What the mind believes the body achieves – Unknown.
The first time that I ever remember feeling self conscious about my body I was in 5th grade.
A girl in my class was having a pool party and the entire class was invited. It was hot out, school was almost over for the summer, and I was excited.
My excitement quickly diminished when another girl from the class came up to me and said something I will never forget: “I hope you don’t wear a two-piece. No one wants to see that.” The words came out of her mouth just as easily as if she was telling me that I had dropped a pencil.
It hurt, and when I was getting ready to go to the party, I chose an old one piece bathing suit instead of the new two piece that my mom had just gotten me.
Even at 10 years old, I felt defeated at that pool party. Someone had not only told me that my body wasn’t acceptable, but implied that the mere thought of seeing it was a source of disgust.
In the years that followed, I had a lot of anger about that moment. “Who was she to tell me what I couldn’t wear?” and “We were the same size! Why was she allowed to wear a two piece?” were constant questions whenever I thought about that day.
The truth is that while I was a chubby kid, I wasn’t unhealthy or obese. In fact, it was probably something that I would have grown out of. But hearing that criticism as a 10 year old followed me…
Throughout middle school and high school, I remained pretty inactive. I spent my days watching television, sitting on my computer, and mostly reading books. During that time however, I developed a couple of issues.
The first was that I was self conscious when it came to eating in front of other people. I believed whole heartedly that other people would look at my food and judge me for the amount of calories, carbs or fat that I was putting in my body. This problem followed me for so long that it took me six months to feel comfortable enough to eat a full meal in front of my boyfriend.
The second was that although I had outgrown my childhood chubbiness, I would compulsively check the mirror for any signs of weight gain. If it had appeared that I looked slightly different, I would do hundreds of squats and sit-ups in my bedroom until I went back to the way I was.
Not only were these issues unhealthy, they were extremely unproductive. Skipping lunch in the high school cafeteria did nothing except leave me hungry and likely to binge when I got home, and my sporadic exercising didn’t do much to get or keep me in shape.
In my senior year of high school, both of these things changed. A friend had suggested joining a gym, and after overcoming bouts of self consciousness in the gym, I fell in love with my new active lifestyle. At first, I felt trapped by my lack of knowledge about exercises and was nervous that everyone was staring at my less than perfect form. In those moments, I was suddenly transported back to my 10 year old self showing up to the pool party wondering what people were going to say about how I looked in my bathing suit. This continued until one day I tried to get someone’s attention and they ignored me. They weren’t being rude, they were just absorbed in their routine, breaking away from reality amongst the weights. In other words, they were doing what I should have been doing. After that moment I realised that everyone in the gym was too busy worrying about their own form to even look at mine. This was extremely freeing and soon I began attending yoga and spin classes, and lifting weights that previously would have been impossible to pick up.
By finding activities that I loved, I was more likely to do them on a consistent basis which made me both happier and kept me in better shape.
I also became a vegetarian around the same time. While I did not continue to eliminate meat from my diet, I still use a ton of the things I learned from being a vegetarian to keep me healthy. Being a vegetarian forced me to become more conscious of the foods that I was putting in my body. When you have dietary restrictions, you find that it’s necessary to check labels a lot more than you did before you made the change. By doing this, I found that a lot of things that I was eating had several ingredients that I couldn’t identify, or even pronounce. This led me to be more mindful of what I was consuming, which has had an amazingly positive impact on both my physical appearance and my mental wellbeing.
The knowledge that the foods I’m eating are predominantly good for me and my increased activity level gave me a confidence I hadn’t had before. Now, if I decide to eat something that’s bad for me, I don’t care who sees.
Since that moment in 5th grade, I’ve had a ton of other conversations that have made me question how I feel about myself. As I’ve come to realise, when someone says something that leaves me feeling insulted, it is usually because they have commented on something that I was already insecure about. Seemingly harmless questions such as asking about what I intend on doing with my college degree in English, or a comment about something I’m eating can leave me feeling defensive and questioning of something that I am usually confident in.
When someone says something that leaves you feeling insecure, there are a few options as to what to do next. You can feel upset, or you can think about why their words had such an impact.
When this happens to me, I’ll sit down and think about what exactly was said that upset me. Was it because I was already insecure about the topic? If so, I think of ways that I can improve that exact insecurity. Many of my insecurities come from not feeling good enough at something, so I’ve found that working at what I’m not good at not only leaves me feeling accomplished, but less insecure about the situation.
If you’re unable to fix the cause of the insecurity itself, think about what other strengths you have that make you feel confident. Maybe you’re really good at making people feel better when they’re upset, or you can cook a great meal from scratch. Not everyone can be perfect, so thinking about the things you’re great at can make you feel better about things you haven’t mastered just yet.
For me, lifting weights and working out has enabled me to work on something that I was never good at.
By working at getting stronger each day, I have provided myself with an outlet to work on my insecurities and leave myself a little more confident every time I leave the gym.
After years of dealing with these feelings, I’ve realised one thing: that only I can control what makes me feel insecure.
Through this realisation I have been able to take the steps necessary to take control of these feelings instead of continuing to allow them to define me.
By Melissa Colleary
Pictures from vk.com