Last weekend, I had the wickedly fun opportunity to be on CBCs Definitely Not The Opera, talking about one of many humiliating gym class experiences. Below are the dirty details :)
In a nutshell: Canada Fitness Testing. Words that strike terror into every fat kid's heart.
The endurance run. The chin-ups. The sit-ups. The push ups. The weigh-in. The sprints. The endurance run. All perfectly dreadable.
I almost always managed to skip the endurance run day. I'd beg and beg my mom not to make me go or to write me a note somehow getting me out of doing it on the same day as the entire class. Then the gym teacher would send me out the following gym day with my best friend and a stopwatch, which seemed much more, well, humane.
Because being mocked while at the same time, being the slowest, the sweatiest, and the most out of breathe while going around and around a ginourmous never ending track is too dreadful for words. Let me assure you that it is next to impossible to convincingly deliver a snappy comeback to a fat joke when you are gasping for what might be your last breath!
And then, just when you think they haven't found enough inventive and creative ways (like Canada Fitness Testing!) to make fat kids die of embarassment, they come up with the fat calipers. And there is no note decrying my horriblly painful period cramps that can get me out of the fat calipers - though if I'd have known they were coming, I probably would have tried.
You know what fat calipers are right? They look like large torture implements, but I'm told in fact that they are not. I remain unconvinced! Anyways - they're designed to pinch and assess your total body fat and are apparently meant to be wielded by gym teachers like mine, who get to squish your arm fat and accordingly pronounce you fit or fat. Because gym class in general, and Canada Fitness Testing in particular, isn't bad enough without also being weighed and fat clamped in the gym teacher's office.
So it's meant to be 'private' but everybody totally finds out anyways, because IT'S HIGH SCHOOL! How I'd wished I'd gone to the endurance run and skipped the calipers! I stood in that line, heart pounding right out of my chest, praying to be miraculously struck dead, rather than face what was sure to be the ultimate in humiliation. No such luck. No rogue tornados, hurricanes or other very welcome natural disasters befell us.
Not only was I not going to get a Gold, Silver or Bronze and be stuck with the "participation" pin that pronounces you a total loser - but they were actually going to tell me (and possibly everyone else in the vicinity!) that I was TOO FAT! Like empirically too fat - now they had the evidence to convict me of fat personhood! I was weighed, pinched and pronounced too fat (not in so many words, but that was pretty much it in a nutshell). I could feel my face was hot and red and my mouth was dry and my eyes were teary. and it was awful. And my results of course, made it to the all too willing ears of my peers exaggerated whispers that pronounced me the second fattest girl in class.
And I sort of had this moment, where everything stopped, and I felt this loud roaring in my ears, I remember that part so clearly. But I surprised myself because in addition to the familiar body shame, I felt something else for the first time - pissed off, indignant. Okay - so they just called me the worst thing in the world. All right - so what if I AM fat? What does that even mean??
I'm not saying I wasn't humiliated. I WAS! Plenty. The aftermath was actually a whole lot less humiliating than the experience itself, however fleeting. But everyone else forgot about it long before I did (obviously, since I'm still thinking about it now!) Being measured, marked as not measuring up, was incredibly shame inducing. But I also think that as traumatic as this experience was, it was also the very first in what would be many, many life turning points for me in terms developing and being okay in my identity as a fat person, and being critical about what gets said about fat people and health.
Though while it was the first step in my saying: "Okay, I'm fat, so what?!" this whole experience made me hate gym even more (in fact, I dropped gym as soon as they'd let me, which was coincidentally the very next year) and shun the idea of physical activity for years and years post-high school. I used to have this saying "Why run if no one is chasing you?!" And another friend of mine used to love to chime in that we probably shouldn't run even if someone WAS chasing us, because inevitably they'd catch us and then we'd be out of breath.
But somewhere along the line, I decided that this whole belitting and humiliation that fat kids get in gym class, and fat people get in general when they try to be active was actually holding me back. And I woke up one day and decided that I wanted to be fit, whether I was fat or not. Which has led to me eventually becoming a fat (though as we've already established much less so at the moment than usual) person who could do that stupid endurance run no problem now. A few times over. And the sit ups too. Though I'd be kidding all of us if I tried to tell you I could do any pushups or chinups! I love running now, in my 30s. So if you see that fat girl in spandex running down the sidewalk past you - she could just be me.