Do, Re, Mi

I grew up going to Catholic school, until 4th grade. We had a set schedule for the week: two days of the week we had P.E, Thursdays we always went to mass, one day out of the week we had music class, and once a month we got to go to art class. P.E was so annoying and easily my least favorite days of the week. Running, flag football, me? No, I don’t think so. The days that we had music classes were always my silver lining of the week. Singing was my favorite thing to do; music was the one thing that no one could take away from me.

I know that sounds very middle school, angst filled, teenage brat of me but music has always been something that I connected with. My dad always made sure that music was available to me. He put me in piano lessons when I was 7 and I continued to grow. My relationship with music and making it come to life was something that I was always really confident in. It made me feel good – special, like I stood out in the crowd. Focusing on something that made me self-assured helped with my self-esteem. Confidence shining through you makes you beautiful.

I was watching an a cappella group at my university, the Echoes Acapella, preform last Friday and I was moved to tears because of unbelievably talented they are. They sung a few songs; my personal favorite was  “Stay High” by Tove Lo. The soloist in the final song was Texas State University’s freshman, Vanessa Ray.

The Echoes Acapella first caught Ray’s attention in the quad because of their friendliness. The people in the group have influenced Ray immensely. Ray says “that once you join its like family.” Being together as much as they are, the Echoes have become Ray’s best friends. Vanessa 2The love she shares for and within the group has given her more confidence. “Being around your friends always makes you feel confident; people who you know who love you and you love.”

Having been part of show choir in high school, she wanted to be a part of something musical. Ray feels most confident she is singing and performing. “Being able to express yourself I think makes you feel beautiful in whatever form that takes.” Truly appreciating the lyrics, Ray relates most to indie music. Her favorite artists to sing are Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson. She has been picked to sing several solos, despite it being her first year in the group. “It was an honor because everyone is so talented. It was really cool to be chosen [to sing a solo.]” Ray has a lot of passion for singing and continues to perform because of the happiness it brings her.

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3 Out of 5 Ain’t Half Bad

Like a lot of people my age, I am an avid Pinterest user. I have a board for absolutely everything: recipes that I probably won’t ever get around to trying because I’m stuck eating peanut butter and jelly, clothes that are too expensive for me to afford, and home décor do-it-yourself projects that I will butcher. The one category of Pinterest that I am the fondest of is “Quotes.” A lot of the images I see on there get me through rough dips in the week. My favorite quote I’ve seen recently has been “If you always do what interests you, then at least one person is pleased.” – Katherine Hepburn.

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A drawing of sunglasses done by Courtney Whitehouse.

My roommate, and sophomore at Texas State University, Courtney Whitehouse, stays true to heart and follows her dreams as she pursues a degree in graphic design. Having loved drawing since she was a kid watching her dad doodle Looney Toons choosing this as a career path was no-brainer. Her hobby slowly developed into a lifestyle in the 4th grade, then onto middle school when she had to choose from choir, art, and band. “In 6th grade my teachers told me that because of my processes and ideas I should try out graphic design. My teachers in 8th grade told me the same thing and 9th grade too. That’s 3 different buildings with no interaction with o ne another. I should at least give it a try,” Whitehouse says.

Going into high school she automatically wanted to take AP art but she was placed in beginners art. “I just thought ‘You’re going to have me shading the whole time?’ I could do more than they were letting me.” Eventually getting to AP art her junior year in high school she was required to submit a portfolio to a college board. “I got a 3 out of 5 the first time and it was really discouraging. I wanted to give up but I did not stop.” She submitted her portfolio a second time and got a 4.

Whitehouse has found a home in the big graphic design family. “Everyone looks after one another and that’s how I know I’m in the right place.” She has her confidence shine through her artwork, showing her personality and her heart in it. “I definitely feel confident doing most things art related, specifically graphic design.” She does not have a specific direction that she wants to take in graphic design yet, but she is leaning in the direction of logos. “I find it fun to see how [logos] are constructed and the process that the designer went through to accomplish their goal.” Whitehouse feels intimidated by the magnitude of the field. “How can I be that great? But, it gives me confidence when I see that sometimes my through process lines up with theirs.” Whitehouse has her heart, soul, and passion in this and couldn’t see herself without it.

Not This Nor That

All throughout my life I have continuously been the “fat kid.” I didn’t look at myself any different than the other kids at school, but I just thought I was funny. I didn’t realize something was wrong when I would run the mile against my classmates and they would finish in half the time that I would. I’d laugh it off and think of it like a movie, like a punch line.

When you’re 6 or 7 you don’t see anything wrong when you look in the mirror. You’re only worried about who might be student of the week or if Jessica broke up with her “boyfriend” of the week. You don’t see the faults in yourself or start developing insecurities.

By the time I was 10, I had tried diets from a nutritionist, Atkins, wearing trash bags to help me sweat, and gym memberships. Being as young as I was, I mainly did it because I wanted to be like my step-mom. I didn’t do it because I thought there was something wrong with me.

Having my “friends” ditch me every other week and my parents going through a divorce, I found solace in food. Tipping the scale at 212 pounds in 6th grade I knew something was wrong. I started to grow angry and weary. I didn’t see the point to continue on trying because I thought no one would love me. If I didn’t fit the average criteria for girls my age than no one would ever love me. I planted that seed in the back of my mind and let it rot. It stayed with me for years and it still comes up every once in a while.

As I grew older I saw how the media portrayed women. Girls are brought up with the idea that they have to fit a perfect model. They can’t be stupid but not too smart, thin but not “anorexic” curvy but not “fat” athletic but not “boyish.” The list could continue for ages. Basically, you need to be Beyoncé, but only Beyoncé can be Beyoncé. You and I both know that she doesn’t wake up “flawless.”

What would have been the most beneficial to my preteen self would have been someone telling me that I am fine the way that I was but I needed to be cautious for health reasons. Instead, having that festering seed of doubt made me the person I am today.

Insecurity is something that is inside all of us; there is an entire industry that thrives off making sure that you feel terrible about yourself. Make up for the ones that feel ugly, diet pills for the ones that feel fat, drugs and alcohol to numb you out. Self worth is something that everyone needs work on.

I did an internship with Disney over the 2014 summer and fall semester. While I was there I met a lot of different, amazing people. Towards September I met two great friends Julia* and Tom*. Working in Disney, almost every guy I knew or worked with was gay. I started to fall in love with the idea of being with someone. Out of process of elimination I attached whatever idea I had of love to Tom, because he was the only straight guy in my group of friends. At the beginning of our friendship I knew that Tom would end up falling for Julia and that broke me. I had always been that friend, now termed the DUFF. I was tired of it. I didn’t understand why no one could love me. Months passed and my self-esteem plummeted. I started over analyzing everything and going to extremes. What was wrong with me? Why wasn’t I good enough? I continuously took it out on Julia, which wasn’t fair to her.

Eventually one night, Tom yelled at me and told me “being your friend is a chore.” This was the biggest wake up call I could get. I realized that there was nothing wrong with me. I shouldn’t have to apologize for my sensitivity or my heart. These are all parts of me that eventually someone will find “lovable.”

We shouldn’t try and search for love in the wrong places. We should find it within ourselves and give that love to others. Realizing that the people around me loved me should have been my focus. I had friends that cared about me and wanted me to be happy. My friend, Amanda, believes that “you don’t need to complete the checklist and get a boyfriend, but just appreciate what is already around you.” Once you start realizing your self worth you will only want to be around people who appreciate you, as well.

*Name have been changed

Jab, Hook, Uppercut!

When I first got to college I was morbidly obese. The combination of being extremely overweight and the legendary Alkek Stairs made for a very hard first couple of months.

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The Alkek stairs in the middle of Texas State University’s campus, also known as #LegDay

Everyone seemed to be obsessed with the “gym, tan, laundry” lifestyle. Gym rats weren’t common in my hometown; in fact, El Paso, Texas was ranked the 7th fattest city in the nation. Moving to San Marcos, Texas I heard phrases like “I gotta get a booty,” or “I’m so fat” regularly; having that kind of atmosphere around you definitely becomes a setting of self-loathing. Around this time my self-esteem was at an unbelieveable low point because, in my eyes, if girls that looked perfectly fine thought they had a lot of work to do than I definitely had to work two or three times harder. 

The only reason I was actively losing weight was because I was forced to walk around the campus to get from point A to point B. I did not start going to the gym until I met my great friend Brandix. She was the one that introduced me to loving exercise. She would push herself at the gym all through out the week. I would see her persevere and it intimidated me. My whole life I was conditioned to see the gym as a menacing place where things like sweat and tears thrived. A year and a half of dance classes my freshman year in high school was the most active I had been in 4 years. I finally sucked it up, went with Brandix and found that my university’s recreational center had fitness classes. They offered high intensity classes and some that were more fun: Zumba, Hip-Hop Fitness, Total Dance Fitness, kickboxing, and yoga.

I was nervous to start going because it sounded so daunting to me. Having a friend start doing it with me was what got me hooked. At first, it was more of just “I really want to lose weight. Let’s go,” but it eventually turned into a “Hey, this is actually really fun and I can sweat! YAS!” I always assumed the classes were lame, until I attended one. Kickboxing and Zumba are hard and they make you sweat, but they are enjoyable. Seeing everyone working out and making a fool out of themselves helps you have fun with it and encourages you to give it your all.

The instructors were incredibly motivating. They help give you that extra drive to feel comfortable. My Zumba instructor tries to encourage the women by saying phrases to help you get into it, like “It’s okay to touch yourself! Sexy!” In kickboxing, an instructor has told the class “Imagine you’re crushing your opponent’s skull in! JAB, JAB, JAB. DEFEND YOURSELF.” It was a very empowering experience. Exercise became an addiction. Whenever I didn’t exercise I was sad; I got such an adrenaline high off completing a work out and crushing it that I wanted that feeling constantly.

Staying active should be part of your regular schedule, even if it is just 30 minutes a day. Do you really need to watch another episode on Netflix?

Can you squeeze in a small work out? Some activity is better than no activity. Exercise is primarily beneficial to your body, so do what you can when you have the opportunity. The hardest part is starting.

I started exercising because I wanted to better my lifestyle and my life over all. When I started getting active my joints and back stopped hurting, I stopped running out of breath going up the stairs, and I enjoyed my life more. That was the best part of starting this chapter of my life. I started because I loved myself, not because I wanted to love myself.

Error: System Overload

I woke up today and noticed that we were already 3 weeks into the school semester. It is a beyond stressful time! First couple of weeks are fun because your professors are just covering their bases and trying to review what you should know or fill your brain with knowledge. Somehow all your professors get together and decide “Hey, you know what would be hilarious?! If we all decide to schedule exams on the same week. Let’s make our students’ skin crawl!”

*Cue dark, theatrical music and evil laughter*

Suddenly midterms creep up on you and you stop sleeping and start running purely off caffeine and desperation. Your desk turns into what will be historically documented as the Leaning Tower of Notes and Monica from Friends is tapping your shoulder telling you that you need to get your life together and clean. You wake up to your friend shaking you, in a puddle of drool, and realize that school is a lot more stressful than Blue Mountain State depicted.

First exams are definitely the worst because you hardly know the professor. New courses, hard professors, rigorous coursework and the amount of reading are hard to juggle. You might as well write your own obituary because your brain is going to fry and rot from the stress.

Stop digging yourself into a deeper hole and running in a cycle of distress! The fact of the matter is that we are all human; there is only so much that you can do. Take a second and breathe. Don’t forget that you have already made it this far. If you are barely starting college, stop freaking out. I spent the majority of my freshman year not splitting my time equally by enjoying my time with friends and studying. For that very reason, I missed out on great memories with friends that I cherish. If you’re in your second semester and on, congratulations! You are living proof that college is worth the stress and you survived! Your GPA is probably higher than the gas prices! What a time to be alive! And.. if it’s not then don’t break down! You have the opportunity to do better within the next seven or so semesters you have in college. You might have taken the test and not done your best. Chill! It is still early enough on in the semester that you do not have to beat yourself up and you shouldn’t beat yourself up in the first place. Now you know your results and the professor’s test format. There is always room for improvement; even for the one that threw off the entire class’ grading curve.

This is a rough time for everyone. Very rarely do you find someone who has their life together in their early twenties. JK Rowling was “as poor as a person could be without being homeless,” and she ended up becoming the first female billionaire author. This is not the end! Prioritize and equal out time for yourself and your education. What I find seems to work, is a reward system:

  1. Read a chapter of your history textbook and watch an episode of the TV show that you regret starting because now you’re addicted (Currently happening to myself with Parks and Recreation)
  2. Stop making flash cards and  eat a cookie because you deserve it! Maybe an oatmeal cookie, to get some fiber into your diet. Even though, you and I both know that cookie is just as bad as the one with chocolate chips. So, just go for the indulgence this one time!
  3. Do the outline for your English class and take a second, relax and don’t do anything! Try thinking about your day and all the beauty that surrounded you, express gratitude. It’s an easy way to put your mind at ease and restart for the next day.
  4. Finish your homework for your math class and listen to your favorite playlist. Have a little jam sesh, and rock harder than you ever have!

It works and you get your mind off of what you have to do for a little bit. Bump up the studying next time, maybe start studying earlier or do the reading that the professor assigned on time? Don’t forget that you’re in school to get an education and your professor’s job is to help you and they believe in you! Definitely use your judgement because you want to keep up the momentum.  Reading one chapter that’s only 3 pages long, but giving yourself an hour worth of rewards doesn’t exactly balance out. College isn’t a breeze but imagine how pumped you’ll be at graduation!

Don’t forget that “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” – Aibileen Clark from The Help

New Beginnings

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My prom photo in April of 2013.

Going to the doctor was never a priority for me; having my name be called by the nurse and having to go get weighed in was always uncomfortable for me. So, I eventually stopped going because I was a coward. I never got “sick” but I was never necessarily “healthy.” The scale terrified me because I knew what the doctor was always going to say the same thing: “You need to take care of yourself and lose weight. You’re morbidly obese.” In January of 2013, I finally had to visit the doctor and it felt like judgment day, to say the least.

My doctor told me that I ran the risk of not being able to have children of my own because of how overweight I was. I was 18 at the time and that statement scared me, but I didn’t worry because kids were the farthest things from my mind. Nine months passed and it was the exact same routine: heavily drinking every weekend, a solid diet of Whataburger and fast food, binge watching Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix and getting hardly any physical activity. I graduated high school that summer, and started my freshman year at Texas State University, in the fall.

In September of 2013 I decided to cut out red meat, then chicken, and tried moving towards a pescatarian diet. While I was mainly just trying to be animal friendly and trying it out I lost 7 pounds. I looked in the mirror and felt some pride. Over the course of the last 16 months I have revamped my life and created a new image. After my diet changed I decided to start using Weight Watchers, taking advantage of the campus recreation center, and ended up losing 75 pounds. I’m still on my “weight loss journey” and continue to create a better lifestyle for myself.

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This is me wearing that same prom dress in November of 2014.
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Same dress as prom photo (front view) in November 2014

During the time it took to lose that weight I realized that I didn’t like the person that I was. I was drowning in an idea that the second I was “skinny” all my self-esteem issues would be gone. Although weight loss did help me with my self-image, my mental health was not in a good state.

I took a yoga class, out of the spur of the moment, and realizing that it was the most calming experience I ever had I noticed that I wasn’t treating my spirit right. It wasn’t until then that I realized that mind, body, and soul all create your very essence and that you need to treat all 3 equally. Eating right, treating your body right, and loving yourself aren’t things that you should skimp out on. Being able to finally workout and keep up is great but looking in the mirror and patting yourself on the back for an accomplishment is something a lot of people forget to do, including myself.

Throughout the semester and multiple blog posts I hope to reach a wide audience of people who are struggling with self-worth and self-esteem issues. My main goal is to help others and myself reach a happy medium in between bodily, mental, and spiritual health through different techniques, essentially the “perfect trifecta” where the focus is to be not only healthy but happy.