Growing up fat, I connected a lot with what Susan Stinson wrote in Belly Songs. A lot of things she experienced, especially in her youth, were things I also experienced. While I was able to relate to quite a few of the stories she wrote about, what struck a chord with me the most was the poem “The Line.” Reading this poem really brought back painful memories from my childhood of standing in line dreading upcoming activities.
In elementary school, at the end of each year we had field day where all the students in the school went outside to do fun games and team building exercises. Being one of the fatter girls in my grade, I was always terrified of doing an activity where I had to fit through a tight space within an obstacle course or fall back on one of my classmates during one of those trust fall exercises. The events changed each year so I never knew what to expect, but when the time came for field day, I was always petrified of having to do some activity that would make my larger size more obvious to the rest of my classmates. However, these daunting activities didn’t end when I left elementary school.
In middle school we also had a version of field day. Once again, we all had to participate in events that I sometimes couldn’t do as well as my skinnier classmates because of the size of my body. I had pretty bad anxiety in middle school and having to endure the embarrassment of my peers seeing me struggle at seemingly easy activities for them was too much for me. The week leading up to field day when I was in 7th grade was a week full of anxiety. I didn’t want to go, and I found myself dreading every second leading up to the day everyone else at my school seemed so excited about. When the day was finally upon us, I knew I just couldn’t go through with it. The thought of having to go outside and flail my fat body, panting as I tried to run alongside my skinnier classmates was mortifying, so instead, I pretended I was sick. Thankfully, my parents let me stay home and for once I didn’t have to endure the terrifying sporting events for the day.
I thought my fear would be left behind once I got to high school because the “field day” was now optional and I wouldn’t be participating. Instead, I found myself faced with the same anxieties on my first day freshmen year. We were put in small groups and had to do teambuilding exercises, the first of which being trust falls. To say I was scared would be an understatement. I knew none of my classmates would be able to catch me and that I would face the embarrassment of being too fat to participate in the activity. In Stinson’s poem “The Line,” she writes, “The air fit me/ like my jeans./ The line moved up./ I slipped/ with grace/ out the back (Lines 50-55). In my moment of standing in line to do trust falls, I wished for nothing more than run out of the room. When I read that part of the poem, it remined me so much of my own fear and I wished I too were able to escape from the line.
2 thoughts on “My Fear of Standing in Line”
My personal hell in the gauntlet that was elementary gym activities was this specific game we only played at Christmas time. It was called something ridiculous like ‘Rudolph’s Run’, one kid would sit on a small square scooter and the other would stand with a rope wrapped around them and pull the scooter forward. Every time the kid started to pull me forward, there was this three second gap of panic and pain where I wasn’t moving as fast as everyone else, and I could see the kid pulling me look back in confusion as to why the journey was taking that long. My fascination with how the other girls in my grade stayed so thin was everlasting, and I feel that weight had partially to do with Audre Lorde’s fascination with Toni. Although the sexual exploration element is missing, I vividly remember her marveling about how light she was to hold.
School activities like the ones that you describe really are the worst. Your post reminded me a lot about a book that I read in my Fat Studies class titled “Fat Girl” by Judith Moore. In it, Moore discusses her childhood growing up as a fat child, and she talks explicitly about how the children at her school would be weighed regularly. These were very anxiety-inducing moments in Moore’s life because the nurses would call out to each other how much each child weighed, so everyone waiting in line to get weighed heard what everyone weighed. Moore was more often than not the fattest child, so the nurses always singled her out from the rest of the children when they called out her weight.
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