Growing up, I was an only child. I was the daughter of two Filipino immigrants who moved to Australia in the hope of a better life and a better future.
I grew up in the 90s in the predominantly white Eastern suburbs of Sydney. The only other kids I interacted with before going to school were my cousins who looked just like me. We spoke the same language (a mix of Tagalog (Filipino) and English), we had similar interests and we got along and just had fun.
When I turned 5, I started school. I was plucked from my safe and comfortable life at home, living with my family, seeing my cousins during the week; to an unfamiliar and intimidating environment that was the school yard. It was chaos! Children running around, some taller and older than others. A cacophony of erratic squeals, screams and laughter; and a sea of blue bodies, dressed in the same uniform as far as the eye could see.
I didn’t want to be there. Like most kids on their first day of school, I bawled my eyes out and begged my mum to take me home. But despite her tears, she left me there that day. That was the day I knew that she wouldn’t always be around to protect me. That was scary.
I looked different to most of the other kids at my school. Only about 25% of us were ethnic, but not only that - I was also bigger than most kids my age. I always felt self-conscious and hated it when kids looked at me in the yard - it was easier to just keep my head down.
Like most kids - I loved going to the park - playing on the equipment and running around. I didn’t mind getting sweaty, or being puffed out of breath as I knew my mum would be close by to comfort me with a refreshing drink and a bottle of Johnson’s baby powder.
I didn’t have that same luxury when I was at school. Running around on the grass wasn’t just for fun - it was something we had to do as part of the curriculum. Like math and spelling, we were graded on our ability to “be active”: to use our bodies and get better at kicking a ball, or running really fast, or throwing our bodies over a bar to do the “high jump”.
If you remember what it was like being a kid - it gets pretty competitive. We want to perform better than our peers and we believe that we can! But when we actually try and do it, and fall short of hitting the mark, it can trigger a lot of insecurity and our self-belief takes a massive blow. Sometimes the blow is big enough for us to not try it again.
I remember feeling like this whenever it came around to sports day. I wanted to run as fast as the fastest girl in my class, but my body just wasn’t able to do it - no matter how hard I willed my legs to go! I went home that day and cried in my mum’s lap. “I’m too fat and too slow”, I told her. “It’s OK...”, she reassured me, “you’ve just got to try your best and if you do your best that’s all you can do. Just know that I love you and that’s all that matters”.
It’s a logical yet reassuring statement and it holds a lot of merit, but I can’t help but think that if my parents taught me how to improve my physical ability daily - things might have turned out differently today.
You see, they pushed me in my academic study. I was a studious girl, a high-achiever who would diligently do her homework every night - improving my vocabulary and adding sums quickly in my head. But I was also shy and reserved - I didn’t know how to feel comfortable in my body due to the very fact that I was uncomfortable - I was overweight! But my parents didn’t mind - they loved me as I was; and at such a young age, I didn’t mind either because food tasted good!
I didn’t quite understand how to apply the link between what I was good at and how I developed my skills and abilities in that area (academics), to what I was not so good at (sport). Getting better at spelling and math took consistent effort and discipline - it was part of my weekly routine. It felt good to get better at adding sums - it fed my self-esteem and I was motivated to keep going. But it was also part of my routine to avoid doing sport because: a) it was “hard”, b) it made me feel self-conscious, and c) I felt like it gave my bullies ammunition to tease and taunt me more. It diminished my self-esteem and that spiral of avoidance continued.
But if I just committed to getting a little bit better at sport each time, just like with math and spelling, then eventually the teasing wouldn’t have mattered anymore - as it would no longer be true. You can’t exactly call a caterpillar a “caterpillar” when it turns into a butterfly, right?
I remember there were periods where I would get the highest marks in some of the school tests and the other kids would get disgruntled. “You always get the highest mark, it’s not fair!” they would complain. Did I lower my standards of achievement?
No. People will try to bring you down no matter what you do, but the choice is always yours as to how you respond.
So the everyday “heroes” that we look up to (in any field) don’t have any mystical abilities that we’re not privy to. They have simply dedicated their lives to doing something they love because they find it rewarding - doing what they do and getting better in the process.
So I challenge you to be your own hero. Yes, life may be hard. Yes, the past may have been difficult. But there is a clear path ahead that leads you to the person you want to be. There is a clear path of commitment and discipline that will allow you to achieve any goal - including weight loss. Just because you haven’t walked that path before, doesn’t mean that you can’t start walking towards that today.