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August 20, 2014

Ask A Metalhead: How Do I Feel Good About Myself?

Ask a Metalhead

Dear Steff

I love your blog! You sound like you have such a fun life.

I wish I could have a fun life, too. But I am fat. I am not pretty. I’m in my last year of high school and I have hardly any friends. My mom is always trying to get me to eat less, diet, go for a walk, take aerobics classes, but it just makes me angry. She’s super thin, and I don’t want to go to gym classes and wear a little outfit and have everyone laugh at me.

I don’t feel good about myself, and no matter what I try, I can’t seem to stick with anything. I want to get thinner, but I don’t want to go to a gym or run around my neighbourhood because people will laugh at me. Listening to metal helps because I am angry all the time. I am angry at the world, but at myself probably too for being fat. If I wasn’t fat, I wouldn’t be miserable.

Do you have any advice for me to feel better about myself and life?

***

Woah, what ever happened to simple questions like, “What do I wear to my first metal concert?” :)

I am SO the wrong person to ask about this.

For the record, if you haven’t seen a picture of me, I am quite skinny. Like, skinny skinny. Probably similar to your mum. I’ve always being skinny, and it’s likely I may always be skinny, since I don’t plan to stop exercising unless I am dead.

So I feel a bit weird giving any kind of advice for someone who’s going through stuff I haven’t personally struggled with.

However.

I do know a thing or two about feeling uncomfortable in your own skin, about being teased and bullied for how you look and who you are. So I’ll talk about that aspect of your letter a little here. And about how I overcame it. And maybe my experience might have something in it that can help you.

First of all, a thing I have to say (and it sounds like a cop-out, but it’s true) is that high school is not real life. I have been there and people said this to me and I scoffed at them and it doesn’t make things any easier, but it is the truth. In terms of interacting with people, high school is probably the toughest environment you’ll ever be in. If you can survive it, you can survive anything. Hang in there, because things do get better.

you are in your last year of high school. You are not going to take notice of anything your mum says. Probably she should know that. She clearly doesn’t. Remember that however misguided her attempts are, she truly does love you and she is only trying to help. Cut her some slack in that department. But don’t listen to any of her advice unless it’s what you want to do.

The thing is, anything you do has got to be something you do for you, not for her, not for the people who are mean to you or the people who love you. But you and you alone.

It sounds like you are pretty fed up with the way things are. You’re obviously ready to do something, because you reached out to a random metal blogger for some help. So my question is, “what’s your plan for fixing this?”

To me, there are two issues here: your weight and your self-confidence. They only have to be connected if you make them connected.

Weight, generally speaking, can be altered with regular exercise and a good diet, and by dealing with the reasons you’re over-eating or binge-eating, if that is part of the issue here. Many people are simply built heavier. They might be extremely healthy, but big. We’re all built differently. Overweight people can ooze confidence and sex appeal, just as someone can be completely traditionally beautiful and still be a ball of neuroses and low self-esteem.

But gaining self-esteem, especially when you’ve been beaten down for the way you look, is a whole other thing. Even if you miraculously woke up tomorrow rake-thin, you’re probably not going to feel any better.

I’ll talk a little bit about my journey from being pretty depressed to having a decent amount of confidence. Hint: it didn’t involve changing the way I look.

I am legally blind. This means that a lot of things that come easy to other kids – running, jump rope, sports like rugby & soccer & baseball – I just can’t do. I can’t see. I would have to have people running with me so I know where to go. There used to be a game among the other kids to see how many times they could hit me in the head with a ball.

As a kid, I also looked and acted differently. I developed late, didn’t really wear a bra till I was 15. I had bad acne and bad posture. I got obsessed with things like poetry and dinosaurs and ancient Egypt, which other kids found nerdy and weird. I have always, always had weird taste in clothes. I would try to pick normal things, but I’d always end up getting it wrong. I liked dark things like horror books and movies, I invented vast imaginative worlds, I never wore makeup or did my hair fancy. I always seemed to say or do the wrong thing. I wore glasses and braces. I got good grades. As I got older, I had absolutely no idea how to be sexy or alluring to guys. I still don’t.

In short, I was the weird kid. I never had to worry about people calling me fat, but I’ve been called ugly so often it was easy to believe.

A huge amount of my in-class bullying occurred during PE classes. Because I couldn’t do anything. I was helpless while kids would throw balls at my head and laugh at me. I dreaded every single session of PE I ever went to. In high school I had a calendar where I counted down the days till the end of forth form where I did my last ever session of PE (it wasn’t compulsory after that. I took classics instead). I’ve only ever equated exercise with pain and humiliation and dread.

I actually never knew I was skinny. Because all I ever got called was ugly, I kind of assumed I was sort of “normal sized.” It wasn’t till I got to high school and some girlfriends would say “oh, you’re so thin!” and I would try and tell them I wasn’t. I honestly had no idea. That’s how big the disconnect can be between what you see in the mirror and what is actually there.

For the first 17 years of my life I was woefully unfit. I tried a few things. I used to do gymnastics (sucked – can’t balance), went to yoga classes for a while (I was trying to finish my Duke of Edinburgh silver badge, and you had to do 6 months of sport, so I chose yoga). It turns out, I do not really like yoga. Standing still for ages, listening to relaxing music. boring! I’ve also always loved adventure sports like rock climbing and obstacle courses and things like that. My sister and I loved climbing trees and jumping on our tramp and playing outside. I just didn’t really see how any of that translated to fitness or sport, like the kind I knew from PE.

When I was 17, I was going through some particularly rough stuff, and my mum had just started going to the gym and was trying to get my sister to go along, but she wasn’t interested. I think Mother Metal just assumed that since the gym was exercise, and I had gleefully danced around the house for two weeks in forth form after my last PE class, and I was a surly 17 year old dressed all in black, I probably wouldn’t be interested.

But I thought it kind of sounded like fun. So I asked her to take me one day, and so she did. She showed me how to use some machines, and I brought along my disc-man and jammed some Metallica in my ears and had the best fun I’d had in a long time. That started my love affair with exercise.

Photo from www.canis-torva.tumblr.com

Photo from www.canis-torva.tumblr.com

I started going to the gym 3+ times a week, got my own membership, and started to see instant improvements. The exercise seemed to help my skin stay clear. I could walk up a flight of steps without puffing. I started moving up in weights, and I loved it. I would stand in front of the mirror and clench my abs and flex my arms and feel awesome. I had never looked in a mirror and felt awesome before.

It wasn’t really about improving my fitness. It was about gaining control. All my life I’d listened to other people define my body. Now I was taking it back. I was claiming it as mine. The year I started going to the gym was the year people’s comments about me stopped affecting me. I actually, truly didn’t care what they thought any more.

When I got to university I immediately signed up for their gym and got new programs. They had all this insane equipment and even a climbing wall! After a year or so, one of the trainers there introduced me to power lifting and I started doing that for a bit. That was serious fun. I loved going to the big boy weights corner and lifting heavy. Then I eased off at the gym to focus on karate.

I started Gojo Ryu karate in my first year of university because a friend was doing it and suggested I try it. It seemed like a good idea – I was on my own now, in a big city, so it might be good to learn how to defend myself. I liked the idea of putting all that strength I’d been gaining in the gym to work on something practical. For the first time in my life I got down on the floor to do push ups, and was amazed to see others in the room – people on much higher grades than me – struggling to do 5 and I was pumping my way through 20, 30, 50 … I sucked at the actual sparring, but I loved the disciplined kata and all the strength and conditioning stuff.

Over the next four years, my balance improved, my skin pretty much completely cleared up, every ounce of fat on my body got replaced by lean, toned muscle. And my confidence grew along with it. Even though I have never had occasion to need to fight anyone for real, there is something about secretly knowing how to kill someone that makes many aspects of life not seem so tough anymore.

I quit karate when I did postgrad, for two reasons. 1. I barely had time to breathe that year, between the insane amount of work and the new boyfriend (now husband) and the various personal dramas. 2. I felt I had achieved what I set out to achieve. I didn’t feel defenceless. I had a new sense of confidence in my ability to handle any situation (not just a violent one). I felt good when I left the house in the morning. I had reached a new level of physical fitness. I had that brown belt, but I didn’t feel I needed to go any further. Maybe one day I’ll go back to it.

I never gave up on exercise though. Even now, I live in the middle of nowhere, with no access to a gym. I saved up some money and got a bit of equipment at home. I do a combination of workouts from The Centurian Method and Nerd Fitness, and it’s really fun using my property as a jungle gym.

So exercise was what helped me to develop confidence. It wasn’t even the physical aspects of it so much as being able to see myself progressing, being able to actually focus my energy into something, and see results. If felt I had gained some control over my body, which had once been such a source of pain for me. Some people find that confidence in burlesque dancing, or acting, or in writing – in any activity that gives them back that sense of control. Only you will know what will work for you. That’s your mission – to find it.

These are some things that I’ve learned over the years that have helped me to keep going. Maybe some of them will help you:

Don’t focus on getting thin. Focus on getting strong.

I think this was the thing that kept me going, and it might be a thing that I had the advantage of figuring out for myself because going to the gym is not going to make my eyes work right. I wasn’t going to the gym to get thinner or to reach some kind of ideal body, and I think this helped me stick to what I was doing. I went because I loved being strong, and I wanted to get stronger.

If you start some serious exercise, my advice is don’t count how much weight you lose. Don’t obsess over the scales. Don’t let that be your driver, because when you don’t see any progress (and you might not for a while), you’re going to get disheartened. Focus on the other factors – how much you’re lifting, how far you’re running, how good you’re feeling.

Programs like CrossFit can be really good for this, because they have a huge focus on seeing and celebrating your results. It’s something you do on your own, but you have a team there to compete against and celebrate with.

Try lots of different things.

When I was at university, I joined the local gym, and I’d go along 3-5 days a week and do my usual thing. Every semester the gym would offer a range of classes. They were very cheap with my membership – about $40 for a block of 8-10 classes – and catered to a huge range of interests. I took a different class every single semester I was at uni. I did salsa dancing (I suck) and acting (I suck) and karate (loved it) and jiu jitzu (loved it) and massage (such a useful skill!) and alpine rock-climbing (loved it) and a whole bunch of other things. They were all fun, and I loved being able to put my body in all sorts of different situations and see what it could do.

Lifting weights & martial arts were my things. They were the things I needed to find in order to enjoy exercise. Your thing might be different. So go and find it.

Don’t chase fads. Change your life.

Pretty much every person who sensibly talks about weight loss will tell you that diets are stupid. I’ve never been on a diet, so can’t comment on this, but I have seen people in my life yoyo around on them and I think they seem like an enormous waste of time.

Long term results mean long-term changes. If you want to be healthy, you can’t eat chocolate all the time. I mean, you’re probably intelligent enough to know that. It’s just getting yourself to a point where you can make the changes and stick with them.

I am not the healthiest eater, but I’m trying to get better. I find it helps me to make small changes one at a time, that can have a huge effect. So start with one meal of the day. For me it was breakfast. I am a really fussy breakfast eater, and my breakfast as usually pretty healthy, but I made them better. I have porridge in winter and homemade muesli in summer. I adjusted my muesli recipe so that it omitted sugar completely, stuffed it with more nuts and seeds, and started eating it with a pile of fruit on top. In winter I make my porridge without milk or sugar, and add a pile of fruit. I also mix in smoothies regularly now, made with almond milk, spinach and whatever fruit or veg I have lying around.

Figure out some healthy alternatives to what you’ve been eating, and concentrate on incorporating those into your life. Once you’ve made that a habit, move on to another challenge. I’ve conquered snacks now (carrot sticks and various healthy dips instead of biscuits) and am trying to cut down on things like rice and bread at dinner now. One thing at a time.

I am trying to alter my diet to go more toward the Paleo mindset. I probably won’t ever get all the way there, but because the principles of the diet match my own ideals, it’s something that I’ll stick with for the rest of my life. Find a health philosophy (not a diet) that resonates with you, and work on making those changes.

Sometimes you can tell yourself things that will help motivate you. I tell myself that every hour I spend exercising is another day I get to add on the end of my life. I think about what it would be like if I were living my last day, right now, and how much I would wish I had that extra day tomorrow. That usually gets me up, even on cold mornings like this morning, to do my weights.

Often, if I’m not feeling like exercising, I’ll tell myself that’s OK, and that I’ll just do one set. (I do a three-set circuit). Then I can quit. Doing one set is better than doing nothing, and I usually find when I get started, I’ll end up doing all three sets.

Make exercise fun. I put a DVD of a TV show I like on, or some awesome music, and work out in my lounge. At the gym I would make up awesome playlists.

Also, schedule your exercise into your day, and plan the rest of your day around it. I used to plan my schedule at uni to ensure I had a two hour gap between classes. A 2 hour gap is perfect for going to the gym and then getting something to eat before your next class. What else am I going to do with my time? Having the gym already booked into my schedule ensured I would always go

You don’t have to do it all on you own.

By this, I mean, while ultimately it’s you who needs to take charge of your own life and sort out how you’re going to grow your self-esteem, there are lots of resources out there to help you, and you should take advantage of them.

Professionals can help. A lot. I’m talking about counsellers, helplines, phsychiatrists, doctors, religious or spiritual leaders … whatever you need, someone has probably studied it for twenty years to be able to give you a solution in two hours that might take you two years to figure out on your own.

Seeing someone doesn’t make you crazy, or stupid, or unable to look after yourself. Seeking help is one of the best things you can do for yourself, and you should look for the people with the right experience and the right attitude to help you.

I fully admit that sometimes, at university, when I was having a particularly hard time, I would go and see one of the campus counsellers. I’ve seen counsellers before in high school, but it was never initiated by me, and I never clicked with any of them. But the lady I went to see (maybe 5 times in my entire time at uni? I can’t remember) was just a kind soul. She could look at things from an outsider’s perspective and frame my random feelings of terror and helplessness in a way that suddenly made sense. She helped a lot of disconnected things to “click”.

Please don’t just listen to random people on the internet. Take this one random person’s advice and talk to someone who can really help. If  can’t pay for your own counseller, you might be able to get your mum to help. Or call a free helpline.

Allow yourself to be proud of yourself.

I have a lot of friends who post selfies at the gym or personal bests on Facebook. It annoys some people, because it can seem like they’re showing off. But I always feel like cheering when I see them.

When you start feeling better, and you’re feeling confident, you don’t have to keep it to yourself. Be that person. Post your PBs on Facebook. Write encouraging notes to yourself on the wall. There may be no one else in your life supporting you, so you support you. Be an inspiration to others. Show the world that you’re fighting back.

Remember that you’ve got something to give this world. It doesn’t have to be your looks.

I am never going to be pretty in a traditional sense. But so what? Do I actually want to be a person who gets ahead in life because of how I look? I cared back in high school when I had no friends. I cared early on in university where I would go out with friends and constantly be left alone in bars while they went off with guys and no one would approach me, or my date would constantly talk about how hot his female friends were and then talk about how he was dating me “for my brain”. I stopped caring after I was single for a while and realised I had no interest in people in bars anyway, and that having fun & enjoying life were way more attractive than looks anyway.

You’ve got a lot to give the world. And what you give can have absolutely nothing to do with your looks. You do not have to be thin or movie-star gorgeous to get ahead in life. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, anyway. Don’t hang around people who don’t want to behold your beauty.

Here are some resources I like:

  • Nerd Fitness – basically, a website about getting fit for nerdy people like me. They create workouts based on Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, and 300. There’s a huge emphasis on strength training and some great workouts you can do at home with no equipment. What I love about this site is that the writers are tapping into ways to make exercise fun for a demographic of people who, like me, probably never thought it was fun before.
  • Centurion Method – Basically, guerilla workouts for urban warriors. I love the whole ethos of this workout system, which is not about working out in a gym but about using the environment around you to transform yourself into a warrior. Jack Donovon said, “If Manowar designed a fitness program, it would look like The Centurian Method.” There used to be a tumblr blog and website, but apparently someone complained it was “facist” and it got taken down. Sadly the book is also out of print. I’m adding it here anyway because it’s worth investigating if you can ever find any info. You can still see the centurian method tag on tumblr, as well as some reviews of the book.
  • Mark’s Daily Apple – Paleo recipes. There are lots of awesome Paleo recipe blogs. I happen to like this one.

Readers, please add your comments about your own experiences on fitness & self-confidence. And if you have any more resources to share, please do!

disclaimer: I’m not advocating any particular exercise / diet regime here. You should always consult professionals before starting any new diet/exercise program. Also, if you’re feeling upset, depressed, suicidal, talk to a professional or free helpline like Youthline. There are no affiliate links on this page.

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3 Comments on “Ask A Metalhead: How Do I Feel Good About Myself?

Josh Hughes
September 10, 2014 at 3:27 am

Wow.
That is seriously powerful, and I can kinda relate to a lot of it as well (well, apart from the fact that I’m a guy ;) Another up-vote for Nerd Fitness, the people there are awesome and can always keep me motivated. I completely understand about the gym boosting self-esteem. When I started going to the gym (only a month or two ago but never fear; it will continue!) I started noticing my posture was actually straightening itself out. Not even joking. I was actually standing straighter, less hunched and feeling more confident than ever. It boosts your confidence, and, no matter what you look like, will always make you feel AMAZING! Also try this out, really cool article written by a fellow metalhead that I can completely agree with (http://elitedaily.com/music/music-news/metalheads-amazing-people/). Also a note for the original writer of the letter: I’m fifteen (still too young) and it took me three years, but once you realise being cool at school is not the key to happiness. I tried that, and the stress made me constantly irritated and left with a perpetual knot in my gut, like I always needed to punch something. When you learn to NOT CARE about what opeople think about you, life is so amazing. I completely let go of my “popular” school ties, and became self-driven, thinking through what I thought was right, and sometimes doing the controversial thing just to be different (not advisable). But after a while I found that my new-found self confidence was drawing me towards a completely new set of people that are now my firm friends, and being around them is freeing and energizing! we build off each other, and help each other out, whereas my other so-called friends were draining and irritating to be around. Take it to heart. Be your own woman! Find your self-confidence in making your own decisions for yourself, not for others, and by that point you won’t mind what people say or think about you; you know what’s true, and that’s all that matters. Now I have to go, I have to get back to my 5 Finger Death Punch :D
Cheers
Josh

steff
September 11, 2014 at 7:41 pm

@Josh – heya! Thanks for your awesome comment! Great to hear you’re having such awesome results already :) I noticed the posture thing, too (I have horrible posture – it’s better now then it was, but still pretty bad. But before … yikes.) You are absolutely, 100% right about everything else you say here – I hope the original writer gets to read this :)

Joshua Russell
August 22, 2014 at 4:58 pm

People look up to you

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