As most of you know by now, I’m overweight, and have been my entire life. It’s changed over the years, but I’ve always been bigger than everyone around me. Always. Because of that, I’ve spent a good portion of my life being people’s punching bag and the butt of many a joke. But Grade 7 was the worst. By far.
It’s bad enough moving into a new school with older kids, and not knowing what you’re doing or where you’re going. It’s the first time we had to switch to different teachers for each class, and not have recess. Everything was different. And I was the fat kid.
I can vividly remember walking down the Grade 7 hallway, and having 3 grade 9 boys call me over. I can still see their faces, and I still know their names. In fact, 2 of them have tried befriending me on Facebook, and yeah, not happening. But I digress … they called me over which I thought was nice, or I hoped would be nice and well, it wasn’t. They looked at me and said, “do you like football” and I said No. They then told me that I should because when I got to high school, I was going to make an awesome linebacker. “The school needs a big mama on the front lines’. They laughed hysterically and left me standing there, alone. I refused to cry and give them the satisfaction of winning, but it still really hurt.
I spent the ENTIRE year being teased by these boys and their friends. Every time I walked by them, they commented about my weight. EVERY TIME. It was either names, or football references or “see you at tryout’s”. I never responded to them, or even acknowledged their existence. But it was 3 years of heart stopping palpitations at the sight of them, and their words were etched on my brain.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t just the kids that did it, there were teachers too.
Our school had an event called The Turkey Trot. (How’s that for a stupid name)? It was basically a really long run, and the winner won a turkey. Obviously, I’m not a runner and the promise of winning a turkey wasn’t all that exciting or inspiring for me, but it was what it was, and we were all expected to participate. Fortunately for me, I had sinus surgery 3 days prior to the event, and I had a doctor’s note to get me out of it. Woot!! It said that I couldn’t participate as my sinuses had just been ripped apart and breathing would be an issue. But what this horrible teacher read was, “she’s fat and just doesn’t want to participate”, and he MADE me run the race. Made me.
So off I went. I ran for about a block and a half and quickly discovered that my doctor was right, I wouldn’t be able to breathe. So I walked instead. Soon enough, the other overweight classmate and I ended up walking as everyone else ran by us. We were trying, we just couldn’t keep up with everyone else. But we were trying, and we didn’t quit. Unfortunately, our teacher didn’t see it that way. He called us fat and lazy, and if I remember correctly, called my “running” partner fat in front of the whole school. Needless to say it isn’t a happy memory. It was the day my friend and I were humiliated in front of our peers by a teacher. The one person that was supposed to protect us from bullying was in fact, perpetuating it. I ended up with a bleeding nose for 3 days, and we both had to bear yet another mark left by mean words and judgement.
Even with my friends, I wasn’t safe from bullying. I know that their intentions weren’t to be mean to me, but their words hurt me more than anyone elses. They were my “safe place”, but even they felt like it was okay to “say it like it was”. I hated phys. ed for obvious reasons, but hated the “track and field” unit the most. Especially high jump. Really?? High jump for fat people … not so much. I would do everything I could to not have to participate in this unit, anything. I would beg my Mom for notes, I would get a headache, I would do whatever. It wasn’t that I was lazy, it was that I just plain and simple couldn’t do what they were asking me to do. It was 60 minutes a day of people laughing at me. High jump, long jump, triple jump, sprinting, long distance running, all things not made for me. It was humiliating and horrible.
Well, my friends wrote me a note and handed it to me at the end of the school day. I had a 10 block walk home, and I cried for 8 blocks of it. The note said, “we know why you hate phys. ed, it’s because you’re fat and it’s hard for you. Everyone knows that’s why you don’t participate so stop being a baby”. I think they were hoping it would empower me somehow, but all it did was sting. They were right, but having this group of people call it out like that, left me feeling so exposed and vulnerable. I felt safer thinking that no one knew why I was hiding, and now my secret was out.
Why couldn’t people just leave me alone? Why did my weight matter so much to them? And why in the world did my being different give everyone license to say whatever they wanted to me?
Speaking out against bullying has kind of become “my thing”. I’ve written numerous blog posts about it, and if you’re interested, you can read them all here. I go out of my way to teach my kids that they are not better than anyone else, that their differences don’t make them more “normal”, and that I EXPECT them to always choose the high road – no matter how hard it is. If you’re around me and you start teasing people or make rude comments, you will get called on it. No one deserves to be made to feel like they’re “less than” ever.
I try to not see the differences in the people around me. I accept that we may all believe in different things and/or have different opinions, but that it doesn’t make one of us more “right”. I recognize that many of us have been deeply hurt by others, and that sometimes all we need is a listening and non-judgemental friend. I don’t pretend to be perfect and I most certainly don’t expect others to be either. I choose to not point out others weaknesses or flaws in order to steer the focus away from mine. I strive to be a light to this world instead of someone promoting darkness. I want people to not go through what I have.
It’s time for us to get real, and stop assuming that we’re better than someone else. Our looks, our beliefs, the clothes we wear or the churches we attend shouldn’t be fodder for cruelty. We don’t need to agree with each other, and we don’t even need to get along, but we do need to be decent human beings. Say it, believe it and model it to the world around you. We are “different” from each other, we are not “better”.
Today is Anti-Bullying day. I hate that we actually have to have a day to remind people to be decent human beings and think about others before they open their mouths. We shouldn’t need to put on pink t-shirts to “take a stand” and make a difference. I appreciate that it’s a reminder that we can do better, but please, no matter what colour shirt you wear, DON’T BE A BULLY.