body image

The World of Body Image: How PE Ruined Exercise For Me

As a larger person, it’s tricky when considering the best way to exercise. How many bras do I need to wear to go for a run? What if people laugh at me on the street? What if my trousers fall down and I trip over, land in a heap and end up on a ‘fat person fails’ YouTube compilation?

When I used to do kickboxing classes, I wore two bras, a waistband so tight it cut me in two, and a baggy t-shirt. My trousers had to stay put because I couldn’t pull them up whilst wearing boxing gloves, and the baggy t-shirt was to hide the jiggling fat and bingo wings. I was probably the biggest person in the class, and I was paranoid of course. I’d always been paranoid about exercising, despite how much everyone told me I should do it.

I started ballet dancing when I was very young. I was the crappest, the fattest, and nobody liked me. Well, maybe they pitied me. This sounds really sad now, but back then I didn’t question it. I was always the crappest and the fattest, especially in PE and Games at school. I’m sure I’m not the only one who had horrendous sports teachers, but when you’re the fat kid who has about as much sporting talent as a lamppost, games teachers like you even less. At primary school I had a games teacher who made the class give me a ‘clap’ for coming last in cross-country. She was obese herself, but at the time that didn’t console me. If we forgot our games kit, we had to do it in our underwear.

I just went along with all this. It was normal. Fortunately, I had a few good friends by that point so we just tried to laugh it off, but inside I felt mortified sitting there in a mixed sex PE class just in my gym knickers and a polo shirt tucked in tightly. Ashamed of my giant thighs on show, I felt exposed and uncomfortable as the elastic dug into me. I couldn’t say anything, all sports teachers were terrifying to me. My dance teacher was terrifying too, but I knew I had to do all this stuff because I was fat and I thought I had to be making an effort to lose weight.

I did two dance classes a week, step aerobics (it was the 90’s, Mr Motivator was all the rage), walked to and from school every day, as well as games and PE at school, yet the nurse still suggested I ‘do more exercise to lose some weight.’

Even the swimming teacher was mean. In our first ever lesson, she made us each get in the pool individually (whilst everyone else watched) to see if we could swim. I failed miserably and sunk, the whole class laughed. I was forced to run the 800 meters in games and it took me ages. Everyone laughed at me, again. I tried what I thought would be the easiest thing you can do when forced to do field events – shot put  – but it just thudded down barely a metre in front of me. Needless to say, I was the last picked for everything and was the butt of all jokes.

I thought I was too fat to exercise, yet I was told I needed to exercise because I was fat. Although this was the 90’s, we still live with the same paradox today. Women’s magazines often tell us that we need to be thinner to be more beautiful, yet there are an abundance jokes made about fat people exercising all over the internet.

There was only one good thing about games at school, and that was my purple shellsuit. That was pretty much the coolest thing I ever owned. Despite that, I still thought I was a loser, weak and pathetic and too fat to do anything right. But when I look back now, I admire the resilience I didn’t even know I had. I kept doing it because I had to, but I got through it. It was a little later in high school when I had the epiphany moment: I may not have been able to run for shit but I could write a pretty darned legible essay. The A’s and B’s I got in my coursework continually proved this as I worked towards my GCSE’s. Finally, I was outta there and to college, never to have to see a horrid games teacher ever again.

Later in life, by choice, I encountered gyms, spinning classes, Zumba, swimming, kickboxing, swing dancing and yoga. With every single one bought that initial ‘games anxiety’ as I call it. What if I can’t do it? What if I make an idiot out of myself? What if the teacher is mean? What-if-my-boob-falls-out-what-if-my-face-goes-bright-red-what-if-my-crotch-sweats-WHAT-IF-WHAT-IF-WHAT-IF-

But then I took a big deep breath and did it anyway.

For me, it was yoga that really helped. I was nervous and shaky at first, but I kept going and started to enjoy it. I didn’t fall over that often and even if I did it was fine ‘cos either people can’t balance for shit either. I stopped being scared of doing something wrong. I stopped feeling that pressure to be the best. I stopped feeling like my body wasn’t good enough and started appreciating it for what it could do. I started to realise that health is on the inside and cannot be judged by your appearance.

I started on the path towards liking myself and tried not to listen to the voices that told me I was too fat to be good at anything. It’s a long journey towards self-love, but now I feel a million miles away from school.

I’m not going to thank my games teachers for making me a stronger person, they didn’t do that. I will say this to anyone who struggles with sports at school: don’t sweat it. Focus on whatever else you enjoy or are good at. If you’re crap at running but good at maths, then good on you! Exercise should be fun, so find something you enjoy rather than being pressured onto a treadmill by our society’s hypocritical high expectations.

If anyone ever tries to judge your health by your size, just walk away. And if a teacher tells you to wear gym knickers, tell them to fuck off.


Mel Ciavucco
Author. Blogger. Screenwriter. Feminist. Likes cooking, yoga and cinema but not all at the same time.


One thought on “The World of Body Image: How PE Ruined Exercise For Me

  1. Pingback: Zusterschap - Editor's Note: This months theme is 'Friendships' - Zusterschap

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