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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Pump Up The Volume

Overweight people often suffer from extreme shyness. People come in all personality types, as well as shapes and sizes. There are introverts and extroverts, and certainly thin people can be shy as well. But shyness can be exacerbated in us by others, and what starts out as a fairly harmless personality quirk can turn into a huge problem.

Shyness, self-consciousness, and low self-esteem played a big part in my life for a long time. It made me miss out on a lot of opportunities, relationships, and fun experiences. When I look back, it amazes me how much I let that shyness dominate my life. Thankfully, the time finally came when I decided I’d had enough, and I wasn’t going to let it sabotage my life anymore.

One incident that’s always stuck with me, and that came about specifically due to my shyness, happened to me in high school. There was this guy I really liked, and of course all my friends knew. The word was that he liked me too (we were both shy), and we just kind of exchanged glances from time to time on the back stoop, where everyone gathered to smoke in between classes. One Friday morning, my best friend burst into the bathroom and told me she’d heard that this particular guy was going to ask me to a party that night. I freaked! I was a typical teenage girl, going OhmyGod OhmyGod OhmyGod! We made our way to the back stoop, where we all hung out every day. I was standing in a group of girls, having a smoke, when I noticed him coming toward us. My heart was pounding like crazy, and I was so excited. He got to the outer ring of girls surrounding me and said “Hi.” But he didn’t say my name, or say it to me directly, so I froze and didn’t say anything. He stood there, confused, and then before I could think of something to say, he raised his eyebrows at his friends as if to say, “What the fuck!” and left. My heart sank. My best friend looked at me like I was nuts. I realized I’d blown it, and he’d probably never want to ask me out again. I was kicking myself, and continued to kick myself for days and weeks afterward. I attempted to “fix” it, but the damage was done. I guess it had taken him a lot of courage to even approach me, and my reaction (or seeming non-reaction) devastated him. I realized that through my own shyness and self-doubt I had sabotaged a possibly amazing relationship. I thought about it for years afterward, wondering what would have happened if I had just said hi like a normal person and allowed nature to take its course.

Until I started junior high, I was a very outgoing, bubbly person. I had lots of friends and got along well with everybody. But in grade seven, I changed schools, and I was separated from most of my friends. That’s when my life completely changed. For the first time in my life, I felt like an outsider. I was bullied and harassed by a few boys, and I went from being outgoing and fun-loving to shy, depressed, and isolated. That persona stuck with me for a very long time.

One of the reasons for my isolation was just instinctual self-defense. I knew that if I kept myself isolated and didn’t talk to anyone, they couldn’t harass me. The other reason was simply my reaction to what was happening to me: the bewilderment and hurt. I couldn’t understand why this had happened to me, was quite angry about it, and didn’t trust anyone enough to talk to them.

A lot of overweight people learn to “mute” themselves or keep quiet because they don’t want to draw attention to themselves. We might have the most brilliant, thoughtful insights to share, but because of past experiences, we don’t feel confident enough to voice them.

Have you ever been in a group of people, having a really interesting discussion, and someone asks your opinion about something you feel strongly about? Have you ever said you had no opinion one way or the other, or changed your opinion to match everyone else’s, just so you wouldn’t “rock the boat” or draw attention to yourself?

How about if you were going out somewhere, and really wanted to wear a certain outfit – something you thought was really sexy and cute -- and then opted for a “safer” choice, something more covered up and conservative, because you were afraid of the criticism or negative attention you might get from wearing the sexy outfit?

When we alter our behaviour simply because we’re afraid how people will react to us, it’s a betrayal of ourselves. What’s even worse is that a little part of us knows this, and every time we do it, we make ourselves feel worse by feeling guilty about that self-betrayal. We feel like wimps, or we kick ourselves, wishing we would have spoken up or acted differently when the opportunity was there.   

What’s even worse than not speaking your truth, though, is when you allow someone to mistreat you. If someone treats you badly, and you “let it slide” by ignoring it or telling yourself it’s no big deal, the inner you suffers for it. The biggest mistake any overweight person can make is allowing someone to mistreat them.

It is possible to completely turn your self-esteem around and love yourself for who you are. At one time in my life, I wouldn't have been able to imagine the day when I could actually say that I was proud to be the person I am, but I’ve been living that reality for years now.

You have to get angry. You have to be motivated enough to take action and turn your life around. You have to realize that as an overweight person, you are just as worthy of respect and courtesy as anyone else … and if an instance arises where you are not treated that way, you absolutely MUST speak up! This doesn’t mean you have to explode, or freak out, or have a big tirade – but it also doesn’t mean that you just allow yourself to freeze, clam up, and back off.

It feels very difficult at first, if you’ve been used to backing off and retreating whenever an unpleasant situation arises. But whichever way you feel comfortable, you need to let the offending person know that their behaviour is not acceptable and that you won’t tolerate it. You will be amazed at how much better you feel when you start letting the real YOU out to play.

We’ve all had instances we wish we could relive, or say the things we wanted to say. When we’re kids, we’re less able to speak up for ourselves because we don’t have as much life experience or confidence in ourselves. But as adults, we are more than able to stand up for ourselves, and there is no excuse for allowing someone to mistreat you.

There will always be people who feel it’s their absolute right to insult or criticize you.  It’s the same for everyone, fat or thin, black or white, rich or poor. None of us get through life without experiencing our share of ignorance and meanness. But you can’t let everyone’s opinion of you rule the way you live your life.

Start unmuting yourself and speaking up. Be proud to let the world know exactly who you are.

I’ll close this post by offering one of my favourite quotes, and saying a very belated sorry to that sweet guy back in high school (I really wanted to go to that party with you, baby).

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. – ELEANOR ROOSEVELT

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