Laurie Toby Edison

Photographer

Moving Experiences

We see a lot of criticism of children’s leading “sedentary lifestyles,” because that “makes children fat.” Our criticism is a very different one: while active and healthy children can be any size from skinny to fat, sedentary children of any size have less opportunity to learn to enjoy their bodies, the pleasures of movement, the sensations of running, jumping, dancing, tumbling. It’s far, far easier to fall into self-hatred of how your body looks if you don’t like, or are not aware of, how it feels.

Debbie says:

I grew up with surprisingly little body hatred regarding how I looked, even though I was always told that I was fat. It just didn’t seem to be that much of a problem.

On the other hand, I didn’t fare so well with how I moved, and how I lived in my body. Neither of my parents, as near as I can tell, enjoyed their own bodies. Both led sedentary lives (for that time) and I hardly remember seeing either of them dance or move for movement’s sake. This caught on quickly with me, and helped make me the book-obsessed indoor child that I was. That, in turn, led to troubles at school.

One story that has stayed with me my entire life is of a gym teacher, perhaps in fourth or fifth grade, saying, “Now one of the things you should try and do in basketball is make your teammates look good. I know if Debbie’s on your team that’s not easy, but do the best you can.” It stung then, it stings now, and I can identify all sorts of experiences in later life that were darker and less pleasant than they should/could have been because of the overlay of that moment.

About two months ago, I was in line for popcorn at a movie theater, when the woman in front of me said to her no more than seven-year-old daughter, “Oh, no! We don’t want to get candy! Do you want a fat ass like mine?” She was in her 30s, I’d guess, and was on the small end of midsize. I really had to restrain myself from saying something, because my experience is that nothing a stranger can say in a moment like that is helpful. But I know that child, along with tens of thousands of her counterparts, is growing up ready to hate her own body.

3 Responses to “Moving Experiences”

  1. Patsy Nevins Says:

    I have a reasonably mild case of hemiplegic cerebral palsy, with balance, coordination, motor skill problems. I remember always being ridiculed, ostracized, etc., as a child. I was only allowed to play games with the other children if a teacher FORCED it during some form of organized exercise, & that was greeted invariably, “Oh, do we have to have Patsy on OUR team?” Ironically, while the world of organized sports has been one in which I can only participate as a spectator, I have been extremely active all my life. I am hyper, highly-strung, I cannot sit still, I get up & walk around every few minutes (these days, with the combination of CP & arthritis, I HAVE to move a lot, as I stiffen up), I rock in a straight chair, & I exercise. I lift dumbbells, do some crunches & kegels, & walk from 30 minutes to often over 90 minutes every day. I have at times, especially when I was having lots of body image issues &/or trying to prove that I am as good as a “normal” woman, pushed myself to exercise 4 hours or more daily. I did this for a period of over 3 years during the last 6 years or so, trying to measure up to the lean, athletic, conventionally handsome man whom I so deeply love (& this was ALL MY issue, his love for & acceptance of me is & always has been totally unconditional). I was not only disabled, but I grew up with abusive alcoholic parents & have survived emotional, verbal, physical, & sexual abuse. So while I exercise daily now to feel well & as strong as possible, to stay as mobile & independent as I can for as long as I can, I know that much of my activity has been less than joyous & uninhibited. Much of it has been an attempt to “prove” myself…to my abusers, most of whom are dead now, to some ephemeral “they”, but, most of all, to myself. It has never been Ken who has doubted that I am good enough as I am, it has been me, & the echoes of the voices of my childhood.

    I love sports, I wish I had been able to play, & I hope that if I had, the road to self-acceptance & body love would have been shorter. However, it would be naive to assume that it would have been. God knows plenty of female athletes hate their bodies & punish them & drive themselves to try to eradicate every vestige of their femaleness.

    I played a lot with my own children & I believe that children should be encouraged to enjoy active play. Studies have shown, though, that there is no difference in the body sizes of children based on their activity levels, as well as no measurable difference based on food intake, just as is generally shown with adults. I would hope that we can encourage our kids to enjoy movement, to own & love their bodies, & to enjoy being in their bodies, without passing any judgment on themselves based on size or shape. As you say, Debbie, it is very sad to see small children being taught body hatred by their parents. And, speaking as another smaller mid-sized woman to that mother, a fat ass is a beautiful thing. I come to appreciate my own more every day.

  2. Lynn Kendall Says:

    I had — have — some body issues based on looks; I had glasses, braces, and buck teeth, and that’s a painful trio. But my real visceral self-loathing is of my needy, helpless, weak, clumsy body.

    Some of this is rooted in very early childhood experiences; much came from school, though.

    I was active and physically daring as a small child. (I grow faint with terror when I think of some of the idiotic things I did so obliviously at 5 years old. Jumping 20 feet down into the shelled-corn bin, strolling along the narrow camel-humped porch railing, four feet above the ground — I could have broken my neck if I’d fallen.)

    Then I started school. And it gradually became clear to me that though I might climb trees, I was, compared to other kids my age, slow, clumsy, disastrously uncoordinated. In addition, I had issues with hand-eye coordination. You know what the mockery in gym class was like. I also got it from art and penmanship teachers.

    After I left the world of mandatory gym classes, I stopped doing formal exercise. Walking was always a pleasure, but I’ve done less and less of that as I’ve gotten older (and learned to drive).

    Moving for the joy of it is something I’d like to recapture. It’s not easy, though. Years ago, at an Eric Clapton concert, I was up and dancing, feeling caught up in the music and aware only of joy — until a couple of guys started to point and laugh at the fat girl dancing.

    I don’t want to let the jerks win. I want to regain my strength and my stamina.

  3. Patsy Nevins Says:

    I wish you well, Lynn, in loving yourself & in reclaiming the right to movement. It is a right which belongs to all of us…regardless of size, shape, age, looks, athletic ability or lack thereof. Believe me, when you move as I do, with a very noticeable limp & a marked lack of coordination, people often stop & stare. Some of them comment & some of those comments are rude, unkind, & downright cruel. I have been walking city streets & country roads for more than 45 years now, & I can honestly say that criticism about my body size has been non-existent; criticism, ridicule, & the expression of the belief that I should hide myself away because I was an affront to “normal” people has been frequent. I have spent much of my life working through my issues, struggling to overcome self-loathing, to learn to love myself & the body I HAVE & stop yearning for the body which is not & never will be mine. I know I am special, unique, strong, courageous, & uniquely beautiful, but this knowledge has come late in life. However, whatever body image/self-esteem issues I struggled with, I always knew that I had as much right as anyone else to be out there using the sidewalks & giving myself the joy & the benefits of movement.

    You have the right to move your body, too, we all do. And you have the right to love & accept & feel at home in your body & to know that you & your body are one & as worthy & beautiful as anyone else out there. I wish you success, joy, & health on your journey.

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