Why did I base my self-worth on others' opinions?

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A teenage girl in white t-shirt with her head down asks herself: "why did I base my self-worth on others' opinions."

Why did I base my self-worth on others' opinions?

"Your self-worth thrives when you define it, not when others assign it."

The question of why my self-worth hinged on others' perceptions during my upbringing haunted me. I scoured the internet, stumbling upon an article highlighting the detrimental effects of childhood and teenage obesity on one's health. It resurfaced a poignant memory from my own childhood, a time nearly 15 years ago.

Reminiscing about those schoolgirl days now feels heartbreaking. Back then, I was an overweight girl navigating the challenges of puberty, struggling not only with my own insecurities but also with societal expectations. 

Adolescence introduces us to a whirlwind of emotions, amplifying sensitivity when we don't feel comfortable in our own skin. Today, I will share my journey, transforming from an overweight girl, frequently labeled as "fat," to a girl who discovered that my self-worth stemmed from who I am, not how I looked.

In my early years, I was an exuberant and dynamic little girl, earning the nickname "The Tasmanian Devil" from my mother. It was nearly impossible to curb my tree-climbing escapades, lightning-fast sprints, and soccer matches with friends. I possessed a touch of tomboy spirit.

However, the onset of puberty brought about weight gain, which accelerated throughout the following years. Looking back, the transformation didn't occur overnight. The weight gradually accumulated, spiraling out of control. I lost interest in indoor games, running, and eventually found solace in the world of video games. Movement became a rarity, restricted to the bathroom or meals.

As a child, I lacked guidance on channelling my energy into activities that could enhance self-discovery, boost self-confidence, and unleash my creativity. My parents, inexperienced in handling such matters, couldn't provide the necessary support. 

Consequently, that funny, cheerful, and playful girl vanished, giving way to a cheerless, impatient child who frequently lost her temper. Unhappiness engulfed me, leaving me deeply dissatisfied with my life. That's when I gained weight.

What determines self-worth? Is It dependent on others' opinions?

Years passed, and I entered middle school with the initial excitement of making new friends and engaging in lively conversations. Little did I know that my appearance would become a weapon to embarrass and ridicule me. While I knew I wasn't thin, I had no inkling that my looks would subject me to mockery. One day, I was bestowed the name "fatty." However, the name-calling didn't stop there—ugly and numerous other humiliating labels became part of my daily existence.

The consequences were grave. My grades plummeted, and I was disregarded as a person, reduced to a spectacle in a cruel circus. My body, my figure, was deemed too absurd to warrant any consideration beyond the fat label. It dawned on me that society makes people believe that being fat automatically equates to laziness. People's perceptions influenced my own, yet I never surrendered my inner thoughts.

I was repeatedly humiliated by some of my teachers, some intentionally inflicting pain while others passively observed the bullying. The saddest realization was that, despite being much younger than them, I understood they were capable of better behavior. This realization shattered the notion that labels determine a person's worth. A teacher could be a careless ignoramus, wasting their potential to make a positive impact.

Puberty magnifies the complexities of being overweight. I liked boys, but they were ashamed to be liked by a fat, ugly girl like me. The fat, ugly girl—this was my identity. Countless derogatory labels existed, but they squeezed me into two boxes: fat or ugly, and sometimes both.

It could have broken me, but it didn't. Yet, the scars from childhood bullying run deep.

"To be loved and taken seriously, I had to be thin."

These experiences fueled the growth of my insecurities. I rarely left the house, often praying to the stars through teary eyes, pleading, "Help me become thin." Conditioned responses and reactions drowned my sentences, expressions, and inquiries. I questioned whether my self-worth was truly determined by others' opinions.

Thus, being loved and respected in my mind necessitated transforming into a thin girl.

In the summer of 2007, I shed the weight I had gained, largely thanks to the swimming pool in my backyard. I emerged as a slimmer version of my former self, embarking on a new chapter in my life. Swimming for hours became my passion, an activity that both drained and revitalized me. I reclaimed the identity of the girl I used to be—funny, cheerful, and playful.

"True self-worth radiates from within, unaffected by the judgments of the world."

Losing weight was not a desperate attempt to conform to societal norms. Instead, it served as a personal journey of exploration. I wanted to understand, experience, and witness what it meant to be thin.

Returning to school after the summer, I encountered many male classmates and friends who surprisingly asked me out on dates. I accepted some of their invitations. However, none of them truly listened to me during our lunch or dinner conversations. They were solely interested in my physical appearance, not my personality.

I believed that, as a girl, my ideas and opinions were worthy of attention. Yet, were my male friends genuinely listening, or were they merely observing? Were they even real friends? I reminded myself that my self-worth wasn't defined by my appearance. It couldn't be. Amidst the media's plethora of inspiring stories about people striving to be better versions of themselves, I concluded that while cruelty pervades society, there must be good people out there.

The brilliance of exceptional individuals surely guided many lost souls. Whether labeled as pathfinders, advisors, guiding spirits, or mentors, I yearned for someone extraordinary who could provide solace. Anyone?

And so, I waited. And waited.

But eventually, I made a firm decision. I refused to become the victim chosen by those who saw me solely as a fat girl, simultaneously reducing others to superficial judgments. Many of us succumb to the trap of sacrificing our potential and desires to gain acceptance. 

Why should others dictate our self-image?

Is self-worth truly based on appearance?

In my story, I became my own extraordinary pathfinder, advisor, guiding spirit, and mentor. In 2007, I resolved to rebuild and reclaim my true self—evolving from a once-happy girl into the carefree young woman I aspired to be. It wasn't easy to mend the fragments of my wounded personality; flashbacks haunted me relentlessly.

However, every step I took was for myself. In that process, I became aware that my actions inspired others to conquer their struggles.

I know now that my self-worth is not rooted in physical appearance. Do you?

"Don't let the opinions of others be the price tag on your self-worth."

Why did I base my self-worth on others' opinions? is adapted by Jessica White from a 2020 personal essay by Ozge Gurbuz: Why is my self-worth is based on what others think of me?

Article by
Ozge Gurbuz

Ozge Gurbuz, the author of "Why did I base my self-worth on others' opinions?" has been working as a content creator, social media manager and translator ever since she received her BA in Political Science and International Relations.