Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Fat Girl

When I was a kid, I was thin. I guess I am lucky that way... because the tauntings about my weight didn't start until I was a good 11 or 12 years old. Yes, that's right, even though I was never an obese child, I still got tormented about my fatness. How sad is that? Kids can be cruel.

I wasn't even remotely chubby through grade school. I mean, I was pretty darn thin, but not so thin that I was teased for THAT. I was shy, but I had friends and had fun. That is, until middle school.

When I started 6th grade, everything went crazy. All the girls started growing boobs, getting curves, getting attention from boys. Except, for some of us, it seemed like instead of collecting on the chest area, the boob-fat just spread out all over our bodies like a layer of thick pudding coating our thighs and middles. We weren't exactly *fat,* but we were not as thin as the other girls anymore. But we chubby ones stuck together, like outcasts, eating our pizza lunches and hiding in the back row during PE class. PE (also known as "gym") was the biggest nightmare of middle school for me. I had never played any sports, but the gym teacher acted like we all should know how to play things like baseball, basketball and soccer. She just handed out baseball gloves, got out the bats and told us to PLAY. (Huh? Which hand does this glove go on? What do I do? Where do I stand? What am I supposed to do if I catch the ball?) But before we could "play," they had to pick teams. Is this not every fat kid's worst fear? You stand there in a herd of kids, with your ugly, one-piece polyester "gym suit" which has dark blue and white horizontal stripes and a zipper up the middle and the worst case of camel toe possible, and you hope that you are not the VERY last person picked. But as the "team captains" choose all their friends, all the popular kids, all the athletic kids... you are left standing there getting more and more uncomfortable as everyone else is picked. It SUCKED. But usually there was someone fatter or less likable than me who would take last place. And then, out to the field we would go. I had NO IDEA what "position" anyone was playing. I just knew I should stand way far out in the field, not too far from the other fat kids in case a ball came out that way so maybe THEY would have to get it and not me. I had no idea where to throw the ball if I got it. None. And no one ever explained. Is it any wonder I hated PE?

After "playing ball" came the showers. Our school had a big locker room for the girls. On one end was a huge shower. It was a big open room with shower heads all along the walls. We had to get undressed, leave our towel on a hook outside the shower room, and go in and shower. The PE teacher stood at the door and watched us to be sure we used soap. Then we could go out and get our towels and get dressed. THIS WAS HORRIFYING TO ME. Every PE day was full of anxiety. I did NOT want to be naked in front of my classmates. I did NOT want a PE teacher seeing me naked. I would have done ANYTHING to not be in that big room, totally naked and wet with all those other girls. I cannot even tell you how many days I was "sick" just to get out of PE. I had nightmares about it. PE, more than anything, made me HATE sports, fitness, and activity with a passion. My earliest associations with being active were just so negative that I never wanted to try a sport or walk a mile again.

I have, in my own 12-year-old handwriting, a record of my weight at the time as 121 pounds. Is that fat for a 6th grader?? I don't think so. I did not have sharp, defined cheekbones and a jawline anymore, though. My fat friends and I had pudge-faces and little tubby bellies and jiggly thighs. Nothing 5 or 10 pounds lost and a little toning up wouldn't fix, but we didn't know that. I figured it was just how I was. I didn't know I could do anything to change it. Kids made fun. They said I had thunder thighs. They called us fat. But we chunky ones stuck together so we weren't really alone. One of my friends, Elizabeth, was just like me. A little overweight, sort of clumsy, didn't play sports. They made fun of her, too. We weren't "girly" at all... no makeup, short, plain hair, and plain clothes. We both took machine shop and woodworking instead of home ec in 6th and 7th grade. She was cool. She made me feel almost normal.

Then came the beginning of our 8th grade year. I was back, dowdy as ever. I went to homeroom and sat down at my desk. Suddenly, there were oooohs and ahhhhhs, punctuated by WOWs. Who walked in but my friend Elizabeth. Elizabeth???? My jaw dropped. She was stunning! Over the summer she had dropped all the excess weight (which was maybe ten pounds, tops), grew boobs, and got curvy. Her hair was longer and styled nicely. She had makeup and jewelry on and was wearing a very cute, but very tight and short skirt. She practically flitted through the room, beaming her smiles all around. She chatted with everyone and had loads of attention. She was full of confidence. She just oozed of popularity!! What happened? Where was my fat tomboy friend? Who was this chick?? All the boys were drooling over her... literally. All the popular girls were her new friends. She was not "Elizabeth" anymore... she was "Liz." I have to give her credit. She was as friendly and nice to me as ever. She was not shallow and never seemed "stuck up," but her new found popularity DID take her away from me. She was playing sports and had a new boyfriend in an instant, while I watched from a distance. The whole school was all abuzz. "Have you SEEN Elizabeth??? WOW!!" They joked in class with her, about how a fat, plain girl had gone home for the summer and then this hot sexy girl came in her place in the fall. "The ugly duckling turned into a swan!" they said. And then in front of everyone, a boy turned around and said to me, "why don't YOU do that?" And everyone laughed... I heard some comment about "yeah right, she could never be good looking" or something... and then all attention went back to "Liz." I was mortified. I WISHED it was me. I had NO IDEA what happened. I knew nothing about diet or exercise or how to change your looks. I heard people saying she had gone to a "fat camp" over the summer but I didn't know if that was true. Since I had no access to a fat camp, I figured I was stuck.

All of this made me very self-conscious about my body. Even at 14, I was embarrassed of my weight (135 pounds). The school nurse used to have "weigh-in day" every year and we had to all parade down there and step on a scale in front of EVERYONE. It was horrifying. I remember vividly stepping on that scale and having her announce, "135 pounds?? WOW, Where are you hiding it? IN YOUR ARMPITS??" Ughhhhhh. And then the day I was at my best friend's house, and he had given the phone to me to talk to his buddy. We had been talking for quite awhile, flirting a bit. When I gave the phone back to my best friend, his buddy asked him, "what's she look like?" He said I was light skinned, blue eyes, brown hair... and then the guy asked, "Is she fat?" and my friend said, "No, not really, just her thighs." Ughhhh!!!!!! Thunder thighs struck again.

By 16 I had my own transformation. I got taller but didn't gain anymore weight, so I got the curves and the decent body. I grew my hair out and learned how to make it look nice. I started wearing a little makeup, and I grew my nails longer. I got some cute clothes. I finally was able to come out of my shell a bit. I wasn't the fat girl anymore. I was never the fat girl again until after I had children.

But those early experiences as the fat girl deeply affected me. It made it easier for me to get fat as an adult, withdraw from people, think I couldn't change things. It made me more sensitive to rejection and comments from other people about my appearance. Before I began this journey, I was always waiting for the insults to drop. One day when I was picking up my little boy from school, there was a little girl about 6 or 7 years old standing in the hallway. She kept staring at me. I was about 240 pounds, so I figured she was amazed by my sheer size. She stared and stared. Finally my son came out. She looked at him and said really loud, "Is THAT your MOM??" My son said, "yes.." (at this point I just KNEW what was coming next... "She is SO FAT!".. right?) The little girl's face brightened and she said, "Wow! She is SO PRETTY!"

Let's try and remember how pretty we are. Inside and out.


Heather said...

Im lucky enough (if you can say lucky), that I didnt gain weight until college. I cant even imagine being overweight at a young age and having to face criticism. theres enough of it at that age with fitting in,etc. (and yes we had the whole naked shower thing in 6th-8th grade). its too bad but hopefully you can take something awya from those years that is good.

Deb said...

PE and weigh-in day. What could be worse? The most horrific PE sessions ever was the 3 weeks they took us to the local rec center for swimming. SWIMMING. Boys and girl together. I was humiliated. I weighed over 300 pounds in high school. I honestly think PE teachers are mostly sadists.

Dinah Soar said...

I hated P.E. and those showers's a shame that there was so little instruction and direction given during those classes...I might have learned to enjoy sporting activities...mostly I remember the teacher was nowhere around and we were playing some lame game...all the kids with any skill got the attention and the rest of us were lame wonder so many people hate exercise. If we'd had fun and associated the two, as in exercise=fun it would made a difference in a lot of lives.

Ellen said...

I was never thin. I was a heavy kid, and a heavier teen. I hated PE with a great and abiding passion (the only class I ever willingly failed because I skipped so many times and refused to shower in the locker room). Now I really enjoy my workouts and love that good tired slightly sore feeling afterwards.

RunningNan said...

I'm so glad we didn't have to wear suits like that or shower. Our gym glass was a joke anyway!

Anonymous said...

that's so cool that you recognized how this part of your childhood affects you now. i can really relate to this. by the way your writing is verrry good, it's like you're a natural born writer.


Honi said...

OHH boy I could relate to this post.. In grammar school I was the kid picked on, fat homely.. etc.. I never was right.. nothing about me was right.. I was ugly and fat..I had food issues then.. most food ( fattening or deemed fattening) was kept away from me.. I snuck it at school.. buying stuff.. and even stealing a sandwich or two.. hey those kids were mean to me.. and no one ever suspected me so it was easy.. and I had not guilt.. just the need to feel the emptiness in my soul because to them I was nothing but an object to be made fun of.. I never really had a best friend at school I hung out with a 4 year old at 10 years old.. she was my only friend and actually ( she is 40 now and i am 46 almost) we are still best friends if you will pardon that phrase at my age... but growing up that was pretty rough.. at the school in middle school or Jr High I had the same issues .. i hated gym and took band to skip gym.. i had one year of local high school and it was hell.. I skipped school ( by then i was going to end up going to boarding school so i did not care) boys were vicious.. my dad would drop me off extra early so the boys at the door would not bark at me.. one kid as a fraternity prank asked me on a date in front of everyone in the classroom.. so i know how it feels to be be mortified.. horrified.. and hurt beyond all words.. years later i ran into that same boy.. in college.. i was not very friendly and long story short.. he apoligized for his behavior back then because I confronted him.. he did not even remember doing that.. we ended up working on a project together.. but the highlight of those teen years was going to boarding school in Fla at 16 and not only blossoming still as a fat person.. but blossoming socially and academically.. I went from being a failing student to a A honor roll student and graduating as one of the valadictorians of my class.. things can change.. fat or not.. As an adult I have trembled with that classic fear when I was around a young child as an obese person.. more often that not that child would look at me and say you have pretty eyes or pretty hair.. or Miss Honi you are beautiful.. ( I was a preschool assistant for years).. out of the mouth of babes sometimes the sweetest most honest words are spoken..we all fat or not are beautiful women..

Honi said...

one other thing.. in boarding school i had a pe teacher that when ever i said i could not do something always encouraged me to do it.. and I always did it.. maybe not as well as the other kids but she always praised my efforts.. she selected me to be the team manager of the girls volleyball team my second year there.. so I could be involved in sports on my own level.. she encouraged me to walk and move .. it was a dark day my senior year when she changed jobs at the school and the new gym guy looked at me. and made comments how my thighs touched... and how much weight i needed to lose.. those old feelings krept back in.. but the former pe intervined and took me out of the program he had.. and had me do other things on my own.. thank god for that woman who helped change my view on health and exercise..

Trisha J. said...

I was ALWAYS fat......always made fun of.........I was fat in college but accepted and that is where I began to get any kind of self-worth and truthfully, I am still working on it.

Linda said...

wow. you pretty much just summed up my entire school life. except for the showering, luckily here in Australia we dont have that. but everything else was exactly the same, the weigh in, being picked last, being laughed at, my friends getting hotter while i was getting bigger.

Anonymous said...

Today was my 14 year old daughters first day of high school, and she found out that all students must shower after gym classes. I thought that mandatory showers in school were no longer the norm, but as it turns out our school system reinstated the shower requirement a few years ago.

I remember my days of group showering at school like it was yesterday, unfortunately. We had to undress at our lockers. All of the hooks that were by the showers for hanging towels were broken off, so we had to walk nude through the locker room on our way to the open group showers, and walk naked and wet on our way back to our lockers.

The gym teachers stood there with a clipboard and checked off our names as we would walk past them on our way back to our lockers.

We were required to spend at least five minutes showering. If the teacher thought that you weren't in long enough she'd send you back in again.

Many of the girls would stare at each other in the showers. I don't think that any of them were doing it for any kind of sexual gratification? But I think that there were several that were curious to see how other girls bodies compared to their own. And I think that one particular girl enjoyed embarrassing the rest of us with her stares.