I'm Back

Amp has asked me to guest post again this month. Expect some posts on recent New Zealand union developments (we fought! and won! – it was very exciting), praise for the irony free, and the usual rants about feminism, bodies, capitalism, Joss Whedon and collective action.

But I thought I’d reintroduce myself by cross-posting two memories I have, that I wrote about yesteday.

I generally refer to my primary school (for non New Zealanders primary school generally goes from ages 5-12) as ‘my hippy school’. It was run as a parent co-operative; we all worked at our own pace; the entire school was thirty children; and every family had to do one half-day parent help each week. It was a gillion times better for me than my other primary school in New Zealand where I’d been bored and miserable. Although I don’t know how it would compare with the primary school I went to in London, where my Mum says I was really happy (my main memory from that school is not liking gravy, but being too shy to ask the school dinner people not to put any gravy on mine).

I was going to write a post about what my ideal primary school would be like (I’ve written it now, and it’s here). But as I was thinking about writing that post, I remembered something I hadn’t thought about in years. So I thought I’d write about that memory first. Otherwise I feel I’d have to go into it in great detail in a footnote in the other post, and that’d be a little bit distracting.

I don’t know how old I was at the time, I think I was ten or eleven, I certainly wasn’t older than that. I know because the main teacher of the school (and the one who taught us ‘big kids’) left before I turned 12. Anyway she decided that four of the girls around my age were getting fat, and therefore we had to go for walks (everyday? Once a week? I don’t remember). We were to go out of the school down to the park up a hill and come back again.

We didn’t always do it, of course (no adult came with us). Sometimes we’d go down to a creek bed instead. Sometimes we’d stop behind some bushes that was a fairy place (I was still young enough to like ‘fairy places’).

There were four girls my age who didn’t have to go on these walks, two of whom were reasonably serious gymnasts. I wonder, looking back, how much of it was that the teacher had forgotten how girls’ bodies change. We were the first older girls in the school for a number of years (the school always had more boys than girls), and we were all eldest daughters. Maybe puberty took them by surprise.

You see, it was only the girls they did this to. There had been fat boys about our age in earlier years, and no-one thought there was any need for intervention.

It makes me so angry, looking back. Not at the activity itself – it’d be sad if the great injustice of my life was having to go for a walk. If they’d decided that kids who weren’t particularly physically active needed to do more walking, I think that would have been cool (and I would certainly have been one of them, but so would some of the thin girls). I am really angry that an alternative school, where there was at least some feminist analysis among the people who ran it, dedicated time and energy into making sure pre-teen girls knew they should try and control their weight.

So tomorrow you’ll hear all about my plans for an alternative model for schools. But remember that individualised attention isn’t always a good thing, it can allow all sorts of individualised way for teachers to passed on fucked-up ideas.

Of course there is plenty of scope for this at normal secondary schools. In fourth form (fourteen) I was taught nutrition by a woman with anorexia. The thing I remember most about that was an exercise where we had to write down everything we ate over a certain period of time. We were told the number of calories we should eat each day, and everyone I knew in that class (it was an all girls school) worked really hard to make sure we ate less than that number of calories. To the extent that I thought that was the point of the exercise, to make sure we weren’t eating too much. Because the important thing to teach fourteen year old girls is to make sure that they eat less than the calories they need to live.

Also posted at Capitalism Bad; Tree Pretty

This entry posted in Fat, fat and more fat, Feminism, sexism, etc, Gender and the Body. Bookmark the permalink. 

4 Responses to I'm Back

  1. 1
    inge says:

    Sorry if I’m getting chatty here, but that tale reminded me… When I was 13, the youth club I was in was restoring an old building. Lots of really hard work, so they had the weakest girls (12 and 13 yo) do the cooking. After two days, kitchen duty was given to some 17 yo boys. The girls had been utterly convinced that doing 8 hours of heavy physical work in the cold was no excuse for “overeating”, i.e., getting more than 1800 calories a day. They had done their math to the last calorie, and everyone was hungry enough to start a riot.

    It took me more than a decade to put that anecdote into any kind of political and feminist context.

  2. 2
    SamChevre says:

    I generally refer to my primary school as ‘my hippy school’. It was run as a parent co-operative; we all worked at our own pace; the entire school was thirty children; and every family had to do one half-day parent help each week. It was a gillion times better for me than my other primary school…

    Totally random, but I found this description very funny–because in my experience, setups like this are very common…IF you are in the conservative Christian world (where they are called “homeschool co-ops”).

  3. 3
    Rosemary Grace says:

    Guh. (that’s a grunt of annoyance at your teachers, possibly accompanied by a forehead slap)

    My teacher for two years (ages 9-11) decided that losing weight would solve ALL my problems. I was bullied a lot, and miserable. The bullying more often focused on my Englishness, or American-ness (Pommy dad, Yankie Mum, grew up in Scotland), or on my bookwormyness, but this teacher was convinced that losing weight would make me happier. She was overweight herself, and beginning a weight loss plan, I’m certain she was projecting. Unfortunately, my mother agreed with this plan, and all three of us had a “dieting pact”. I think my mother thought I’d like to have this shared project with two grownups.

    It started years of being convinced that I was fat.

  4. 4
    Fat Lady Singing says:

    I went to a Catholic school for Grade 7, and the gym teacher was a guy in his 60s whom I’m pretty sure was old-school army. By no means fat, I had started puberty relatively early and of course was putting on the perfectly normal fat on hips and thighs that women are supposed to have. I was getting a lot of hassling about it from my very fat-phobic grandmother, which was a real downer. Anyway, this gym teacher had us running a circuit around the school, I was doing just fine and easily keeping up with the kids who did competition athletics, when the teacher pipes up, in front of everyone “Come on, Miss X, you need it!” – with a disgusted sneer on his face – great.

    I guess some people would say “Oh get over it”, but that kind of thing from authority figures, and in front of one’s peers, is pretty damn awful to a kid who’s already being told how lazy and hopeless she is for merely growing naturally. This same gym teacher also made us weigh ourselves at the beginning of the year and I had a panic attack on each day that that was supposed to happen, I was sick enough for my mother to let me stay home from school. She took me to the doctor because I was throwing up, and he decided there wasn’t anything wrong and said “Well it’s not going to hurt her to miss a few meals”, and laughed.

    These things make me feel so bad for the “fat” kids who are undoubtedly getting singled out these days in the name of “fighting the obesity epidemic”. Sure, show *all* kids that physical activity can be fun and how to enjoy nutritious foods and all, but not with the admonishment that if they don’t do this they’ll get fat. I could support a school where there was a health at every size approach.

    I’d also like a school to have a zero-tolerance policy on bullying and teasing that was actually enforced. A few schools in my area have done something like that including ‘peer moderators’, and it’s taken a bit to make sure that everyone is supporting the effort, but it seems to be making progress.