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Pandemic pounds

A pretty girl walked to the counter to get her cup of coffee as I stared at my half-eaten sandwich a little bit more consciously. As a former athlete who used to wake up early for training, watch her diet constantly, and wear fitted clothes, my gaining weight was not an easy truth to live with.

Looking at myself in the mirror with love handles and huge thighs was hard to see. I felt as if I was not in my body, like a soul trapped in somebody else’s. Who would have thought a former volleyball trainee couldn’t fit now in her jersey and that her shorts looked more like underwear in between her thighs? Awful. It was utterly and bitterly awful.

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In 2017, my uncle told me about a summer program for young athletes and aspiring kids. He persuaded me to join the month-long program. I was not born an athlete. Books and comfort were my best friends, and I did not particularly like tiring myself. On the other hand, my uncle and his kids were all athletes. They loved sports, especially basketball. My mom told me my uncle was like a young Michael Jordan inside the court with his swift and light movement, but when he entered college, he had a problem with his lungs which made him unfit to play.

Yet, he never lost his passion for the sport. He would always watch games, coach, and play briefly with his colleagues. He is now a coach at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, coaching collegiate athletes. My mom was not as passionate and sporty as my uncle, but she loved sports. My mother used to play volleyball when she was younger but did not pursue the sport. I was nowhere near their level, but I was spontaneous in my way. I loved the idea of adventure and trying out new things. So I said yes, and that was when I fell in love with volleyball.

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I played as one of the pioneers of my school’s team. I grew more attached to volleyball and even became fond of sports apparel. I had a love for shoes. But instead of stilettos and sandals, I obsessed over Jordans and Air Force 1s. Until now, I wear basketball shoes with formal outfits when I don’t feel looking like a Pinterest picture. Volleyball became a part of me.

The year 2020, the mother of all disasters, swept all my dreams away and tore my aspirations to shreds. My life went through a long pause, I was stuck, and I did not know how to get out. All the sporting events were canceled, senior high school applications were put on hold, I got heartbroken, Kobe died in a plane crash. What was happening? I sulked and sat in my own mind’s chaos. I had lost everything in an instant. It was all too much in so little time. I was too sad and confused to eat or do anything; I was stagnant and let the months pass by me.

By June 2020, I had lost all control of my diet; binge-eating had become my hobby. I ate when I felt sad, when I felt anxious, or when I just felt like it. I had no control whatsoever of my appetite and had no care of the consequences ahead of me. Food made me happy and calm. Why would I let go of something that comforted me?

Last June, I graduated from junior high school. The year of virtual school was now over, and I can now sleep at night without worrying about deadlines and grades. I sat down on my bed and scrolled through my phone and came across some pictures from late 2019 before the anxiety and tears got trapped in the body of an exhausted 17-year-old. I started missing who I was, and knew that I let a lousy year consume who I truly am.

I started to walk in shame, hearing comments about my new physique and how they missed the fit 15-year-old athlete I used to be. My clothes did not fit me anymore, and shopping was now a nightmare. The body I saw in the mirror was a body I hardly recognized. I started to envy girls my age on TikTok, showing off the pretty outfits they bought online. I wanted to look like that. That should be me wearing that white top. That should be me splurging my money on 7.7 sales online. I had the taste; I did not have the body.

A close friend told me I wasn’t ugly; I was just fat. Some people reading this might think it was harsh, but he had a point. I wasn’t ugly. I was just not the best version of myself. I started to see things differently. I began to notice how my skin cleared up with the new skincare routine I started on a few months ago. My style also leveled up. My appearance was not going downhill; the belly fat was just a scar from a year of anxiety. I am now starting to take my old body back, fasting and exercising like I used to do before the world shut down. Slowly but surely, I am burning the pandemic pounds I had gained.

There is no way I could look like the pretty girl at the coffee shop. I did not look like her, nor will I ever look like her. I am not ugly. I am just not yet the best version of myself.

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Dana Angela Belo, 17, is from Bulacan. She is an incoming senior high school student and loves to write poems and essays in her free time. She is a former volleyball player.

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TAGS: Dana Angela Belo, pandemic weight gain, Young Blood
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