The first time I’ve truly been made aware of how ugly my body was when I was 17.
I had just joined an org in college, and it was one of my first few days in the tambayan when an older org mate came up to me and announced to everyone, “Alam mo, sa lahat ng Samantha na kilala ko, ikaw lang ‘yung hindi panalo.” He went on about how my name was a hot girl’s name and how I clearly didn’t fit the bill, and even commented on how my gut stuck out further than my breasts.
My cheeks felt hot and my insides turned. It’s true, I had gained weight since leaving high school, an arbitrary observation I made when one morning before class, I struggled to put on a pair of jeans that fit me just right months before. My weight was something I never thought about much until then.
I don’t remember much of what happened afterwards. I’m sure my friends must have said something. Another org member must have spoken up. I do remember going to the bathroom teary-eyed and taking a good, long stare at my reflection in the mirror, nitpicking flaws once invisible to me, but were now clearly right there, bright and clear as day.
That was years ago. I doubt the guy with such colorful choice words even remembers that moment, because that’s how the world works: we say things without the thought of consequence. Yet that memory stayed with me. It stayed with me when I got rid of the weight a few years later and I found myself on the receiving end of compliments and attention from men and women I wasn’t used to getting. Suddenly, I was this “hot” or “pretty” girl, the elusive concept he was talking about. I was finally worthy of my name, and now I knew the pains it took to claim that worth: by going to the gym twice a day, every day, swearing off carbs, and going on a diet. Sounded good enough. But what I didn’t tell most people were the hunger pangs I hid and waited to go away just so I wouldn’t eat, or when I’d choose to skip all three meals in a day.
The memory also stayed with me when I gained it all back about two years later. First, I stopped going to the gym for about two weeks because of my asthma. Then I stopped going altogether for all sorts of reasons. My metabolism hadn’t caught up with my appetite, so the amount I was eating when I had the energy to burn them off hadn’t changed when I went sedentary. You get the picture.
I entered a vicious, self-loathing cycle I couldn’t break free of: Binge eating, followed by immense guilt and fasting. I went back to eating more junk so I can feel good about myself, only to feel bad hours later for being so weak. It wasn’t just about how I looked, though — my asthma, which I had successfully kept at bay when I was fit came back and became worse, and my immune system was at an all-time low.
Then, it hit me: Why was I trying to seek other people’s validation of how I looked? If I were to commit to a complete lifestyle change, I had to do it for myself, and not for other people. Sure, it stung a little when my titas would remark, “Tumaba ka yata”, at every family reunion (why is weight always the first thing they mention?), despite all the hours in the gym I’ve recently been putting in, but I’ve learned to brush them off.
Late last year, I made the conscious decision to return to the gym. But rather than go through the usual motions, I took up a sport out of my comfort zone: boxing. I was once so intimidated by boxing, thinking of burly fighters such as Pacquiao and Mayweather, scared that I would be eaten alive at a testosterone-filled gym with sweaty men hacking away at bags and at each other. Yet of course, I was proven wrong. My gym, Empire Boxing Pasig, allows for an intimate and supportive community. The members all come from varying backgrounds and fitness levels, with their own individual goals: a few are cross-training athletes, others are looking to gain muscle, while some of us are fitness newbies just getting introduced to a healthier lifestyle.
My friendly and competent trainers made my beginner self at ease. My trainers have been supportive of my fitness goals, encouraging me to push my limits.
Photo by Kevin Liao
Changing my mindset once I started coming back to the gym made all the difference. Now, the goal wasn’t to look a certain way; it was to feel stronger and feel more invincible. I’m in my twenties, and I’m not getting any younger. I won’t always have this energy, nor the freedom to go on adventures. I want to climb mountains, walk for miles in a foreign town, and reach new heights and destinations without running out of breath. The best way I can achieve all of those experiences is with a healthy body and a sound mind. That starts with me pushing myself to be the best, for myself and no one else.
What’s your fitness journey? Share it with us!