“Circle, circle, dot dot dot. Now you’ve had your cootie shot!” Not being able to squat and waddle like a duck is my first recollection of being different from other kids. My first grade class was doing a production of the Three Little Pigs, and even at 6 years old, my chubby thighs were getting in my way. I remember kindly Mrs. Kirkpatrick explaining apologetically to my mother that she had reassigned me the role of one of the three little pigs. I obviously hadn’t caught on yet that being a pig was a bad thing because I remember how excited I was to order blue-jean overalls and a little shirt with pigs all over it from the Sears catalog.
Later on, when the kids began drawing dots with circles around them on their arms, inoculating themselves against my “cooties,” it began to sink in that being different was bad. Shortly after that I befriended a little girl who was disfigured from playing with matches in the back seat of her parent's car. Maybe Doug, that little boy with the dreamy blue eyes and the longest lashes I’d ever seen wouldn’t sit by me, but she would.
My salvation from the perils of school was found at our dining room table. I can still picture my mom standing in the kitchen, where fried chicken, hot biscuits, white gravy, and buttered corn-on-the-cob waited for me. Our dining room table was a hub of family activity. You could always count on it to contain a newspaper, letters from kinfolk, family notes (“Daddy, can I borrow the car?”), and plentiful amounts of food. I did my homework at that table while watching Gunsmoke, Ed Sullivan, and Red Skelton with my father; I stayed up late at night playing cards and eating grilled cheese sandwiches with my sisters, and I was sitting at that table the day the principal called my mother because I'd gotten in a fight on the bus.
It was the first week of junior high, and our bus was so packed that I was the third person on a seat near the back of the bus, my left thigh hanging into the aisle. Someone from behind me reached up and grabbed the side of my thigh and squeezed—hard. I lifted my left arm, and as hard as I could and without even looking, I hit the person behind me on the leg. It is the only time in my life that I have physically struck back, and she or he (I couldn’t even bear to look back at them) retaliated by grabbing my curly hair and jerking it hard, and with me sitting there blindly crying, continued pulling it until the driver let me off at my stop.
I don’t know why, but I never told anyone about being teased at school. It was my own private, unspoken shame, a shame I thought I deserved to carry because I was fat, a shame that was continually reaffirmed by all the ways I did not fit in. Even back in grade school my mother had difficulty clothing me. Buying shoes was a problem too, because we had to go to a special (very expensive) store to get shoes wide enough for my feet.
My younger sister Rae and I had a short skit we performed about the experience of going into the shoe department of a local store. Me: “Do you have this shoe in a size 11?” Rae, as the salesclerk: <taking a step backwards, with a subtle look of horror> “I don’t th..think it comes that large,” she’d stutter, as she mocked the many salespeople we’d dealt with over the years, “but I’ll go in the back and check.” I spent my teenage years looking for leather shoes I could stretch. Thankfully larger shoes are now readily available in many stores, and in mail-order catalogs. My older sister who wears a size 14 is especially grateful for this.
The list of ways I didn’t fit in was endless. Finding any clothing or accessories (size 11 WW feet, 9-inch wrist, size 11 ring finger, and my body was in a constant state of growth) required a great deal of special effort and expense. I was a dismal failure in the twice-yearly President’s Physical Fitness Tests (how did they expect me to repeatedly lift my 250+ pound body up over a bar using only my arms?), I was invariably selected last whenever teams were chosen in P.E., and the day I wore a brand new polyester green and white plaid top and pants (the only thing we could find that shopping trip that fit me), Randy Porter told me to wear clothes like that more often, because “we could all use a good laugh.” Even my marching band uniform had to be custom made, my white spats, gloves, and dress shoes were from the men's department, and in my sophomore year of high school, even though I was first chair flutist in the state, I couldn't play the star role of the marching soldier/piccolo player in our Independence Day celebration—I didn’t fit the part. Somewhere during all this I managed to disconnect from my body. I quit paying attention to what it was doing, how it moved, and what it needed.
If one fat-positive person who understood what I was experiencing had spent time talking to me, it could have changed the direction of my life. Instead of waiting until I was in my 30s to come to terms with my body, I might never have disconnected from it in the first place. I hope that you’ll be that special mentor in some fat child's life. Teach them your favorite physical activity, be it swimming, dancing, weight-lifting, stretching, or walking the mall, so they will know their body is strong, regardless of their ability to do chin-ups. Lead by example; blaze a trail for them that shows them what they can achieve in life. Put size-positive books in their hands so they will know they are not alone. NAAFA’s book service has a good selection. Marilyn Wann’s new book - "Fat!So? Because You Don’t Have to Apologize for Your Size”— is my favorite. You can also join NAAFA’s Kid’s Project (http://www.naafa.org/kids.html), and join forces with other people who mentor fat children. Maybe in the process you’ll get to relive some of your own childhood. Speaking of reliving childhood, does anyone have a duck costume in a size 8x? I think I want to give this waddling thing a second try. Live Large.