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A Fat Girl in Gym Class

January 17, 2012
I used to be a fat kid… or so I thought. A friend of mine sent me this picture recently, which was taken at a time that I had been singled out for being fat. At the time, I thought I looked horrendous. I can vividly remember how uncomfortable I felt about my body back then.

Me (right) and my good friend Donna at our junior high graduation.

Ummm… fat? Are you kidding me? A little thick, maybe. A little plump. I blossomed early. My boobs seemed to sprout overnight, I got my period when I was 12, and I had quite a womanly body for a 13-year-old.

If I had this body now, I would be ecstatic. But at the time, I was treated like an absolute pariah. I was treated horribly, shamefully, degradingly, and abusively, but even worse, I felt I had no choice but to meekly accept it.

You know one of the reasons why? Nobody objected. Not even the teachers who must have heard at least some of what was going on. I guess I began to feel like I deserved it. This led to at least two decades of dieting in an attempt to get my womanly, curvy body under control and off of the radar of bullies whose sole mission in life seemed to be to make me feel miserable.

I have always felt for that girl I used to be, and when I recently saw this picture and saw how shockingly small I was in comparison to how I felt I was, I felt for her even more. Being a fat kid is not easy. I’m sure it’s a million times harder now, with campaigns like the so-called Strong4Life campaign sprouting up, which purports to fight for fat children, but advocates shaming them in an attempt to motivate them.

People say they want to help fat kids by “motivating” them with negative messages. (The “motivation by criticism” excuse is popular with adults too.)  There is one memory in particular that has always stayed with me from my time in school, and I would like to share it with you to prove just what an uphill battle fat kids face today (I know — as if you didn’t know).

Like most fat kids, I hated gym class with a passion. I hated being picked last for all the team sports, and I hated being laughed at by all the skinny kids who thought they were better and stronger than me. One day, we were having a relay race which consisted of those long, bleacher-type benches placed strategically in a line. One by one, we were supposed to run, then squeeze ourselves under those benches, then run back to the end of the line so the next person could do their lap.

As I’m sure you know, the underside of those benches was quite a narrow squeeze and I dreaded my turn. But when the gym teacher blew the whistle to start the race, I swallowed my fear and swore to myself that I would run my ass off and show those motherfuckers just how fast and strong a fat girl could be.

My heart pounded as kids cheered other kids on. It got closer and closer to my turn. Then, all of a sudden — I was off! I wish you could have seen me. I was in the fucking zone. Nothing could stop me. I ran as fast as I could, squeezed myself into the tiny wedge under that bench (and it wasn’t as tight a squeeze as I thought), and then, all of the sudden, I realized how quiet it was.

The cheering had been replaced by total silence. On my stomach on the floor, still partially wedged under a bench, I looked over my shoulder, and everyone — I mean EVERYONE — was just staring at me, shocked.

Was anyone cheering me? Urging me on? No. Everyone looked stunned. No one looked more shocked than the gym teacher, who had a disbelieving grin on his face. When everyone saw my horrified expression, they laughed. I got up quickly and ran to the end of the line, thinking: Well, you got your fucking show! I’m not about to do that again!

I have no idea why the race had been stopped… the reason scarcely mattered. To top off my mortification, one of my only so-called friends at the time couldn’t wait to tell me that when everyone was watching me speed through the race, she’d heard one of the boys say: Look at the fat one go! (I’d temporarily been spared that humiliation in my single-minded focus to show them just what I could do.) Most of all, though, I’ll never forget that look on the gym teacher’s face. My gym teacher was a man. I’d never liked him much, but from that point on, I fucking hated him.

That was pretty much the end of my effort as far as gym class was concerned. I skipped class whenever I could, forged notes excusing me from certain practices, and I did whatever I could do avoid it. I did it because I knew that no matter what I did, no matter how hard I tried, no matter how much I tried to prove myself to them, it wouldn’t change a thing. They would still always see me the same way. Look at the fat one go.

I tell this story because I really don’t think things have changed. If anything, they’ve probably gotten worse than when I was 12. Things have changed in the sense that kids are getting bigger, and they are getting bigger much faster than they used to. Our processed- and preservative-laden foods and decrease in activity levels are at least partially responsible for that.

But where things have not changed at all, and have probably gotten even more pronounced, is in the shaming of fat kids. Fat kids are shamed for being fat, and fat kids are shamed even when they try their best to not be fat. When adults running an organization think it’s acceptable to shame and insult fat children in an attempt to “motivate” them, bullying has entered a whole new stratosphere.

I pray that all fat kids today get through school as quickly as possible with as minimal trauma as possible. I don’t pray for much more than that because I am a realist. The world hates fat people. The world encourages hatred and intolerance of fat people. When you’re an adult, it gets a little easier, because you can defend yourself. When you’re a child, you’re at their mercy. Unless you’re lucky enough to have loving, supportive people around you, school is simply an endurance test, a rite of passage that will determine how strong a person you are.

Godspeed, kids. I send you my strength. I give you all my support. I wish I could speed up time so that you could get out of the seven circles of hell, also known as school, a lot faster. But you will survive, because one thing about us fat people that the average gym teacher just doesn’t seem to grasp: WE ARE STRONG.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. January 17, 2012 10:03 am

    What a wonderful story, Gabriela. I think we’ve all had similar experiences where other kids, or adults, would judge our abilities and treat us accordingly, regardless of the reality. And we wonder why fat kids so frequently shun organized sports or gym class or anything where their physical prowess will be called into question by their asshole peers.

    Was it “Rethinking Thin” that included the story of the gym class that was just for fat kids, where they were finally able to play sports without being judged? At the time, I thought it was about segregating fat kids to get them to lose weight, but now I realize that it’s all about the importance of creating safe spaces for fat kids to learn to enjoy moving their bodies without judgement. We need more of this in our country.

    Thank you for sharing, Gabriela!


    • January 17, 2012 3:20 pm

      I’ll bet there are a hell of a lot of fat kids out there who would be amazing athletes if they did not feel self-conscious about trying out for teams, participating in sports, etc. It’s so sad. I remember always being really good at baseball when I was a kid, but because I hated gym class so much, the thought of trying out for a team never even crossed my mind. It was just unthinkable.

  2. Leila Haddad permalink
    January 17, 2012 1:37 pm

    What an awesome piece. Thanks for sharing. Lord knows it’s a story so many of us can relate to. I wish you were my Jr HS guidence counsler back in the day…

    • January 17, 2012 3:07 pm

      Thank you, Leila! 🙂 I wish I could be a guidance counsellor specifically for plump/fat junior high/high school kids! Boy would I have a lot to tell them!

  3. vesta44 permalink
    January 17, 2012 2:41 pm

    Totally awesome piece and so true – it was true 45 years ago when I was in jr high and high school and it’s still true today. I was bullied for being fat when I was in school and this is what I looked like back then:
    I think I was 16 or 17 in that photo. Looking back at myself then, I can see that I wasn’t fat at all, but I sure thought I was. I heard it from classmates, from my mother, from my gym teacher – seemed like everywhere I turned someone was telling me I was fat. And the irony of it all is that all that bullying that was supposed to make me thin, all those diets and the WLS that were supposed to make me thin? Made me fatter. Yeah, bullying just works so well to make fat kids/adults thin, doesn’t it.

    • January 17, 2012 3:15 pm

      Absolutely mind-blowing. What was it that made others/us think we were so fat? We were so cute! Yet at the time, I felt like so ugly and like such a misfit. It’s also quite funny, because when I was around 13, because I matured so early, I was getting 19-20ish guys and even older men hitting on me all the time … I guess they thought I was around their age … but boys my own age treated me like shit. it was awful. I do not miss adolescence one bit and I truly sympathize with anyone going through it now.

  4. Catgal permalink
    January 17, 2012 2:55 pm

    I have looked at photos of myself in the all important 12 – 14 age range and said to myself, Hey! I wasn’t fat! Why didn’t everyone leave me the hell alone? I probably would have been a lot better off!

    • January 17, 2012 3:17 pm

      Exactly the same questions I asked myself … not what was wrong with me … but what the hell was wrong with everyone around me! Must have been some mass delusion going on.

  5. Donna C permalink
    January 17, 2012 9:59 pm
    Looking through the internet about what makes people bully and call other people names, why do we do this and I found this site, never heard of no name calling week – January 23-27! Do you know what I love about the picture…US! We were just as cool or just as dorky or just as smart or some moments just as dumb as the next person, LOL. I have learned that some people I went to school with, who I thought were cool, weren’t! People who I thought were stupid, weren’t! People who I thought were pretty, weren’t! I know when we were young I didn’t say this “probably because well heck…we were young” but I really looked up to you. You were emotional strong, smart, funny and very attractive. And from what I can see, you still are! You did develop young, I was jealous of that, you looked older, I was jealous of that too, I looked more like a 13 year old boy than a girl, haha! I won tickets to see the Rolling Stones a few years ago, my girlfriends and I laughed at work, they said “are you going to flash the band?” and I said “I don’t think Mick Jagger is into 13 year old boys”. I wish at 13 I had that sense of humor and confidence. I hope you know G that to me, you did have that sense of humor and confidence. Hugs!

    • roundgirlrocks permalink
      January 18, 2012 8:17 am

      Donna, so nice to see you over here! Thanks for following the link from Facebook! 🙂 I miss you so much, girlfriend. Thank you for your kind words and your enduring friendship. (FFFs, this is my old friend Donna, the girl in the picture with me!) I totally agree with you about how our perceptions of people tend to totally reverse when we look back on things. The people who were branded cool were usually anything but … I remember all those snooty little rich girls from the Valley who walked around they owned the world … maybe some of them still think they do … It’s nice to hear but kind of boggles my mind that I appeared confident to you, because at that time in my life, I was anything but confident. I guess I must have been a very good actress. I was always very good at covering up my emotions. Still am, a lot of the time. Anyway, I guess it’s all part of the growing/learning process. part of the reason I am so confident in who I am now is because of what happened to me back then … I vowed that no one would ever make me feel like that again. So I guess some good did come out of it. 🙂 Thanks for posting that link … I will have to check it out. Did I say how nice it was to see you over here? Oh yeah, I did … well I’ll say it again! 🙂 Love you, Donna.

      • Donna C permalink
        January 18, 2012 10:41 pm

        Hugs girl, if that was acting you deserve an award, because I do believe you were strong, smart, funny and confident. I recently added Ron Grech to my friends, remember him? He is also a writer for the Timmins Daily Press. Remember how funny he was, remember all the stores he wrote. He said very nice things about you, I told him you were writing and blogging and doing great. He said he remember sitting across from you one year and that you guys laughed alot, I thought that was sweet. Laughter is the best thing ever, you always had a beautiful smile and laugh! I hope if I can make it to Toronto, I will have the great opportunity to meet with you and hear and see your smile and laugh. I love you girl, and hope to see in Toronto this summer, god how I would love to take some new pictures! I miss you very much and I think some new memories and pictures would just be the best, hugs, love you G

        • January 19, 2012 9:23 am

          OMG Donna, I do hope you make it to Toronto, because if you do, we are going to go out and have a damn good time! 🙂 wooohoo! lol I remember Ron very well, actually I just friended him on Facebook after I read this comment from you. How much sense does it make that he turned out to be a writer? I remember him writing those stories so feverishly, as if he couldn’t stop even if he wanted to …. yes, that was destiny for him. As it was for me too, I guess, but i did all my writing at home. I miss you so much. Please get here whenever you can. I want to give you a REAL hug, not just a virtual one. ((((((HUG)))))))) Love you.

    • January 18, 2012 8:23 am

      Brilliant Donna! Thank you for finding this! Perfect timing too!


  6. January 18, 2012 1:16 am

    I developed bulimia in junior high because my hips developed. I’m one of those pear shaped people–whole lotta butt, modest endowment on top. I used to be proud because I could wear a size 9 boys’ jeans and had long legs. Well, when I got hips, that stopped, and I was a (SARCASM) grossly obese women’s size one. I started sticking my finger down my throat after eating.
    And yes, the other kids did call me “fat.” I weighed a tremendously gargantuan 110 pounds.
    There are two truisms to be learned from this.
    1) people are assholes
    2) the body shaming has to stop

    • roundgirlrocks permalink
      January 18, 2012 8:19 am

      1) you are so right; 2) I know — but will it ever?

  7. marg permalink
    January 24, 2012 8:29 am

    Hey I know lot of your feelings I hated gym to use to hide in bathroom. I was the only girl with big boobs. I hated it and had to wear that stupid gym suit from catholic school plus lots more shit I think your picture u look so cute. And to think. Back then how u frlt that is sad. Marg

    • Catgal permalink
      January 24, 2012 9:08 am

      Ugh! I had to wear a “gym-suit” in elementary school. What a disaster. Wearing a bra when everyone else was in underoos and training bras…

    • January 28, 2012 12:49 pm

      Marg … another of my friends comes to visit! 🙂 Thanks for following the link and finding your way here … yes, gym class was a constant thorn in my side in school. Absolutely hated it. And those uniforms/rompers … ugh! Thank God that’s over.

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