This is a gym selfie.
This is not JUST a gym selfie.
Wait – let me explain.
Growing up, I was somewhat a very awkward and clumsy boy. I was always the kid who skidded on the pavement whenever my brother and our friends would play tag, or the playmate who was most likely to slip and fall in a ditch (this totally happened, of course.) I realized when I was in Grade 4 that a lot of my problems had to do with my poor eyesight. By Grade 6, I was wearing thick glasses.
That cemented my life as the odd kid who stuck out like a sore thumb—only aggravated by a lot of weird qualities which came later on in life.
I was that boy who wriggled like an epileptic potato during dance recitals. For some reason I actually believed I was a good dancer, until first year high school, when my classmates and I went to stage to dance during Math Week (yes, there was such a thing: we danced while chanting the wonders of numbers and formulas) in front of all the parents and teachers who didn’t have a choice but to stay put and be embarrassed for all of us, me most especially.
(It wasn’t shocking that we miserably lost in that dance competition. It was a relief they didn’t chase us out of the campus with pitchforks and tomatoes.)
I also became quite chubby then, as my aunt loved to force-feed us mountains of carbohydrate-laden white rice. (“A man has to be big and healthy!”, I remember my aunt saying, thinking it was a sad thing that my brother and I were skin and bones.)
It wasn’t long until I was both awkward and fat. And short too – I was the only 4’11” student in a sea of pubescent, strapping, and towering young men and women. I would hear my classmates make fun of my weight behind my back. There was a time when I heard one of them call me bacon within earshot, even poking me just to see if I’d squeal like a pig. They would steal my things and make me run after them, knowing I’d quit midway out of exhaustion.
Having a jerk for a Physical Education teacher didn’t make the road to fitness a fun path to tread. He was an abrasive guy who enjoyed calling people filthy insults (such as the Tagalog equivalent of smegma) just because it amused him. I already loved to read as a kid, but I withdrew to books even more during this time, hiding in the library to escape school events that involved physical activities and social interaction. This was a survival measure more than anything, as I was the stereotypical fist magnet.
During my senior year, I experienced a sudden growth spurt. I thought it was me finally becoming normal (whatever the hell that meant), except—surprise!—it turned out to be hereditary hyperthyroidism. I suddenly became lanky. My eyes bulged out of their sockets. I developed a nasal voice that made me sound like a rabid know-it-all.
Compared to my peers who were then breaking out of their cocoons and flaunting their pretty wings for the world to see, there I was, a maggot becoming a housefly.
My self-esteem during those years was so low it felt like I crashed into an iceberg and sank into the depths of the ocean (pardon the Titanic reference—our teacher actually forced us to watch this back in my high school days, for, uh, educational reasons.) From my formative years, this continued until college, when I experienced being rejected by someone I was infatuated with because I was “too thin”.
I hit rock-bottom when I was twenty. It was a problematic period in my life, when I was also slowly coming to terms with my sexual orientation, cycling through the early stages of acceptance: Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression.
Acceptance would come a bit gradually, in my mid-20s, when I realized that I was starting to look better than how I looked like during my gawky teenage years (my thyroid operation, which made me become hypothyroid, allowed me to gain a bit of weight.)
Because of my teenage heartbreak, I started to work out, forcing myself to fit gym time in my schedule. My body changed. Little by little, I became less of the awkward, clumsy kid. (Not to say that I don't feel awkward anymore, but I’ve started to become more comfortable with myself.)
Call it cliché, but accepting myself, which begun when I came to terms with my body, also meant knowing the limitations of my spirit, in the metaphorical sense. I let go of some people in my life, just as I let other people in. I try to no longer put up with the morsels of attention that I mistook for friendship.
I also discovered that a lot of worries in my head never transpire, and those that did, weren’t as bad as I thought they would be.
As I grew up, I started to see more sides to stories. The coin had flipped. And flipped again. I have had my fair share of heartaches, just as I had shattered other people’s hearts. I learned that there are people who deserve my time, and there are those who don’t. There are people who loved me for all the right reasons, and people who liked me just because. Then there are others who didn’t like me because I refused to deal with their bad behavior. (Those who hated me for no reason at all, I’ve learned to dismiss.)
Some people hadn’t been nice to me, just as I hadn’t exactly been very nice to some people. That's the way life goes.
I turned 30 a few days ago. It was a surreal experience. I’ve never imagined myself being at this point in my life; I’ve always thought I’d die in a vehicular accident at 20, after surviving a near-death experience involving a speeding truck when I was in Grade 6, and absurdly convincing myself that my second decade on earth will finally seal my fate as roadkill.
Ten years after my expected death year, I’m still alive: still well and kicking. I think I’m at that turning point wherein I am settling in the nest that is who I am. Turning 30 made me realize that there are things that are me, and I should accept these things that are naturally me.
As this NYMag.com article points out, one's character sets by the time they turn 30. I’d like to think I’ve made a few good measures to ensure that I am going to be okay, moving forward. I’ve become braver and more vocal about the things I believe passionately in, while not exactly quieting down that small voice of rationality, that whisper that balances passion with pragmatism.
So here’s why this gym selfie isn’t just a gym selfie. Ten years ago, being confident in my own skin seemed to me a very remote, impossible idea.
The last decade has been all about changing that doubt in myself.
I’ve become better. Things have become better.
And as cheesy as it sounds, I’m thankful for what has become better in my life.
Let me be shameless in celebrating these things, if only for now.
HELLO, MY NAME IS EVAN TAN.
I'm a writer and communications professional based in Manila, Philippines. Outside of my regular job, I like to travel, work out, volunteer, watch movies and plays, go to art galleries/ fairs and museums, read books, and eat vegetarian food.
More about me here.