Sitting silently by the tiny school room door on an old, rickety wooden bench, painted white long ago but now turning shades of dirty grey. She sat in silence, dark blue eyes downcast, not daring to peek around the lunch space she sat in . The clicking of lunch box lids and scrunchy sound of plastic wrap filled the air. She felt her heart flutter harder in her chest as she heard the dragging sounds of foot steps coming toward her and her hands were suddenly slick with anxiety. She traced the grainy wood with her finger tips, hoping against hope that today might be different and he would leave her alone.
She was uncomfortable in her uniform. It was made specially for her because they didn’t make the school dresses in her size. As she moved her neck slightly against its stiff collar, the rough cotton fabric felt hot and horrible against her skin, while the front zipper made her feel nervous, as she absent-mindedly twiddled it between her fingers. Keen to distract herself she turned her attentions to her lunch box, knowing full well that the sound of it clicking open would queue her tormentor. Dreading the taunts that she knew would follow, she hung her head in shame, waiting for the name calling to start. It was predictable and it was relentless, every single lunch time was the same. She felt herself stiffen as his words washed over her again “hey fatso, you don’t need to eat that. Why don’t you stop eating? You are the size of an elephant” and on and on it would go, until the eating portion of lunch time ended.
Thankfully the bully had a short attention span and the pull of the the ramshackle playground that lay beyond the creaky, rust covered gate, would draw him away from her for a few minutes. She wasn’t brave enough to venture into the playground, she knew what happened every other time that she tried. “No Elephants allowed in here” they would say and she would hurry back to the little wooden bench by the classroom door and sit as still as she possibly could, hoping that no one would notice her, wanting to blend into the wall. This was her daily routine and she hated it. Thankfully she was clever enough that she had her work completed early and could leave early. This was a special arrangement struck by her Mumma and she lived for the moments when she saw her arrive to take her away from the place of torment.
A few weeks passed and the breaks in between her classes would always follow the same awful trend. The little girls misery was mounting by the day, she begged to stay home but when she wasn’t allowed to, she hoped that they would just leave her alone. It didn’t happen right away, but help would come from the most unlikely place. Help came in the form of the sweetest little boy, who started to sit by her on her little wooden seat near the class room door. His big blue eyes, blonde hair and cherubic features would win anyone over but his kindness was by far his best feature. He said the words that she couldn’t say, defended her from their taunts and, as if by magic, the bullies left her alone. Sure they still said horrible things, but it wasn’t as bad anymore because she wasn’t alone. They were 6 years old.
And so it would continue through primary school. How does one ever adequately thank the person that made ones life a little less hellish and a lot more happy if you never have the opportunity to say the words? Many years later, long after she had grown, his kindness remained as one of the features of her childhood and, never wanting to forget that, she named one of her children after him. That act stood as reminder to herself that there are good people in the world. We should acknowledge them, appreciate them and most of all BE them.
I learned very early in my life that people can be prejudice. My weight was the start of many missed opportunities but the response of others to my weight was far more damaging. I was good at sidelining myself but it hurt so much more when others did it to me. Imagine if you will, a tiny brick wall. It all starts with one brick. Imagine that each insult or fat slur is a brick. Now imagine what a young child does to protect their heart from the hurt of each word that is hurled in their direction. For me, I turned those insults into bricks and I built something to protect myself. That wall grew larger and larger with each year that passed. Eventually I didn’t have a wall anymore, I had a fortress.
I had constructed around my heart, something that I had hoped would help to shield me from the pain of the prejudice that was thrown my way. Fat shaming is real – just look at memes across the internet but for goodness sake never share them with me – I will call you out on that shit. Prejudice is real, just look at how often the plus sized mother or father is not featured in the family ads that run on TV, at your club or in your church news reel. Does it ever strike you as odd that all sizes are not represented? There is a reason for that and it really annoys the crap out of me!!
There is however a problem with walls that we build around ourselves, yes it keeps others out but it took a long time for me to realise that I had trapped myself behind that wall too. So the last 2 years, as I have shrunk, I am making a conscious effort to dismantle that wall. It is easy to go through life with our faces on, but it is another thing to be authentic and real. It is another thing to say, yes this is me and I am a little bit broken, a little bit screwed up but I am still good. I want to know you and I hope you want to know me too. Not the faces we put on for others – the real authentic parts of ourselves that I used to be frightened to show to others. I am not frightened anymore because time has taught me one very powerful lesson and that is that we are all like the rest of us. I know you aren’t all together either and thats okay – we are all doing our best.
As I dismantled the wall around my heart I found that I had been trapping some of the best parts of myself – what a journey it has been. It’s nice to out from behind that thing!