For as long as I can remember, I struggled with my self-esteem. Because of my height and my build, I was always referred to as the “big one” and it made me very self-conscious. I couldn’t fit into the same types of clothes that my friends could and I always felt like a giant amongst my friends.
I hated the way I looked and I desperately wanted to lose weight and (miraculously) become shorter. I thought that I didn’t deserve happiness because I didn’t fit the image of what a successful person should be. I thought that once I looked a certain way or attained certain goals, I’d finally be happy.
I played netball competitively throughout secondary school and junior college so exercising was never really a problem for me. But it wasn’t enough for me so I started skipping lunch and having light dinners. Every time I felt hungry, I felt victorious, as if I was doing something right. My hair started thinning and I developed gastric problems, but even after all that, I didn’t lose a significant amount of weight and I felt like a failure. I thought maybe I wasn’t destined to be happy so I stopped trying. I despised my existence and every waking hour was a reminder of my incompetence.
I did gym regularly while at university; not to lose weight (because I’d given up on that) but mostly so I wouldn’t put on anymore weight. I gave up feeling comfortable with the way I looked, so I sought my happiness from other aspects of my life like my grades and academic achievements. I felt like I needed to have something good going for me in order to deserve happiness.
When I didn’t do well at uni, I felt like my life was over. I no longer had any reason to be happy. But it was when I was at my lowest point and had absolutely nothing going for me that I realised nothing else really matters as long as I’m happy. As long as I continued to tie my happiness to certain achievements, my happiness would always be fleeting and I’d never be truly happy.
After a particularly trying 2015, I learnt my happiness shouldn’t be contingent upon anything. So many things that happen are beyond my control and I shouldn’t let my happiness be controlled by things that I’m powerless to change.
I learnt that the key to happiness is to actively choose to love yourself in spite of everything that might be going “wrong” and that self-love is about living life on your own terms and not letting societal expectations weigh down on you. You don’t need to look a certain way to be comfortable in your own skin and you don’t need to achieve certain goals to be proud of yourself.
Today, although my body is far from “ideal”, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I still struggle once in a while with the way I look but I’ve learnt not to let my looks define my self-worth and dictate my happiness. Now I gym not to look a certain way but to achieve my personal fitness goals (like finally being able to run 10km without dying). And through it all, I’m learning to enjoy the life I’m living and to always choose happiness.