Tuesday, March 19, 2013

On the Sidelines

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.


LHA said...

My heart goes out to the young girl you were, and my praise goes out to the adult you have become. Your memories are the stuff of nightmares. I had some similar experiences, but not nearly as severe as what you endured. I do think that the damage done in my early years led me to become an obese adult.

I would say you are right that not much has changed in the bullying habits of children. Although some lip service is given to stopping bullying in schools, in actuality very little is done about it. Also, bullying of an overweight child wouldn't attract nearly as much attention as bullying of a child for being of a different ethnicity, or for being mentally challenged. The reason for this distinction, in my opinion, is that being overweight is considered a "choice" that could easily be remedied or a character defect that could and should be corrected. Other differences are thought to be unavoidable and no fault of the child. How very sad this situation is.

screaming fatgirl said...

I've been working on a book about my experiences as well as the processes I've gone through to overcome them, and, as an aggregate of experiences, it's exceptionally grim. It's so unrelentingly painful, that I'm not sure how readable it'll be in the end, but I'm going to keep at it nonetheless.

Thank you for your kind comment.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, some kids learned to be bullies in childhood, occasionally from adults they admired, feared, or both. A number of them have grown up to be adults who bully, despite the fact that they have battled with weight issues, themselves.
I am amazed by the double standard of some bloggers. They are determined to defend the subject and topic of their blogs, by stating that it is theirs, consequently they have the right to write whatever they wish. The same is not applicable to the bloggers they torment daily. Unless others do everything the way that these perfect bloggers do it, almost to the last detail and not just in regard to health, but also the way they live their lives, they are open to criticism and ridicule, humiliation and an openly stated desire to make them suffer in the event that they are aware of what is said about them. The school yard bully often grows up into an Internet bully and is proud and pleased by the attention.
On a positive note, karma has bitten some of these people in their previously self satisfied butts.

screaming fatgirl said...

I can understand your frustration with the way some bloggers bully others. I have been bullied by others on occasion on their blogs, and there is one out there who is well-known for his sense of righteousness about how people "should" live their lives in accord with his viewpoints on health and weight. And, yes, it was satisfying on some level when he regained weight and did feel like a fulfillment of karma.

I often think that those people are struggling to stick with the rigid programs they are putting themselves on and that their bullying of others is an extension of their need to keep themselves in line. It becomes almost fanatical because they are so desperate to keep their act together.

I learned early on that what works for one does not work for others and have said so many times, though often people will interpret a post far more stridently than it is intended. If I say I believe some people have mental health issues that create their disordered relationship with food, they think it is tantamount to asserting that all of them have these problems. Despite the fact that I never said that, people read it that way. In that way, it's easy for people to get upset and defensive against what they believe is "wrong". People see adversaries and threats everywhere, even when they don't exist and then they push back.

Thanks for your comment and for reading.

Anonymous said...

I really hope you will continue to pursue your writing about bullying and fat stigma experiences because I don't think these have been addressed in any kind of realistic portrayal by mainstream media. Yours is a voice that could benefit countless numbers in terms of how destructive the cultural biases and discrimination against "obesity" continue to harm decent people who just happen to end up as fat adults.

I wish you all the best in your continued efforts to articulate the amazing journey you are venturing forward through. Your story is not for everyone, to be sure, but your experiences can help many people to understand the pain and struggles they are attempting to survive.

dlamb said...

Dear Girl,
So, SO glad you are blogging again! Comment above was mine but was too lazy to sign in, shame on me!

Apropos of ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, but not sure where else to mention this: the zealots will probably argue with the science but those who've had the experience will probably sigh with relief. Have you had the opportunity to see the BBC program entitled "The Truth About Exercise" with Michael Mosley?

Under NO circumstances does he or do I intend to imply that people should not exercise. It is good for many, many reasons and people benefit in numerous ways from it but finally, scientists have determined that there is some 20% of the population (no small amt) that does not benefit from exercise as others do.
In case you have not seen the program, I wanted to mention it as another example of the manner in which the "one size fits all", "if you don't do it MY way it is no good", "if I can do it so can you" nonsense that is the weapon of the intolerant.

Have I mentioned how glad I am that you are blogging again? :):)

dlamb said...

Oh and I forgot to add, thank you for your usual thoughtful, as well as insightful reply to my comment. Among many other attributes, you are SO gracious in the manner in which you reply to comments. I feel like I get additional mini-blogs, in your replies.

screaming fatgirl said...

Thanks so much for your kind and supportive words! I feel that I'm very slowly getting back to being "myself" again after a long and rocky road of adjustment. I cannot say that I am fully adjusted (frankly, I think it'll take years to fully do so), but I'm actually happy sometimes now which is a big change. The whole change of countries hit me incredibly hard, not necessarily harder than expected, but the adjustment has been slower than expected.

I read somewhere quite some time ago that exercise is only a minimal factor in weight loss, odd as that may seem. I think I've read time and again that diet (as in "what you eat", not food restriction) is a bigger factor. Exercise mainly improves other health factors (stamina, cardiovascular health, muscle tone, etc.). I think that age also plays a big part in it since homeostasis may be more entrenched for older folks.

I think that the myth that fat people are lazy needs to seriously be blown out of the water. There is copious evidence that fat people exercise plenty. The complex picture of what makes people fat is one people are reluctant to address, but society really needs to deal with.

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking about you and hoping that you are feeling okay. I know that my own life has become more challenging than I would prefer. Please know that a kindred soul is sending you all the positive vibes I can manage, for what that's worth, maybe just knowing that a stranger has you in her thoughts may grant you a bit of comfort. I hope so. I admire all you are attempting, and I understand--maybe far too intimately--the kinds of struggles and triumphs that seem to arrive in waves. Best wishes to a lovely woman! And big hugs from H&F!

Em said...

Hi there SFG—just wanted to let you know that I've read your whole archive since this post, and am hoping you are well. We don't agree about everything, but I respect your experience and your intelligence, and I've really enjoyed reading your writing.

dlamb said...

Thinking of you and hoping you are well. Miss your insight and writing.

Anonymous said...

I hope you are doing well. I come back a few times each week to see if you have posted. I know you were having trouble adjusting to your new surroundings and I hope you are in a good place. I miss your thoughtful, intelligent posts.