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Photo ofGiangelys Pena

Growing up I always had a negative relationship with my weight. It has been a constant battle.  My life has been in a pattern of losing some weight and then gaining it all back. Everytime I had a physical at the doctor's office I would hate to go in. I felt ashamed in some way, and I felt I knew what they were going to say. I could see in my chart how my weight would increase. And I knew the doctor would always recommend I drink more water, be more active, and see a nutritionist.

I used to hate being in photos because of how insecure I was. I would look at social media and compare the photos of people to myself. It ruined me. I felt that there was a single beauty standard and I didn’t fit that standard. And I didn’t feel like I could change that, not that I had to, but that I couldn’t if I wanted to. When I was around 12 or 13 not only was my blood pressure high, but I was pre-diabetic. I was tired all the time. I had to go on medication. I knew I had to start taking my health seriously. But I knew I could be a beautiful plus size as long as I kept good health. 

In school, I was always the shy kid in class. By the time I was in 4th grade I was already bigger and taller then most of my classmates. Sometimes I would be mistaken for the teacher. When I got to middle school I made only a few friends, I didn’t join any after school programs, or participate in school clubs. I always knew a lot of people, but I didn’t associate with them that much. Instead I would express myself through writing. Through writing I could have time to think about what I wanted to say. I wrote about how I was feeling. 

It was in 7th and 8th grade that I started to change. I met new people and made friends. I joined an art after school program and a physical activity club. It made me feel like I was becoming a part of something. It was a way to cope with my feelings because I was so distracted having fun, I didn’t feel like I was isolating myself so much. I particularly loved the gym. One day at the end of 7th grade my gym teacher was looking for kids to play field hockey over the summer. I had no clue what it was. I was really scared. I was not athletic but I loved the thought of sports. Maybe other girls would be more active. But I felt like I had to push myself out of my comfort zone.

Field hockey was the one big step I needed. It helped me in more ways than I thought. I associated with new people, I lost some weight in the process, I learned a new sport. I have to thank my 7th-and 8th-grade teacher who was not only my assistant coach in both middle and high school but also my mentor. During the summer before high school, during practice he would see that I would start giving up on myself and encourage me and push me to keep going. I will never forget my freshman year during preseason when we had to run a timed two miles. I was at the back of the pack and was shedding tears, but my teacher ran up beside me and ran with me side by side telling me the whole time I could do it.

I now realize that everyone is beautiful in their own way. Losing weight isn’t just about eating right or exercising. It’s about finding a balance and setting attainable goals. Start with small goals and celebrate your progress along the way. I used to hate my body. But now I decided to change the way I see myself and this has boosted my confidence.

© Giangelys Pena . All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.