Let me tell you a story: There’s this little duckling that people tease for being different. He’s hurt by it. In his eyes, everyone else looks better, and is happy. And then one day he grows into a beautiful swan.
What a great fairytale, right? Wrong.
As Joel reveals, there’s no point in being a beautiful swan, if on the inside you only feel like the ugly little duckling. He pushes us to realize that until we’re brave enough to accept what we see, on the inside and out, we’ll never be able to truly embrace the beauty we’ve become.
I was teased in school for being an outsider. My family wasn’t particularly wealthy. I was chubby and overweight as a kid, so my perspective was that I just didn’t fit in and belong. That was a feeling that started in elementary school and stuck with me for a very long time. Even then, I wasn’t typical of the ethnic people in that area, I was white and Polynesian. I had a different look not only from the people at my school but in my family. And it took me until I was 30 to grow into my looks. Where everyone else was fairer skinned, I was darker and had different hair.
When I was 19, I really gained weight because I was so unhappy. And being sexually abused when I was 10 only made matters worse. I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin and struggled with feelings of shame. To cover up those feelings, I tried to feel better through food. It wasn’t until I moved from Australia that I decided that I was fed up with that cycle and what it was doing to my body. I wanted to look in the mirror and like what I saw, so I decided to make a change.
I started with replaced smoking cigarettes with exercise and I changed my diet. That’s when people began to notice me and were more vocal about me being attractive. When you spend 27 years as a fat kid and you become the person you’ve always known was beneath that, it’s tough. You still see yourself as the fat kid, even when that is no longer the case.
When I moved to NYC, I did the whole thing again. Although I’d made important changes, I still battled with those same feelings. I struggled with food and my weight was fluctuated again because I had many short-term relationships that always ended badly. That only further affected my self-esteem and sense of worth. Eventually, I got fed up again, and I made a promise to get myself in the best possible shape I could, in hopes of becoming happier.
When you spend 27 years as a fat kid and you become the person you’ve always known was beneath that, it’s tough. You still see yourself as the fat kid, even when that is no longer the case.
I worked with a trainer 5X a week, ate differently, etc. I went from thicker to having this really great physique in about five months. I was so determined to change what I saw on the outside, not realizing I was still the same on the inside. So, when people who I was attracted to in the past but would never even look at me were finally attracted to me, I didn’t know what to do.
It taught me a powerful lesson: When people work out so hard on the physical, they sometimes forget to work just as hard on the inside. You can change everything externally for the better, but even beautiful people struggle with insecurities. For example, recently on the beach, I met this gay couple from Toronto. They were beautiful, just beautiful.
One of them walked up to me and started talking, and the other one did as well. I was shocked because the one who approached me, in my eyes, was beyond beautiful. But at times his husband just seemed uninterested. I didn’t understand how that could be or what led to that. They were both such beautiful people that anyone would want to be with.
I don’t want to be this person who was bullied as a kid or having all of these body issues. It’s time to just embrace myself. Life is too short.
Later, when I told a friend about it, he said, “Show me the most beautiful man in the world, and I’ll show you the man who’s tired of fucking him.” I hadn’t realized it, but I’d only focused on what I saw on the outside, and seeing them made me think about what could happen if I didn’t work as much on the inside as I did on the outside.
I’m sure there were probably a number of reasons why their relationship turned out the way it did–and I can’t say they were necessarily unhappy–but at that moment I knew I didn’t want to end up that way. I realized I wanted to attract someone that would love the way I want to be loved, and would really be into me. But in order to get that, I had to first see the beauty in myself and work to become the person I wanted to be with, first.
For most of my life, I haven’t been aware of my beauty. Part of that is because it took me until I was 30 to grow into my looks and to have more confidence and learn to love me. Even though the outside has changed, I still struggle to see the same person that other people are seeing: the guy that’s beautiful, funny, and worth loving. But now I want to embrace myself, and walk toward the future I believe I deserve. I don’t want to be this person who was bullied as a kid for having all of these body issues. It’s time to love myself. Life is too short.