Saturday, February 6, 2010

I'll tumble for you

It has been said that one of the causes of childhood obesity is a sedentary lifestyle. It is said that kids do not get up and move as much as they should.

It makes me think back to my own childhood. The very active fat little girl. And then I begin to question the pronouncements.

My days were spent waking up, eating a breakfast of cold cereal and milk on school mornings ( Wheaties, Total of Life- I HATED kiddy cereals) or scrambled eggs, rice with milk and sugar or french toast on the weekends. Bacon, sausage or ham were camp food fare, and only served while camping. Doughnuts, coffee cake, oatmeal or juice were unheard of.After breakfast I would walk to school, have a 20 minute recess which was spent playing running games, gym class every day where we played kick ball, dodge ball, basketball or gymnastic or square dancing every day. I went home for lunch, walked both there and back, and lunch was always either peanut butter and jelly with tomato vegetable soup, grilled cheese with chicken noodle soup or Peanut butter and jelly with cream of mushroom soup. Afternoon recess spent running around, walk home from school for a snack of milk and cookies then off to an afterschool activity ( tumbling, dance or scouts) home for dinner , homework , an hour of tv and bed. Dinner was always Steak with mashed potatoes and creamed corn, spaghetti , chop suey, pork chops a starch and a veggie or some stew. Other than the afterschool cookies, there were no snacks or sweets. No chips, no candy, no pudding. No hours of tube time, no sodas, no fruit juices. Still I was very overweight.

Tumbling class was something that my parents felt would be a good move towards raising cultured children one year. It met twice a week in a private gym, and the activities consisted of trampoline and floor gymnastics. We would work for about an hour on sommersalts, cartwheels, flips and a sort of rhythmic dance routine. The flip parts were learned on the trampoline, which seemed to be the safest place to practice these. I was the biggest kid in the group, but my instructor seemed to think this could be useful to the group in some way. When my parents signed my sister and I up, they were under the impression that this was simply an activity we could do, and not training for a rigid schedule of competition. However, this was the case. At first we were told to wear comfortable clothes to the practice session, and I learned to do flips, cartwheels and somersaults with the best of them. Then one day after a couple of months practice, as the actual competition drew closer, it was announced that we must wear leotards in the future and make a prescribed costume for competition. And here was where the problem began for me.

This was the 60's , and I was in a plus size. At that time, Plus size meant matronly, durable and handsome instead of pretty, functional or remotely fashionable.. I wore a size 16, and there was no such thing as a size 16 black leotard . Leotards were items of clothing worn only by ballerinas, and how many fat ballerinas have you seen ? These days there is a wide variety of plus size sportswear, but it did not exist at that time. I spent several frustrating evenings shopping for the illusive size 16 leotard with my parents, having several sales people laugh at me and offer comments about how I needed to stop eating so much cake and candy. Helpful advice, to be sure. Once it became clear that such a leotard was not to be had, my father suggested I wear my yellow swim suit to practice and one of my pairs of tights underneath. They were maroon, so at least they were dark colored. So I did.

Imagine my joy of wearing my yellow flowered bathing suit and maroon tights in a room filled with children half my size , all dressed in black leotards and tights. They pointed. They laughed. For the first time I noticed that they were all much smaller than me, and I was mortified. Then the instructor questioned my wardrobe choice in front of the rest of the class, and told me that fat little girls were not welcomed in the class. I cannot understand how suddenly my size entered in because I could not fit the suit. I could do the routines, I was keeping up with the class, but now suddenly because my body did not fit into a garment of a specific measurement ratio, I was not welcomed. I went home and told my parents what happened and they pulled us from the class. I was crushed because I loved tumbling and the trampoline, and I had several friends in the class. Once i was banned from the class for being "too fat" , they were no longer my friends either. They would taunt me in school with the infamous "fatty fatty 2 by 4, can't get through the bathroom door" song, and discuss the upcoming competition amongst themselves at recess. The night it happened i was so depressed about missing it that my parents decided it would be a good night to pay grandma and grandpa a visit. They asked us to put on a tumbling show for them to make me feel better. Then my grandmother reminded me that it does not matter what anyone called you- what mattered is how you felt about yourself. Wise and true words !

However, to this day, that scene with the hippos doing ballet in the Disney Movie Fantasia makes me cringe !

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