Ugly Duckling: Beautiful Swan Part 1

When I was 6 or 7 years old, I remember a lot of adults saying to my parents that I was “Getting so big,” and “Isn’t she a big girl now?” and “How did she get so big?”

Looking back at photos, I was not overweight when I was 7. But I was tall. I am tall. 6 feet tall now – to be exact. Yet all I remember being called was: big. I don’t remember being called beautiful. I don’t remember being called tall. I don’t remember being called fat. Just “big” and “getting bigger” and “so big!”

When you’re 7, you don’t really know how to interpret the word “big.” Some people say it like it’s a good thing, and some people say it like it’s a rude shock or like there’s something wrong with being big. I also didn’t know that they might simply be talking about my height. As far as I could tell: they were talking about the whole of me. I’m a big girl. Eventually, I saw it as a negative and I succumbed to this idea that being me, meant being big.

By the time I got to 8 or 9, I was not only tall, but also chubby / fat / overweight – whatever you want to call it. I was also very bad at sport – couldn’t catch, couldn’t throw, couldn’t ride a bike. I found sport absolutely humiliating: like everyone was watching this “big” girl who sticks out like a sore thumb: all clumsy and awkward. Not to mention that I was left-handed being taught how to do right-handed sport or being told to put my right foot first when my body wants to move left! And I remember some of the ridiculous tunnels my school teachers wanted us to squirm through – not catering for my height! So, naturally I despised sport.
We were forced to run at athletics and cross country carnivals and I remember thinking that my lungs hurt terribly. But teachers had no empathy for me because as far as they were concerned I was fat and lazy. I think one of them called me lazy to my face. It’s interesting how when you are called something, like “big” or “fat” or “lazy” – you start believing it and living it out … They never listened to me about my lungs, so I stopped talking about it at a young age, and I decided that I could not run because it hurt too much.

As a 22 year old, I began to lose weight through walking and swimming. I did it on my own without the help of gym instructors who want to push you at some crazy pace that would have had me quit on the first day. I did it because I simply didn’t want to be big anymore. Big to me at 22 meant: ugly. I was 6 foot tall and size 18 (Australian). Now I am 6 foot and I fluctuate between sizes 12-14. I’m still a big girl, but I don’t feel ugly.

Between ages 22 and 29, there have been a few times that I have tried to push myself to run (when I say run, I really mean jog – it’s all the same thing to me. Anything faster than a quick walk has always caused problems in my breathing). But I could never be consistent about it because the pain in my lungs – if I pushed myself too hard – just seemed unbearable. I literally felt like my lungs were bleeding on many occasions and I knew something wasn’t right about that, but I never sought a doctor. I figured walking and swimming would just have to do.

At 29 I decided again that I wanted to learn how to run. I couldn’t understand why it was so easy for other people and so very difficult for me. One evening, I came home from work in frustrated mood and I decided that my anger should be fuel enough for me to run the distance of my crescent which I’m guessing is approx. 1kilometre. I pushed myself, and when I arrived home I was gasping for air – not just gasping, but wheezing and basically hyperventilating. I lay down and continued in the state of fearing that I might never take another normal breath again for about thirty minutes. And I knew then that I was having an asthma attack. I went to the doctors the next day and was told I had mild asthma and would need to use ventolin if I wanted to learn how to run.

That was more than six months ago and truth be told, I didn’t try to run for quite a while after that because the asthma attack really worried me. This year I tried a new approach. I decided I would ease myself into running the way I had eased myself into swimming and would not let some macho gym instructors (thinking of programmes like the “Biggest Loser”) force me to do things at their “No pain no gain” psycho-pace! It’s true: no pain no gain, but if you throw a non-swimmer into the deep end: they’re likely to drown!

I started jogging on the spot in my lounge-room in front of a mirror with music playing. I would look myself in the eyes, sing positive music to myself and jog through a few songs. That was easy. I had no problems breathing on level ground. The good thing is this strengthened my leg muscles even if it did nothing for my lungs.

Since then I’ve taken my jogging outside on three occasions. The first time I forgot to take ventolin beforehand and was desperate for it when I got home. I almost ran my entire crescent on that trip. The next time, I took the ventolin beforehand and I ran the entire crescent without stopping. And let me tell you: I cried for joy.

Today, I packed a small bag with ventolin, a drink bottle of water, my iPhone and headset so that I could listen to music instead of having to listen to my breathing. Amazingly, with the help of that music and the ventolin, I ran / jogged what I am estimating to be about 3 kilometres!!!

Don’t let being branded “big” or “fat” or “ugly” or “lazy” or “clumsy” stand in your way.
Don’t let being super-tall or left-handed or asthmatic stand in your way.
Don’t let the world stand in the way of becoming who you are.
Every “ugly duckling” has a “beautiful swan” inside of them.
Including me.

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