When I was a kid most authority figures told me I was either too fat or too thin. Except for one person. My elementary school gym teacher. Her name was Ms. Haas. When I was in fourth grade she said the most remarkable thing to me one afternoon.
I had been sent to Weight Watchers the year before, in third grade. By fourth grade, with the help of a six-inch spike in my height one summer, I had managed to lose a significant amount of weight. I had not yet developed anorexia. That diagnosis wouldn't come until the next year, after I passed out in fifth grade and the school encouraged my mom, who has an understandable fear of the medical establishment after the way she was treated prior to my birth, to take me to the doctor and, eventually, a therapist who helped me stop starving myself.
Fourth-grade was the one year of my life everyone around seemed satisfied with my body. I was neither too fat nor too skinny.
Everyone but myself. And Ms. Haas. She didn't seem to care one way or the other. Most of my teachers, my parents, my siblings, my friends, my neighbors, everyone but Ms. Haas commented on how great I looked. Ms. Haas had never said anything about my weight-loss. She had never made any comments about my body ever.
Then one afternoon, out on the blacktop, we were playing kickball. I kicked the ball so far it took several minutes for the opposing team to get their act together and find it out in the weeds. After rounding the bases, I found myself standing next to Ms. Haas, waiting for the kids to retrieve the ball I had so epically kicked. As I stood there next to Ms. Haas, I wiped my brow and said to her, "I'm always so sweaty. Even after I lost so much weight, I sweat so much."
"Sweating is good for you. It's a sign that your body is healthy," she said to me, although her eyes were on the group of kids goofing off in the weeds in the general vicinity of where the ball had landed. She lifted her whistle, but she didn't blow it yet.
"It is?" I said, surprised. I suspected Ms. Haas was a feminist, something I'd heard about on TV while watching the news with my folks, with her short, mannish hair cut and her makeup-less face. She looked nothing like my mom who set her hair in rollers and wouldn't leave the house without putting on her face. Maybe feminists do not believe that saying about glowing women and sweaty horses, I thought to myself.
I looked up and noticed a couple of skinny girls had wandered off, bored with their positions in the outfield, hanging upside down on the monkey bars.
"No matter how much weight I lose I'll never be able to hang upside-down from the monkey bars," I said, wistfully.
And that's when Ms. Haas said it. It was moments before she took off running toward the rowdy boys in the weeds, her whistle just inches away from her lips. She looked at me briefly, with a cocked brow, and said, "Becky, did you see how far you kicked that ball? Even when you were chubby, you've always been one of the most athletic kids I've ever taught."
She took off running, blowing her whistle at the boys out in the weeds. We never talked about my body again.
I look back on it now and I realize what an excellent role model Ms. Haas was. But I didn't listen to her then. I continued to hate my body until three years ago when I discovered another good role model, Dr. Linda Bacon.
I follow Dr. Bacon on social media now for inspiration. This morning she shared an article that made my inner-third-grader-who-was-sent-to-Weight-Watchers smile: Treatment of Childhood Obesity Will Do Little to Improve Adult Health Outcomes, Predicts Stanford Study.
Yeah, no duh. After the early "treatment" for obesity I received I developed anorexia nervosa, followed by a young adulthood spent in an obsessive relationship with food. The cops got tired of me calling them to come over and settle domestic disputes between me and a half-gallon of chocolate ice cream.
I didn't get a healthy adult outcome from my early weight-loss intervention until I gave up trying to lose weight. It was Dr. Linda Bacon's book, Health at Every Size, that convinced me. It changed my life. It reminded me of my body's athleticism, the joy I get from playing ball and moving my body in pleasurable ways, something I'd given up on long ago when I stopped playing games that emphasized how bouncy my flesh is.
I've learned to love my body, something I never dreamed possible. I feel compelled to help other fat people learn to love their bodies, too. If you don't love your body, why would you care to feed it healthy, pleasurable foods and move it in healthy, pleasurable ways? The best way to improve the overall health of human beings is not to tell them they're diseased but to teach them to love themselves.
There are lots of fat people in the world. I don't have time to wrap my arms around all of you. So let me use this blog as a virtual hug, to wrap my arms around every fat person's body and whisper into every fat person's ear, "loving yourself is the healthiest thing you can do."
Let's start a little online support group.
Hello. My name is Becky. I'm fat, and I'm healthy.
I love my body. You can learn to love your body too. Don't worry. It feels lonely to be ahead of your time, to fight for injustices early, before conventional society latches on to progressive ideas, but it's fun to fight the good fight. Let's eradicate body hate in this lifetime.
I love medical sociologist Pattie Thomas' quote in her piece from Psychology Today:
"History will not be kind to the AMA’s decision. Decisions made by privileged groups at the expense of subordinate groups for the profit of the few at the cost of the members of that group are usually doomed to ridicule in generations to come." --Pattie Thomas, "What Do You Call a Fat Woman with a PhD?" Psychology Today, June 24, 2013
Let's speed up history's unkindness and get over our differences, shall we? Fat-phobic friends, let's go swimming, or for a hike through the woods. Let's play a game of kickball! Instead of fighting with each other on the computer while sitting on our asses, let's get out in the world and let me show you the amazing things my fat body can do.
I've learned to be proud of my bounce.