Maybe you haven’t heard of BTS (aka Bangtan Sonyeondan, a K-pop boy group), which would be a little surprising cause like, C’mon, they’re very well known now. Anyway, I won’t hold it against you if you don’t and you don’t really need any knowledge other than what I’ve given you to read and understand this post. Truthfully, I hadn’t heard of them until around the beginning of 2017 when one of my friends got super into them. I didn’t judge her for it, but without really giving them a chance, I thought ‘k-pop = not for me’ and moved on with my life.
[Warning: long + serious post ~ 2000 words]
But, things got worse. Summer came and I began to struggle with my self-image. I would look in the mirror and I would hate the way I looked. I hated the way my thighs would touch or spread out when I sat down (which is perfectly natural, but at the time this was impossible for me to see). I’ve always been a pretty small and skinny girl and I thought that without that label, I wouldn’t be myself. Summer was hard for a lot of reasons. In some way, I was a little happy. I spent a lot of time alone and doing the things I loved. But, I wasn’t really super healthy, but it wasn’t so bad. Most of my troubles came from my family.
This will take some explanation. I have never been the favorite child. At least, not that I can remember. My older sister has always been favored over me. It’s not hard to see and it’s something I’ve grown up with. And as I’ve grown, it’s hurt me more and more. At age 8, I was convinced as I got older, I would be treated the same. But, I was wrong. If anything, it got worse. I didn’t hate my sister for it, but I did dislike her for other reasons. Now, I only dread when she comes home. I wonder if that’s okay. Can I dislike someone in my family? What forces me to love them just because we’re related? It’s so often brushed off as ‘oh that’s what sisters do’, but even if the constant tearing down and backhanded comments are “normal,” they certainly shouldn’t be.
So, mid-July was when it happened. I lay in my bed in the morning, scrolling through my youtube recommendations. And there it was: “Laugh with BTS for 30 (well 32) minutes.” And I thought, why not watch it? If I can laugh with them for 30 minutes, why shouldn’t I? And I watched that video, then “BTS being Extra AF in America.” And that’s when it started. I had heard their music before, the two friends I mentioned earlier constantly played DNA in the hallways, especially the part where Jungkook whistles in the beginning (for some reason this part specifically?). I loved their dorky and funny personalities, they seemed caring and hard-working. They loved each other and seemed to have so much fun being themselves. I loved that, and I wanted that for myself. It gave me something to hope for. It’s funny, BTS’ message at the time was Love Yourself. And if that wasn’t the most important thing I’ve learned in the past few years, then I don’t know what is.
It was exactly what I needed to hear. I stayed up to listen to Love Yourself: Answer, the final installment in the trilogy. It was everything I needed to hear. One song, Answer: Love Myself (not the title track and very underappreciated, in my opinion), was my favorite. Now, whenever I sing the song, I sing it right back to BTS, because they showed me I did have reasons for loving myself. Here’s a little quote if you don’t want to listen to the song or read the full translation.
“Maybe there’s no answer
Maybe this isn’t the answer either
It’s just that loving myself
Doesn’t require anyone else’s permission
I’m looking for myself again
But I don’t wanna die anymore
Me, who used to be sad
Me, who used to be hurt
It’ll make me more beautiful”
(From the Genius English Translation of the song)
It’s really beautiful. I’ll never be able to thank them enough for how much they’ve changed my life and the way I view myself and the world around me and the problems I’ll encounter later on. I laughed with them, I cried with them, they changed me and they changed my life in more ways than I could possibly put into words. I learned to accept myself for who I am. I may not love myself completely yet, but I’m getting there, I’m learning, and that’s okay for now.
I first heard this song in August, after my sister had left for college. I had been waiting for that day for months. I slept alone in the room we used to share. And for the first time in my life, I was alone but I felt perfectly comfortable. There was no judgment, it was just me. I could be me. And this time, all on my own, I smiled because I really thought I was happy.
But, it’s not that easy. I’m still learning to love myself. And this fall, I was convinced I was fine. But, I wasn’t. I had changed over the summer. One friend who I got along with, who was honestly kind of a toxic person (I’ll explain this in more depth some other time, but take my word for it now), I suddenly couldn’t stand to be around. Not really so much because of her behavior, but because I hated the way I acted when I was around her. I was rude, spiteful, and mean without purpose. I didn’t want to be that way anymore. So I spent time with other people, people who made me love the way I acted when I was around them and who I loved for the way they acted around me.
I don’t hate that one friend, that would be unfair of me. I hope that she changes though. I still talk to her sometimes, but we will never be as close as we were.
I suppose that’s not as related as I wanted it to be. As winter began, my problems with my weight and body image resurfaced again. I told myself I would work out and eat less to be healthy, but that was only a cover. I really just wanted to lose weight even though I was perfectly healthy. I ignored the sources that said my ideal weight would be underweight for my height, brushing it off as these sites were simply uninformed and inaccurate. I know it was stupid. Every day I thought about what I would eat and how I would fool my parents or friends. Sometimes I wish I was a worse liar. I don’t think I had an eating disorder, but I definitely had an unhealthy relationship with food. I’m not sure when I snapped but one day I realized that what I was doing wasn’t right. It wasn’t healthy and it wasn’t what I wanted. I put my health first and did what made my body feel good, now what I told myself would be best for me.
During winter, I often felt numb. Like my life had no purpose and like everything eventful was passing me by and I was wasting my time. After all, 16 is basically halfway to 30. Growing old scared me. I always wanted to be able to run up the stairs, to leap, to do gymnastics, to never have to worry about work or money or death. Immature, maybe, but it’s really quite scary. (On the topic of Youth, I highly recommend the book The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde even though it makes me sad to read.)
Some days, I thought, what would happen if I just didn’t exist, or if I died. Would people really care? Would anything change? Would my parents finally care? It seems so stupid to me now, since I know that people would but I couldn’t help it. The thought scared me but it kept recurring. I felt I had no control over my life and that ending it would give me some influence over those around me. That somehow, it would prove that I mattered. But that wasn’t true. I know that now. Often when the thought came up in my head, I would use an app called Youper (used for mood tracking but so helpful when you’re sad or angry or anything. I can talk more about it another time). It would ask me to list the reasons I had for living and that was like the light at the end of the tunnel. I suddenly remembered the joys of living like the sun on your face, the warm winter breeze, laughing over a funny experience with my friends, dancing and performing, winning a gymnastics competition, my cats, the music that I love and the people I look up to, dancing in my room at night, the euphoric feeling of proving something to yourself or proving others wrong, every fic or book I’ve ever read, the conversations and people I have yet to meet, my future lovers, and the experiences I have yet to experience. The realization that there was an entire future ahead of me with so much light and promise in it. Even if I had to suffer a little now, life really could be beautiful and the future could only get better.
That’s not to say things were automatically better because that’s not the way the world works. I think I realized my importance. I’ve learned to deal with my emotions, and maybe now I’ll start sharing them with others. It’s hard to open up. The fear of judgment, or being seen differently. I understand. I’m scared too. But if you’re struggling with the same thing, I promise, we’ll get through it together. Just promise yourself this: you are enough, you are valid, you are beautiful, and you are valued. Next time you feel depressed or sad or angry, put on your favorite song, take a deep breath, write about the situation, talk to a friend, exercise, whatever.
Where there is hope, there are trials. It’s a long journey but know that happiness is always there. Cherish the moments that make you smile and don’t forget them. It may not be easy, but it’ll be worth it when you look back and see how far you’ve come and how much you’ve grown. I’m so proud of the me from yesterday and the day before that and for the past 16 years. I’m grateful for the me today and I can’t wait to see who the me of tomorrow will become. Never give up on yourself.
Just like the night leaves and the morning comes, as spring goes and summer comes, and as flowers fall and the summer sun rises, everything needs to go through pain, so embrace the world and take a breath.