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Why Does It Still Hurt?

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 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.
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  • CANNIE50
    I like the point you, and others, made that there is innocent curiosity and deliberate cruelty - the first should be gently addressed, and the second should be pointed out and dealt with on the spot. As far as the mean comments made to you, and so many of us, when we were younger, this is what I always think: that mean person grew up and had children and when those children had their feelings hurt, that mean person had to remember all the times they deliberately inflicted emotional pain and they felt shame and remorse. May not be true, but it could be.....
    1948 days ago
    I think nearly everyone has a memory like that from childhood/high school, whether we were overweight or not. I had bad acne, and I remember a little boy I babysat asking me what those spots were on my face.

    You've gotten great suggestions, and I know you'll be able to help the kids learn to be more polite and emphathetic by talking with them about how such questions can hurt people's feelings.

    As always, I so admire your honesty!
    1950 days ago
    First, I want to thank you for the encouragement you left at my blog on Onederland. :) You are so right about the 100s meaning 'normalcy'.

    I really enjoyed reading your page ~ you have an incredible success story, you must be so proud. :)

    As for this blog ~ yep, I remember my 'moments' of bullying. I was not overweight in high school but I have short legs and I have to watch what kind of pants I wear. Once, in grade 9, my friends told me a guy was going to ask me out and I was going to say 'yes'. The next time I saw him I was wearing a pair of 'stove pipe' pants (remember those?) and he told my friends that he was not going to ask me because I was too fat. I was devastated. :( People can be so cruel. Although I was not overweight, I felt so 'unworthy,' for many different reasons, in high school. I detested school.

    When I put on a HUGE amount of weight, after turning 45, it was ME that told me I was a fat slob and nobody would want a thing to do with me.Well ~ my father's wife did tell me I'd better lose it so my children were not 'ashamed of me' so that might have added to what I already felt. I stayed indoors for years. I, finally, realized that I was wrong and made peace with my body. BUT ~ that doesn't mean I want to stay overweight. I have finally made up my mind to lose it and when I finally got under 200, it was so incredible. I feel like I can take on the world, most days.

    You look fabulous so I don't know what you are going to tell those kids about your neck. Mine will look much the same way after the weight is gone. :( I have 2 extra chins, at the moment. There are some good suggestions here. Good luck!! and Keep Sparking. :)
    1951 days ago
  • MYRTLE811
    Your story is so inspiring; it was the first story I read when I joined spark people and you really helped me get started. I have been a longtime teacher and find when kids say things like they did it's a perfect opportunity to let them know that's not o.k. If we don't they continue to think they are doing the right thing and never get to develop that sense of empathy. I usually explained that some things are what makes people different from themselves are not meant to be commented on. It has helped me to understand that children really for the most part don't know what is hurtful as they are so curious, but once they learn I felt I had helped them understand what the limits in some conversations about another's person were.
    You are doing such a great job subbing, not an easy job. Congratulate yourself on all your successes and by the way, I have the turkey waddle too!
    1951 days ago
    Be honest with the kids when they ask you questions like that. Tell them that "thing" hanging under your neck is nothing more than excess skin from your weight loss. Some people will say nasty things just to see how you'll react. And some people are just rude. I've found that being honest as well as polite will stop these sorts of people in their tracks. a kind reaction really does make them think that maybe what they said was inappropriate. You may even get an apology. Some people do speak before they think.

    Young children really are just being curious. You look different and they want to know why. A teenager can be just plain MEAN and vicious. They love pushing buttons just to see how far they can go before you kick them out of your classroom. Kill them with kindness too. They don't know how to react to someone being decent to them. ;)

    I remember when I was in high school. I was overweight, but I wasn't morbidly obese. However, I was still big enough to attract some taunting. I too have one vivid memory that I can't let of either. One classmate once called out to me,"Karen, you're a FOX, without the F".

    Where is that kid today ? I don't know, BUT if there is any justice in the universe, he's overweight and balding. LOL !!!

    The point ? No one is perfect. There are parts of my stomach that resemble a Shar Pei Puppy ! But, I don't let that get me down because I consider any sagging skin a small price to pay for my over all good health since losing the weight.

    Could you have cosmetic surgery ? Sure, later on you could if you wanted. For now, just be honest and don't take any taunts personally. It's tough being a substitute teacher regardless of your weight. Don't let the "mean girls" bother you. You really are better than their petty taunts.

    1952 days ago
    Some great recommendations here -
    It's often the fact that we are caught off guard by a comment / question and it's hard to respond with the right answer - however, with time I'm sure you will find the right response.
    1952 days ago
    I have been a teacher for 6 years, and for the first 3 I was around 300 pounds, so I understand the self-consciousness you feel. I had to develop a "thick skin" to deal with the children. I think you need to be completely honest instead of laughing it off. I'm having to deal with more comments now because I'm pregnant, so kids say things like, "WOW your belly is huge!" or "You're putting on a lot of weight". And at least now I have an excuse, but I use these comments as a teaching moment. I say to the student or the whole class, "Yes, I'm pregnant...there's a baby in there, so that's why I'm putting on weight. But you really shouldn't tell someone they're getting big or putting on weight. It could hurt their feelings. I'm sure some of you have something about yourself that you are embarrassed about, something that you have gotten made fun of for. How would you feel if I pointed out your flaws? Wouldn't that hurt your feelings?" It really makes the kids think. If I were you, I'd honestly tell the kids that you lost a lot of weight and that when that happens, you have hanging skin. Tell the kids that you are proud that you have lost so much weight and that you are much healthier now. Tell them that being called "turkey" hurts your feelings and that they wouldn't like for you to point out their flaws, either. Kids appreciate honesty, they really do! I know it may feel embarrassing to tell the whole story to the class, but honestly, isn't the acceptance of others and their differences a better lesson for the kids to learn than the "busy work" the teacher may leave for them most of the time? I think so!
    1952 days ago

    Comment edited on: 1/19/2013 8:51:00 AM
    I think you have a great attitude about how to handle it. I don't think they are making fun of you, I think they are just curious. I like how other people have suggested answering the questions.
    1953 days ago
  • CC3833
    That can be tough. I mean I never really got many fat comments but I have psoriasis and many people talk about that. I was asked if I was contaigous. My niece when she was 6 asked me if I was a leopard because I had so many spots. So yes totally innocent how could I get mad at that but it did hurt me. And when I would get them on my face people would tell me I had bad acne. But I have gotten over that. I will have it for the rest of my life and I have no idea when it will flare up.

    People still ask me all the time what's on my elbows. Now I just tell them straight out that I have psoriasis and no it's not contagious, because that is always the next question. And it hurts when people stay away from me because they think they can catch it. Ignorance is a problem. The only thing you can do is educate them.

    I know this is different but I hope it helps. Good luck and have fun teaching I'm sure they are just curious.
    1953 days ago

    Comment edited on: 1/18/2013 11:08:30 AM
    Great are so right just because we lose the weight we don't necessarily gain
    confidence. We can understand the children being curious .It's the adults that feel
    free to make comments about fat people as if we don't have mirrors at home and haven't figured out what's wrong. Your are a inspiration to me!
    emoticon emoticon
    1953 days ago
    Words do hurt even when people do not really mean what they say.
    1953 days ago
    It still hurts because losing the weight and keeping it off doesn't solve those kinds of things.

    In my case some of it is related to my historically low self esteem, and some is related to the actual presence of empty flaps of skin that you wouldn't normally see on a person my size.

    I'm working on the first one with therapy and won't consider a surgical solution to the second one until I've kept the weight off at least 5 years.

    There would be no point in going through the expense and risks if I ended up just gaining back the weight. 5 years is the minimum time I'd consider waiting to be more sure I won't regain. And I'm by no means leaning toward removing the skin. I won't even think about it until 5 years has passed since reaching goal.

    In the meantime yeah it's awkward and difficult, especially when dating. (I'm single)

    But It's part of me, and my history and I'd still rather have the empty skin and look mostly normal with clothes on than have all that fat back.

    It would be so much harder if I were missing a limb, or had some kind of disfigurement that horrified people. I think of those who have survived terrible burns or a dog attack to the face, or a really bad car crash, and I realize I have it pretty dang easy.

    Hang in there. You'll come up with the right things to say in the different sorts of circumstances it arises.

    1953 days ago

    Comment edited on: 1/17/2013 9:53:18 PM
  • KERRYG155
    We struggle to lose the weight and we feel good at having succeded and then somebody says something and it does bring it all back. We know that kids always speak their minds and it's hard to know how to react but my first thought is to never laugh it off. Use it as a lesson time and tell them that you used to be really big but lost weight and it's extra skin that hasnt' gone away yet. Adding that it is rude to comment on how people look should probably be thrown in, too, as a lesson to all the kids. After all, they wouldn't like it if other people made fun of them. Plus I think with some kids laughing it off gives them permission to find other things to say about you or other people.
    1953 days ago
    Could you perhaps make a story of your weight loss journey & tell them that all your loose skin is a badge of sorts or a reminder of how far you came, & that while you don't like your loose skin either, it's just skin & that as you exercise more, it will tighten up. I'm like the others here. Kids that age are curious & not meaning to be mean, at least some of them don't mean to be mean. I also think that telling them that the classroom is considered a safe room & teasing & criticizing are not allowed.
    1953 days ago
  • DOODIE59
    Hi Maggie
    I hear your pain:) I do think most of them are just asking because they're curious; I don't think they are attaching the same stigma to it that you are. Another thought to ponder: Don't forget that they are standing or sitting directly below you, and your throat area is directly in front of them.

    I do also agree with the previous comment that announcing your classroom to be a place safe from bullying and teasing is a GREAT idea. And I think there are children in every classroom who would be very grateful to hear that news:)
    Have fun teaching!
    1953 days ago
    Oh, I wish I did know the perfect thing for you to say to either the innocents who just want to know and to those who are bullying mean. To the innocents perhaps the truth is best, "I've lost weight and this is excess skin." To younger bullies (6,7,8), perhaps telling them that they are being mean is approrpriate. To older bullies, maybe there is something good to say, but I'm thinking you should report them for bullying. But my experience in this area is extra limited.

    I remember a boy in 5th grade calling me a "Moo Cow." In kindergarten the nickname "Marshmellow" was partly due to my girth (partly my name) and it hurt then. My gym teacher called me a "Motor Moron". You are right. You never forget those comments.And not having a date to the prom was devastating. Take care.-Marsha
    1953 days ago
    I really liked what lindak25 says here. I think all kids can understand that "criticizing and teasing aren't allowed here. This class is a safe place where everyone can be themselves and not be bullied or teased." And that includes the teacher! What's wrong with saying "It feels like you are teasing me and I don't like that feeling." When it's not teasing but just a simple question from a child, you could say something like "Does that look interesting to you? It's just some extra skin on my neck. Nothing to worry about."

    My grand-daughter, when she's cuddling with me, sometimes plays with my double chin or the flabby bits on my arms. I hate it! She's not teasing me or anything but it still makes me uncomfortable and I will push her hand away or say "stop, that's annoying."
    1953 days ago
  • LINDAK25
    I wish I knew the perfect thing to say, but I don't. I'm very sensitive about my weight and I don't discuss my weight issues except here, at Spark. I remember my sister saying when she was teaching English as a second language, she told her class that teasing and criticizing were not allowed. That this class was a safe place where they could be themselves and not be bullied or teased. I liked that and used a similar tactic in my Sunday school class when I had a couple kids verbally and physically pushing each other around. Not sure how to get the kids to not get too personal.
    1954 days ago
    I have the same problem with my neck skin after a 70 pound weight loss. I'm thinking about surgery to take care of it, but haven't made up my mind yet to spend the money on it. I could get granite countertops with that money, and I might enjoy those more.

    They don't sound like very nice little children. You need to find a way to address the "bullying" problem if it arises.
    1954 days ago
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