I started to seriously pick up weight around the time that I entered the 3rd grade. Before then, I was a fairly average kid. By the age of 11, my life in school was a daily hell of bullying by kids who loved nothing more than to say ugly things to both my sister and me about our bodies.
There was nothing I hated worse than riding the school bus. As the first kids on and the last kids off, we were subjected to a total of an hour and a half of potential teasing, tormenting, and abuse five days a week. School was no great shakes, but riding the bus, in which kids were rarely monitored for anything other than standing up or getting loud enough to annoy the driver, was far worse.
One day, after a particularly brutal session of bullying by the kids riding the bus with us, I snapped. As the two of us were ready to disembark the soon to be empty bus, I started screaming at the driver in frustration for his failure to protect me from the suffering I endured day after day. At that point, I had spent at least 3 years being tormented and I could not fathom why an adult in a position of authority would do nothing while that went on so openly and blatantly.
My sister stood behind me as I laid into him in the manner that a 12 year-old can do. When I was done and stepped off the bus in tears, he essentially said something to her which was tantamount to, 'what's her problem?' I'm not sure if he genuinely had no idea what went on on that bus, or if he simply felt that I had no reason to expect him as the only adult present to look out for my welfare, but he seemed perplexed at how upset I was.
The truth is that many adults stood on the sidelines as I moved from being a child to a young adult and did nothing to stop the suffering being inflicted upon me. Teachers knew I was being teased mercilessly about my weight. A few of them did a little extra nurturing of me by praising me in class for my artistic ability or my intelligence, but none ever tried to step between me and the abuse or to put a stop to it.
I don't know if things would be different in this day and age in schools. The repercussions of being the responsible adult and not stepping in while a kid is abused in some fashion may be enough of a threat to get an adult to step in nowadays, but I somehow doubt it. There was a news story in the last year or so about a fat boy in Australia who was being tormented by a smaller boy (including being hit) who got fed up and picked his tormenter up and dropped him on his head (in a move he emulated from a pro wrestler). The internet applauded the tormented boy while some parents fretted that the bigger boy could have harmed the smaller one.
It has seemed to me all too often that the world has stood by while I was hurt by people because of my body. I spent many years of my life full of anger because of this. Starting at a young age, I felt vulnerable and like someone should be protecting me. When no one did, and, indeed, when I was often told by various "caring" adults that I wouldn't be teased if I lost weight, I just felt more hostile and resentful. They were blaming me for my pain, rather than placing the fault on those who inflicted it.
As a kid, and even as a teen, I didn't know why I was so fat in light of the fact that I never ate the sorts of food believed to make you fat back then (cookies, chips, soda, pastries). I saw skinny people eat that sort of stuff and they never gained weight. I ate boring food that poor people ate like potatoes, white bread that cost 30 cents a loaf, cheap cuts of meat, and pasta. None of that stuff was the stereotypical stuff of fatness. Of course, now I know better about the factors that contributed to my childhood obesity. Then, I just was a poor kid being fed what my parents provided me and being criticized for not eating what was cooked simultaneously with being taken to task for being fat.
Emotionally, I felt vulnerable on all fronts. Kids hurt me. Adults validated the manner in which they hurt me by saying it was my fault. If I just conformed, they would leave me alone. The seeds of self-loathing and world-hating were being planted every day in deep soil. They would grow for many more years than they would lie fallow.
I realize how profound an effect the situation in which I grew up had on me. If you put an animal in a cage and poke at it repeatedly with sticks or shock it with cattle prods, it will grow increasingly hostile and defensive. If even the most caring of individuals tries to approach such an animal, it will attack first as a defensive measure. In a world that hates fat people and isn't afraid to let them know it, I think we're going to see a lot more people developing a personality in line with the constant abuse they suffer. That will be the subject of my next post.