Gym Class Horrors

I wasn’t always fat. As a kid I was normal, as a teen I was a bit chubby but not fat. It wasn’t until I was 17 and entering my Senior year of high-school that I packed on the pounds. It started with the death of my grandpa. It wasn’t expected and I was close to my grandparents. Such a close loss was hard to deal with. For the year that I was grieving I ate my feelings. Every emotion was stuffed deep into my subconscious with tons and tons of candy. A year and a half later I started taking depo-provera and that packed on another 40 pounds and that, my friends, was how I started getting closer and closer to 250 pounds.

But in Middle and High-school I was a normal sized teen. I was awkward. I had zits and braces and a horrible hairstyle. I went through a Goth phase and a butch phase (rebelling by shaving my head). It’s funny how as a teen I thought I was fat. I wasn’t!


One of the things that gave me crippling anxiety was GYM CLASS. I hated every single moment of it. I hated being clumsy and uncoordinated. I HATED organized sports with a passion. I hated changing in the locker room. I hated being picked last for every team. Everything about gym class seemed to be an exercise in TORTURE. It was one big popularity contest. With dodgeball.


Enter: low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy, and social anxiety. Fun times, right?


And of course the gym teacher was always mean and would announce to the entire class whenever you were doing something wrong. Humiliation as a teaching tool? Check. Extremely difficult boot camp exercises like the rope climb? Check.


Now add in THE MEAN GIRLS.


There was a clique of girls that tortured me. The ring leader was named Colleen. She was a b*tch. Pure evil in her heart. She’d tease me, call me names, call me “Thunder Thighs” or make fun of my last name. She’d scowl at me and then whisper to her minions.

I used every tactic I could to get out of gym class. Every excuse in the book. Eventually I was able to get my mom to ask my therapist to write a note to the school excusing me from gym class because of “mental distress.” I was allowed to substitute other classes for gym. It was like a huge weight off my shoulder. The abuse was over!

Was that route beneficial to me? Probably not. Psychologically it helped but seeing how I gained weight and lived an unhealthy lifestyle for 10 years tells me it wasn’t a good thing.


Last summer when I was running Hood to Coast I saw Colleen. It was like two worlds collided and I was unnerved by the whole thing. I moved from Seattle to Portland. I’ve never really run into anyone from my past in Portland. I don’t even really run into people when I go home to Seattle. It’s almost as if my high-school years never existed (fine with me!).

So imagine my surprise (and horror) when I was finishing my first Leg (12) of Hood to Coast, hearing my teammates cheering me on as I tagged Terry, and then coming to a stop at the exchange point to see Colleen the Bitch. I’m pretty sure she recognized me–or at least, thought she did. She stared at me for too long and too often for me not to think that.

I was disturbed by seeing her. I did not say anything. I wasn’t about to go up to her and fake friendliness. I pretended I didn’t know her and joined my teammates (can you tell that avoidance is my common coping mechanism?).

I am happy to report that while I was surprised to see someone from my past, I did NOT feel the same anxiety and inadequacy she invoked in me in school. I felt confident and I was high as a kite from running. I was happy, I thought about all the good things in my life and felt a smug superiority over her. I was running Hood to Coast man! And I had a photo shoot in a week for a magazine! And I was on the cover! Take that, Colleen!

Of course I didn’t say that. I kinda wanted to. But with Mean Girls there’s no reason to engage. Those types are probably really unhappy with themselves and afraid to admit it. I wondered afterward if she was still a snotty, mean person now in her 30’s.

Back to gym class…Someday when I have kids of my own, I hope that I can teach them at a young age to enjoy things like fitness and sports. The awkward pre-teen years are not something I can shield them from, so the horrors of gym class will probably continue for them. It’s a shame that something so beneficial has to be so awful for so many people. I wonder if America’s obesity problem would change if gym class changed?

As an adult, and a fitness-nut, I still cringe at the idea of organized sports. Nothing can bring me back to those awful feelings of anxiety like a group activity. It’s weird how as a really fit, athletic person I can still slink away to hide at the mention of organized sports! Isn’t it supposed to be fun?

QUESTION: What were your experiences with gym class? Were you tortured? Or were you a Mean Girl? How has that changed in adulthood?

 

 

26 Responses

  1. I was never tortured in gym and I was definitely not the mean girl, but gym was not my thing. I’ve been “chubby” since 1st grade and am slightly uncoordinated. Anything activity involving running was an activity that I tried to avoid, and still is (although I can walk really, really fast). I find activities that I enjoy, like biking, hiking, swimming and walking. Those are things I can do.

    The organized sports comments totally fit me also. I was never good at team activities and still have no desire to participate in them. Now that I’m a mom I’ve noticed that one of my children isn’t really a team sport person (maybe that’s just a “right now” thing), so we are looking at putting him in individual sports (like Karate or Tennis). I just want my kids to be active.

    1. I found solitary things that I like more than organized sports–swimming, running, walking, hiking. I think it’s great that you recognize the same in your son and encourage him to do other things instead!

  2. I wasn’t really tortured in gym class but, like you, I hated it with a passion! I would always say “I can’t take part, I have a migraine”. One time I used that line, the gym teacher (an old grey haired lady – probably not that old – but old to me at the time!) yelled at me to get changed. I was so upset and too scared to argue back, so I went in, got changed and when I came back out we had to do the high jump (you the one where you have to jump backwards over a pole?!) Of course, I couldn’t do it and jumped right into the pole! It was painful as hell! I had a bruise the size of Texas on my hip for weeks. That memory always sticks in my mind!

    Thanks for your thought-provoking posts =)

    1. That sounds awful! Funny how these memories stay with us YEARS later. I have a few of those memories like yours. Plus my mom made me do gymnastics as a kid. I was afraid of heights and hated everything about gymnastics. Of course I was forced to do the high bar even though I was terrified. πŸ™

  3. I was a skinny kid when I was growing up, but I was horrible at sports and dreaded PE, too. I had to take it in sixth grade and ninth grade, and it was always boys who picked on me. They would yell at me if I missed a catch, etc. I also always got picked last for teams (I hope P.E. teachers don’t still do that horrible team captain chooses their teammates thing–I’m a teacher now, but I teach language arts.) I actually just asked my students to write about whether they would want their PE classes to be separated by gender–but that wouldn’t have helped you with Colleen. πŸ™

    1. I think gender segregated would have helped some of the anxiety in PE but not the bully issue.

      I hope that PE teachers are better now than they were back then.

  4. Two comments in one day. Who am I?

    I really related to this post. I’m all too familiar with mean girls… and mean boys. Mean kids really. I totally know what you mean about thinking you were fat when you weren’t! Isn’t it crazy how the words of those mean kids could poison your mind? When I see pictures of myself as a tween/teen I’m always blown away by how average-sized I am.

    I really just wanted to say thanks for posting on sensitive topics like these. It helps to know other people went through something similar.

    1. I love it! Keep ’em coming. πŸ™‚

      Seeing old photos of when I was a tween/teen and seeing the reality = I WAS NOT FAT …. is quite the eye-opener. Clearly somewhere in my teens I developed a weird dysmorphic idea of what my body looked like.

  5. I hated gym, but I was fortunate that I didn’t have the “mean girls” in my life. I had people who made fun of me cause I was s tall, but not because of my weight.

    I was hoping you were going to say you confronted her, but your right why acknowledge her?

    I hated school and I live not more that a mile from elementary, middle school and about 5 mils from high school. I have yet to run into the kids I went to school with thank goodness!

    1. I don’t regret not confronting her. Not just about the wasted energy on someone I hadn’t thought of for 15 years but also because I was amidst Hood to Coast. That was my priority!

  6. lordy I could go on and ON.
    Im so very UNCOORDINATED (still am. hence the love of weights and not, say, ZUMBA :))

    gym class was NOT my friend.

  7. I was tortured in middle school. I was uber-skinny and taller than everyone in my class, including the boys. In seventh grade I began to be get boobs before any of the other girls. I also was one of those obnoxiously smart nerds, but I wouldn’t help anyone cheat, so that led to me being a target.

  8. Ooooh, that would be SO hard for me to run into someone like that who was mean to me as a teenager… and I was one of those people who was made fun of a lot, so there’s a large pool of people that we’re talking about here πŸ™‚ Sounds like you handled it well, though — no need to fake friendliness, right? I mean, as you said, you were there at the top of your game, and why engage someone who was so nasty to you?

    Our PE classes in this country need help…

    1. If I was in charge of PE I’d make it fun for kids. Just let them run around and play. That’s exercise too. Even for teens. Have obstacle courses, let them run a track, badminton. It doesn’t matter what, as long as they are moving around but without the ugly teasing and pressure of organized sports.

  9. I was brutalized in grade school and middle school p.e. class. Not so much by the other students as I was by the p.e. teacher. Not only was I a fat kid, I was also much taller than my classmates. By the time I was in the 5th grade I was at my full adult height of 5’8″. I remember this teacher laughing and pointing at me. Looking back now, I don’t see why she would do this. Even being big, I was the fastest sprinter (never had the stamina for distance), and I played baseball better than most boys in my class. I could hit the ball further, and because of my size was able to steal bases easily.
    This teacher brutalized, and at times even encouraged the other students to do so as well, me so much that by the time I reached high school I refused to even go into the gym. Luckily the school I attended would allow me to sub marching band for p.e. credits.

  10. Fifth Grade. Mrs Rattray. Enough said.

    It seems, from the comments, that no one was comfortable in gym except maybe the super jock-y kids (we had a couple). I can still picture the navy blue shorts with white trim they made us buy. I had short legs, big thighs, and absolutely no muscle definition. Mortifying. But I wasn’t really chubby (yet), just uncoordinated. Mostly, it just seems like teachers were clueless about how such a class could affect their students’ self-esteem, and that there were other factors at play when we couldn’t get up the rope (omg, how I hated that rope). I think I’ve already said that I did fine in gymnastics, and that was definitely the only gym class I looked forward to.

    I cannot believe you ran into Colleen. Way to handle it. I went to a really small school so there wasn’t much bullying, but I’d been bullied in our neighborhood and know the feeling of being afraid quite well. We only had one really mean girl in our class, and now I wish I’d paid more attention because I’m still clueless when faced with the grown-up versions of mean kids.

    1. There were a couple means girls in my life as a teen. I honestly don’t remember (or think about) them that much. Leaving Seattle, changing my life, and just generally distancing me from my past helped.

      Oh man the shorts! I was SO self-conscious about my thighs (still am).

  11. I was chubby while growing up, and more often than I would’ve liked, I was also the “new girl” because my dad was in the Air Force and we moved a lot. Made for a tough time growing up. I inevitably, every time I moved, made friends with the Mean Girls first, not realizing they were mean. Then, I’d find my true friends when the Mean Girls were revealed for who they really were: Girls who were interested in the new girl, but really wanting a new target. Gym class sucked for me, too, because I wasn’t very athletic at all. I felt better about it in high school when I played volleyball on the school team. Somehow gym seemed tolerable then. But I, too, want to shield my children from that feeling of not being athletic and not being accepted!

  12. I HATED PE. I with a passion. I would ‘forget’ my gear, have my period, have a doctors note or a note from home, anything to not do PE. I am now training to be a teacher and I have worked out why PE didn’t work for me. It is because PE teachers assume that anyone can do PE. And while that is true to a point, there are different ablility levels, just like any other subject. I think PE should be grouped, just like english and maths. Also not enough time was spent on gaining a skill, you were just expected to do it.

    As a teacher PE is my favourite subject to teach, by far. I want to make PE enjoyable for all children, not just the sporty ones. Teasing and bullying is closely monitored for and anyone bullying isn’t welcome in the lesson. I spend a lot of time on the basics and will group children who get it right away together to go off and practice their skills while I work with the children who need more help. I also try and mix it up as much as possible to make it fun for the kids. And the most important thing of all; I join in. It is amazing how much fun the kids have when the teacher joins in. You are no longer the mean person telling them to do sport, you are walking your talk and getting in there too, and kids respect that.

    1. You hated PE and then became a teacher as an adult? That’s a pretty cool story. I like the PE groups idea. I think it would be successful and take the pressure off social awkward kids who are shy and DO NOT want to do organized sports with jocks.

  13. The only part of gym class that I disliked was the locker room. From grades six through twelve we had to shower after each and every gym class unless it was your time of the month. The showers were completely out in the open in front of everyone in the girls locker room. When we were done showering we had to walk naked up to the teacher who would then checkoff our names that we had showered, and she would then hand us a towel. A lot of the girls who had the “better” bodies would strut around naked longer than was necessary, and make the rest of us feel worse about ourselves. I hate to stereotype anyone, but there were a few cheerleaders that were total exhibitionists.

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