes and pass on my knowledge to those who are beginning their journey. I teach valuable life skills to children who admire me. These opportunities feed my self-esteem and have helped me to grow as a person, to move on from past grievances and shape my own future, no matter what others might say or think.

homosexuality and self esteem

How We Learned to Love Me

Self esteem story about a boy coming out of the closet and fighting for his parents acceptance

My first attempt at coming out of the closet was traumatic. My mother overheard me talking on the phone with a guy and told my dad about it. That night, my parents made one of my biggest life decisions: I was not going to be gay. I wrote my dad a letter to help him understand. He ripped it up and said, “Let’s forget about this and pretend it never happened”. From that moment on, I fought the most important battle of my life; my fight for self-acceptance; my war against depression.

In retrospect, I am sure my parents always knew about my orientation from a young age. I remember they took me to therapy when I was about 8 years old. However, the psychologist looked obviously gay, so that only lasted a couple of sessions. Also, I recall having blood tests every now and then for apparently no reason. I’ve since learned these were hormone tests, which my parents and doctor ordered in an attempt to figure out what was going on with me even before I had any clue I was ‘different’.

And me? Well, by the time it hit me, I was already a very awkward and very sad 12-year-old boy. My years in middle school were surrounded by constant bullying because of, well … a lot of things. My skin, my weight, my awkwardness, and, starting in tenth grade, my sexual orientation.

In response, I ate. I could spend a whole day eating because food was comforting and made me feel better. I was judged for being fat. So I felt worse and ate more. I hated being fat, but I didn’t see an alternative way to protect myself. Food gave me comfort, a form of love and acceptance; I found shelter in it.

My parents tried everything they could to help me with my ‘problem’. They tried to change the way I dressed, the music I liked and the people I hung out with. They transferred me to a private school just to be away from a couple of gay kids at my old school.

During this time, I developed my first boyhood crush. I fell for an older guy, who lived a few doors down. I don’t know if he noticed, but I think it’s hard for a boy to hide his infatuation when you’re just entering puberty. I never told anyone about my feelings. As it happened, as fast as I fell in, I fell out of love with him. Even though I realized I was attracted to a man, the thought of being gay never crossed my mind. Maybe it was because I didn’t know any gay people to that point, or at least I didn’t pay that much attention to them.

Growing up in the 90’s in rural Mexico, a gay man was pretty much a stereotype and I didn’t really identify with that—I still don’t. My parents, on the other hand, saw these flamboyant men and thought that was what was in store for me, a life of ridiculous behavior, sexual depravation and probably AIDS. That is what they knew of gay people and they were scared of having a son like this.

Unfortunately for them, I always preferred arts over sports. My dad had this saying: “A man has to be ugly, strong and formal”, and even though I didn’t know what he meant by ‘formal’, I certainly qualified as ugly, as those around me would reminded me. My dad insisted on me doing manly stuff (which I did, and some of it I actually enjoyed), while my mom’s heart was slowly crushed by fear. Seeing my mother cry, I compartmentalized the pain and tried to change. I tried to be attracted to girls but it didn’t work. I just hated myself more. I hated myself for being fat, for being lonely, for making my mom cry, for not standing up to my dad, and for not having a single redeeming quality. I was a bag of flaws, a pile of nothing. Sadly, no one appeared to notice how miserable I was. I was the little, chubby, ugly, gay boy who would not talk to people. I had arrived at a truly dark, depressed place in life.

With all these things going on at home, I managed to finish middle school (barely, I must say), and when I entered high school, I knew something had to change. In the beginning, it was just introducing myself by my middle name instead of my first. I don’t know if this triggered everything else, but high school was definitely a big transition for me. I was being liked by my schoolmates and even by the teachers for the first time.

Not everything was perfect: one of the bullies from middle school was in my class again, but I developed a way to keep her at bay. First, I discovered that I could fight back. But that didn’t feel right; why would I want to say something hurtful when I very well knew how it felt to be bullied? So I found a new strategy: compliments. I realized that when you say nice things to others, they are more likely to like and trust you; so I learned how to be a good friend. I founded my school’s theater company, I was part of the band and I represented the school in regional science contests. My life was turning around and a lot of it happened because I decided the challenging things I had endured before wouldn’t define me. I could be happy, I could be proactive and I could create beauty. I discovered I wasn’t dumb as I had previously been led to believe. And while I am still clumsy when compared to a jock, I like to think this is just part of my charm. In my dark days of middle school, I couldn’t conceive of any of this.

Things at home, however, were not going as well. My parents were still trying hard to change me and introducing me to girls. I could barely talk to either the girls or my parents before I had to escape, locking myself in my room. And when I looked in the mirror, all I saw was flaws. My skin was too dark, my body was too big and fat and my face was too ugly. On top of that, I felt really guilty for caring about such things because they were ‘girly’ worries. Why would a man care about how he looks? But how I looked was important to me. I wanted to be attractive and I thought that if I could just change my appearance, then everything in my life would find its proper place.

I started to write. I created songs, poems, stories, all to express myself and what I thought about the world. I was very political for a 15 year old. I guess, my ideas were something I could rely on and that could keep me away from feelings. Even when I liked art, I was more interested in the intellectual part of it, rather than the emotions within it. Ideas were safe, whereas feelings made me feel vulnerable.

I developed a good sense of humor and I found I could sing. I was, you may say, blooming. But all this growth was completely hidden from my parents. The moment I re-entered our home each day, I went back to being quiet and miserable. I knew my parents would not like who I was becoming, so not telling them seemed like the best choice.

High school was almost over when I first kissed another teenager. And it was a game changer. Not because of the guy, but because it made me feel powerful as opposed to powerless. I was, for the first time, in touch with my sexuality after years of watching other people trying to define it for me. I now had the first taste of really living my own life; finally I was the protagonist. From that moment on, I started to believe I could be the one who defined my life. Before that, I found comfort in being the listener, because I assumed I had nothing interesting to say. Now it was about finding someone who’d listen.

With time I found my first boyfriend. We were two sad people, desperate to be held by someone else. But it was deeply validating for me. I thought that if I could be attractive to one person, then it was not that crazy to think other people may like me also. My idea that I was unlovable was uplifting. My parents found out (I’ve never been good with lies) and stopped talking to me for a short while. I was scared to become someone they would not recognize. I feared becoming a stranger to my own parents, and that was very painful. When they finally spoke to me again, all my mom said was “be discrete”. Apparently, being gay was O.K. now as long as no one knew. Later, my dad told me we needed to talk. When I approached him he asked, “Are you still my son?” I said, “yes.” He paused and my heart raced a million miles an hour. “Then I love you,” he finally said, no big displays of affection, just the right words at the right moment. That is all we each needed to know at the end of the day, that is all that mattered.

From then on, my parents started to accept me rather than trying to change me. Looking back, I realize what they did was because they love me and they thought it was the right thing to do at the time; they just wanted me to have a normal and happy life, how could I reproach that? Today, my mom is very open and supportive of my lifestyle, while my dad tries to not talk about it yet still shows me his love and supports me. And I am conscious I have been lucky. I have a wonderful family and now, an amazing boyfriend whom they also love.

I now know I have the right to be loved and some people actually love me for who I am, despite my differences. And most important of all, I have learned how to love myself, beyond looks, ideas and abilities. I love myself because I choose to, and that power has pushed me forward ever since. I am now also capable of loving someone else, accepting them for who they are, differences and all. My dad was right, love is all that matters.

Self Esteem and weight issues

Hiding from Love

Self esteem story about a young woman dealing with weight gain as a result of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

By Dr Rebecca Harwin

At 17 years of age, I weighed 64 kilograms and inaccurately thought of myself as overweight, and many young women often do. I was then diagnosed with a condition called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and within a year, I‘d added 20kg of unwanted fat to my frame. I begrudgingly struggled with this additional weight for a decade and a half.

This added girth was devastating for me. It reached its long unhealthy tentacles into each crevice and crack of my being. It altered the lens through which I viewed my existence, held me back from really living and sucked the joy from my experiences and relationships.

I began to wear unattractive tracksuits, mistakenly believing they hid the fat. I wonder, in hindsight, if really I was trying to go through life simply unnoticed. My menstrual period went on sabbatical for 15 years. I confronted the world with a face full of ugly spots, embarrassing excessive hair growth, exhaustion, and in some ways felt isolated by this illness. I was single for 13 years, and I look back and realise I avoided any chance of a romantic relationship because of the vulnerability and potential risk of rejection. My thoughts around my perceived undesirability then added to my singledom. The thoughts reinforced each other, again and again… After all, who would want me? I am ugly and flawed.When I looked in the mirror or saw a photo of myself, I saw an unfeminine figure staring back. She was hurting.

Over the years, I lost significant amounts of weight, only to unhappily re-find it again, and often some extra. Yoyo-ing is an apt term. I had to work so hard to budge a kilogram, and then I’d shoot a sideways glance at a piece of scrumptious chocolate cake and gain the weight back in a heartbeat. I’d get to the point where I’d often come to the conclusion that I’d rather be fat and happy, and give up my life of food deprivation and obsession. But I wasn’t happy. As soon as I ate like a normal individual, I’d “beef up” again as one of my patients once unkindly commented.

My weight and my self-esteem have always shared a close relationship.

I came to a point in life, at the age of 31, where I was tired of being single, over beating up on myself and finished with, in all reality, hiding from an intimate relationship because of my low self esteem. That’s when I threw myself, unabated, into the wide world of Internet dating. That’s when I met my now husband.

Apparently I used to comment daily about being unhappy with my weight, even after shedding some unwanted fat. I don’t recall the frequency, but it used to drive Dave to distraction. I tried dieting, spending time most days at the gym, I even took supposed weight loss medications, which only achieved a same weight more miserable me. In fact, with one of those medications the only thing I almost lost was my partner. The mood swings and depression they caused were horrendous.

Dave constantly told me I looked fine, that he thought I was attractive. Over time, something magical happened. I started to believe him.

The stress of feeling fat and unattractive melted away, and so did the excess weight, other Polycystic Ovary Syndrome symptoms, self-criticism and poor self-esteem. I’ve lost almost 30 kg and kept it off permanently. Five years ago, I walked down the aisle feeling beautiful and slender to marry my husband in front of my many loved ones, who had loved me regardless of my size or my perceived flaws and travelled from interstate and overseas to be there. My period returned, my skin cleared up, and my fatigue abated as well.

Looking back, I wondering if my weight didn’t subconsciously act as a form of protection. By staying overweight and believing I was unattractive, I didn’t have to put myself out there. Then I couldn’t be rejected, and my low self-esteem wouldn’t take a further battering.

What I discovered was, I didn’t need to live with low self-esteem. It wasn’t an accurate reflection of my worth, it didn’t serve me well and I was not alone. So many others were suffering too.

So my simple take away tid-bit of advice to help boost your self-esteem and live the life you deserve is to write yourself love letters, regularly. Schedule uninterrupted time to sit down with 3 blank sheets of paper and pen. Focus on your goodness, the blessings you bring to the world, how you contribute and matter. And write as if you were writing to the love of your life. You are.


Dr Rebecca Harwin is a bestselling health author and is currently writing her forthcoming book, ‘Healing Hearts, Slimming Bodies.’