Thursday, January 17, 2013
I think most fat people can remember many of the incidents where they were taunted or made fun of over the years. I sure can, and reading other blogs, I think most of us fat people or former fat people (but once we're fat, aren't we always fat people in our minds?) have pretty thin skins. Oh sure, we all pretend to be jovial and laugh when we are teased about our size, but inside it HURTS! And it's a hurt that stays inside of you forever. Perhaps that is why no matter how much we change our outside, we're remain fat inside, because those hurts never go away.
I remember in high school, (and that's been over 40 years ago), a boy who was a couple years younger than me, spotted me one day in the hallway just after school let out for the day. He said, "Nice legs....for telephone poles." I've never forgotten that. And that is one of the reasons I hated being fat. You just set yourself up to be the butt of jokes. In high school, I wasn't even that heavy yet. I was heavier than some of the skinny girls, the cheerleaders who were my friends, but I probably weighed about what I do today. Today I feel like I'm pretty slender at this weight, but back then, when the other girls were weighing in the 110's and 120's, and I was weighing in the 140's and 150's--I was FAT! And my legs were heavy starting in puberty. I also had a lot of "junk in my trunk." Today, I lost my rear end, but my legs, even if you take away the excess skin, are still heavy. But that's okay. MINI skirts are no longer what I have to wear to school everyday, as they were in the 1960's. I stick with slacks and jeans, with an occasional knee-length or longer skirt. So my legs are no longer the target of taunts.
So with my background, which is so similar to many of us fatties, I thought I had left all that teasing behind. I thought I was "normal" looking now. So I went back to the elementary schools I had given up in the 70's, fearing the taunts of students because of my obesity. I gave up my dream of teaching back then, because I couldn't control my eating. This really is not that big of a deal, when I read of all the huge things that others have given up due to their food addiction: relationships, marriage, love, having children, mobility, health, even LIVING!
A year and a half ago when I realized that once again I might be able to pursue teaching because I thought I looked "normal," I took the one college course I needed to take to renew my teaching certificate to the extent that I was qualified to substitute. My plan was to substitute teach occasionally after I retired. Now that I'm retired, I embraced this opportunity more fully, after doing it every once in a while during the fall semester, while I was still working at my "real" job. Just taking the college course was more than I could have handled before. I was afraid to go into any strange classrooms, for fear the desk/chair situation would be impossible for me to fit into, not to mention the impossible walking to and from a parking place to the classroom. So I was proud and happy that I could just do that much. Once the class was over, I applied to our public school system, and was hired as a substitute.
The first time I walked into a classroom, my stress level was over the moon. I was so stressed I couldn't even EAT! It takes a lot to take away my appetite. But the more I substitute, the less stressful it becomes. Yesterday I didn't leave home early enough for my sub assignment which started at 12:30, got lost in my own hometown (made a very stupid wrong turn), and made it with NO time to spare. I walked in, saw from the plan the teacher had left, that I was to pick up the class from the lunchroom, so made my way down the hall to get them. I was teaching third graders yesterday. They were a nice group, if a little rowdy. I have found I don't really worry so much about them being constantly quiet. I know they don't behave as well with me as they are required to with their regular teacher, but unless the principal complains about how I'm handling the kids, I'm okay with it. They are just going to test the waters with a sub, that is part of what makes being a sub hard. The other part that is difficult is not knowing exactly what you are to teach until you get to school. Yesterday I was reading lessons plans as I was teaching them! But what sticks with me more than any of that is the greeting I got from most of the kids waiting for me in the lunchroom--"What is that thing hanging from your chin?"
What do I say? How do I handle this? I get lots of suggestions from family and friends, but I'm not sure any of them are appropriate lessons to teach a third grader. Several people told me to wear my excess skin as a badge of honor. I myself have told people that. And I try to remember that, but even though adults don't mention my "waddle," kids do. And it still hurts. Being fat causes major self-esteem issues. I had no self confidence as a morbidly obese (or super morbidly obese--as someone corrected me once) woman, I was full of self loathing, and didn't really even feel worthy of being considered a human being. I thought I was beneath that. I have slowly regained some of my self-worth as the pounds came off. I look in the mirror and I like what I see. But I don't even see my "waddle," anymore. I did ask the photographer from Women's Day if he could get a shot where it didn't show. I'm aware it's there, but I guess I just don't consider it all that noticeable.
Obviously it is noticeable. In fact, it is evidently the FIRST thing people see when they meet me for the first time, and kids aren't afraid to mention it. Some of the kids yesterday even said they were going to call me "turkey." As fat people do, I tried to make a joke out of it. When we got back to the classroom, I wrote my name on the whiteboard. Beneath my name I wrote, "Not Turkey!"
Once again, I tried to use humor, to laugh it off. Humor is the fat person's best and only defense. We never want to show how hurt we are. But maybe we should.
I have often said that fat prejudice seems to be the last acceptable form of bias against people who are different. Of course children are a whole different story. But they are teaching them not to bully in the schools. Is calling me "turkey" a form of bullying? I think it is.
I have to devise a strategy to deal with this. Today I subbed all day as a reading specialist. I worked with single children in 30-minute sessions, so had no behavior problems at all! But one of the young boys (they were 6- and 7-year old first graders) asked me what my hangy thing was below my chin. JUST ONE. And I know it's innocence. They don't intend to be mean, they're just curious. So in that sense, when all they do is ask "what it is," it's not bullying.
Perhaps if I can tell myself that they are not trying to be mean, it won't hurt so much. I just need to accept this evidently extremely obvious flaw about myself and also accept the fact that children are going to ask about it. Perhaps if that "hangy" thing was all filled out again with FAT, as it was for so many years, they would be more accepting. But perhaps it would be even worse...so I will be glad they ask about my "hangy" thing from now on and be grateful they are not making fun of me behind my back for being FAT! Because you know they would.