I was a fat kid.
It's hard to explain the difficulty I have in saying that, since I think I'm also a fat adult, and still have an intense fear that if I call attention to it, I'll be inviting scorn from, well, everyone. A psychologist friend once told me I had the most screwed-up body image of anyone he'd ever known, since I imagine I'm a whale even though, rationally, I know that I'm within the normal weight range for my height, I work out regularly, and don't suffer from any eating disorders, thank god.
Still, in my heart of hearts I worry that if I confess that Greg H. used to call me "Hungry Hippo" in 7th grade, you'll all wonder why you didn't think of that nickname yourself, and will never address me in any other way again.
Weight's on my mind these days since I'm feeling like a slug, post-holiday and in the midst of these dark, gloomy January days that make me want to eat a diet composed exclusively of carbs, nap, and move as little as possible until spring, when I fear I'll be too large to squeeze through the door to enjoy it.
I feel grateful that at least I genuinely enjoy exercise. Like, I kind of get nutso if I can't at least go for a long walk every couple of days...and even that doesn't really do it for me most of the time--I need the elliptical machine, or an aerobics class, or something more strenuous.
It almost feels like a betrayal to say that, since I grew up in a household where athleticism was positioned as the opposite of intellect, and the received message was that smart people don't sweat, and they sure don't enjoy sweating. Where does that idea come from? It's a peculiar kind of snobbery, one that ultimately is quite literally self-defeating. I'm glad that some rebellious part of myself insisted on raging against that belief, though I wish I'd done it earlier and more often.
In hindsight, there are so many things I would have loved to do--taking more dance classes, for example--for the sheer love of movement. But when I was growing up in the 1970s and 80s, being "active" meant being an athlete--i.e., participating in competitive sports, which I have always loathed. Until I took a cycling class for my last high-school phys ed requirement, it never occurred to me that gym could be anything other than a trial to be endured.
Even now, I cringe at memories of trying to memorize the difference between man-to-man and zone defense in basketball, and being pissed off at aggressive boys who'd charge halfway across the volleyball court to hit a ball they figured some girl would miss.
Fortunately, it seems that physical education and educators have wised up to this problem, and many school gym programs (if they haven't been cut entirely) focus on wellness and finding activities that every student can enjoy. What took so damn long?
As gym-teacher Phil Lawler says in the article linked above, "After age 24 less than 3 percent of the population uses a team sport as part of their normal physical activity....So we mastered all these skills, for what?" I'd be interested to know what percentage of people participate in a team sport before age 24, since I suspect that figure is still fairly small.
What gym teachers--and the rest of us--need to tap into are the activities that reconnect us with our seven-year-old selves...running 'til you were winded in a game of hide-and-seek, or swimming all afternoon on a summer day, without even thinking that what you were doing was "exercise."
And increasingly I'm adopting my mom's view, that instead of waking up and dreading something I have to do that day, to be glad that I still can do it.
[Post script: An ex-boyfriend (emphasis on "ex") took one look at the above photo and said, "You look like an English schoolboy!" Did I mention he's an ex-boyfriend?]