It was a simple exercise. Teacher Mark called Teacher Joann and myself to the front of the room so that our literacy-level ESL students could practice describing us.
"Teacher Mark is a man. Teacher Nevets is a man. Teacher Joann is a woman."
"Teacher Mark is tall. Teacher Joann is short. Teacher Nevets is average."
"Teacher Mark has short hair. Teacher Joann has long hair. Teacher Nevets has average hair."
Teacher Mark didn't realize that he was about to shock and confuse me.
As a young teen I was overcome with allergies and asthma that severely impacted my ability to exercise during parts of the year. At the same time I was also given a lengthy regimen of steroid medication that through off my body's ability to get any weight-related benefit from the exercise I was able to do. I spent over twenty years being heavy, after being a scrawny, monkey of a kid.
I never quite shifted my mental image of myself. At my heaviest, I was 240 lbs at about 5'9", but I never quite felt like I was as overweight as I was. Some folks have remarked since losing weight that they hadn't realized I'd been 240. Even when I was that heavy people would sometimes remark, "You're hard to figure, because you're overweight, but you just keep going." My weight didn't stop me from doing forensics in tight spaces, from doing archaeology, or from throwing my all into whatever sporting activity I was trying my hand at.
While my mental image of myself probably underestimated my weight, I wasn't blind of stupid and I knew I was overweight and that I had a lot to lose.
Over the past 18 months or so, I've managed to lose quite a bit of weight. At the beginning of October, I was down to 164 lbs.
"Who's fat?" asked Teacher Mark.
"Teacher Mark is fat," the class answered with no prompting.
"That's right. Who's average?" asked Teacher Mark.
"Teacher Joann is average," the class answered with no prompting.
"That's right. Who's skinny or thin?" asked Teacher Mark.
"Teacher Nevets is skinny," the class answered with no prompting.
I was completely thrown-off. As soon as Teacher Mark has started that exercise, I had already cast myself as the model for the average descriptor. I think I actually made a googly-eyed expression of surprise.
I'm not going to say that the words of others are unimportant. There are few words for how angry I get when I see others actively undermining the self esteem of others and destroying their belief in their dreams and aspirations. It's also true that we all sometimes need a little validation, an outside check to assure us that our estimation of ourselves and our work is accurate. And, yes, the encouraging words of others can be a valuable and powerful buoy to a flagging spirit.
But, to me, the lesson I learned the other night in class was this:
It's all too easy to undermine your own own self-esteem.
People who've known me compliment me for my weight loss. Teacher Mark and the class were all in agreement that I'm thin, even though they never knew me at near my heaviest. If anyone isn't sure that I'm thin, if anyone is uncomfortable describing me as thin -- it's me.
It's my own body image.
It's my own willingness to compliment myself and accept my own success.
|Eminem, photo by www.glenjamn.com|
Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted in one moment
Would you capture it or just let it slip?
-- Eminem, "Lose Yourself"
So here's the point of all this. This isn't about weight loss. This isn't even really about me. This is me saying to all of you, to any of you who happen to be reading this, Own your self esteem. Yes, others will have an impact on how you see yourself and how you feel about yourself, but your self esteem is, by definition your own. Step up to the plate and claim it.
I'm not selling the power of positive thinking or self-actualization. What I'm doing is asking you to consider these questions --
Are you an author, trapped in a self-image of "trying to be a writer"?
Are you an artist, keeping your paintings to yourself until they're "good enough"?
Are you a guy, not asking out out that girl who you think might like you, because you can't imagine why she would?
Are you a woman, afraid to step out after your dream because of a parent who told you that you wouldn't be able to cut it?
You may have been wounded by others, but maybe it's time you re-cast how you think of yourself, because maybe your self-image is lagging behind reality. Even if others are getting you down, there's no reason for you to pile on to yourself.