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.