Don’t Allow Others to Define Your Worth
I forfeited my potential to make others comfortable.
I was around seven years old when I first began to intentionally engage in physical activity to lose weight. I had been bullied for perhaps two years or so by this point in my life due to my weight, light skin, and natural brown-blonde-colored hair. I thought that perhaps if I lost weight, the kids at school and in my neighborhood, and also my family would like me better.
I did a little bit of everything. I would ask for my parents to take me for walks around our neighborhood (or the “hood”), or run up and down our driveaway when we didn’t go for walks. I would jump rope and hula hoop in our backyard after walking or running.
With time, I began to enjoy moving around. I did become obsessed about losing weight as a child, but being physically active also helped lessen the constant nervousness that would build in my neck, shoulders, back and stomach throughout the day. I began to get fewer headaches, became ill less often, and my sleep improved.
My dad had a punching bag stored in the garage. I eventually asked him if he could teach me how to box. He found it interesting that I wanted to learn, set up the bag, and bought me my first pair of gloves. I would sometimes practice on my own, but would often ask my dad if he could teach me. <<Otro día>> (“Another day”), he would respond. I eventually became disinterested after repeatedly hurting my hands.
My mom used to work as a housekeeper during this time, and she would sometimes bring lost-and-found items that were never claimed. My favorite was the DVDs that were about yoga, kickboxing, and strength-building. I began to learn from these DVDs new ways to move my body.
However, because I struggled with disordered eating habits, switching between starving myself and then overly binging throughout the week, my overall body composition really didn’t change. I did become stronger, however, and this is when the “advice” from my family started trickling in.
“Don’t lift heavy things or your uterus will fall down.”
“Women who have muscle and are too strong aren’t don’t look right.”
“Women aren’t meant to lift heavy.”
“Working out like that isn’t very lady-like.”
I became afraid of having another reason to be rejected by those around me. Therefore, I eventually let go of trying to lose weight and also being physically active.
The Woman Firefighter who Inspired it All
When I was in high school, I was with a guy who was interested in losing weight and gaining muscle. I was not physically active during this time other than in my physical education class (P.E). When he asked if I wanted to join the class with him, I thought about how during my P.E class, I was the second fastest girl. Even though many of the girls in my class competed in cross country and track.
I became curious to see what potential I could reach. So I decided to join the weight training class with him.
Walking into the weight training room, I felt my whole body fill with goosebumps. Our instructor was an African-American woman who was extremely built and lean. She worked as a firefighter full-time and instructed part-time. The weeks being in her class were exciting and intriguing for me.
She would teach me personally how to do basic lifts. She would encourage me to push myself physically, saying something along the lines of “even though you are a girl, that doesn’t mean you can’t be strong.” She eventually shared with me her story of becoming a firefighter of how difficult it was being a woman to compete with almost all men to be in the position she is in.
Regardless, she loved it all; she loved how working hard and pushing her limits allowed her to serve her community in a way that also inspired young girls and women. Being around her helped me let go of what my family had told me before about what a woman should be like. I wanted to define “her” for myself.
My Current Physical Journey
Years following, I struggled with an eating disorder that made it difficult for me to really have optimal health and meet my potential. Despite being underweight and undernourished, however, I engaged in a multitude of different sports. Cross-country. Track and Field. Basketball. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Kickboxing. Swimming. Yoga. Ballroom dancing. Trail running. The list goes on.
Today, I have managed to build a healthier relationship with food and my physical workout routines. Within that discipline, I am now able to carry twice my weight.
Despite the strength I have built, it is subtle in my body, showing more of a feministic physique than a muscular one. I have gained confidence in myself, knowing that I have the strength to defend myself, and also do small tasks here and there that the women in my family often needed their sons’ or husbands’ help with.
For many years, I allowed others’ opinions about what is “right” to define me. I forfeited my potential to make others comfortable. Only to come to find that in searching and trying to reach my limits, I have come closer to finding myself and who I am, and also see a sneak peek of all that I am capable of.