stop trying so hard

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Why are we trying so hard to fit in? Why do all want to lose weight and get thin? Why do restrict our food (only to binge after) and constantly work out in the gym to get a good body? Why do we care about what other people think about us? Why do we care so much about how many likes we get on Facebook and Instagram? Why do we care whether or not other people see as beautiful and thin? Why do we care about wanting to look a certain way and be a certain way?

Through my years of struggling with my eating disorder and body image issues, I’ve come to realize that much of my problems stem from a desire to look a certain way and gain social approval from others. Blame social media and the current body and beauty trends if you will, but it seems the type of body gaining lots of positive comments are “slim and lean” and “small waist, big booty”. I ask you to take a look at Instagram and look to popular social media influencers such as fashion bloggers and fitness models, and let me know what the most common body type is. I ask you to take a look at beauty pageants, at Hollywood and television and I ask you to tell me what the body type that gains the most positive attention. I ask you to look at magazines and tell me whether you see more titles telling you to embrace your body instead of dieting and losing 10 pounds and how to disguise your flabby belly.

The glamorization of certain female body types are harmful, to say the least. It triggers unrealistic expectations and undeserved body comparisons. It makes many of dislike our bodies and think negative thoughts. We start living the get a body because we want the same validation. After all, who doesn’t want to be complimented and admired and revered? Humans have an innate need for social approval and validation. We want to be accepted, to be liked and to fit in. But at what cost?

It doesn’t matter whether or not we have a curvy figure or not. It doesn’t matter if we don’t have long toned slim legs. It doesn’t matter if have a belly that jiggles and folds that we sit. If I do, does  it mean I’m less of a woman? How am I being judged based on how flat my belly is or not?

We need to stop thinking that being thinner, being curvier, being taller or having certain body types or certain appearances will make us happier. As someone who’s spent years trying to look a certain way, I can honestly tell you that you will be wasting your time. You can never be thin enough or curvy enough or sexy enough for some people. We’re not put on Earth to physically please others with our looks. The only thing that makes us happy, is to live our lives doing what we love without the validation of others.

You are allowed to live and be here and be present in your whole authentic self. You are allowed to post those “unflattering” photos of yourself on Instagram. You are allowed to leave the house without makeup (but with sunblock!) because you don’t need to wear makeup to be yourself! You are allowed to wear a bikini and cropped tops even if you aren’t skinny. You are allowed to be wholly you because you deserve to be here. You are allowed to love what you see in the mirror. 

Stop trying to please others and live for others. Live for ourselves instead. The more we keep trying to live up to the expectations of others in order to gain approval and validation, we slowly begin to lose ourselves. We begin to live for other people’s approval. Our self-worth becomes dependent on them; without it, we don’t feel good about ourselves.

Let’s just and stop sacrificing our happiness and sanity to live up to a certain beauty ideal. Live for ourselves, and live to be the best version that we can be without conforming to the pressures of beauty ideals. Because, fuck its exhausting.

The ones who accept us only if we look a certain way, aren’t the ones who should be in our lives The ones who accept us no matter what shape and size we are, are the ones who truly care for us.

finding strength within myself.

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“The strength of a woman is not measured by the impact that all her hardships in life have had on her; but the strength of a woman is measured by the extent of her refusal to allow those hardships to dictate her and who she becomes”

– C. Joybell C

I guess I’m only starting to realize that life has many ways of testing a person, & that hardships are there for a reason. They’re meant to teach us something and make us grow, but only if we choose to not let it define us. I spent 6 years of my life starving, binging, counting calories, obsessively exercising and self-harming, wishing and praying to become thinner and in the process, I became depressed. It wasn’t just a single episode mind you, but countless episodes. 6 years of endless slips and mistakes. Endless promises I made to myself that okay Serene tomorrow you will not binge or spit your food out and yes, tomorrow will be be brand new day and no you will not compensate by exercising, yet finding myself breaking my word and crying in a corner.

I was only 21 during the height of my ED days but despite having the world ahead of me, life seemed bleak. I didn’t want to leave the house because I hated how I looked. I stopped going for dance because I felt too heavy and big for my skin, as though I could explode out of shell any moment. I eventually became suicidal. When you’re suicidal, you literally feel that there simply isn’t a way to escape a bad situation. When you’re suicidal, everything seems hopeless and death really does seem like a better option.

I was very well aware of the fact that I was suicidal and was even questioning my motives of wanting to end my life. I had a plan. Yet somehow despite being so incredibly distraught at myself, and being so mentally tired, I wasn’t able to bring myself to touch the bottle of detergent. Despite my desire to put a stop to my suffering, somewhere deep inside, this logical part of me that still existed knew that I still had a lot to live for. That there were so many other things I hadn’t seen or done. I haven’t danced a flamenco in Spain nor stayed with traveling gypsies. I haven’t had pastry and pizza in Italy. I haven’t seen the northern lights in Norway. I haven’t fully memorized the lyrics to Fever Night by the Bee Gees. I haven’t seen the sun set in Africa. I haven’t learned Russian or Arabic. I haven’t made a wish at the Eiffel Tower.

Something inside just clicked, and I forced myself to get my act together. The first thing I did was to put the bottle of bleach down, locked myself in my room and contacted my Auntie Christine and took her up on her offer to help break the news to my mum about my ED and needing treatment. I wanted to get better. I didn’t want to live the rest of my life in misery, hiding behind closed walls with my calorie book and counting calories and logging in the amount of exercise I did everyday.

This year I went through several events that disempowered me. I felt incredibly empty, lost and confused. It made me do a lot of reflection and thinking about my values and what I should and shouldn’t have done, and what I should do in the future. I went through a depressive funk that drained me so much that I literally did not leave the house for days. I stopped dancing again and slept a lot. After a week, again, I knew that I couldn’t live like this. One way or another, the world was moving on whether I liked it or not. I missed dancing and laughing on the dance floor while my partner spun me round and round to salsa beats. Moreover, I was already 23 and graduating soon. I wanted to accomplish as much as I can before the responsibilities of being a working adult hit me hard. I wanted to live and not just exist by lying like a sloth on my bed, for crying out loud.

So the first thing I did was that I forced myself to get out of bed and open the windows. Its not as easy as it sounds really. It sounds like common sense, which it actually is, but as someone who’s been through a bout of depression, to tell your mind to stop staying in a depressive mode is a very challenging one. Just like how you don’ t tell someone with an eating disorder to stop dieting, you don’t just tell someone in a depressive phase to stop being sad. Things don’t work like that. To get out of bed is tiring in itself. To get out the house is tiring in itself. Everything is tiring. Your brain literally shuts down.

But then I refused to let myself be beaten down. There was still so much out in the world going on that I wanted to be a part of. I forced myself to go out. I told my #1 homegirl that I needed to find my mojo back. N brought me to her hot yoga class and in a way I saw it a start – to symbolically wash away all the negative energy within me and start anew. Out with the old and hopefully, in with something better. I started working out again and went back to dancing.

Basically, I didn’t want to define myself as someone who succumbed to hardship. I wanted to define myself as someone who didn’t let any negative kabootz destroy me. Instead, I wanted to define myself and be known as someone who fought against what life threw at me. I want to live out the rest of my life knowing that despite curveball life threw at me, I was able to fight it. And I did. I had to find the strength within myself first before I let any other help in. You can receive all kinds of help, but if you’re not intrinsically motivated to change, if you don’t find the courage and strength to redefine your circumstances, you’re not going to go anywhere. i Someone once told me: “you’re a fighter aren’t you”. And I responded: “yes of course I’m a fighter. I fought my eating disorder for 6 years!”.

You probably can’t see it very clearly, but those 2 books I’m holding in the 3rd and last picture are A Beautiful Mind, by Sylvia Nasar & Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. The characters in both books went through unimaginable hardships and sorrow but their journey in life made them stronger. They didn’t let let their hardship control and define their lives. They suffered, they broke and they stumbled, but then they took life by the horns and and worked their way through their current circumstances.

I’ve been through a lot, even if I say so myself. I’ve been mentally, physically and emotionally ripped apart but somehow or another, I actually got back up and I’m still functioning. I’m not the same person I was before. My heart and mind have been ripped but they managed to piece themselves together. Slowly but surely. The thing about the human spirit is that you can mend it when it breaks, but when it puts itself back together, it won’t be the same as before. And each time it breaks and mends itself again, you’re constantly getting a new version of it.

My heart and mind have been through a lot.

I’m proud of them.

I think in the end, you realize that if weren’t for that particular negative event, that particular catalyst, you wouldn’t have been able to move forward in life. In a strange way, you’re thankful, but not thankful at the same time because of given a choice, you wouldn’t have wanted that awful event to have happened. You would have wanted the change to be initiated by something else. You don’t know what it should have been, but all you know is that you will wish it had been something else that wasn’t so painful and personal and heart-wrenching. Its at this point when look back at the catalyst, when memories come back that you realize the funny thing about time. People say time heals all wounds, but it really doesn’t. Rose Kennedy puts it nicely:

 Rose Kennedy puts it nicely: “It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”

What hardships have you gone through in life in the past, and how did you overcome them? Do you feel that its made you stronger, and that you emerged from the storm a different person?

Be proud of how you overcame them but more importantly, be proud that you didn’t succumb to it.