lifestyle

Daniel MacPherson tweeted some pretty amazing photos yesterday. Then this happened...

By ROSIE WATERLAND

Yesterday, Australian actor Daniel MacPherson Instagrammed a couple of shots of himself as a kid. A cute, smiling, chubby kid. And school captain no less. He used the hashtag #raidingmumsphotodrawer and looked to be having a lovely stroll down memory lane. And he WAS super cute. Take a look:

Daniel MacPherson
The photos Daniel posted on Instagram.

People commented on the photos with things like “Nawwww …. Those cheeks” and “What a beautiful happy smile!!!”

Then Daniel dropped a truth bomb. He may have been a cute, smiling, chubby kid, but he was also the kid who was teased to the point that he would come home from school and cry. The kid who was picked last for sports teams and picked on in general. That kid. He posted this comment:

I was the fat kid in school. Teased? Sure. Names? Sure. Last picked for teams? Sure. And there were nights as a youngster I’d come home and cry and want to change schools. Sure. But in my teens i discovered sports I loved, and that led to friendships and travel and great mates. And that led to hard work and competing and eating better and training hard and getting the most out of life… So kids listen up. If this is you, trust me, it gets better. You grow, you change, you learn. And you discover the power you have to make better choices. So rip in, go hard and dont be afraid to chase what you love. And don’t let the kids calling you names in school get ya down…. Show em what ya made of. #dmacpreach

The comment accompanied this before and after photo:

Daniel MacPherson.
Daniel MacPherson: As a kid and today.
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He looks great. Incredible even.

But. (And it’s not a big but, but it’s still a but.)

The message involved made me slightly uncomfortable. I get what MacPherson was trying to do. Telling kids who are going through the crappy time you once went through that ‘it gets better’ is a huge deal. It can really help.

But it felt to me like the message of hope he was putting out there was – unintentionally, I’m sure – a message based on appearance. I get that this is Instagram – hardly the place where you’re expected to articulate via thoughtful essay what’s on your mind. And I don’t think MacPherson was going out of his way to imply that losing weight automatically equals happiness.

But to me, the photos did seem to imply that if you’re being teased and don’t like your body, you should work hard to change how you look and then you’ll feel better. That “Show em what ya made of” means eventually being able to post a ‘before and after’ shot where you basically look like a muscle god.

And hey, there’s no doubt it’s worked for Daniel McPherson. He looks fantastic.

But not every cute, smiling, chubby kid out there is going to end up looking like a muscle god. What about them?

I’ve written quite a bit about gaining a drastic amount of weight over the last few years due to an eating disorder. Having never had a weight problem before, it’s been extremely difficult for me to deal with. I didn’t realise how much of my self-worth relied on my appearance until I had no self-worth left. Getting fat made me feel like I was worth nothing.

Rosie-Waterland-2It’s taken me a long time and a lot of hard work to readjust my thinking so that I find worth and value in myself not related in any way to how I look. It’s not easy, but I do it. I do it because I’ll almost certainly never have the body I once did, but that doesn’t mean I don’t ever deserve to be happy. I do it because I’m shocked at how quickly and easily I fell to pieces both emotionally and mentally just because of an increasing number on a scale.

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And why did I?

Because it’s been drummed into all of us, from as far back as each of us can remember, that appearance is king. That supermodels are valued more highly than doctors. That fitting into skinny jeans will make you happier than getting into uni. That being school captain won’t make you happy if you still have chubby cheeks.

Now, I’m not saying that health isn’t important. Of course it is. My philosophy (after much internal struggle) is quite simple now: aim for health and happiness.

And I think that was a large part of what Daniel was trying to say. He found sports, made friends, started eating better and turned his life around. And good on him. Changing bad habits and getting healthy is not always easy.

But what if he hadn’t? What if he had grown up, lived the best kind of healthy lifestyle that he could, but never really dropped that puppy-fat? Would his life not have ‘turned around’ then? If he had stayed chubby, would his life be worth any less than it is now? Not every kid is going to love sport and training and competing to the point that they can end up looking like a model.

It’s important to be healthy. But mental health is a huge part of that. And you know what a huge part of mental health relies on? Self-worth and self-esteem. And I learned the hard way that basing your self-worth and self-esteem on your looks is a dangerous road to travel down.

I worry about the kids who look at photos of incredibly handsome and toned men like Daniel MacPherson and think “Yeah. I can turn my life around – if I look like that.’

Because looking a certain way isn’t the answer. Learning to love and value yourself in spite of how you look is the answer. And believe it or not, making healthy choices in your life is a lot easier when you feel like you’re worth it. But if you base that worth on a body you don’t have yet… Well, trust me, it doesn’t get you anywhere.

I LOVE that Daniel MacPherson candidly revealed a piece of himself in the hopes that it would inspire others. I really do. But sometimes I worry that these kinds of Cinderella stories inadvertently end up being about looks.

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Although I think there is a wider problem when it comes to value and worth that affects all of us, it was Daniel’s photos that inspired me to write about this – so I thought it was important to involve him by letting him read this piece and offering him the chance to respond.

This is what he had to say:

Thanks for your response, Rosie.

Let me start by saying how incredibly overwhelmed I have been by the response to this post in the last 48 hours. It was a very much a spontaneous post, composed in a matter of minutes, while staying in the spare room at my mum’s house in my childhood home in Cronulla. I had found a box of old photos and had been casually flicking through, reminiscing about growing up in the area. I looked at that photo, and I simply thought about what my now 33-year-old self would say to my 11-year-old self in that photo, and thought what little nugget of positivity I could pass on from it. I pressed ‘post’,  plugged in my phone, turned out the light. Then it started. Phone flashing and buzzing, full of life. Instead of going to sleep, I sat there digesting the flood of responses for hours and hours.

Daniel MacPherson
Daniel MacPherson

I enjoyed your article, and understand your viewpoint. Each person’s opinion is shaped by their personal experience, thank you for being honest and open about yours.

Social media by its very nature is fleeting; a short moment of entertainment, a short span of attention, and a swift flick of the thumb and its onto the next post or tweet. So to dissect and analyze a post in depth, perhaps goes against the very fabric of the medium. It is, however, a visual medium.

That happiness or self worth is defined by one’s appearance was certainly not the intended message behind the post. I didn’t talk about weight loss, diets or looking good. I didn’t equate success to looking good.

I did however did combine the two shots that visually highlighted the contrast in 11-year-old Dan to 33-year old Dan. From 11-year-old overweight Dan, who came last in the 800m at school and was teased for being the “fattest kid in the class” to 33-year-old Dan, who is happy with wonderful friends, family and a healthy career.

As per my words on the post, this came from not allowing the negativity of others allow me to keep me down. I kept on running in races when class mates, even into high school , would continue to make fun of me. I kept on. I went from last, to second last. I kept on, because I loved it. I rode my bike with my friends because it made me happy. I went swimming and surfing with my friends, because I could. I was fit enough to swim out past the break at South Cronulla beach.  Because I didn’t let the name calling or cruel whispers of others stop me from doing what I loved. As an 11- year-old, I didn’t let it stop me from discovering things that eventually became a hugely fulfilling part of my adult life.

I didn’t ‘turn my life around’, I simply didn’t let others stop me from going where I wanted to.

For me, the critical discovery was sport, and my physical change was a bi-product of that. For other kids it may be a discovery of music, singing or art. Whatever it is i hope that they have the courage to go after it.

That was the intention behind the message.

The photos Daniel posted on Instagram.
The photos Daniel posted on Instagram.

It’s also important to note, that on the first two of the sequence of three posts i used the hashtag #AWKWARD.  When I looked at myself at 11, I saw an awkward boy feeling awkward in a uniform, smiling awkwardly in a photograph, standing in an awkward body that was changing in awkward ways that I couldn’t understand. Those pre-teen years were an awkward time of my life.  In that post, I wanted any follower of mine experiencing something similar at that age, to be given a shot of positivity. Words of understanding. A visual example of how much things can change. That it’s not going to be awkward like that forever. I wanted to impart a message of empowerment, that as you grow, learn and change, that you have the power to make the choices in your life that will lead you to being happy, in whatever form happiness may take.

The responses have simply been incredible. I actually found it quite an emotional experience. Thousands of ‘likes’, over 250 positive messages of reply, and hundreds of ‘retweets’. I have received messages of support from family and friends, from world champion athletes to international celebrities wanting to send a similar message. I was overawed by the messages from parents, as they watch their own children struggle through similar circumstances. I was buoyed by messages from fathers saying that they had read the post to their sons and it had a positive impact as they headed off to school. Most importantly I received messages from a number of pre-teen and teenage boys and girls, saying that they struggle at school and that this small message of mine had helped.

Rosie, you may be right.  On the surface, at a fleeting glance it may appear like an unachievable ‘before and after’ but sincerely hope that the substance and heart behind the post proves otherwise.

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