like you're less than...
I was at my oldest son's basketball game last night when a group of his classmates, fellow ball players fueled by an earlier victory, sat down a few seats away from me. Lanky boys armed with cell phones or wired to iPods, it didn't take long for their collective attention to turn from the action on various tiny screens and the court to the cluster of cheerleaders next to them who were exuding school spirit for the home team. The squad, by no means the stylized visions of professional cheerleaders, included various individuals clearly trying to fill in the awkward uniform of teenagerhood.
At some point between foul shots, the two groups developed a slightly casual, seemingly harmless bantering in a fashion I can recall between teenage boys and girls. The boys began making up their own cheers for our team, and the girls laughed at their attempts. I found it all rather charming.
When the buzzer signaled halftime, the girls pranced out to the middle of the court and took a formation that made it clear they we're going to attempt a pyramid lift. Anchors were spotted, squats were taken, and the girl designated to peak the formation was lifted into place. The boys began making remarks about it all, and then, over their laughter, I heard one say, "Watch it there, Thunder Thighs. You wouldn't want to kill someone under you!"
His words were met with whoops among his peers. Some of the laughter seemed genuine, some of it I hope was just the reaction of those who didn't know how else to respond, so they did what they felt would allow them continued acceptance in the fold. As for me, I wanted to come off my chair and go after them for their thoughtlessness. I was seething as I looked out at the girls, each as gangly as the boys, each as athletic in their own way.
But not one of them overweight.
I prayed none of the girls heard the boy's words and the others' reactions. I prayed that because I was that girl who had thoughtless words lobbed at her. I was that girl referred to as a 'blow up doll,' 'fat bitch,' and others far more cruel by thoughtless boys while in school. Their words, combined with others from my mother, family members, other classmates, even strangers, made me hate myself for an incredibly long time, and in that immediate moment last night, I didn't want any of those girls to feel such a degree of self-hatred simply because another person chose to be senselessly cruel. I don't want any of those girls to be 43 years old one day and still remember hateful words lobbed at them when they were 14. I do. I remember every word, every time they were said, and even though I like to tell myself they mean nothing, they do. In their own way, they do. I was seated in a corner of the gym last night, secluded from other parents and fans, because when I walked in just moments before my son's game started, I didn't want to draw attention to myself, didn't want to clumsily engage someone in conversation and come off sounding stupid. I do this sometimes, even now, because of words said to me when I was the same age as the kids around me last night. To be called fat, to me, is to be made to feel worthless, unworthy, stupid. I opt to stay quiet and hidden more often than not, and honestly, I would hate that for the girls on that cheer squad. I hate it for me.
I hate that I let my own voice join the chorus of detractors around me, compelling me to take them to heart and feed my pain. I've seen pictures of myself from when I was a 13-14 year old girl, and I absolutely wasn't overweight, but as time went on, I grew increasingly unhealthy, and I struggle even now not to degrade myself when I look in a mirror or slip into a pair of jeans. It's not every day, of course, but there are days still when I do think of how I used to imagine physically slicing away at my thighs, hips and stomach to rid myself of the pain I was putting on myself, and it's all because of a few stupid words someone said to me, and that I eventually said to myself.
Of course, I am not so naive to think none of us makes hasty, uninformed decisions about a person based solely on their appearance. We do it every day. If you haven't yet, no doubt you will. So will I. But I try very hard not to. I know adolescence is an awkward time, but it's disgusting and disheartening to realize people can still be disparaged by another for something so grossly untrue.