How I Overcame Body Shaming and Learned to Love Myself
In support of Kernel’s Optimism Project, we’re publishing real student stories of struggle, trials and optimism through it all.
Success is failure turned inside out,
The silver tint of clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems afar,
So stick to the fight when you are hardest hit,
It’s when things seem worst that you mustn’t quit.”
One of my professors, Mrs. Jaksch, shared the above lines with me. Little did I know that these lines would change my life forever and for the better.
It was a beautiful day and I felt far from beautiful – all thanks to years and years of body shaming and name calling.
Butterball, grampus, tubby – these are a few nicknames I was given at school. I was 10 when a group of kids laughed at me for being called “fatso.” That was the first time in all my life, and definitely not the last, I felt bad about being me. There was a big knot in my throat and it hurt to swallow. My stomach turned, my hands shivered, and my ears burned. I wanted to cry, I didn’t. I wanted to retaliate, I couldn’t. I wanted to run away from them and I did. And unfortunately, from then on, running away became a habit.
Things didn’t get any better as I grew up into an awkward teenager. The fact that I was expected to look and behave in a certain way stressed me out big time.
The reason why I vividly remember that incident is because it kept coming back to me long after it happened. And each time it did, it brought a lot of unpleasantness with it. And to deal with all the unpleasantness and find some comfort, I resorted to food. I ate way more than I should have. And before I knew it, it became a habit.
Things didn’t get any better as I grew up into an awkward teenager. The fact that I was expected to look and behave in a certain way stressed me out big time. I tried every other fad diet and checked my weight every day hoping to have magically lost a few pounds. I used to fish my old clothes out to check if I’d fit into any of them. One dress after another, I tried and tried and when reality hit me, I cried.
And all those fashion magazines I was reading didn’t help me either. I wanted to look like those ideally-built models and thought starving myself was the easiest way to achieve it. But when nothing worked, I’d hit the skids and go on a self-pity trip which invariably led to several rounds of emotional binge-eating.
By the end of the first year of college, I was mentally and physically exhausted and nothing made any sense. It was as if I was sleepwalking through my life.
By the time I went to college, I was an obese student with a distorted body image. I was away from home for the first time and in complete despair. I made friends of course, but for some reason, I withdrew from social life. Being at a new place, meeting new people – nothing excited me. By the end of the first year of college, I was mentally and physically exhausted and nothing made any sense. It was as if I was sleepwalking through my life.
I slept too much and missed classes every other day. I had failed all my exams including English and History (my favorite subjects). I couldn’t pay attention to tasks at hand and every little thing overwhelmed me. I tried to take control of my life and when I couldn’t, I simply let depression take over.
I got tired of being someone who wasn’t me. I was terrified of looking in the mirror. I saw a stranger staring back at me. One fine day, this stranger in the mirror told me to: Run!
And I did. I ran away from whatever life had to offer – the good, the bad, and everything else. I questioned my purpose in life and when I couldn’t find any answer, I decided my life was worthless. I did think, more than once, of ending it, but something kept me going.
That something, I realized much later, was a conversation that was meant to happen with my English professor Mrs. Jaksch.
Although reaching normal weight was out of question in her case, owing to a medical condition, that didn’t stop her from being graceful, classy, funny, and sassy.
While I thought I was invisible to the world, someone had noticed me. Half-hour into the conversation, I was bawling like a baby. My feelings punched through my self-restraint, and I poured my heart out to her. Having sailed in the same boat as a teenager who was battling obesity, she knew what I was going through.
What inspired and impressed me the most about her was that she had won the battle, not by losing weight but by beating negativity. Although reaching normal weight was out of question in her case, owing to a medical condition, that didn’t stop her from being graceful, classy, funny, and sassy.
I don’t know how different my life would have been if she didn’t share her story with me. Besides sharing her story, she also shared those inspirational lines from one of her favorite poems. Just before concluding that life-altering conversation, she scribbled those lines on a sheet of paper and handed it to me. It changed me and changed the way I looked at life.
It took effort back then and it still takes effort, lots of it, to not give up or give in to negativity. It takes effort to not quit.
That said, the change was neither drastic nor dramatic. It was gradual. It required a great deal of effort. It took effort to conquer temptations, it took effort to hit the gym, it took effort to say no to extra calories, it took effort to get rid of old habits. It took effort to forgive and forget, it took effort to learn to laugh at myself. It took effort back then and it still takes effort, lots of it, to not give up or give in to negativity. It takes effort to not quit.
I’ve come a long way since my college days and I could come this far only because I received support and reassurance when I needed it the most. Sharing my story is my way of offering reassurance to people who need it. Today, I’m a lot more comfortable in my own skin than I once was. I don’t look perfect and I don’t intend to look perfect (ever!) because nobody is. Not even the fashion-magazine models. While working out (clichéd I know), has helped me stay physically fit, meditation has worked wonders on my psyche. Staying positive has helped me become a happy person.
That doesn’t mean I feel invincible every single day. I’ve my share of bad days, too. And when I do, I remind myself that I’m not alone. I know that for a fact because research shows that about 20% of young people are battling some kind of eating disorder or another. The internet is rife with confessional essays and write ups, most of which further prove that the eating disorders are more common than they used to be.
The good news, however, is we are living in a world which is focusing more on awareness and empathy. You can reach out to counselors at schools and colleges and seek professional advice. There are several help groups that offer professional help to people battling different disorders.
Owing to such efforts that are being put into embracing reality and creating awareness, the stigma attached to mental health disorders is gradually diminishing. It is heartening to witness such a change. It is uplifting to see the world becoming not just a better place, but also a more inclusive one.
Spread Optimism at WE Day in NYC.
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Here’s what’s included in the grand prize:
. 3 flights to NYC for 4 days (the 3rd flight is for a chaperone, if needed).
. 2 hotel rooms for 3 days (the 2nd room will be for that chaperone, if needed).
. $800 of spending money per person.
. VIP preferred tickets to WE Day on April 6th.
Update: the contest is now closed. Check the blog for more current chances to win!