Gym class.

Let’s talk about gym class here for a minute.

I wasn’t a particularly fat kid, but I was always slightly larger than average. I was heavier, and a little taller, than most of the kids my age (until they caught up with me, height-wise, later on — then I was just heavier.)

And though I’m a naturally pretty strong person (HULK SMASH), and have always had a freakish ability to do sit-ups, I have never been athletically gifted. There are lots of reasons for that, biomechanically and personally, but I’ll just leave it at that to avoid the million-word rant on growing up a flat-footed, bookish girl in contemporary America.

Nevertheless, the memories of my childhood are filled with movement, with gleeful sweat and breathlessness. I was terrified to learn to ride my first bike, but I did it, damnit, because there is pretty much nothing better than the feeling of being on two wheels, of that flexible, dynamic balance that depends entirely on speed.

Before we were old enough to know better, my girlfriends and I spent large chunks of our adolescence doing insane things on bicycles. Unfinished construction sites, vacant lots, empty meadows, random kid-created trails through the forest tracing the precipices of ravines that would’ve made our parents faint if they’d known what we were up to — that’s where we spent our time as girls, just average girls, none of us particularly athletic — on mountain bikes in Oregon.

Then there were the summers spent in pools, developing underwater sunburns, learning to hold our breath for a solid two minutes, sinking to the bottom of the pool and screaming to each other in a cataclysm of bubbles. My dad would hide quarters on the bottom of the pool, and this chubby, short-sighted kid would surface dive eight or ten feet to retrieve them, sans glasses or goggles, with absolutely no problem at all.

And then there was the issue of gym class.

It started off well enough, in elementary school, when it was just glorified indoor recess, with floor hockey sticks, pillow-soft dodgeballs, and the occasional “slightly irregular but for-reals” parachute donated for the purpose of making little kids pee themselves with joy — and, once a year, the climbing rope that only one strangely monkeyish kid would ever be able to climb. (Thank you, Mr. Jukkala, for the memories.)

At the end of the school year, we’d have a field day, where everyone ran in goofy obstacle courses and sack races, just for the excellent ridiculous fun of it, and — God’s honest truth — I even once did a charity run when I was ten, because I had two secret weapons: Fleetwood Mac on my dad’s cassette Walkman, and I skipped the entire way. Because I sucked at running even then.

In short, I had a pretty happily active childhood, despite being the unathletic and slightly fat child of two decidedly unathletic and slightly fat parents. Until gym class became a “thing,” that is. A graded, micromanaged academic requirement, starting in junior high — unhappily coinciding with the absolute social, emotional, and physical nadir of human existence. Or at least of mine.

If you want to destroy all the inherent joy in something, slap a grade on it. Go ahead; I’ll wait. Put a grade on your bleary, early-morning coffee-making skills, or set a number of minutes of daily television-watching required to achieve aptitude, or hell, challenge yourself to finish peeing in record time, and watch as the fun (or even the absolute neutrality) of these things is eroded, little by little, until it becomes a chore to drink coffee, watch TV, or take a leak.

Then compare how well you do on those chores compared to your peers, and watch your self-respect begin to circle down that little, demoralizing drain shaped like a “C” — a statistically average mark — written in red ink.

Now, this isn’t something I’ve made up for the benefit of a bunch of lazy icky fatties who want an excuse to feel like they’re not total losers. It’s a phenomenon confirmed by behavioural research — and one of many reasons why I have mixed feelings about school in general, though I’m naturally a good student.

But it’s one thing to destroy the intrinsic joy of doing, say, a set of math problems or memorizing the names of the presidents of the United States — and if a kid has a good enough teacher, or naturally enjoys a subject enough, they might even make it through school without having their spirit crushed in a particular topic.

It is another thing entirely to interfere with a person’s joy in one of the basic requirements of biological life.

When you put a hamster in a cage, you’re preparing to give it a pretty bare-bones existence. And what do you provide it? Food, of course, and definitely water. A place to poop and a place to sleep. And a hamster wheel.

It’s considered cruel to keep a dog tethered to one spot without a place to run, or cooped up in a tiny apartment unless the owner is really dedicated to going on walks. Even my cats, the most indolent creatures ever to occupy the earth, need strings and foam balls and random, crumpled up pieces of paper to bat inconveniently beneath furniture. They sleep, eat, and poop for twenty-three-and-a-half hours of the day…but for the remaining thirty minutes? They are tearing it up like it is their mission in life.

Animals need movement, and even have an appetite for it, just as they do food and sleep. Also, humans are animals. We need to move. All of us — even those of us who are not physically gifted. But, just as with eating, external pressures and expectations get in the way of our ability to negotiate this very primal urge.

People say we need gym class because OMGCHILDHOODOBESITY!!! People say that this generation of children is hopelessly addicted to screens of every variety, that they will be the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

People, in short, say a lot of stupid things.

You want to help fat kids move? Help them enjoy moving. Help all kids to enjoy moving. And how do you do that? Well, I can tell you how you don’t — by throwing a bunch of them together like army recruits to do bootcamp calisthenics, and then give them mostly-arbitrary grades for it.

Just like with eating, helping kids to move well requires a division of responsibility — which, strangely enough, is pretty much what happens when you turn kids loose on a playground: the adults choose when and where and what to make available, and the kids take it from there. They get to decide how much, and whether, and which. And, unless you’re a disgusting misanthrope, you’ll trust the kids to work to their own level, to their own strengths and capacities.

You won’t interfere, you won’t get heavy-handed, you won’t suck all the natural joy out of it. And you’ll leave the red pen in the classroom.

You probably have some choice words for gym class. And that’s why the good Lord gave us comments.

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207 Comments

  1. Sabriel
    Posted February 23, 2011 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

    I really loved this article, but it was hard reading just because I had the sudden rush of gym class memories.

    I was always fat(and teased about it, especially in high school), and never really liked gym class – put two and two together, and you had a reluctant girl who either skipped class or didn’t participate in work, causing me to fail. And as I was a geek in other respects, that horrified the hell out of me. It wasn’t until I was able to get into the weight room and do yoga and tai chi in a separate gym class that I was able to really appreciate exercise, but gym class on its own merits? Forget it.

    I think there ought to be some alternative provided for gym so that you can still workout, but with the right exercises that fit kids’ individual needs, or at least offer additional time for students who feel reluctant to workout in front of their peers – something. Honestly, I’m still hesitant to go and work out – I’m 25 now – because I can still hear the taunts of my ‘peers’ in school in my head.

    • Posted February 24, 2011 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      I too felt the same way and it prevented me from using the gym in college or going out for crew. Now that I’m 30, I’m learning to say “screw that” and I’ve found activities that make me happy (like she describes above when she was a kid). But, I still feel self-conscious in front of others ;)

      • Posted February 24, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

        Same here, fat kid, put up with all sorts of hell for it… I’ll be 35 this year, and I’ll never forget fifth grade “gym,” where we had to run laps to start the class each day, and I hated it, I hated every minute of it, and I especially hated hearing the hateful voice of the teacher yelling my name and telling me things like “Run, you’re not special!” Fifth grade was the last year gym was a required part of the day, in sixth grade when it was an “elective,” I became a band kid — Band, where we ran on the practice field to make rehearsals more efficient because we were each and every one special, a special part of the greatest marching band in the state.

    • Linzer
      Posted April 19, 2011 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      This post really hit a nerve with me. Gym class from about 5th grade on was unremitting hell. I refused to run the mile for years and honed the art of making up elaborate excuses to get out of gym. I hated how competitive it was and how they divided you into teams so the other kids could shame you for being uncoordinated and “holding everyone back” I am 27 now and finally run in public for the first time and go to the gym occasionally (only with a serious punk rock soundtrack though). I was always underweight and skinny as a kid but it was no better. I love your suggestion for a gym program that takes into account kids individual needs, we were tormented with The President’s Fitness Standards and there has to be a better way.

  2. Posted February 23, 2011 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

    Yes.

    I don’t even have any particularly bad memories of PE. But I do still have crippling anxiety any time I have to do something physical in front of other people, especially if it’s new. It’s really hard to work through that, sometimes. Especially when all the shaming and mocking STILL GOES ON in my peer group.

    • Posted February 23, 2011 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

      That is so Not Okay that I don’t even know what to say. Except that people who shame and mock others are *&$holes.

      • Gerald
        Posted February 28, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

        Agreed. And many of those assholes are employed in school boards as physical education teachers!

  3. Nomie
    Posted February 23, 2011 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

    I was actually saying to a friend how I didn’t hate gym class my junior and senior year of high school. The way our schedule was set up, we would have chorus three days of the week and gym the other two. So I was in a gym class with all the other chorus kids. Plus, starting in junior year my school allowed you to get out of the gym requirement if you played a varsity sport, so all the people who really cared about athletics were out. That left a bunch of nerdy goofballs, and miraculously we had teachers who didn’t give a shit what we did so long as we didn’t sit on the bleachers the whole class. We had a volleyball game that went for months. We would walk the track and talk the whole way. We could use the machines in the weight room that were normally the domain of the wrestling team. Yeah, there were parts that still sucked – we didn’t have uniforms but we didn’t have time to shower either – but in general it was like you describe in the last paragraph, and it didn’t actively make me want to die of shame.

    • Posted February 23, 2011 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

      This sounds like so much fun. I wish gym in high school had been this way for me. A months-long volleyball game would have been AWESOME.

  4. HG
    Posted February 23, 2011 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    Love this. I think many adults, having been brought up in that toxic environment, have forgotten how to enjoy exercise themselves, and think the only way to do it is to hook oneself into an elliptical machine until burning off the appropriate number of calories.

    We’re already doing a good enough job of passing down our societal eating disorder to the next generation; does it really need a federal mandate?

  5. Aaron B
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    Awesome post, Michelle! It really is fascinating (and horrifying) how quickly and powerfully grades can suck the fun out of doing something. Can you point me toward the behavioral research you mentioned in connection to this? I’m really curious about how it is that grades have this effect.

    • Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:07 am | Permalink

      Sure, here’s an early article by Alfie Kohn that sort of gives an overview of the ideas and some of the research on grades specifically. More generally, you can look up some of the research on intrinsic motivation.

      • Aaron B
        Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:12 am | Permalink

        Thanks!

        • Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:21 am | Permalink

          You’re welcome. In fact, I should probably add one of those links to the post.

  6. Shinobi
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:06 am | Permalink

    I was always a clumsy kid, I am not naturally very flexible, and running is hard for me because I am an idiomatic toe walker and I just never really figured out what was supposed to be going on with my feet. (Even after a lot of physical therapy.)

    I also grew 3″ a year from the time I was 5 years old. There was never a time when I wasn’t growing and my body wasn’t changing.

    But our Gym classes seemed to consist mostly of the “Presidential fitness tests” and then some other things carefully designed to make me miserable. (Play basketball, a sport you hate, forever, now play it some more.) The Presidential Fitness Tests were especially cruel though. My Gym teacher would constantly push me to try harder at things like doing a pull up or stretching down a bar. But we never did any actual exercises to make us better at doing those things. at 11, when I broke 100 pounds, there were no special exercises to teach me how to lift 100 pounds. I was just supposed to be able to DO it, Right then, in front of 50 girls who already hated me.

    I should have just been able to climb the rope, or run a mile or touch my toes from a sitting position. My failure to do these things was because I was a princess with an attitude who didn’t try hard enough. Not because unlike so many other things, physical movement does not come easily to me. (Teach me some math, just don’t expect me to be coordinated.)

    I found that I enjoy taking fitness classes and other things much more as an adult. No one ridicules me for not being able to do things or tells me I’m not trying. They trust me to know what my body can and cannot do. When I say “I can’t” they say, “Someday you will” not “YES YOU CAN TRY HARDER.”

    Though I still hate being in pain and the fact that the first place I sweat is my face.

    • unscrambled
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      One of the many reasons I hated Ronald Reagan was the Presidential Fitness Test: I figured, it must be that fucker’s fault.

      • Posted February 26, 2011 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

        Oh god, I hated the presidential fitness thing with the burning fire of a thousand suns.

        The only thing I ever passed was flexibility.

        The year I had a teacher who actually graded us based on how many minutes it took us to ran a mile, I was so pissed off at the unfairness of it.

        • Posted February 28, 2011 at 2:37 am | Permalink

          When I had to run the mile, I walked it. The gym teacher was pissed but she couldn’t MAKE me run. My sixth-grade boyfriend walked with me in solidarity. Heh.

          I’ve always been crap at any kind of sport and most vigorous exercise; I get tired easily and that’s only gotten worse as I get older. But in middle school they found out I was anemic (b/c of horrible menstrual issues) and suddenly it was like I got a free pass to sit everything out. I was like “why couldn’t I sit things out BEFORE?” To my mind I shouldn’t have had to get a diagnosis in order to know that what I was doing was too much for my own body. I still think that’s true and I wish we would trust kids more to know what their limits are.

          I didn’t get into exercise that I liked until I decided to dance. I discovered I loved it and I wondered why dancing wasn’t an option when I was a kid. It’s aerobic and it uses the whole body–why not? Plus you don’t need any special equipment, just music. But no, everything had to be structured. Everyone had to do the same exact thing. Just like the rest of school.

          • Posted March 7, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

            I also was pushed into sports as a kid – my parents had strict idea on gender roles, but strangely, being athletic was one of the things that a proper girl was supposed to do (as long as it wasn’t contact sports, of course). So I was on the swim team, I played basketball, ran track, played floor hockey, and even went out for cheerleading (which denied me because of lack of flexibility). I’m not fat, in fact I was always underweight as a kid, but somehow everyone determined that because I was thin, I ought to be athletic too. I’m not, I have breathing issues & short tendons, and being naturally thin meant that I also lack muscle so I’m not strong enough to do gymnastics and swimming.

            So I participated because I was supposed to, but I was chronically “sick” to get out of practice or P.E. And then I discovered dancing.

            I LOVE dancing – as you say, it’s aerobic and it’s also muscle-toning and enhances flexibility. And, in addition, there is some evidence to suggest that the added mental requirements of thinking up the next move & calculating spacial dynamics on a crowded dance floor, may decrease the chances of alzheimer’s later in life.

            I begged for dance lessons as a kid, but those weren’t given at school in P.E., they were only available in private lessons and my parents wouldn’t pay for them. So I didn’t discover dancing, really, until college when I took a ballroom dance class as one of my electives, when my parents no longer had any sway over my school choices. I was hooked. I lost the 10 pounds I had just put on, my breathing issues abated a little, and I felt more confident of myself and I was more willing to let go of inhibitions and just enjoy life.

            These sorts of options should be available to kids. I never got anything out of dodgeball or organized sports, and my knees are too bad to run anymore. If they had just presented several options & let me do whatever physical activity looked like fun, it would have prevented a lot of my self-esteem issues & even some physical deterioration from lack of excercize that I see now as early as my 30s.

          • Posted March 28, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

            WOW, this really brings back memories of gym class for me! I loved swimming, though I always wore a long shirt and jumped into the water as soon as I could cause I felt so self conscious out of the water. I DREADED the track with every fiber of my being, I dreaded most of the things with every fiber of my being actually, to the point of getting physically ill. The track though was extra evil because I had a gym teacher who was extra evil and if we didn’t RUN the whole way around it we had to go around again until we did run the whole way.

            I could NOT run the whole way around it, if I did I would start coughing, wheezing, and choking to the point of losing control of my bladder and let me tell you as a young girl the last thing you want to be doing is peeing your pants (or gym shorts) on the track because you can’t stop coughing. Not to mention how scary it was to feel like you were unable to breathe I remember telling the teacher about it, two gym teachers actually, and my parents, but of course they looked at me and figured I just didn’t want to move and was making an excuse.

            Anyway I remember so clearly having to run track one day and of course it was with the stipulation that if you didn’t run the whole way you would have to go again. I tried to run, I truly did, but then I started coughing and wheezing and had to walk. We had been going the whole period and most cept for a few of us not able to run the whole way had be allowed to go and change for the next class, when the bell rang and the teacher informed me and one other girl that we would just have to be late to our class and take whatever punishment that got us until we finally decided to run the track. I was so tired, and ashamed, and defeated and the thought of having to go around that track yet again just broke me and I screamed at her “I am done, I am not going around the track again, YOU can’t even run around the track the whole way, I am going to my next class you are not worth this crap.” and I walked off with both teachers screaming at me and me pretending I couldn’t hear them. I finally managed to stop bawling, composing myself in time to dart through the locker room with my head down so the other girls coming in for their class didn’t see me crying, grabbed my clothes and bookbag and got out of there before the teachers could catch me. I changed in a bathroom and went to my next class. The idea of gym class still strikes terror in me, TERROR. It shouldn’t be that way.

        • Nicole
          Posted April 13, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

          This. I have a collection of those much-loathed “participant!” patches somewhere.

    • Tink1272
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

      I know where you’re coming from on this. Why couldn’t they encourage us, instead of making us feel like fools in front of the whole class? Why couldn’t they SHOW us how to do stuff instead of just telling us to do it? to this day, I have no idea how to do a correct sit-up without hurting my back.

      There were tons of sports that I LOVED doing. But I was never encouraged in anything. Instead, I was always told that I wasn’t good enough, time to move on to the next thing they decided we should “learn.”

      This was back in Middle School, where we had co-ed PE. Then high school was a completely different kind of humiliation. All girls. Girls that loved to tease if you were fat, if you got your period before everyone else, if you had your period during SWIM class and had to sit out. Then everyone in the school knew. I was lucky, because I was in marching band. But the two semesters I had to spend in PE were hell. The first time I had PE, we had swimming, which I was never able to do because, well I’m a girl. So instead, they had us run around the pool. I fell, and sprained my ankle. I don’t believe I ever got to use the pool in high school.

      But anyway, I was made fun of. The teachers made fun of me, the kids made fun of me. And again, I was never encouraged to DO anything, or even TRY.

    • Posted April 30, 2011 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      Argh, the presidential fitness tests!

      I could never do pull-ups. And just like you mention… there were never any sort of exercises to help with that.

      And then there’s the sit and reach. The version they used when I was in school failed to consider that yeah, people have different ratios of arm length to leg length. And of course, there was no effort to control for this rather significant oversight. So some people naturally did better, not because they were any more flexible, but just because they had longer arms in relation to their legs!

  7. Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:08 am | Permalink

    Such a great post!I hated gym class in school for the most part. I was always short and skinny and just not very well built for many sports. It didn’t just suck at them, but I didn’t enjoy them very much, and I didn’t have the patience or passion to develop skills to become better. I still tried like hell though just to avoid embarassment but it failed. So I was always the girl who everyone else dreaded to have on the team because they knew I wasn’t going to be scoring points.

    Other than sports, gym class pretty much was boot camp, and I don’t blame kids for not enjoying that because neither did I. The thing is, there’s a lot more ways to be active and have it be fun for them, something that kids actually will want to do. I think gym programs kind of neglect all the other options there are.

  8. Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:16 am | Permalink

    I wanted to cry reading this.
    When I got Adaptive PE I loved it. It was stuff I could do and it wasn’t scary. it fact, I remember it even being fun.
    As often happens there weren’t the resources to do APE more than a few times a semester especially since I was the only blind/VI kid who needed it.
    So PE became this time of being yelled at for being afraid of getting hit in the head with a ball. Or getting yelled at because with 2 baseball diamonds set up next to each other I kept running half of one and half of the other.
    (If a school owns bell or beeper balls, please use them even in normal PE. I’m pretty sure the ‘regular’ kids will cope.)
    (Undiagnosed asthma and Ehlers Danlos Syndrome were big factors in my inability to ‘do’ regular PE.)
    For a while I walked laps during PE instead of trying to do activities that were blatantly inappropriate for me. It was boring and I hated it. Plus, I was missing enough school being sick that I was failing PE on that basis alone.
    Finally I just got a doctor’s note to excuse me from PE entirely.
    As an adult I’m still trying to find movement I enjoy and can do safely.
    This summer my hubby and I are going to get Nerf battle axes and romp in the front yard :) Who knows I might even do it in my swimsuit with the sprinkler running.

    • Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:31 am | Permalink

      …can I come over and play swimsuit-sprinkler-battle-axes too?

      • Posted February 24, 2011 at 1:14 am | Permalink

        Yes! :) We can have a picnic. This sounds like so much fun.
        I have this glorious mental image of lots of people with nerf weapons in a field scattered with sprinklers romping merrily or lounging around on checkered blankets resting and snacking.

        • Posted February 24, 2011 at 1:17 am | Permalink

          One time, on a reeeeally hot day…when we were 18 or 19…two of my girlfriends and I got dressed up, put on face paint and capes, gathered every water balloon and Super Soaker and 2 L bottle we could find, and drove to a random city park where tons of other kids (we didn’t know) hung out, and started a huge water fight with them just for the hell of it.

          We may or may not have also had a brief skirmish at a gas station on the way there.

          This is what boredom will do to you.

          • KC
            Posted February 24, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

            That sounds like, possibly, the single best summer day ever. If that’s what boredom causes, bring on the boredom!

        • Rosemary Riveter
          Posted February 24, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

          You have just described the SCA event I love to go to every Memorial Day weekend. A bunch of people dressed up in renaissance gear lounging around campsites drinking home brew, while those who feel like it run around beating each other with padded sticks. Plus free bellydance workshops and excellent shopping (if you like to buy swords, stoneware goblets & yarn).

          • Posted February 26, 2011 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

            In some places, the SCA also does dancing. The one local to me has a dance teacher, and at one event I danced until I was sore! My favorite was always an Irish dance called Trenchmoore, where you went down a long being spun by every dancer of the opposite sex (or whomever was in the opposite line, if the genders were unequal) alternating with your partner. I always spun the fastest and was out of breath and just grinning like crazy. There was another dance I don’t remember the name of that got faster and faster every go-round. And I was in garb, so I’ve got layers of full heavy fabric swinging around me…so awesome.

            Social dances are just not appreciated much in American society anymore, unless you’re into country music or ballroom dancing. Group dances like square dancing (there’s a casual social style that’s not competitive) are massive amounts of fun. That reminds me, I wanted to try contra dancing…

          • Embersmom
            Posted March 16, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

            Contra dancing is awesome, and if you know how to square dance you won’t find it difficult at all. Same moves, different format.

            I really need to go out dancing more. :-)

          • KellyK
            Posted March 16, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

            I think the “faster & faster” one, at least if I’m thinking of the same dance you are, was the Calafian/Maltese Bransle. In a circle, lots of clapping, music keeps speeding up to see whether the dancers or the musicians fall over first.

    • Tink1272
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

      I wish I could “like” this because of the sprinklers. :-) Brought a little tear to my eye.

  9. Sim
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:22 am | Permalink

    My most horrid nightmare of a memory was when they did the fitness tests and then WEIGHED you in front of everyone. Everyone in the queue behind could hear them say the weight before they wrote it down. SO MUCH humiliation. I wasn’t even that big at that stage but had been teased mercilessly my whole life, at that stage I think I was 12? Even when doing copious quantities of exercise when I was 17 I was still on the chunky side, and no matter how fit I am I still go red in the face and lose my breath.

    I still hate exercising in front of anyone, don’t even like to walk down the street looking like i’m “going for a walk”, avoid walking up stairs or a hill if I’m with anyone else.

    • Liz
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      Weighing children publicly is abuse. I remember one of my primary school teachers weighing the entire class, and announcing the results publicly. I remember it being for math, but it was horrific for a lot of people.

      One of my friends developed a little earlier, and so was heavier. A number of the assholes in the class actually *gasped* as her weight was read out, and spent the next couple of weeks calling her “fatty” and “lardarse”. One of the boys started yelling out “Elizabeth has no ass!” and calling me a dwarf, which just as bad for me. That teacher should have been fired.

      • Sim
        Posted February 24, 2011 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

        Sad thing is it still happens in maths class, well it does here in Australia. My 9yo daughter had this last year, as a way of teaching graphing or averages or something. She’s ok, she fits the “perfect” standard but it lead to teasing for many children. I don’t understand how a seriously lovely teacher thinks this is ok? And with no warning, or I would have said something for sure.

  10. Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:34 am | Permalink

    The one thing I always hated about gym class was that Michigan Department of Education (or maybe it was the school district i lived in) has minimums for the time that you can spend running a mile. It was 16 minutes when I was in high school and middle school and while that is a long time, not everyone can do that. I had to run that damn mile twice almost every year because I would miss it by a minute. This was the standard of health. If you could run under a 16 minute mile you would pass the class, otherwise you failed. A load of BS.

    • Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:35 am | Permalink

      We had to run a mile every week, on Wednesdays. It was always the worst day of the week for me.

      • Posted February 24, 2011 at 2:03 am | Permalink

        Oh, gods, gym class. And the Wednesday mile! Allow me to aim a gigantic middle finger through the past, toward the overly-enthusiastic gym teacher at my middle school. She loved to tell me, as I would trudge, wheezing, up the hill that constituted part of the “course” around our school (thanks to undiagnosed exercise-induced asthma, I could never do that hill at even the most perfunctory trot, especially after I’d already been trying to run 3/4 of the course by the time I hit that part, no matter how hard I tried. And believe me, I did try.), about the little old retired people in Florida who could power-walk a mile in 8 minutes, and if those little old ladies could do it, why couldn’t I? She said that *every week* at least once. Never did it manage to magically induce me to a burst of athleticism, so gods know why she kept saying it.

        Add to that my early-blooming boobs that had reached a D cup by age 12, for which nobody but specialty companies makes a sports bra worth a damn, and boys who lived to heckle me about being bouncy anytime I actually tried to run, and yeah, gym class sucked all the fun out of movement for me. I mean, I’m talking to the point that, the last time I joined a gym, I deliberately chose a 24-hour facility and only ever went between the hours of 1 and 3 AM, when I was pretty much guaranteed to have my preferred cardio area entirely to myself.

        Wow. Suddenly I’m absolutely furious at the whole edifice of “gym class”, and what it has done to so many, many people. >.<

  11. Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:42 am | Permalink

    omg how i hated gym class. i dreaded it every day. i didn’t “look” unfit, but I had no self esteem, i was afraid to try anything, and it was another chance for the “cool kids” and all the rest of us to segregate into appropriate cliques.

    i was always active outside of school; i used to play kick the can, soccer, run around the playground with my sister, go swimming, and in the summer i remember 18km bicycle rides every day or two with my dad! but gym class – no thank you!

    after i graduated high school, it took me about 5 years to try moving again,and magically – i loved it! Sans pressure, and sans grades. Now I live for physical activity! Actually, I see my old gym teacher at the Gym i go to… i wonder if he recognizes me – “Hey, I was that shy, quiet, uninterested pasty girl!”

  12. Squeegeelicious
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:56 am | Permalink

    Well, my impression of P.E. was that it was just training of the youth to prepare the boys to serve in the armed forces and the girls to be strong mothers. Honestly on of the most patriarchal practices in modern schooling.

    I hated P.E. in middle school and my first year in high school, but I was able to hatch a plan to get out of my second year of required P.E. in high school by taking three units at a local community college. I could pick what subjects I would train in (weight training and yoga) and I was in a welcoming environment for people of all sizes. There was no judgment there since it was mostly low income community members and everyone worked at their own pace. I think that saved exercise for me. I was even on a couple swim teams for awhile, but I had to quit because of over demanding coaches. I was only able to get back into a pool after wards by swimming with a group of non-competitive older ladies who loved to gab as much as they loved to swim. Gosh I miss them.

    • sandrad
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

      your “impression” is true. Before and during the 1st world war the British military was horrified by how many young men (the urban poor) were “unfit” to be sent off to be slaughtered. Not even healthy enough to be killed!!! It did not occur to them that not enough to eat and horrible living conditions will do that to people -thus the introduction of Physical Training drills in the schools.

  13. Posted February 24, 2011 at 1:13 am | Permalink

    This is wonderful. I have no co-ordination, no team sports skills, and gym class was hell on earth, but I loved riding my bike and climbing trees and running. I just hated being forced to do it “their” way. It made me hate it.
    I could have written this post a 100xs over. And for the record, I’m skinny, and theoretically, should love exercise. But I’d rather die than trip over my feet in public again, not after being ridiculed. I purposely have enrolled my lovely quirky spastic kids in individual classes toteach them the basics, so they don’t ever drop the ball, and or miss a catch, or almost drown in a pool.
    If it saves them even one moment of humiliation….worth every penny for private lessons. Now, if only we could go back in time and save ourselves.

  14. outrageandsprinkles
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 1:36 am | Permalink

    Gym class was evil. EVIL I SAY. I have always been fat, and a little socially awkward in school, so gym class was just the icing on the delicious yet poisonous cake. Luckily I have never set eyes upon a real life climbing rope so at least I was spared that humiliation. I often wrote fake notes or made up stories of fake illnesses in order to avoid having to do exercises because I knew it would be difficult and embarrassing. Not to mention the fact that the biggest size gym clothes they made were still really snug on me. If they really wanted me to exercise I would have appreciate clothes that fit (the boys clothes were HUGE on them!) and less emphasis put on perfect times and competition. I remember one time we had to play basketball, which I actually enjoy when I play for fun, and I hated it because I’m not actually good and the other girls were the competitive jocks and they got pissed when I messed up *sigh*.

  15. Emily
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 1:44 am | Permalink

    Does having flat feet make it hard to do PE?! I definitely inherited some very flat feet from my granddad, and perhaps I should add them to list of my physical features which seem to have been optimized specifically to make me suck at PE. :o) (Short legs, fat, prematurely ginormous boobs, sweat glands on overdrive, total lack of hand-eye coordination…)

    Stopping by your blog never fails to give me a little boost of resolve in my ongoing determination to live a happy life regardless of my size or weight. It makes me feel sane, and not so alone in the world. So thank you so much!

    But I wish I weren’t still so terrified of exercise. It’s not that I don’t get any at all; I walk to work/school most days, and I can certainly manage to be on my feet moving around (albeit at no very impressive speed) for many hours at a time when, say, shopping. (Other sources I’ve read suggest that merely walking is such an ‘efficient’ physical movement that it doesn’t actually require any effort at all, and, as such, doesn’t count as movement. LOL)

    But when I got into FA more than a year ago, I thought that my excitement at the prospective freedom of just finding a pleasant way to move might mean I’d turn into somebody who *wanted* to go to the gym or who engaged in some kind of regular exercise program, and so far, the fact is: I still don’t like it. I definitely don’t like the gym. I don’t like to be watched. I don’t like cycling pointlessly on a treadmill or stairclimber. And more than that, I don’t like sweating all over or getting painfully out of breath.

    Exercise still brings back a lot of tough memories from my childhood. We did mandatory calisthenics and laps around a track starting when I was in grade school. I did the laps the same as all the other kids; we weren’t allowed to stop. But it sometimes took me twice as long to finish as everybody else, and you didn’t get to play games with the other kids until you were done.

    And, egads, I just never got much better or faster, at all. Once I passed the point where I got out of breath – which point might be postponed by regular exercise, but which always came eventually – I couldn’t get my breath back. Sometimes not for, like, ten minutes after I’d stopped running!

    Throughout school, I assumed this was because I was fat and ‘lazy.’ It never occurred to me to object that I was doing the same exercises as everybody else, just not enjoying them or becoming any leaner as a result.

    Now that I’m older – and, in theory, not a scared little girl anymore, heh – I would love to be over the anxiety and anger I still feel when I think about exercise. I would like to work toward having a strong body, even if though I’ll almost certainly not have a thin body. But although I definitely loved games as a kid, I’ve never felt any physical pleasure associated with vigorous movement. (What are these ‘endorphins’ of which you speak? Are you sure they are not some sort of exercise unicorn?) I hope I can still figure something out. Maybe someday soon I’ll be able to afford to try out martial arts or dancing.

    Pleh. In the mean time, it helps to be reminded that my value isn’t conditional on devoting my whole life to trying at all times, as hard as I can, not to be fat anymore.

    (Nor is it conditional on a climbing rope or managing even a single pull-up. Which is good. Because I’ve never had a prayer of either!)

    • Posted February 24, 2011 at 2:00 am | Permalink

      My flat feet mostly make it hard for me to visit the mall without whining. I discovered only after I got orthotics that, wow, really, most people do not have incredible foot pain just from standing around, nor do they feel like they’re constantly trudging through sand.

      • Posted February 24, 2011 at 8:42 am | Permalink

        I had that EXACT SAME orthotics epiphany — there should really be signs up in doctors’ offices telling people that agonizing foot pain is not the natural result of having feet and using them.

      • Posted February 24, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

        I need orthotics badly, as I have very flat feet as well.

      • Deirdre
        Posted February 24, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

        Oh this, I tore my leg muscle badly at one stage WALKING because my calf muscles had been getting microtears due to continuous damage from just using them. I remember when we had Aerobics in school and remember similar pain, now I realise that in all probability if I had got orthotics then I would have avoided a lot of pain and the big calves I now have. Big enough calves that my doctor has discussed surgery to remove some of the excess muscle mass with me. This was going to be the next step if the orthotics hadn’t worked.

        Our PE teacher was only interested in the girls who could play Hockey, and well, many of whom actually did extra training (at least one ended up on the Irish national Olympic Squad); she never really taught just supervised people playing. It was complete rubbish. I now have no real good experience with exercise and a body that isn’t suited to walking and if I had a dime for every time someone suggest I walk for exercise and cause more damage I’d be so wealthy.

      • Posted February 26, 2011 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

        See, and I have high arches, and I have to have really high arches in my shoes or I’m in pain if on my feet for very long.

        Finding out that Birkenstocks made insoles was a beautiful day…them and Chacos are the only shoes with arches high enough to keep me happy. Even Danskos aren’t high enough.

        I do wear shoes that don’t fit my insoles, but not all day!

  16. Draw2much
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 2:12 am | Permalink

    We didn’t have gym, just competitive sports. As long as there was enough players in the various teams everyone else was free. This worked all right, until a team was short of members. The coach would go “recruiting” and try to “convince” the prospective person to join the team. What happened in reality was a teacher would harass a student for days (or weeks) until they gave in and joined the team.

    That’s how I got forced on the volleyball team. I’m 5’9″ and back then I was thin as a bean pole. That in no way made me a good pick for a sports team. My eyes-hand-feet coordination was (is!) terrible, as an artist I worried about hurting my hands, I read books (lots), had glasses, acne, and braces. I think you’d have been hard pressed to find anyone in that school who pulled off nerdy better than me.

    On the upside, my best friend also joined the team. She was considered over weight, and she was short to boot. But she was firey, and she was serious about whatever she put her mind to. Even with her knee problems (had to get surgery later), she still managed to play better than almost all the other girls. In fact, she and I were the only ones to go to volleyball camp and the only ones who could serve or pass or.. well.. play. (We only won one game in the two years I was on the team–and that one win was by default.)

    She was why I liked playing volleyball.

    Sometimes I think about joining a local team. Then I think about all the bruising it did to me, how exhausting it was, and I realize that without my good friend there I just don’t see the point of it.

  17. TropicalChrome
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 2:38 am | Permalink

    Have I mentioned that I love your blog? I do.

    Because of gym class, it took me over 30 years to discover that my body likes putting on muscle…and I like giving it the opportunity to do so. But at my own pace and doing things I want to do, which I can quit at any time, and no one cares if I do them better or worse than anyone else. Even me.

  18. duckybelkins
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 3:54 am | Permalink

    So I recently discovered I have exercise-induced asthma and I could not be happier! I’m 23.

    From ages 5–15 my mom forced me into every organized sports activity she could fit me into no matter how much I didn’t want to do it. The most consistent activity was swim team, an hour practice twice a day, every week day (meets were on weekends!), all summer. From 5-15. I somehow managed to fit softball and soccer into some summers on top of swim team. I remember crying and begging my mom not to make me go. I couldn’t even give her a solid reason. I just knew that I hated it. (When I got older and more aware of my body that became a solid reason not to go but she still wasn’t buying it.)

    In grade school, in the winter, I had basketball, and in jr. high, in the winter, I had volleyball. I actually really liked volleyball but I hated the running we had to do at every practice. I would have gone into volleyball in high school but the coach was a gym teacher I’d already had and I knew I didn’t want him as a coach.

    So anyway! I’m talking about these things for a reason. I had P.E. every school day through all of this. I remember running was the worst part (and it was at the start of every class.) As I’d run I’d become afraid that I was going to pass out. I never did pass out but I was afraid of it. Eventually I began to hope that I’d pass out so I could stop running and wouldn’t be expected to run after that.

    I cut as many corners as I could possibly get away with in all these sports programs and classes. I tried to talk to all my teachers and coaches about how I could make exercising easier (I just couldn’t pinpoint why I hated it so much and why it was so hard) and they all told me that I was out of shape and that if I just kept doing it I’d like it more.

    Well thank God I was too lazy to follow their instructions because I’m pretty sure I’d REALLY hate exercise right now a lot more than I already do if I kept pushing myself.

    Looking back now I realize THERE WAS NO POSSIBLE WAY I was out of shape.

    I haven’t been able to start exercising yet now that I have my inhaler, I only got the inhaler a few weeks ago and shortly after I got struck with the worst cold of my life. But! I’m really excited to start exploring to find some exercises I can enjoy.

    I really wish I could talk to my coaches and gym teachers and tell them my story. I believed them when they told me I was out of shape because I was slightly bigger (just like Michelle) and because I was cutting corners. I felt ashamed of being so lazy and was afraid to ask anyone about it until I finally found out about exercise-induced asthma myself and realized it fit me perfectly. I don’t want to talk to my coaches and teachers to demand an apology (although it’d be nice!) but because I’d like to believe that they might hear my story and maybe think that there might be OTHER reasons why students hate exercise and NOT shame those students.

    But I can dream, right?

  19. Posted February 24, 2011 at 4:46 am | Permalink

    THIS.

    I have dyspraxia and sensory integration problems; the effect of school PE was that I spent literally over twenty years avoiding all sports (apart from a bit of yoga and a tendency to walk everywhere) with fear and loathing.

    Now I rock climb three times a week, do handstands for fun, and have an ambition to deadlift one and a half times my bodyweight (my best so far is one-and-a-third).

    Because I discovered that I could learn movement skills and I could enjoy it, and I’d never, ever known that before.

    One quibble, though:

    which, strangely enough, is pretty much what happens when you turn kids loose on a playground: the adults choose when and where and what to make available, and the kids take it from there.

    For me, playgrounds meant a lot of screaming kids racing round a relatively small tarmac-coated space, and stray balls occasionally whacking me in the face; the result was that I ended up immobilized and hiding in a corner and desperate to go back into the classroom.

    I think it’s important not to romanticize the playground either. We need a whole range of possibilities — including the slow and quiet and individual ones — on offer for kids to find the ones they enjoy.

    • Posted February 24, 2011 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      You’re totally right.

      • Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

        I know of some elementary schools that have started teaching recess, which seems opposite to what you’re advocating. But it’s a really good idea, in some ways. Playground leaders teach active, cooperative games. (The kids aren’t required to play,but most of them usually WANT to, which speaks well of the games.) A lot of their job is bullying-reduction, so they are also teaching stuff like how to divide into teams without making kids feel excluded and hurt, or how to resolve conflicts.

        As I see it, the worst aspect of traditional PE classes was their focus on competitive sports and athletic skills. Traditionally, PE teachers did not TEACH skills–they just demonstrated them, made kids practice, then tested. This approach rewards those who catch on quickly, but it’s incredibly frustrating for those who need actual teaching…it’s even frustrating for teachers who find they don’t know how to teach.

        Something similar happens with a frightening number of subjects. There are some people who learn it so easily they don’t need teaching, just practice. Others need more or less intensive teaching. Until about a generation ago, schools didn’t really teach reading, of all things. Most kids do catch on, with demonstration and practice. It was incredibly frustrating for the ones who couldn’t. Kids who specific, deliberate, teaching before they can learn to read are still stigmatized as learning disabled, but at least now schools try to teach them.

        • Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

          A lot of their job is bullying-reduction, so they are also teaching stuff like how to divide into teams without making kids feel excluded and hurt, or how to resolve conflicts.

          No, I think this is great. Despite my seeming lionization of unsupervised playgrounds, I actually think that a good balance of structure and leadership with freedom to choose is crucial. Like I said in an earlier post, letting kids do their thing with absolutely no supervision (or too little supervision/involvement from caring adults) is asking for all sorts of Lord of the Flies stuff to go down, and that’s not okay.

          It’s not the idea of supervision that is wrong, it’s how it is done — some measure of freedom to choose HAS to be given to the kids. The idea that, in this scenario, the kids aren’t required to play if they don’t want to, pretty much makes it sound okay to me.

          And I agree that teaching certain skills is far preferable to just expecting that the kids figure it out. Those who need the teaching should have access to it.

        • KellyK
          Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

          I think this sounds awesome. I also think that it should continue, though with age-appropriate sports, all the way through high school.

          • Posted February 24, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

            My nieces are learning some playground games that work for a remarkably wide range of ages. I’ve seen what look like 4 year olds playing in the same group with kids well into the puberty growth spurt, and they’re all having a good time.

  20. sannanina
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 4:53 am | Permalink

    For me, it wasn’t actually about the grades, or at least not only about the grades. It was also the lack of true instruction (at least for someone NOT physically gifted) and the lack of giving me adequate opportunity to improve, and to acknowledge that improvement.

    I was not just an awkward kid, but also easily scared. I mean, wait, you expect me to high jump with my back to that stupid bar ? Whenever I had to jump in some shape or form over some kind of obstacle I basically stopped dead in my tracks in the moment when I was supposed to jump off – I did not know how not to do that, it was an automatic reaction.

    Plus, I was really bad at picking up anything that required complex coordination – I was able to learn it, sure, but it took me longer than most kids. And then there was the thing that while I was a strong kid, I could not hold my own weight with my arms for long, at least not without training. But in gym class my teachers pretty much showed us something and then we were given two or three trials to do it – and if we couldn’t do it, that was it. We were not given help, we did not get detailed instructions how to move each body part, and how the movements were supposed to feel like for the separate muscles (something that helps me immensely to learn a movement correctly as I learned years later in belly dance class), and we were not given ideas how to practice at home where we might not have had the necessary equipment.

    So basically, I got the feeling that I could not, would never, improve, that I was a hopeless case. Plus, most of my gym teachers over the years pretty much operated on the default assumption that I did not try hard enough, that when I stopped running it was not because my allergic asthma flared up because of the birch pollen all around me on that sunny spring day, but because I was a lazy whiner, or that I did not hold that hockey stick correctly not because I had not quite understood how I had to do it but because I did not really try. That mixed with the relentless mocking of some of the other students, the need to change before class in a room with all the other girls, and in general being a kid that was easily embarrassed and quite shy made gym class feel like some form of torture.

    • Posted February 24, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

      Are you me? Holy crows. I could have written every word of that myself!

      When I went into education in university, one of my partners was a PE major. I told her how much I hated PE and why, and she was utterly gobsmacked. First, she couldn’t believe that anyone could truly hate PE unless they were lazy (ha! I put a stop to that belief right quick!) and second, she was just totally flabbergasted at the idea of not being able to watch someone do something and then do it. It was foreign to her.

      • Posted February 26, 2011 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

        I have a theory that the reason gym class is so awful, is that it was taught by people who liked gym class.

        Glad you were able to educate her…but did she actually listen and believe you? It might make her a good gym teacher!

    • Posted February 26, 2011 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

      I was not just an awkward kid, but also easily scared. I mean, wait, you expect me to high jump with my back to that stupid bar ? Whenever I had to jump in some shape or form over some kind of obstacle I basically stopped dead in my tracks in the moment when I was supposed to jump off – I did not know how not to do that, it was an automatic reaction.

      Me too!! Oh my god. I had a teacher who tried to get us to run hurdles one time in seventh grade. I was really short for my age then (as an adult I’m on the short side of average), and not very coordinated. So what happened was I ran up to hurdle and carefully went over it one leg at a time. When the teacher tried to get me to actually jump the thing, I couldn’t physically do it. I knew I’d fall and eat the track, and that did not sound like fun.

      • Freya
        Posted April 2, 2011 at 9:00 am | Permalink

        Jumping over things does come naturally for me… But not doing it the way hurdling is supposed to look. The first time I did hurdles, they were chest high on me (lower chest, but still…) so I did them the way I knew how to jump over things that high – run up to them and jump, instead of that leaping gait that hurdlers are supposed to have. I got teased for that, by a whole bunch of people who never thought “my goodness, you’re jumping things that are THAT HIGH on you, you’re Doing It Wrong, we’re refusing to make it so that you can Do It Right, and you’re still keeping up?!?”

        The hurdles were increased in size in line with the average height of the rest of the class. I grew slower than they did. I’m 5’2″ now, and I achieved that at 16.

        These days I dance. I can still jump stupidly high from a standing or slow-moving position. But I can’t aim a jump from fast-moving, and I seize up if I try. So I do things I enjoy instead :-)

  21. Inca
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 5:01 am | Permalink

    Yesyesyes! I was small and young compared to classmates and not very good in coordination or condition. So gym class was torture. I never could quite keep up (and,now knowing the theory about building up condition and aerobic exercise, just telling me to run harder when I was already out of breath was just something that should get PE-teachers a stern warning at least – they have gone to school about that! THAT’s not how to improve condition at all!)

    Also I could have learned lots of things if they’d only be prepared to go slow…. but they always moved to stage 2 when I was strugling with stage 1, and, then, when they got to stage 3 I was just well, doing nothing.
    I had the luck that nobody made fun of me. But they completely and utterly ignored me, teachers even more so than fellow students.

    Right before my senior year, I was finally improving a bit, for example actually passing those stupid running tests and the teacher… rewarded me with not even a C but a D! Next year I have flatout refused to go to gym class. (Luckily, the classes were set up differently so I got to do one trial of horseback riding and then skip the entire class and nobody said anything about it.)

    And the sad thing of it all is – I actually like activity. I like walking, horseback riding, badminton, riding a bike, swimming, skating, skiing after I found out I could learn it, just not at the speed most people do it. Even running (until my knee joints protested), and that all by just starting of slow and do little things and expand them, rather than setting unattainable things and failing them. (And now my health got in the way of quite a few of those things, I really miss them.)

    But it took me years and years to actually feel confident enough to just try those… and that as a sole result of something that was initiated to get kids moving.

  22. Posted February 24, 2011 at 5:21 am | Permalink

    Wow. I can’t tell you how many buttons you pressed with this. I am totally like you–was chubby/solid as a kid and utterly active. Enjoyed physical activities in grade school.

    Then: If you want to destroy all the inherent joy in something, slap a grade on it. – exactly this.

    It’s taken me DECADES to get over the feeling of shame/ridicule/OMGSHE’SFAT that has kept me away from being physical. I started by buying a stationary bike, even though my apt. building has a very nicely equipped gym. I just couldn’t face doing this around other people.

    I ride around 10 miles each day at 15 mph — better than a lot of my “normal” sized colleagues. I’m still fat. Very fat, but I’m getting a lot fitter.

    Last night, I broke through the shame barrier and joined in on a group activity at work. A bunch of us (women, of course), decided to get off our butts and do cardio. We’re all in this for fitness, not weight loss – which yeah, a breakthrough. Calling ourselves Couch Potato Rehab (CPR). We meet at 6 p.m. in our large conference room and do 40 mins of some sort of workout video. Last night it was hula. Uncoordinated, but loads of fun & endorphins.

    Still, it took me more than forty years to get back into a mode that I feel I can do physical activities in front of other people.

    I hate that about our society. I hate that we shame kids & adults who don’t fit the current popular look. I want to hug every wee fat kid and tell them to just enjoy themselves and to smack all the school administrators upside the head with a clue bat.

    /rant

  23. Posted February 24, 2011 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    What I don’t get is that schools, at least starting at the middle school level if not sooner, generally try to group kids in academic classes according to their skill levels, whereas in gym classes, they just throw everyone together and expect everyone to perform at the same level. Supposedly, it’s character-building for us unathletic and uncoordinated kids to be ragged on day after day for our gym-class failings (not just in class, but all day long by our classmates, instead of putting together kids who are good at and like team sports into one class and kids who are not good at or don’t like team sports into another class.

    Third grade is when team sports started for me in gym, and third grade is when everyone started to hate me. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

    • meerkat
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      It’s a stupid system! I think the actual reason is that it’s supposed to make you realize that becoming good at sports is much more important than doing anything you are actually inclined to do. You don’t want to be a nerd, do you?

      (Nerds rock, of course, when I’m not being sarcastic.)

    • Jennifer
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 10:30 am | Permalink

      Well, I essentially think that PE classes are one of those things very, very few schools actually care about on any real level. (Sports teams are somewhat different.) And given that PE classes have been at least partially graded on those Presidential Fitness standards since what, the 80s? PE classes have been subject to that form of half-ass accountability that dogs education: meet these standards, completely absent of any context.

      That, when coupled with the general makeup of a school staff population (highly female, often slightly older at the level where the decision-makers sit) and you have your challenge: you have to convince administrators to spend money on something that many of them think doesn’t matter except as an anti-obesity initiative…and then explain that the focus on anti-obesity is a problem while making the case for money to go to PE rather than, IDK, the arts, or another school counselor.

      Though that would be a fun, interesting (if tough) thing to do: create appealing HAES PE curricula and try to get it enacted.

    • Sarah N
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 11:00 am | Permalink

      yes, yes, yes, yes!!! To all of the comments actually but I have particularly responded to the peer abuse comment so my comment sits here.

      Gym class for me was my thrice weekly shame-a-thon.
      The classes were all about team sports, because team sports “teach sportsmanship” and “build character” (implied *snort*).

      Our gym teacher never bothered to teach us the sports or train us in any way. He just gave us a ball (usually a ball) and told us to play.

      Most of the kids in my classes played little league sports outside school and were well versed in the rules and strategies of the games. They were also rude and aggressive and full of themselves .

      I was clueless and awful, which meant I was ragged on and rejected and bullied and tortured all the way from grade 2 through high school and no one tried to help or teach me.

      I remember watching Bend it Like Beckham a few years ago and being amazed by the training exercises the girls did at practice. They were taught techiques for controlling the ball and drills to practice with. I would have loved to learn that stuff.

      Instead I grew up with the idea that phys ed class was something you either could do naturally or you couldn’t and there was no help for those who were not naturally good. The idea that there might be learned skills and techniques like in my other classes (y’know, math, languages, art), never occurred to me. I never saw any sign of them.

      The worst was the four times a year when the whole school was gathered together in “houses”(this was a Canadian public school and not Hogwarts believe it or not) and forced to do a cross country run for house points. The course was only half a mile long but it started with a hill that I now know winds long distance runners.

      The teachers used to chase us around telling us to go faster and “get more points” for our houses. As others have said: funny how I didn’t suddenly develop the ability to breathe like a runner. My inability was considered an attitude problem.

      In short, it sucked. And it’s taken me years to learn to enjoy athletic activities again.

      If gym class is supposed to be about encouraging more active lifestyles (which as an HAES person I can get behind) it would be far more effective if it was actually about introducing the basics of the myriad of sports and active hobbies (baseball to dance to horseback riding to weight lifting and martial arts) that are out there rather than using athletic skill to establish a social pecking order in the schools and create the grounds for shaming and bullying within the educational system.

      That being said, I do enjoy moving and sweating now. I like seeing what my body can do after feeling like it was useless for so long. I even learned to enjoy running although I prefer to do it early in the morning when there are fewer people around and I can assume that those who do see me give me instant “hard core, awesome” status for simply being out there before dawn.

      • E.C.
        Posted March 4, 2011 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

        Ha! I had to do that painful cross-country run for house points at a Canadian private school, albeit only once a year. It sucked.

    • KellyK
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      What I don’t get is that schools, at least starting at the middle school level if not sooner, generally try to group kids in academic classes according to their skill levels, whereas in gym classes, they just throw everyone together and expect everyone to perform at the same level.

      Yeah, this. I think it comes down to scheduling, becuase if you try to sort by ability for everything, it turns scheduling into a nightmare. But I think it would be reasonable and totally doable to at least create an “honors gym” for the uber-athletes to all be super-competitive and work on high-level skills, which would free up teacher time and attention in every other gym class to teach skills at the level most kids are at.

    • Rosa
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

      In high school we self-selected by all the really nerdy kids taking so much academics/music that we all had to take before-school-even started gym. Together. With no athletes (because the athletes who were also super-nerdy had sports after school in lieu of gym class.)

      I would love to do Remedial Gym for Adults – not the horrible testing/competing but “how do you play racquetball?” “How do you score bowling?” “How do you play volleyball” parts, for those of us who might want to do those things for fun but really hate always being the worst on the team.

    • Amy
      Posted February 25, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

      OMG totally. And us smarties would NEVER have been allowed to get away with the kind of taunting of the “dumb” kids that I suffered in gym class from the kids who were cool/athletic/coordinated/thin and f*cking MEAN about it.

      • Amy
        Posted February 25, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

        AND seconding all of the comments about techniques, rules etc. never being taught. I remember one time I managed to hit the ball REALLY well in baseball/softball AND actually made it to the base (because it was such a great hit) but then later being called “out” because of some rule about someone else getting tagged and I was supposed to go back to the base before (a rule which I still obviously do not understand). I was so disappointed I cried. And I was like, in tenth grade or something, so you can just imagine. I remember the teacher looking at me like I was some kind of alien — which, I’m sure, to her I was. But jeezus, why on earth would you set up a situation in which people get treated like that?

  24. Heidi
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    You are so lucky that you had that sort of elementary school gym class experience. We ran the field, played actual sports – kickball, basketball, newcomb, t-ball – and had a gym teacher who selected two girls and two boys each day from among the “good” athletes in the class to choose their teams. I wasn’t often the *last* chosen, but I was basically always among the last two or three.

    It got worse in junior high, where the former Marine who was our coach had us run around the goalposts three times at the start of class, and then after roll call and jumping jacks, then had to run about 1000 feet around the field. The last ten people to finish (in a class of 7th and 8th graders, mixed boys and girls) got an F for the day, and had to spend the rest of the class running the field over and over again.

    I was a pudgy child – never obese, but overweight – and my dad thought it was vital that I take gym so I could get in shape, but instead, three weeks before the end of the first semester, I was going to get an F – yes, I’d pulled C’s all the way through elementary school which kept me off the honor roll but I’d learned to live with that.

    My parents finally agreed that I couldn’t actually be allowed to fail PE and have to take it as a makeup at summer school, so they arranged for a doctor’s note that would get me out of the class and into the library so I’d have something to do that period. But the stress of it, the terror of having to go to gym class each day, and the knowledge that I would always suck at it have impacted my life almost every day since I was eight years old.

    Fuckers.

    • k.sol
      Posted February 25, 2011 at 8:27 am | Permalink

      I had forgotten that horrific part about choosing teams. Chosen last. Every. Time.

  25. Sarah
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    Oh, yes. Ditto what everyone’s said so far in the comments. It was wonderful getting to college and discovering folkdance, and then having my pants not fit anymore because dude, I actually possessed substantial calf muscles now.

    In addition to making sports fun, I would also like some instruction on making them safe. To do chemistry in school you have to get safety training and permission forms signed and you never even get to play with the really fun stuff. But do you need a permission form to have people who dislike you hurl projectiles at your head? No, you do not. You get mocked when you duck. And even if you’re not the weird kid, do you get taught how to breathe properly while running and not hurt your knees and things like that? Not at my school, though I have heard of some places where it’s different.

  26. G
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    My middle school was chronically underfunded and kept cutting periods/class time, so kids got to choose between band/choir and gym class. I was in band because I wanted to be, but a good number of kids just wanted to skip gym!

    In high school I had single-sex gym class, which made it marginally better. (Sophomore year we did a month of square/social dancing with the boys, which everyone hated… but I like dancing.) I didn’t really dig the team sports part of gym but senior year I could take weight lifting instead, which was great– it was totally self-directed, all the girls lifted as much as we could 3 days a week and had silly cardio workout tapes the other 2. It was really nice to be proud of my own abilities and tell people “I can bench X pounds!”

  27. meerkat
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    God yes! I loathed PE as far back as I can remember, because it was the only subject I had trouble with at that age and all it taught me was “exercise = YOU FAILL!!!!!” I would have done anything to get out of it, and fortunately all I had to do was join the school band, which had a number of awesome upsides such as learning to play an instrument. (Although come to think of it, the band directors may have been just as much jerks as the PE teachers, I just sucked a lot less at music than at sports and sit-ups.) So now I basically hate any and all forms of exercise for being exercise, no matter how fun they might otherwise be. Sometimes I enjoy exercise-y games or even sports but it has to be completely spontaneous and on a day I have a ton of spoons.

  28. Jen
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    I think one of the problems is that PE is taught by the jocks for the jocks. I think it’s safe to say that not one person who comments here is a PE teacher. I hope I’m wrong, but the kids who hate gym class usually don’t sign-up for years of teaching it unless they have an overriding desire to save others from their hell. Which is sad, because these are the people who need to teach high school PE. The jocks will take care of themselves. But clearly there aren’t enough people taking care of the rest of us.

  29. Leah
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    The timing of this was really perfect. I’m sitting here, waiting to go to meet the personal trainer who I hired not to lose weight, but because I miss being strong and active. On Tuesday, I had a panic attack while working with my trainer. I’ve never had anything like that happen before, and all I can assume is that the specific series of fast, coordinated exercises she had me do reminded me of all of those awful “Presidential Fitness Tests” and brought back an overwhelming rush of shame, embarrassment, panic, and self loathing. It makes me FURIOUS. Because, like FN, I had a very active childhood. And I was on the swim team all through high school. I even ran track. I lifted weights. I was just terrible at a handful of very specific things they were testing. And twenty years later, I’m having panic attacks at the gym about it. I want to write a letter to someone, but I don’t even know where to start. Maybe I’ll just egg my gym teacher’s house the next time I visit my parents.

  30. Posted February 24, 2011 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    I had some positive “gym class” experiences I want to talk about — if gym class is required, there are “good” ways to do it.
    In Jr. High I went to a magnet school in the San Fernando Valley that was an “alternative school” — it was a “hippy school,” really, where kids had a say in their education to a much wider extent than in most schools. We had this awesome PE teacher who basically let us loose with balls and equipment and let us play. I played handball almost every day on one of the backboards so I was basically “hidden” and every once in a while he would try to round us all up and teach us something, like how to throw a football, but otherwise we were left alone to our own devices. He was a middle-aged white dude, slightly balding, surfer-esque. His name was Jerry, and I think he deserves a shout out.
    At one point in Jr. High, I took aerobics. Which was also fun. Our school didn’t have showers, and I think we changed into our leotards and tights in the girls’ bathroom. The instructor, whose name I can’t remember, maybe her name was Karen, and she was African American, just out of college, and talked with us like peers. I loved her and wanted to be just like her. We romped around and did our Jane Fonda thing and it was really fun and there was no shaming. I think it was mostly girls. But it was our choice to select that class.
    In high school, I think I spent about a week in PE, maybe a bit more, I remember dreading the whole scene with regard to changing clothes. But for some reason, I could stop taking PE — and I was in marching band. We did a little marching, but we were a sad, small band at a high school that had once had a huge band program. I played cymbals (because I didn’t know any other instrument). It was so much fun, even though playing at the football games was somewhat humiliating. For spring semester, I took dance, and the teacher was friggin’ awesome. She started out by saying: You will be graded based on your improvement. I worked hard, I loved our warm-ups and dance practices. For our final, we had to make up a dance either on our own or in a pair, and perform in front of the class. I got an A! My (skinnier) friends got Bs and it pissed them off. I attribute my confidence in dancing in public to some of these experiences.
    I wasn’t required to take PE after 10th grade, but if I had been, I might have continued in dance.
    I never thought of myself as athletic — but it turns out I am. I don’t wish I had been exposed to more formal gym class. I got plenty of exercise, like you, Michelle, as a kid, between swimming and roller skating and other stuff. Growing up in Southern California in the ’70s meant being exposed to really bad smog much of the summer (and obnoxious heat) — so I think the Oregon summers would have been a million times better.

    • Sarah N
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      Oh AcceptanceWoman, I wish I could have gone to your school. Sounds awesome.

  31. k.sol
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    I was eternally grateful that my high school only required one semester of gym, and that I got it over with 1st semester freshman year. Miserable, miserable, miserable.

    Our class was taught by the football coach. Ugh. They did gymnastics. They put mats down on the floor, lined us up and just said, “Do a cartwheel. Do a roundoff.” Three kids were injured and had to go to the doctor in the 1st two days. One girl hurt her back so badly that someone else had to tie her shoes for her.

    I was terrible at running, terrible at team sports. I was graded on how fast I could run 2 miles (not terribly…) and berated by classmates during volleyball games & told to not try to go for the ball. (‘Stand over there,” in the corner, they told me.

    In the meantime, I’d get on my bicycle — a heavy, clunky, one-speed with coaster brakes — and ride 20 miles in my free time. Sophomore year, I joined marching band and marched for hours upon hours while playing heavy instruments.

    I was never as unathletic as these classes made me feel I was.

    • bananacat
      Posted March 1, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      In my high school, it was required to have 4 years of gym class to graduate. We only needed 2 years of science and 3 years of math, but gym was so important that we needed 4 years of it. For students who failed, they had to double up the following year just to get enough gym credits to graduate. It was also an issue with transfer students who hadn’t taken it every year at their previous school. They would be stuck taking two gym classes, and missing out on electives.

  32. Posted February 24, 2011 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Great post!

    My kids came home with their school reports last week with the big C in gym.

    I guess running, jumping, and throwing isn’t enough to earn you that coveted A grade in physical education. You have to run the fastest, jump the highest, and throw the hardest. Somehow you can picture the kids who are the star gym students, and maybe I should be glad my kids aren’t those kids.

    Both my kids participate willingly, but by no means fall into the die-hard sports nut category. Though I do know those kids. The gymnasium bullies and jock heads that whip the balls like grenades in dodgeball, pulverizing all the C grade participants.
    How is that game still allowed in our schools?

    Come to think of it, maybe I should celebrate that I have C students when it comes to gym class.

  33. Posted February 24, 2011 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Wow, this post was just so on the mark to my experience. Ironically, even though I was fat, I was actually good at sports and played on multiple teams, but it didn’t change the fact that I would be picked last for random teams or that I SUCKED at the fitness tests. That meant, even though I was good at most of the skills, PE was a hellish nightmare. Elementary school was fairly harmless. Some stuff was more unpleasant than others, but like you said above, there was no grade attached and the teachers tried to make it fun. (I also enjoyed the fact that the boys who were the cruelest would whip the ball at me in an attempt to hurt me when playing dodgeball, but I was good at it and could either dodge it or catch it and then whip it back at the jerks.)

    Then I started junior high. 7th grade PE was pure hell. The misery of adolescence compounded by bullies in the class compounded by weekly fitness tests that I sucked at. When it came to the actually sports I was good at some (basketball) and not so good at others (tennis), but the sports/games/whatever took a back seat to the fitness tests, and it was just hell.

    In 8th grade you could take dance or PE, so I picked dance since I figured anything would be better than the hell of PE. I wasn’t good at it, but I wasn’t terrible (and there, miraculously, no bullies in that class). However, we didn’t have to do the fitness tests, and that made a huge difference. I wouldn’t say I liked the class because I was still horribly self-conscious, but I didn’t hate it. It didn’t bring about the misery and anxiety of PE. I took dance again in 9th grade, though that year the department decided we had to do the fitness tests even in dance, but our teacher didn’t care about them that much, so we only had to do them a couple times during the semester. So not too horrible.

    Next up was high school (in my school district, junior high was 7th-9th and high school was 10th-12th), and our school had a variety of options for PE credit. I carefully avoided PE in 10th grade because I was terrified (really, TERRIFIED) of a repeat of 7th grade PE. I cannot properly describe how much I hated that class. Anyway, in 10th grade I took aerobics. Our teacher was this tiny, super-fit thing, and at first I thought she’d make my life hell (having been tormented by tiny, super-fit things before), but she was cool and the class was actually pleasant. I was shocked.

    Then I was informed that we had to take one semester of plain PE at some point. Terrified, I signed up for plain PE in 11th grade. Expecting the worse, I spent the first half of the semester waiting for hell to break loose, and… it never did. There were no fitness tests. None. There was a little bit of plain running, but very little (and when there was, and I’d have to walk part of it, surprisingly, I didn’t get yelled at). The sports were actually… enjoyable (I remember archery and badminton and basketball and softball; there may have been one or two others). And grading was incredibly lenient. As long as you gave it a shot, you were fine. Wow. To this day, I’m surprised I didn’t hate it.

    However, having met the requirement for graduation, I never took another PE class. I was so terrified of a 7th grade repeat.

    Nevertheless, I continued to play on sports teams (softball, basketball, and soccer), despite being fat, and I was good at them. My teammates never mocked me for being fat, but outsiders would. Trust me, it doesn’t matter if you are the one that make 80% of the baskets in a game, it doesn’t matter if you are rockin’ the ball, if you are fat, you are still hated. That still doesn’t make sense to me.

  34. Posted February 24, 2011 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Wow, sorry for the novel. I apparently had a lot to get off my chest :-)

  35. Valerie
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    I have been reading all the information on your website for several days now…and I am very happy to have found it. The post about gym class was right on target. My mind skipped to ” The Biggest Loser”…and I started thinking about how many adults I know who exercise…and exercise…and exercise…and hate it. There is so much pressure to micromanage our food and our exercise that it is no wonder many people hate it, even though they may do it for hours on end. Some of these people do not believe that you can actually enjoy exercise. When I was growing up, all the things we did…things like many of you have mentioned here…were fun. Bike riding for hours, playing volleyball for days, was fun. But it was also exercise even if we didn’t call it that. It seems to me like society has set a standard for people that exercise must be painful, long, and in no way enjoyed to be effective. I bought into that for many years…but four years ago I was diagnosed with MS and now my exercise is tailored by me, for me, and I enjoy it. There are times I don’t really want to do anything, and I don’t, because I’ve learned to listen to my body. But I know that if I continue to use exercise to challenge my body, then my MS behaves itself, so that is my motivation.

  36. Sara A.
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    What really stands out to me about gym class is the difference between it in public school vs. private. I’ve been through both at different times. In public elementary, it was a lot of kickball; which I hated. I’d switched from a devoted relay race, line soccer, and floor hockey kind of school and kickball just never cut it for me. Probably because at 3rd grade I didn’t know it and no one bothered to teach it to me so I was always in the outfield paying no attention. How this was supposed to interest me in the sport I have no idea. It probably didn’t help that this teacher thought it was punishment to send me to a 5th grade class during gym to finish the math I hadn’t had time to finish during that lesson. I have very vivid memories of finishing my work in that room and becoming interested in what that teacher was teaching about multiplying fractions.

    Then I got into the local prep school. Gym class was radically different, instead of having gym when the teacher felt like it, we had a regimented 45 minutes a day with a dedicated Phys Ed staff. I remember that they were pretty fair to the students and tried really hard to keep the athletic kids in line and to interest the non-athletic. Most importantly we were playing actual sports and as long as it wasn’t raining or snowing we were doing it outside on grass. So I learned soccer and I learned that as long as I was playing defense I could trip and otherwise hurt the bullies who all played offense. I was approached to join the girl’s soccer team and eventually I started to get picked more towards the middle when we were choosing teams because the jerks who always got team captain realized that it was way better to have me beating up the other team. This is probably my ideal PE. The instructors made sure we warmed up by running a few laps around whatever arena we were playing in, had us do some sit-ups and push-ups, taught us the sports and then had us split in to teams and have at it while they reffed. Oh, and once every 6 months we had to run a mile which was pure torture, especially when everyone else was finishing at the 10-12 minute mark and I was finishing at the 15-18 minute mark.

    High school was at a public magnet school so was essentially regimented boredom. It was in a gym and the teacher made sure we all participated and made sure to remind the kids that got too in to it that it’s not the majors. I remember being pointed out as having a good throw and an exceptionally good batting average. I remember it being neutral rather than being something to dread and hate… I think this is because it was mostly basketball and volleyball with occasional softball thrown in. I prefer full contact sports or at least contact sports. There was also the option of going to work out in the weight room, but you had to commit to being there an entire semester. Again it was kind of neutral. It was there that I learned that I was technically obese, but I was also the strongest girl in the class and was able to lift like the boys.

    Will it surprise anyone to learn that when I got to college I joined the women’s rugby team?

    On a more serious note, I think that gym classes work best if the only way to fail is to not show up or not participate. Maybe it would be best if they were graded on a pass/fail basis rather than A-F. And if gym teachers just taught the sport and then got out of the way and made sure that no one got hurt too badly.

    • Nomie
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

      Oh man, I just flashed back to indoor soccer when we would play against the underclassmen and I would check the little asshole bullies into the bleachers like it was hockey. They thought I would duck out of the way like a wimp; instead they bounced off me. And I never got fouled. GOOD TIMES.

    • E.C.
      Posted March 4, 2011 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

      I went to a public elementary school and a private junior high, and I don’t think one can really generalize on this point. I was certainly never taught the rules to the games we played in either place, and my public school was in an affluent area, had a large schoolyard and access to a soccer field, etc., so we weren’t deprived in that way (although there was no pool). And it was at private school that I started being marked on fitness and athletic ability, which I find as objectionable as others here do.

    • AshleyC
      Posted March 5, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      After having mostly suffered through gym class in elementary, middle, and one year of high school as the fat, unpopular, not athletic kid (with a thin, popular, very athletic brother), I wound up teaching gym at the alternative school where I work for the past four years. And indeed, the only way my students failed that class was if they never participated and didn’t hand in any of the health-related assignments. The major assignment involved them teaching the rest of the class a game, sport, or skill, so we played a lot of playground games, they felt empowered, and they were always in control of the content.

      The feedback from my students, mostly girls, who had always hated gym class was that they didn’t think they would have ever gotten that compulsory high school credit if it weren’t for my class. :-)

      • Posted March 5, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

        I hope you feel suitably awesome about this. Because you should.

      • KellyK
        Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:34 am | Permalink

        You rock. We need to clone you so you can be everybody’s gym teacher. I love the idea of having kids teach a game, sport, or skill of their choice to the class–that’s awesome!

        • AshleyC
          Posted March 10, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

          Thanks! I actually learned SO MUCH from teaching that class! From playground games like foursquare to camp games played in the dark, to lacrosse… I am pretty sure my students taught me more than I taught them. Though as hard as they tried, they were never able to get me to understand American football. :-)

  37. Anon
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    I had to take gym as far as Grade 9. I never liked it as of about Grade 5 (and can’t really recall what I thought of it earlier). Until Grade 8, it was mostly all-class games of whatever (which usually got a lot of the class cheering, and I hated them). By that time, having boys in the class felt very awkward as well. Grade 9 gym was gender segregated (which I liked), but that was also when serious grades started to be applied to it. It was one unit after another of some team sport which I haven’t played since then, where we had to learn the rules and were graded on how skilled we were. (Seriously – do the rules of American football make any sense at all to anyone?) Add to that the written tests which we couldn’t even write if we forgot our gym clothes and lost marks for every day we were absent with a valid excuse. (I was/am the academic sort, so being graded on stuff like this felt like a cruel form of punishment and lowered my average.) I spent that year counting down until I never had to take a gym class again.

    I was also reasonably active in other areas. I skied (until it became about my parents controlling me at 15 and I started to hate it), I did synchronized swimming, I hiked, I canoed and even pushed myself through getting lifeguard qualifications when I was in Grade 12 so I could teach canoeing. But I hate running, and that’s most of what this involved. If gym class had been about looking at your improvement, had had options like dance and yoga and not been so particular about uniforms, it might not have been so bad.

  38. usedtobeavegetarian
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this, Michelle! After my yoga class a few days ago, I was thinking back angrily to gym class and how much it contributed my years of body dissociation.

    I don’t consider myself unathletic, per se, but I’ve always been heavy, and slow to learn physical skills, and not especially co-ordinated. Oh, and very self-conscious and sensitive to criticism. So the venal competitiveness of my peers shaming me for failing to catch the softball (or running slowly or not being able to get the ball into the basket) did more even than the adult grading you describe to convince me that there was no joy to be found in physical pursuits, and that I’d better just stick to reading, which I was already good at, and which gave me pleasure.

    But what else do I now find I am good enough at to really, really enjoy them and want to pursue them as often as possible, even if I’m never going to win any prizes? Well, let’s see… Swimming, diving, sliding, swinging, walking, biking, most kinds of dancing, yoga, all kinds of skating, cross-country skiing, hiking, stretching, rolling around with a gym ball, aerobics, Pilates etc.

    Point is, these aren’t competitions, at least not the way I practice them, and why the hell can’t they be part of gym class? They’re certainly part of physical education! Is it that in some cases they require instructors more skilled than the macho doofuses in Sansabelt shorts running around with whistles and clipboards that I remember as my gym teachers? Is it that in many cases they are “feminine” pursuits that might be (gasp!) taught by women?!

    If I could have learned that I enjoyed these, that I could claim them for my own, and that that would be part of claiming my body for my own, I think that would have done a lot for my lifelong embodiment. Would it have prevented or lessened my eating disorder? Yes, maybe. Would it have saved me years of self-hate and shame? Yes, I think so.

    I have those activities in my life today, so I’m grateful, but I do grieve and feel angry about the many years of reduced health and pleasure.

    Thanks for your blog as always!

    • Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I think some of that same behavioural research has shown that the kind of competitiveness you describe also degrades intrinisic motivation. Maybe certain people relish it and benefit from it, but it appears that a lot of us don’t.

      • Posted February 27, 2011 at 2:24 am | Permalink

        This is such an important point — I think that the type of people who relish and benefit from competition are the ones often commanding the power and making the decisions for the rest of us. I can’t tell you how many arguments I get into with people who want every “wellness” thing to be a competition. Uh, no, that’s not something that gets most non-exercisers to join in.

  39. usedtobeavegetarian
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Oh, and Sim, thanks for that reminder of the public weigh-ins that were part of the Presidential Physical Fitness Test! Who the fuck thought THAT was a good idea? I remember deliberately trying to be last in line so no one would be behind me to see or hear my weight!

  40. Nancy R
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    Ah gym class, it was nothing but embarrassment and humiliation. How to guarantee someone will grow up to loathe sports and exercise, make sure to mock them for being klutzy and not “Twiggy” thin in front of their peers. And if you sweat profusely any time you move at all that adds another level of dreadfulness to the whole experience.

  41. attrice
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    I once spent an entire morning block of classes pinching my wrist over and over again so that by the time I had PE (after lunch) it was swollen and red enough that I could convince the nurse that I had it slammed in a door. This was to avoid running the mile. Gym class had always been an exercise in total humiliation for me with coaches insisting I could run that lap even when it hurt to breathe and I was so hot that I thought I was going to throw up (I lived in Houston at the time.)

    I was supremely lucky however to go to high school at a magnet school for the performing arts. There our PE requirement was filled by taking dance classes and our head instructor was a fat ballerina who firmly believed that all bodies were capable of their own amazing feats. We only had to take two years of dance to meet state requirements, but I took it all four years. Dance really makes you tune into your body, the way it takes up space, how it moves etc… And it helped mitigate that feeling of ungainly hugeness I had carried around with me for years.

    Last year, I read a book called “Spark” which mentioned a PE program in Illinois which, while it was still a graded class, was scored according to how much individuals worked and improved. So the kid who runs a 6 min mile isn’t going to get an A if she does that the first day and then never works at it, but the kid who walks an 18 min mile and pushes it up over a year (and with actual coaching, not just yelling) to 16 minutes will get an A. It’s still graded which may take some of the fun out of it, but I think it would have made my middle school experience totally different. Even today, I enjoy trying to outdo myself. Lifting a little bit more, doing that extra squat etc… but pit me against someone and it’s just the worst thing in the world.

    • usedtobeavegetarian
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

      Oh, Attrice, a fat ballerina! Lucky you — that sounds wonderful.

    • Elizabeth
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

      Even grading on improvement can suck with the wrong PE teacher.

      When I was in 7th grade, I got whooping cough, and missed 6 weeks of school. I had another 6 weeks of being on a partial schedule, because I wasn’t strong enough to make it through a full day yet. I was excused from PE for those 12 weeks. I still wasn’t walking the 3/4 mile to school at the end of that time because it made me cough so badly.

      The day I got back to PE was the last day of their “running” unit. So the gym teacher told me to go out there and run the mile. I ran the first half, had a coughing fit, and walked the rest. When I got to the end, she told me, “OK, that was your pretest, now go run your posttest.” I walked the whole thing, and got an F in gym for that unit. (Which my parents complained about and got reversed, but still.)

      • Jen Casebolt
        Posted February 24, 2011 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

        Any decent human being would have said, “Okay, so you haven’t been able to run or walk much at all over the last few weeks, so if you can do any part of the mile, at whatever speed keeps you from hacking up a lung, that’s improvement.” Because among other things, PE ought to be teaching people not just how to move or how to play games or whatever, but *how to listen to our bodies* as well! What’s better for you, pushing and pushing until you hurt yourself just so you can run that mile a fraction of a minute faster, or learning how to pace yourself and run safely so that you can run a mile today, and tomorrow, and for the rest of your life?

        I hated PE, too (in case you couldn’t tell). I developed early, and was very curvy, and I believed it when people told me I was fat. (Oh, if only I could be as “fat” as I was back then!) I got teased for how I ran, because it’s hard to develop a good running style when you have to hold one arm across your chest to keep your damn boobs from bouncing right out of your bra (which wasn’t a sports bra, because they don’t make them that big). I got my first C ever in PE, during the gymnastics unit, because I’m terrified of going head over heels. Can’t do somersaults, cartwheels, none of that. I faked a skin condition to get out of the swimming unit because there was no way in hell I was going in front of my co-ed class in a swimsuit that didn’t support my breasts (again, they don’t make them with large-chested girls in mind).

        I just learned recently – and I’m 35 years old – that when you overhand serve a volleyball or serve at tennis or swing a bat, you’re supposed to twist at the hips. Twist at the hips? What is this? No wonder I never had any power to my overhand serve and had to serve underhand for my three years in volleyball in junior high (which guaranteed that I couldn’t play in high school, because they expected you to serve overhand by then). I wish someone had actually watched the way I was moving and figured out that I was missing an important point. Turns out you’re supposed to twist at the hips when you throw a frisbee, too. My elbow wishes I’d figured that out a few years earlier…

        Anyway, sorry for the rant/vent, but it’s nice to hear that I’m not the only one who feels this way about PE.

  42. KellyK
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    My relationship with gym class was mixed, but surprisingly good. I don’t remember tons about it in elementary school, but in high school it didn’t suck. Part of this was that I had a friendly and encouraging gym teacher. There were times that I hated it, but other times it was okay. I really liked volleyball and got half-decent at it. Basketball not so much, soccer was okay. We did actually do a lot of learning techniques rather than just “here go play,” and that was helpful.

    I was a complete klutz, and I’m pretty sure I got beaned in the face with every type of ball we ever played with. But even with that, the teacher stayed encouraging and genuinely nice. She saw that I was trying and improving, and I pretty much always got As. I don’t know if she’s still teaching (I would guess she’s only in her 50s now, so she probably is) but I think we need to have her cloned .

  43. Michele
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Ugh. Gym class. The dreadful must-take-off-my-clothes-in-front-of-others period. I grew up in a home where you did not come to breakfast in your pjs- it was nasty & dirty & pornographic. So taking off my clothes in front of other girls was AWFUL!! In spite of this, I wanted to play field hockey and softball, but my mother refused to allow it since she had spent so much money on braces & wasn’t willing to allow my teeth to be knocked out of my head in sports. I was an A student in all other subjects & got Cs & even a D in gym (Mostly cuz I would cut class cuz I hated it!). When I did participate I was always the last one chosen, couldn’t do anything right and had raging anxiety when I was “up” Simply awful.

  44. Cathy S.
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    What I remember most about gym was Jr. High School. We had a blast. Sure, we had the Presidential Physical Fitness test, but we also had basketball, kickball, gymastics, and a great teacher. I remember in 9th grade (the last year) he asked some people if they were going to go for the Physical Fitness award (nearly everyone got an award for something at graduation :) ) and I was one of the people he asked. I didn’t take the test because it involved running, which I have always hated, although I’m very sorry now that I didn’t try. What was cool was that the teacher asked me and my best friend, both of us chunky, and one of the fattest girls in class, who was also one of the most athletic and kicked ass at EVERYthing. He saw us as athletic, no matter our size. The fattest and most athletic won, of course. I would have been shocked if she hadn’t.

    I can’t even remember gym in high school, so I guess it wasn’t too bad. All of my memories of gym are about that class in Jr. High. Good times.

  45. Tina
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    I wasn’t fat as a kid, but gym class, especially in junior high and high school, was a torture because I was spectacularly uncoordinated (and, as I later discovered, had hardly any depth perception, which meant that when a ball came flying …at me, I had a very slim chance of actually catching it). I loved to bicycle and roller skate, but I was never into organized team sports, even outside school.

    High school gym was the worst because our teachers were sadists: when they organized a game of basketball or softball or whatever, the losing team had to run extra laps — which meant that not only were the nerdy uncoordinated people like me the last to be chosen, but on the rare occasion when a ball did come my way back in the far corner of the field that I retreated to, and I missed it, I was the object of a lot of abuse from my teammates. And I never got A’s in gym.

    So yeah, I can identify. I got way more exercise outside gym class than in it, and in fact my experiences with enforced exercise and team sports made me a lot more averse to the whole thing for years afterward. Only when I ended up diagnosed with high blood pressure at age 26 did I start exercising voluntarily…but I still hate team sports.

  46. Posted February 24, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed P.E. until seventh grade. In seventh grade, we had what the teachers cruelly called “The Fun Run” every Friday. It was a nightmare, and the grade were performance based. I could do 1.5 miles in 26 minutes, and that earned me the barest passing grade, nearly failing. The only thing I could not excel at. It didn’t help that we had a teacher who laughed when kids got sick from aforementioned “Fun Run”.

    They went back to participation-based grading in high school, but it was too late. My attitude towards P.E. was forever changed for the worst.

  47. Adele
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    PE was a nightmare for me. Not grade school, but junior high and high school were horrifiying.

    Junior high I had a teacher who was always telling me that if I just tried harder, I’d do fine, who made me late for other classes because I hadn’t finished my mile yet so I couldn’t leave until I finished, she made everyone take showers as a part of our grade so everyone had to strip, get at least a little wet and go by the office in the middle of the locker room to “prove” we had done our part and then take our entirely inadequately towel covered selves (the towels never made it all the way around anyone so everyone was always desperately holding them together and sidling around the locker room with the gaps facing the wall) back to our lockers to dress.

    I hated that class all three years I had to take it and I hated that teacher all three years I had to be in her class.

    High school was a combined health and PE class and I skipped that class a lot or told the teacher I wasn’t “dressing down” to participate in the PE class.

    I hated PE.

    • k.sol
      Posted February 25, 2011 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      OK, is anyone else getting serious creeps from the idea of making semi-naked kids parade by the teacher’s door to prove they showered? Or am I reading this wrong?

      • Adele
        Posted February 25, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

        No, you’re not reading it wrong. We were “supposed” to be learning basic hygiene. All I learned – I’m never getting naked in a woman’s locker room ever again. And I don’t run. Ever.

        I have a hard time even talking about that woman in a civil tone.

        • k.sol
          Posted February 25, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

          That is… so… inappropriate on so many levels. Inappropriate is far too mild a term. My gut, my brain are all screaming PERVERT. I’m riled because I had a junior high teacher who I felt did really, really inappropriate things, and at the time we really felt there was nothing we could do except talk about it with each other. That was wrong, wrong, wrong. Invasive. Creepy. I can’t imagine on what planet you COULD speak about her in a civil tone. I am so sorry you had to go through that. No child should be treated that way.

          I hope I’m not triggering anything in anyone or saying something inappropriate here. If I am, my apologies. That description sets off my triggers and my mama bear tendencies.

      • sandrad
        Posted February 25, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

        yup, creepy

  48. Posted February 24, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    I blogged about this very topic last month. Even though I’m 54, I still remember the horror of gym class. The worst thing that our school system ever did was make it into a graded subject.

    We all need to move and it’s great to enjoy movement. But when you’re small and chubby, with knock knees and flat feet, all that gym class does is make you feel like a total FAILURE.

    And nothing’s changed. My older son, who’s short and slim, with slightly knock-knees and VERY flat feet, got out of gym the minute he could. When he changed from a public to a private school (that’s another story–I’m a big supporter of public education), he started taking gym again because he was in a small class of nerdy, unathletic kids just like him. He also does yoga and walks a lot. Thank goodness.

    This topic just makes my old blood boil.

    Thanks for discussing it.

  49. Emerald
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    I was chunky as a teen (not much bigger than many of my classmates, but with a big butt and thighs), terminally geeky, and not desperately interested in doing things on gym equipment. That wouldn’t have made a huge amount of difference to most of my classmates’ opinions of me, had it not been for two gym teachers who totally hated my guts – one of them, to the extent of deliberately making me do circuit training, twice over, when I was almost doubled up with the crippling period pains I used to suffer at age fourteen. Of course, I was just being ‘lazy’ and there was nothing at all wrong with me. (The ‘nothing at all’ didn’t stop until I went on the pill at nineteen.)

    It was the same gym teacher who, for reasons I’ve never been quite clear on, was put in charge of choreography any time the school play called for dance parts. I loved to dance (until the bullying of some of my psychopathic fellow cygnets got to me), and I recall one year going to her and asking when the auditions were. She said they’d be announced in morning assembly. Come a few weeks later, and, without anything having been announced, I found she’d already privately hand-picked her favorite thin girls for those parts – and they were all sniggering at the thought that the fat girl actually thought she might have been able to get a dance part, can you imagine?

    I also had the issue that aiming a ball was complicated for me; I’ve always been pretty short-sighted in my left eye (my right eye is OK) and crap at judging distances unaided, but nobody found that out till I was just about to leave school. So netball was a painful experience. Hockey was marginally better, but unfortunately gave bullying types a lot of leeway to ‘accidentally’ attempt to break the geek’s shins with those sticks.

    Can I make two pleas here for anyone even remotely interested in getting kids to enjoy team sport? Please, please don’t pick two of the sportiest kids as team leaders and let them pick their own teams. There are few things more humiliating for the geeky kid than to be left till last when teams get picked. Sure, if you allocate kids to teams there might be grumbling, but it’s nowhere near as public as the whittling-down process. Also, the sporty kids will always stick the non-sporty ones way out on the side where they won’t get to actually do anything, and in winter, will freeze to a fetching blue shade. And speaking of which, the other thing, for girls, is how you make them dress: for us it was nothing but dark green uniform shorts (actually more like panties, but you wore them over your regular panties if you had any sense) in the gym, and a tiny green pleated skirt in all weathers outdoors. Apart from the cold, that kind of sports gear leads to maximum potential for abuse of other girls’ shape-shifting pubertal bodies. I’d have killed for tracksuit bottoms.

    Yeah, I’m more sedentary than I’d like these days. I’m currently checking out adult swim sessions, but I’d kill to find a ballet class where I could be sure I wouldn’t be mocked (and that’s focused on actual ballet, rather than some mixture of ballet and ‘fitness’ – read conventional weight loss exercises).

  50. Lauren
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    The only think I liked about gym class is that I got to wear these awesome shorts that my mom bought me that were covered in cute little dogs ( I was a little immature as a freshman the only year we had to take gym class THANKS TO THE GODS. Why did she buy them for me? Because I needed something to be positive about going to gym class three times a week. I as well have never been too keen on nor amazing at the horror show that is grade and secondary school gym class. What am I good at? Dancing, swimming, doing hand stands in the pool, chasing my dog around the yard, and I am a fantastic skipper. I also decided to become a PE teacher of sorts, I am a PreK-3rd grade music teacher at a private school and if you put on music…..they will move. I dance um…let me see…all freakin day long with these kids (and am a size 18, down from a 28 in 2009) and if we had kids moving the way they like to move and the way the want to move…they may still be chubby, chunky, overweight or god forbid obese, some of us are made different ya’ll, but they would be building the life skill of taking pleasure in aerobic activities. They love to move…if fact, I am not sure how many 5-8 year olds you guys are around, but I see around 250 a week , sometimes 20 at a time, and they have a hard time staying still at all. I agree that adults and kids (including me as one of each) spend way too much time on their butts, or sides, or backs, or tummies, watching tv, playing vgs and on the computer, but I have earned the right to dance all day at school and then come home and watch reality tv until I lose IQ points…your kid on the other hand has not. Only a child’s parent can make their child get up and move, if they are physically capable of course. I also think that the child should be the one deciding if that movement comes in a karate class or on a sports team, or god forbid by dancing and skipping around the house or yard….yes even little boys should be allowed, nay encouraged to dance and skip if they want to….steps down from soapbox. bows.

  51. Liz
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been stocky/chubby/bigger than most all my life and I absolutely ADORED gym class, at least in secondary school. Before that, I was rake thin and too uncoordinated to do anything – I was put with the five year olds for tennis until I was eleven.

    In (a private) secondary school, after I started puberty and finally gained the ability to not fall up the stairs, it was often the highlight of the school day. Maybe because I became really good at it, and have always been ridiculously competitive. I remember running at some sport and thinking “Holy crap, this feels amazing!”

    Although, now you mention it, the fact that no one considered it important enough to grade, or perform any national testing, probably helped as well. They also just told everyone to wear the tracksuit bottoms and school t-shirt, so no shorts. :)

    We’d go swimming. Field hockey. Tennis. Soccer. Rugby. Cricket. Cross country. Badminton. They taught us how to use gym equipment (I still love the gym) and how to do Pilates. They did time us and test us on things like sprint time, but I kind of thrived on it. We did gymnastics for a while, which was pretty terrifying, but the only teacher who could teach it left.

    I’m not trying to boast – no, really, I’m not – but I feel the need to stand up for the concept of Physical Education.

  52. Posted February 24, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for writing this! It lays out exactly why the proposal in the Hive at Slate (http://hive.slate.com/hive/time-to-trim/evaluated-physical-education-1 ) to make phys ed even more graded, made my hackles rise.

  53. Posted February 24, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    Gym was traumatizing. Not only was I chubby, but I had boobs early, and my mom was VERY slow about getting me a bra. Anything with body weight I couldn’t do well (ropes, running, etc.) I was happy if I wasn’t the last picked for teams, though I was generally in the last 5. I don’t remember getting grades, though I’m probably older than you. I remember the trauma of being weighed in front of everyone, and being so embarassed that I weighed 150, which is what I’d like to weigh today. Even now, at the gym, I’m generally the biggest one in the class, but that’s too bad, I do what I do, and sometimes the instructor yells at me if I take a break, but I don’t care. If it bothers me, I leave.

    This is way off topic, but what you said about making something less fun by giving it grades, my ex-bf says about getting paid for stuff. He cures/smokes his own bacon, was selling it for a while, now gives it away (I don’t mind paying, as long as I get some). He also quit donating sperm for the same reason.

    For some reason, I thought you were Canadian.

  54. Posted February 24, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    Random, but I think we totally went to the same elementary school. I’m from Oregon and I had a Mr. Jukkala in elementary school as well.

    Anyway, my elementary school gym experience differed between the three elementary schools I went to. One teacher I had was absolutely awful, to everyone, whether they were “fat” or not. At the other two I had a great time. Gym class didn’t start sucking until after I went through puberty, gained an enormous chest, and got no sympathy from the teachers when they’d make me run and I was in obnoxious amounts of pain from it.

    • Posted February 24, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

      Did you go to Brookwood Elementary??

      • Posted February 25, 2011 at 3:09 am | Permalink

        Ah, no. Jackson Elementary. Close though haha.

        • Posted February 25, 2011 at 4:01 am | Permalink

          I went to Jackson for a year too.

          • Posted March 3, 2011 at 4:53 am | Permalink

            That’s cool! I was there 1998-2002

          • Posted March 3, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

            lol I am so much older than you!

            I was in the first 6th grade class to ever “graduate” from Jackson, in 1991.

          • Posted March 3, 2011 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

            Now I am all nostalgic for the 90s haha. :)

  55. Mindy
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    Texas kids, at least Austin ISD kids, or at least at my kid’s school, currently have to walk or run a mile before they are allowed to go to recess. they come home everyday with marker-ed dots on their hands as testament. There are lots of kids whose entire time to play is taken up with having to get around the track. The runners get more recess and like the run in the first place it has completely put my 8 year old off of exercise.

  56. Lisa
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    Oh man. I don’t think I can write a lot about it today, I’m too emotional, but I’ll say that yes, this all resonates with me so fucking much.

    I read your post yesterday and got so sad. And I’m sad again today coming back here. Sad for the little girl me that was.

    This post actually put yet another point on the “reasons to homeschool Tomas” list, too.

  57. Cara
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    I was always one of the last to be picked in gym class — not because I was fat, though. In fact, I was a pretty small kid. I never got picked because I was short and nerdy and pretty non-athletic (though I was good at some things, like badminton). I was non-aggressive, too, meaning that in things like basketball and soccer I almost always avoided getting into the fray of things. It still really sucked to be one of the last to be picked, though.

  58. ksfeminist
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    In elementary school gym we played a game called “Five Team Dodgeball.” Four of the teams formed the sides of a square. The fifth team stood in the center while the other teams pelted them with balls. I shit you not. It was horrible.

    In ninth grade they made us wear these heart monitors around our waists and wrists. They were sweaty and nasty from all the other people using them in other classes. You had to keep your heart rate in a target zone for the entire class. In practice this meant jogging in place on the tennis courts because no one was good enough at tennis to actually engage in a game that would keep your heart rate up.
    Ninth grade was also the year I damn near choked to death from running their stupid mile. (I strongly suspect I have exercise-induced asthma, though I’ve never sought an official diagnosis)

    I wish all the fun hadn’t been squashed out of exercise. I have friends who genuinely enjoy going for runs or playing basketball at the rec center and they baffle me. Seems like an exercise in humiliation, physical discomfort/pain, and boredom to me.

  59. Tink1272
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    Thank you. As much as it pained everyone, I’m glad that I wasn’t alone in my intense dislike that was gym/PE and the possibility of future movment.

  60. Posted February 24, 2011 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    Hey, I did a blog post somewhat on this subject:
    http://closetpuritan.wordpress.com/2011/02/24/forcing-yourself-to-exercise/
    Summary: exercise that you are forced to do may not have the same health benefits as normal exercise.

    Gym class when I was a kid was practically All Team Sports All The Time. I remember when I was first starting gym class, they would occasionally get out these little scooters, which I really loved, but most of the time we did team sports. In high school sometimes we got to do archery or cross-country skiing, but most of the time we did team sports. I hated team sports. I never even got much exercise doing team sports, because I wasn’t good enough to get much action. Most of the other kids had at least played these team sports outside of gym class, so they were way ahead of me. I was actually pretty skinny before I hit puberty, but I wasn’t athletic or even very active, mostly because I had a ridiculous attention span for a kid and could sit reading a book or watching a movie for hours.

    Even running the mile and presidential fitness tests and such, which I sucked at (and as a previous commenter noted with their class, we didn’t get any in-class opportunity to improve, just, “Oh, we’re running a mile today, which we’ve never done before in PE ever, we’ll do it again sometime this school year”) were frustrating but kind of “meh” to me, compared to my hatred of team sports.

    Interestingly, dancing (which I suck at) for musicals that I used to be in was similarly frustrating like team sports. Maybe I just can’t stand being implicitly compared to other people when I suck at something. Lately I’ve been doing running and yoga, which I’m also not good at, but I don’t feel as much like I’m being compared to others.

    • duckybelkins
      Posted February 25, 2011 at 3:07 am | Permalink

      Thank you for linking to your blog! I’ve been thinking a lot about exercise lately and the topic you wrote about is one of the areas I’ve been thinking about. I haven’t read your post yet but I wanted to thank you. :)

      • Posted February 25, 2011 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

        You’re welcome! Glad it was useful to someone.

  61. Posted February 24, 2011 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

    Sorry for the book-length comment. One more thing, though: PE was graded based on whether you seemed to be trying or not. I usually got A’s. I still hated it.

  62. Absotively
    Posted February 25, 2011 at 1:11 am | Permalink

    I disliked gym in elementary school, because I was unathletic and unpopular and easily bewildered by games I didn’t understand. But high school was mostly better. They actually taught us skills and the rules of various games. It was graded, but the grading was relatively objective, and you could get a decent grade without being coordinated. For instance, when they graded us on our tennis serve, I got points for knowing how to hold the tennis racket and step and throw the ball, even though I pretty much never hit the damn thing. I also got points for passing the quizzes on the rules.

    They did weigh us, but I don’t recall the other kids being able to hear my weight. So that wasn’t too bad, except for the BMI calculation that said I was fat. BUT they also made us do a body fat calculation, which involved horrible pinchy spring-loaded calipers and having to find a partner and let her pinch your skin above your hip with the calipers in the change room (where they sent us so that the girls wouldn’t have to do it in front of the boys and vice versa). I really hated that, but at least they only made us do it once.

    Then in university, a friend pressured me into joining an intramural team that was short on members. That turned out to be kind of awesome. They were actually glad to have me there, because losing didn’t look as bad on the standings as defaulting. I don’t think anyone had ever been glad to have me join a physical activity before. I’d hated team sports, because I’d only played them in gym class and I’d always been the person who was way behind the action. But once I got on a team that actually wanted me, it was pretty fun.

    • Anne
      Posted June 2, 2011 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

      I had kind of the same experience – miserable junior high gym experience, where everyone seemed to magically know how to play volleyball (never did learn to overhand serve) and basketball, both of which I hate and both of which seemed to last the entire year. Took the minimum 3-credit gym in high school with the other gym-haters (the jocks took the 6-credit, twice as long class). We all just suffered through.

      And then in university I was talked into joining a friend’s intramural hockey team, and it was amazing! Loved it. It ranged from quite good players to exchange students who couldn’t stand up on skates, and everyone was so supportive. So I tried soccer with the same team in the summer and loved that too. Nobody had really mentioned that exercise could actually be fun…

      That experience totally redeemed sports for me and now I play on rec teams whenever I can. (As long as they aren’t pushy jock-type teams… but most “fun” intramural teams as an adult really are just there to play, not necessarily to win).

  63. Posted February 25, 2011 at 3:56 am | Permalink

    This is sort of a unicorn-making-out-with-Johnny-Depp level awesome (I think I’ve given you that compliment before) as it combines my passionate interests of child rights, abolishing adultist institutions, our non-schooling life, a love of and trust of kids, HAES/FA, and the promotion of the joy of being in one’s body. You Win at the Internet, lady.

    • Posted February 25, 2011 at 6:19 am | Permalink

      This. Exactly this.

  64. Posted February 25, 2011 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    We called it PE in Australia, or Phys. Ed. The dreaded Physical Education class. Where nothing mattered but how “fit” you were, measured by speed and agility. No mind to strength, no mind to endurance, no mind to flexibility – it was all about speed and agility, and if you didn’t excel at those two things, then brace yourself for the ridicule. Plus, you know, it had these uniforms that rode up on fat girls and bared their butts, weren’t comfortable and were SWEATY hot.

    How could any kid but the sportiest spice find anything at all enjoyable about that?

  65. EmmahSue
    Posted February 25, 2011 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Do you think things like the Wii and its sports games, and exercise programs, are useful for helping kids (and adults!) remember that movement can be a game too? Or is it interference in getting out into the sunshine and fresh air?

    • Inca
      Posted February 27, 2011 at 5:21 am | Permalink

      Absolutely, although sadly lots of the wii-games seem to still insist on mentioning calories burned and some judgement (not to mention the wii-fit that puffs up your avatar if you are not on the very low edge of the BMI-range. So I lie :) ) The games are actually fun.

      As for interference with sunshine and fresh air – I wouldn’t stay indoors when outside there’s sunshine to be had, however, in wintertime, it is just a bit too cold and wet and dark for me out there. Then it is nice to have something indoors too.

      • Nebet
        Posted April 6, 2011 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

        Reading that the Wii Fit does that for some reason makes me want to cry.

    • Posted March 30, 2011 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

      wii sports – yes. I have a TON of fun playing wii bowling and golf, and wakeboarding in sports resort is amazingly fun and great for my arms.

      wii fit – not really. While some of the balance games are neat, and I do love doing the wii yoga, it INSISTS on a) tracking your weight/BMI before you’re allowed to start, and b) ranking your performance not just against your personal best, but against everyone else who uses that disk. Which, it’s bad enough to feel shitty because I’m having an off-day and the game just has to remind me I’m not as good as I usually am, but it’s FAR worse knowing my mother can see whether or not I’m good at xyz.

      • ako
        Posted April 7, 2011 at 3:51 am | Permalink

        My brother has a Wii fit, and I saw a group of people playing it at his house. Two things made me really uncomfortable and hesitant to try it.

        1) The mandatory BMI thing. I don’t want to play something that’s constantly going “You’re fat! He’s a fat silhouette of what you probably look like, fatty! Did I mention that you’re fat today?”

        2) It does this weird thing of calculating your age and fitness in a way that makes no allowances for disability. His mother in law was playing, and she’s a professional yoga instructor in her fifties. Because of her trouble doing certain poses with her artificial leg, it went (paraphrased) “Are you 72? Because if not, you’re really out of shape!” Now I’m fat, I’ve got a disability that affects my legs and my ability to balance, and I’m not a yoga expert, so it seems like a mountain of un-fun humiliation for me.

      • Posted April 30, 2011 at 11:20 am | Permalink

        …Um, wow. I’m the only person on my console’s save file, and one of the things I actually *did* like about Wii Fit was that it only compared me to my own record and nobody else’s.

        Now that I know about that, I’m going to *stay* the only one saved on my console, thank you very much…

  66. Posted February 25, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    OK, haven’t read all the comments because there are so many.

    :(

    This really struck a chord with me.

    Despite the fact I currently have an eating disorder, my aversion to exercise still persists. (Or, to be more precise, my aversion to exercising in front of other people. I have dyspraxia (mild neurological condition which impairs co-ordination, short-term emory and some other stuff) and I was made fun of a lot in PE. Then as a teen I made the mistake of admitting to someone I considered a friend that I had a crush on another female. This person told THE ENTIRE FREAKING SCHOOL. From then on, other girls started assuming I would rape them in the changing rooms, so changing became a major ordeal.

    And now, instead of exercising, I throw up my food. What larks!

  67. ako
    Posted February 25, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    I had really variable gym class experiences.

    Elementary school was awkward. I’m disabled and I was pretty much The School Cripple, so there was a lot of staring and awkwardness. Teachers often had no clue about my capabilities, and I got a lot of “Just try!” talks about pointing my toes for various stretches even though I’m physically incapable of that. Eventually, the teacher would realize that “Just try” wasn’t the solution to everything, and switch to not asking me to do much of anything (except track – I could never get out of that thing where we’d do laps and everyone else would have lapped me five times, and the teacher would follow me around being encouraging at me). I learned basically no athletic skills, although I do have a surprising natural talent for wrestling (I always enjoyed Wrestling Week, because I could flatten anyone in the class).

    In middle school and high school, I took the bare minimum – a bit of soccer (I was not good at matching my athletic endeavors to my physical capabilities), and a bit of dance (where I learned to hate dancing in front of people, and become incredibly self-conscious about my inability to move correctly – dancing and aerobics are still my two least favorite activities). Middle school is where I started to get fat (although I think I’ve made myself fatter with intermittent dieting and stuffing myself in the subsequent “SO HUNGRY!” reaction).

    In college, they offered some courses that I ended up taking for the coolness factor, such as fencing and jeet kune do. The teachers, in a reversal of elementary school, had no clue as to my physical capabilities and let me determine what did and didn’t work for me. Between classes I’d mess around in the gym, usually in the section that was nearly all men, because those were the weights heavy enough to be worth my time (with my size and build, three-pound weights are not worth the trouble). I remember feeling guilty that an hour of weight-lifting would leave me hungry and specifically craving pizza, but mostly I enjoyed being physically active. I got to do athletic things with a group of people, not be the absolute worst at everything, avoid awkward pitying condescension, use my own judgment about my capabilities (on Savate Day, I just got to go “No, my legs are never going to do that), and have fun! Also, a lot of the people in the class who’d initially hold back and be wary eventually started treating me as a serious competitor and sparring as well as they could and I still sometimes won. Interestingly, these classes were pass-fail, where passing=”Show up at least the minimum amount required by school policy and don’t engage in any egregious bad behavior”, so grades weren’t really an issue.

    When I put weight out of my mind, and focus on strength, I’m pretty good at getting regular exercise – I’m good at building strength, I like doing it, and it comes easily enough that I don’t get frustrated by the lack of success.

  68. Cairsten
    Posted February 25, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    Oh, God.

    I was thin in school. In fact, I was thin until baby #3 — and in high school, I was the next thing to anorexic, to the point where my periods disappeared. I spent all of ninth and most of tenth grade rigidly controlling every bite I took because that was the only control I had over my life at all, and while they did accuse me repeatedly of being pregnant when I stopped menstruating, my parents approved of how thin I was. (How they thought I was sustaining a pregnancy at 5 foot 8 inches and 87 pounds at my lowest, I don’t know. I was cold and tired and anemic. There’s still no such thing as too thin for them, though, so they really hate my body now and talk wistfully of how slim I was back then.)

    But I was also uncoordinated. I’m desperately shortsighted and my eyes focus independently of each other — so no depth perception to speak of. I was still wearing real glass eyeglass lenses thick as Pyrex bowls because the plastic ones my parents would choose for me (I couldn’t see without my glasses to choose my own frames) had ugly, large, hideously-colored frames and were more expensive, back then. And then I got into gym class and they wanted me to catch things. Risk shattering my nose — or worse, my glasses! — by letting people throw things at me that I wouldn’t see until they were a foot from my face? I think not. Plus, I bruised at the brush of a feather — a ball would bounce off me and I’d look like someone had thrown me into a wall. So I sat and read, every gym period, until they forbade me to read, and then I just sat and counted the minutes and tried to ignore the teasing. I was beyond grateful when I became a junior and could opt out, and it took college swimming and diving before I discovered exercise I actually loved doing.

  69. RachelB
    Posted February 25, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    I ran (and loved) cross country in junior high and high school (in fact, during my first couple years of college, too). I was not a fast runner but had endurance– the longer a race or practice was, the comparatively better I did.

    There are things I’ve learned running over the years: I loved cross-country because I got to run on grass, dirt, sand, or leaves, and I got to look at interesting scenery. And I loved cross-country because one of my teammates totally changed the way I thought of my big calves and quads the day she said, “Your legs look so strong! No wonder you’re so good at running hills.”

    Unlike cross-country, the track running my gym teacher had us do hurt, and she didn’t believe that I hurt, even though my hips started popping out of joint in her class and haven’t ever really stopped. I got a note from the trainer excusing me from the gym class running unit (on account of the fact I was already running five miles a day in practice), and my teacher wouldn’t honor it because it wasn’t from an M.D.

    According to a physical therapist I eventually saw, my legs are aligned a little oddly, so they have to swing around more in order for me to run in a straight line. That puts stress on both my hips and my knees. Soft surfaces are fine, but hard surfaces increase the strain on my knees and hips, so running on pavement is out. Running around a track makes my hips hurt worse (and bores me to tears), too, so that’s also out.

    I resented most of my gym teachers because they presumed to know more about my body than I do. My cross-country coaches and teammates never did that. Funny, eh?

  70. Posted February 26, 2011 at 2:17 am | Permalink

    Jesus! Do you think you hit a nerve? I recommend turning this post into a book idea. Seriously!

    My husband was thin but thoroughly uncoordinated and paralyzed with shame. The kind of kid who gets hit with the basketball instead of catching it. He has serious, lasting psychological damage from gym class, even worse than me. I once agreed to having him be an assistant soccer coach for three year olds for ONE DAY (come on – they’re 3!) and he almost cut me.

    My son’s lacrosse coach once called a child a “broken rubber.” Some of these guys are sadists, and the results aren’t funny.

  71. Posted February 26, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    I have several things to say on this topic, as I used to be a skinny kid who hated walking a single goddamn mile, and now I’m a grown woman who willingly rides 80 miles while carrying enough stuff to camp for a week.

    1. http://www.saferoutestoschool.ca/ Safe Routes to School is an organization that goes into school and teaches kids how to safely walk and bike to school, and does anything else they can to encourage schools to promote it and cities to make it easier and safer. I am mostly familiar with their activities where I live in Portland, Oregon; but I’m pleased to note they are also active in Canada! I remember walking to school, along with most of my classmates, as late as 1989. Just a few years later, I went to a middle school where kids were actually forbidden to walk or bike to school. The damn school was almost literally in my backyard, but it had a tall fence, and I had walk in the opposite direction and take the bus.

    2. Biking is still fun as an adult. Even though I do it almost every day, I sometimes forget, and then I’ll get on the bicycle to run and errand and just feel my heart soaring. There’s nothing like it. I know there’s a cycling community in Toronto! (Wait, is that where you live? I forget.) Look up/find the free magazine Momentum, it’s a magazine aimed at “normal” people who ride bicycles for fun and to get around.

    3. I firmly believe that 90% of the problem with gym is that it’s taught by people who liked gym. I suck at any sport that involves a ball. Period. But I loved doing dance aerobics during that unit in 8th grade, and I adored dancing (still do!). Why can’t they split up gym the way they do other subjects? Have a gym class that’s dance and yoga and mat pilates. Have one that’s team sports. Have one that’s running the track and weight lifting. If you want to get people moving, they need to be doing something they like. It’s not rocket science!

    4. When I was in school, most of the time, gym was graded based on: showing up in appropriate clothes, and putting forth effort. Any effort. That was how they made up for the fact that some kids couldn’t touch their toes or run without gasping, and some could do twenty pull-ups and 7-minute miles.

    • Kath
      Posted March 16, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

      My high school actually did have a range of choices for the gym requirement. I remember taking a self-defense class and an aerobics class. Much more fun than generic PE ever was!

      I was lucky to have a somewhat understanding gym teacher in junior high. I was always on the big side, and not especially graceful or athletic. I remember in the gymnastics unit, I physically could not do a backward somersault (I never have been able to — I go over sideways!), and he allowed me to modify the required floor exercise routine to do something else. He was one of the better ones out there, who recognize that effort means more than results at that point.

      And I always loved it when we did flag football. I played defensive tackle. This amused my mother no end. :)

  72. Posted February 26, 2011 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    I loved gym class. LOVED it.

    I was so hungry for movement. This was the only place where the other kids were required to let me play. It was also the only place where anyone bothered to teach me how to do something like throw a ball, or the rules of organized sports that everyone else seemed born knowing. I got to do so many things I never got any other chance to learn.

    I guess getting bullied constantly everywhere, so that gym class didn’t stand out as a special opportunity, has its advantages.

    I see your point; often gym class could be done better. However, there needs to be something for the kids who don’t get much parenting outside of school–who don’t get those opportunities.

    • Posted February 28, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

      I’m glad you had a positive experience, at least.

  73. Posted February 27, 2011 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    I was an athlete in late elementary school, middle school and high school–a competitive swimmer and runner who worked out an easy four hours every single day from ages 10 to 17. I was not a fat kid–but I was bigger and taller than most of my girl peers. And I HATED PE. I was made fun of if I did well, I was made fun of if I didn’t do well, so I spent an hour a day struggling to suck just enough.

    Before school, after school and all weekend and summer long I was constantly active. I rode my bike everywhere, roller skated around our cul de sac like it was a roller rink, ran, swam, played soccer and basketball, lifted weights. But at school, it was like a mine field. I guess at least in part because I didn’t participate in school sports, my teams were community teams. And because I was treated like a fat kid, because I was bigger, even though looking back I so wasn’t. (I believed I was, which made it so even if physically it wasn’t.)

    The only time I enjoyed PE was the six weeks I went to high school in southern California, before we moved to Las Vegas, when I got to pick one sport to do all year. My school had a pool–so I got to swim for an hour a day during school. Swimming was my sport, and I enjoyed that.

    I wrote on my blog the other day about taking my six-year-old roller skating this week. I’m so READY to remember how good it used to feel to sweat and lose my breath and go fast and use my body.

  74. Katherine
    Posted February 27, 2011 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    “Why couldn’t they SHOW us how to do stuff instead of just telling us to do it?”

    Exactly. I only ever had a hard time when they expected me to run for way too long, my self-esteem wasn’t related to when I got picked in teams for sports, we never had teasing related to how well we did in PE, but it still bugs me that the teachers would expect you to get better without teaching you how to do the stuff.

  75. Anka
    Posted February 27, 2011 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

    I hated gym class, and it’s really sad to me now, because I loved hiking and dancing, and could have had fun. But I had parents whose own gym and physical activity aversion was flavored with their particular personality disorders, so they deliberately made sure I knew nothing about sports (like, I truly didn’t know what baseball was) when I went to elementary school, so the resulting trauma I experienced could confirm their views on gym and life. And it didn’t help that I went to elementary school in the ’80s in the US with those sadistic Presidential Fitness tests (I never connected them to Ronald Reagan! It makes so much sense!!), and the gym teachers told us seriously that they weren’t going to waste time on us explaining the rules of the competitive team sports, and that we should already know how to play, and if we didn’t, it was our fault.

    Then of course in middle school, which IS the nadir of human existence, I was early-developing and traumatized by that and everyone’s reactions to it (including my parents’), and gym got exponentially worse. It was like a patriarchal crucible where boys had to be brutally good at it or face consequences, and girls had to be good but not TOO good (plus thin), and any boy who wasn’t great at it or any girl who was completely awful at it and/or not thin was a target for bullying and abuse, both in and out of the class. Then there were multiple gym teachers who were fired for sexual harrassment and molestation, and the ones who should have been and weren’t. At 32, I’m just now starting to learn that sports (yoga, aerobics, Uzbek classical dance, aikido, etc.) can be fun. It makes me so angry that I didn’t know this before! It would have changed my life. I live in Canada now, and I’m afraid for the US; with all the budget cuts, I’m sure public school gym will only get worse, if they even still have it.

  76. Posted February 27, 2011 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    Two words for those who hate to exercise due to Gym Class Nightmares.

    Belly Dance.

    Go try it, it’s a BLAST!!

    If you don’t want to go to a class, rent or buy a video and just shake your thing in your living room.

    It was absolutely liberating for me. I had a few awkward days in the beginner class I took, but after a few weeks I stopped feeling like an idiot (and trust me, EVERY beginner feels like that) and felt womanly and graceful and sexy.

    • Posted February 28, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      I really want to do this! I should get a video — I stupidly never thought of that before. I’m too lazy to go to an actual class, but if I start with a video and like it a lot, then maybe I would. Do you have any recommendations for belly dance videos?

      • Posted March 7, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

        Yes–
        http://www.bellytwins.com/

        Don’t ever read anything they write. . . And try to forgive the cheese. However, their technique is very solid, and the learning routines are fun.

        Also–I’ve never ordered anything off this site, but they seem to have an awesome, big, interesting selection, and you can watch a sample of each video before you order.
        http://www.worlddancenewyork.com/

        • Posted March 8, 2011 at 9:37 am | Permalink

          Awesome, I will check these out. Thank you!

    • ako
      Posted April 7, 2011 at 4:05 am | Permalink

      I have a particular dread of dancing. It tends to tire me out quickly, and I don’t like being involved in athletic or semi-athletic activity where I’m with a group of people and it’s constantly obvious that I’m less good at it than everyone else there. If it’s fencing or martial arts, I may move weird, but I have the fact that my hits and blocks and touches and ripostes sometimes succeed to count as victory. If it’s swimming, I can do it solitary, and I’m good at covering long distances (albeit very, very slowly), and staying afloat in rough waters, and other things.

      But dancing is all about how you move your body, and how artistic it looks, and I don’t like anything about the way my body looks when it’s moving. And there’s no equivalent to “He was punching full-force and I blocked him!” or “I can single-handedly row a six-person canoe and make better time than half the men here!” or even “I swam all of the way out to the island, eventually!” I’m just left feeling embarrassed at how lurchy and ungraceful and wrong my movements are. And when people try to be understanding about the disability, it inevitably comes off as pitying, and I actually can’t do better than pitiful on that one area, which is really unpleasant.

  77. Posted February 28, 2011 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Hello. Your blog is awesome.

    I used to hate gym class too. I was so anxious I felt sick from the previous night. In Gymnasium (equivalent to junior high – first year of high school in the US) we used to have gym class thrice a week. It made me ill. I hated team sports because I was afraid that other kids would judge me because I had this preoccupation that I sucked at every single sport. I did suck, at every single sport I tried until I finished Gymnasium. I always got shitty grades in gym class. The gym teachers yelled at me. I was running fast, but I was short, chubby and clumsy. Very clumsy. Sometimes I just said I had a fever to skip class. It worked, sometimes.

    Then in Lyceum (3 last years of basic education in Greece) the gym class was downgraded to 1 hour per week and it was nothing but playing ‘any team sport we liked’. All boys played basketball, all girls played volleyball. I sucked at both. I usually didn’t play at all and sat around with my schizophrenic best friend.

    Finishing Lyceum I went in a Kendo course. I learned to be more balanced, more agile, lighter on my movements. I am studying Medicine. I learn to be patient, patient as fuck. I’m standing on my feet 3/4 of the day. I chase buses, run stairs up and down, take long walks, ride my bike and swim in the sea during summer. I’m active. I feel good with this because it stopped being social-related. No, I don’t want to participate in any team sport. I’m not a team person. I hate it. I’m antisocial. That’s my idiosyncracy. It doesn’t bother me. I’m okay in my short chubby self. My mind isn’t too tight for myself, really!

    I’m amazed at your blog and your ideas, KEEP IT UP PLEASE.

  78. bananacat
    Posted March 1, 2011 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    There are so many more horror stories about gym class, especially in secondary school. There’s the sweating. You have the smelly armpit sweat, often even with strong deodorant because adolescents have wild hormones. There’s not non-smelly sweat that melts off your make-up and messes up your hair. I’m very low-maintenance now, but when I was a self-conscious teenager, I spent at least an hour on my hair and make-up every morning. We couldn’t shower after gym class because they didn’t give us enough time. Nobody in my class ever showered because they gave us exactly 4 minutes. Even if they had given us 15 minutes, I would have had to wash my hair to feel truly clean, which would also mean blow-drying it, AND re-doing all my make-up.

    Then there’s the part about changing clothes in front of other people. Now that I’m an adult I have no problem changing down to completely naked and back up again in a locker room. But when I was a self-conscious teenager, I dreaded the idea of the “mean girls” seeing any of my tiny imperfections. I know this a common issue too.

    In my gym class, nobody ever actually taught us the rules to the games we played. They just assumed that we already knew the rules to football or basketball just from experience or watching the games. I never knew the rules and I just had to fake it because nobody would ever teach me. It was so embarrassing. It also doesn’t help that in 8th grade just by chance I got stuck in a gym class with the entire girls volleyball team. Even an average athlete couldn’t live up to their expectations. Our gym teacher either assigned teams or let the leaders pick teams privately, but I still knew perfectly well that everyone hated having me on their team.

    We also had to go outside most of the year regardless of the weather. There is nothing fun about running in wet, muddy grass, or standing outside in cold weather when I just wanted to huddle in a corner with a nice warm hoodie.

    The funny thing is that I couldn’t wait to get home from school to play frisbee or table tennis or even build a snowman. I was even pretty good at frisbee, although I never realized it because I had the label of not being a good athlete. Gym class drained all the fun out of moving and it’s the sole reason that I never made honor role.

  79. Loris
    Posted March 1, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    Oh good grief. PTSD time.
    I loved PE in elementary school. I was in a private school overseas, and the teacher was a young, fun Canadian. Hence, we learned about cricket, lacrosse, and hockey. Not so much with the basketball, and anyway, it’s a rare kid who can make a basket at 8-10 years old with a regulation sized ball. I lived on a 15 acre college campus and spent entire days biking, all-terrain rollerskating, and climbing trees. Couldn’t stand to be inside unless it was monsoon season.

    Then my father got sick and we had to return to the states when I was starting 7th grade. *Cue the ominous music.*

    Problems:
    1. I matured early. At 12-13 I was 5’9, 180 pounds, and had full C cup boobs. I am also broad-shouldered, have a huge ribcage, and am extremely muscular. (Thanks for the genes, Dad.) Nobody would call me fat, but I’m definitely an Amazon. My mother was too busy taking care of my father around the clock to recognize that I needed a. underwires, and b. sports bras. After all, she hadn’t worn either of those things in decades. So I swiped her matronly Playtex because even if they didn’t help with the bouncing, they kept me contained. I can’t tell you how often I literally fell out of my own bras trying to run. Oh yes, PE was co-ed. So the choice was either to give the boys way too much entertainment, or be humiliated for wearing my mom’s granny bras in the locker room. Fun times.

    2. I didn’t know how to play the sports. Basketball? Softball? Nothing doing, there. The rare occasions we played floor hockey, I mopped up on defense, and of course, got no credit for it. Newsflash, assholes. Big girls make great goalies.

    3. The coaches. There were two coaches during my middle school/high school years. One male, one female. The male one was slightly less of a psychotic bitch than the female one. The female one would literally lock herself in her office before a PE class basketball game, and pray that her team would win. PRAY to GOD that her team would beat another team comprised of 15 year old KIDS.

    The male one coached both girls and boys basketball teams. I got suckered into playing varsity basketball because there were only five of the “been playing every sport since age 4 girls” interested that year, and the school had standards to uphold. So I decided to play, thinking I could maybe learn the game, make some friends, and hopefully slim down a bit. None of the above happened. The the coach assigned 10 pushups and situps for each missed shot, but only enforced it for me. It’s pretty hard to learn a new play when you’re off in the corner doing penance for your missed layups in warmup. Sometimes my mom would come to pick me up after the 2 hour practice, and I’d still have 300 situps to go. Not surprisingly, I did become a scarily good shot from that; I have excellent natural aim, and used to be a terror playing bombardment as a kid. Did this make the coach want to play me? No!

    When he handed out the uniforms, it came out that the school had not ordered anything larger than a size M. At 5’9 and 180 lbs, there was no way I was a size M. I had to wear it anyway, because he informed me the school wasn’t about to order a bigger size just for me, implying that I was probably going to wash out before the season was over, and there would be a smaller girl waiting in the wings. He also ordered the wrong shoe size and refused to return my basketball shoes *that I paid for.* At least they were too big rather than too small, but I did trip a lot, and get mocked for it. I am not at all uncoordinated. Try running at full tilt and stopping on a dime wearing shoes that are too big.

    Furthermore, he frequently doubled up practice with his precious boys team, which resulted in the girls team either being way underworked, or overworked to the point of injury. I don’t know why he loved his boys team so much. They lost consistently, whereas my team went to Nationals and took 4th.

    I am still trying to recapture my childhood joy in puttering around outside. Part of the healing process was trying Taekwondo, wherein I learned that I am extremely flexible and can hit and kick like the proverbial truck. It was such a relief to learn that I am not fat, slow, uncoordinated, and hopeless. Instead, the master routinely praised my flexibility and strength. Couldn’t believe it. TKD didn’t stick with me because it was such a time sink, but it was eye-opening to have a positive experience with organized exercise.

    Now that Charleston is flowering (yay, spring!), it’s a treat to put on the yoga pants and tennis shoes, and go out for a long walk with my young, high-energy mutt. People get impressed when I mention the daily mileage, but it’s not a big deal to me. It’s me being outside, where I love to be, just taking in the world, like it was when I was living in my rollerskates as a kid.

  80. Posted March 2, 2011 at 12:32 am | Permalink

    Lord God, yes. And add into it the social stigma, having to change clothes in front of each other at such an awkward stage, getting chosen last for everything, treated like an imbecile because you can’t understand the rules of some stupid sport or can’t hit a ball… My last gym class was well over a decade ago and I don’t think the bitterness and anger will ever go away.

  81. Posted March 2, 2011 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    I hated gym, which we were required to take until 12th grade. Ironically, my last year in gym was actually fun because the teacher graded for effort, understood that some people did not have an aptitude for sports, and had a sense of humor.

    So we were playing touch football. My friend Bill and I had given up blocking each other and were watching the jocks play serious football, which swirled all around us. A pass was made. I was in front of the guy it was intended for, but I jumped up, caught it, and ran in the right direction and made a touchback for my team. I was astounded. The jocks were furious. I glanced over at my gym teacher ( who had been a college football star): he was doubled up he was laughing so hard, and came over and congratulated me. He gave me an A- for the year!

  82. Elizabeth G.
    Posted March 3, 2011 at 12:15 am | Permalink

    Ugh. Gym class. I have always been fortunate enough to have the kind of body society deems acceptable (if not exactly what is considered ‘ideal’), but I was never any good at gym class. I was always doing things wrong and messing it all up, and then my peers would yell and get mad at me. I have bad reflexes and I don’t think well on my feet, so sports have always been kind of an unpleasant experience for me. They make it feel like the world is rushing by too quickly for me to keep up, and by the time I’ve processed what’s happening and what I need to do next, it’s too late and I need to figure out what I need to do now. Now what I *can* do is dance. All the steps are planned out for me in advance; all I have to do is learn them. As long as I get every movement solidly programmed into my muscles, there will be nothing unexpected I’ll need to react to for the duration of the dance. I like working out for much the same reason: you probably aren’t going to need reflexes in a weight room unless something goes horribly, terribly wrong.

    But gym class… I was terrible at gym class. It made me feel so worthless because no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t do what was needed, and it seemed like everyone hated me for it. The only thing I was ever any good at was dodgeball because for once, my instinct to get *away* from the objects flying at my face came in handy — and even then, I dreaded being the last one in because that meant I was actually going to have to catch something. I almost never did, of course, so then everybody yelled at me some more. “Why didn’t you just catch one?” Well gosh, I don’t know, maybe because I’m no good at catching?

    It could’ve been worse, though. At least the grading was attendance-based, so as long as you showed up for every class and didn’t do anything stupid, you were guaranteed a good grade. But it was still misery, and it still made me feel more worthless than anything else in my entire life ever has (except my short-lived job at a deli, which I was also terrible at).

  83. kristinc
    Posted March 3, 2011 at 12:59 am | Permalink

    Late commenter is late, but your post (excellent) sparked a memory of my middle school PE experiences versus my high school PE experiences.

    It wasn’t that I hated middle school PE, it was that middle school PE was an intimidating situation for me — I didn’t mind trying out new games and some I even liked, but there was pressure from the other students to perform, to do well at volleyball or baseball or whatever game we were learning, because heaven knows it’s not enough to have fun practicing something new, we have to make sure we win as many rounds as possible.

    I was never able to measure up to what the most competitive and athletic students wanted, or what they could achieve, which taught me a powerful and terrible lesson: I wasn’t able to do athletic things.

    That lesson stayed ingrained until about my junior year of high school. I was at a tiny alternative school, with no facilities, and “PE” consisted of human anatomy and nutrition 4 times a week — and once a week, a trip to the college gym to use the equipment, where we were allowed to work independently. The jocks went for the weight machines, but me, I wasn’t able to do athletic things, so I killed time by putting on my Walkman and going around the indoor track. I didn’t really want to run, but I had to do something, and going around the track seemed like the least jocky thing to try, the thing I was least likely to fail at.

    I couldn’t run very far, so I mostly walked. But the periods I could run slowly got longer and longer and before long I was running most of the time I was there. Nobody messed with me. Nobody nagged me. Nobody told me I wasn’t going fast enough or pushing hard enough and because I was the only one running there was no way to “lose”. I sort of got into it. There was a kind of zen to it. I stopped hating it and found a contentment in it.

    And one day my PE teacher pulled me aside after class and said he wanted to congratulate me on my focus. He said a visiting student teacher had even commented on me, how I didn’t mess around, how I got on the track every gym day and kept running, how impressed he was with my hard work.

    It forever changed the way I thought about my physical ability. I often wonder what it would have been like to have had that teacher in middle school. Maybe I never would have learned that I wasn’t able to do athletic things.

  84. mara
    Posted March 3, 2011 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    as I look back upon my life… from the ripe old vantage point of 41… ak… that looks like a big number, written down… I realize that me+physical activity, much like me+food, has been characterized, historically, by a series of .. misunderstandings. Yes, that’s what I would call them, truly .. misunderstandings. And you are helping me realize the extent of that, Michelle. Thank you!

    I hated PE (gym class)… I was trying to remember a single time, a single day, when I liked or enjoyed it… I remembered softball games on spring days when I was able to hide wayyyy out in left feild and hope that the ball didn’t come my way, so I could just stand around in the sun. Those times were ok, but still not great, because there was always the chance the ball would come my way… although, I was actually ok at hitting… batting? Is that what it’s called? But I had an unfortunate tendency to get so excited once I actually HIT the ball that I would fling the bat behind me. And, basically, it ALL stressed me out, even when the stars aligned and I happened to be doing well in something momentarily. I do remember learning to serve a volleyball, and being okay at that, and proudly showing the blood blisters on the inside of my wrist from serving, as proof that I had successfully participated in a sport.

    Those are the ‘good’ memories, but they are sort of wan and far between. I spent lots of PE classes in the library, whenever I could get away with it.

    I think I had a deep seated idea that I sucked at all things physical, even before I ever got to gym class in school. Truthfully, I did sort of suck at some things… I wasn’t the most coordinated kid, and it just took me a little longer. I remember being the only ballerina in my ballet class when I was 5 who couldn’t skip.. but then, i worked at it and I figured it out and then suddenly I could do it. Same with riding a bike.. I was a year or two ‘slower’ than some, but I got it eventually. At one point, it became my passion.

    Skating, I LOVED and was always pretty good at. Roller skating particularly… I had the metal roller skates that attach to the shoes… I wish I could find some of those now… i don’t like roller blades particularly; they go too fast and the ankle support hurts my ankles. Roller skating was my main interest in life for a couple of years.

    The ‘misunderstanding’ part is that I never, ever equated that with being active, or being good at a sport of physical activity. Because I already knew that I was ‘bad’ at those.

    I knew I was ‘bad’ at those because of my mother’s level of stress and despair over it. She was anxious, poor thing. When she saw that I was going to be a not particularly agile kid, who liked her food, I really think she was… in a state of despair and worry over that. So she kept enrolling me in unwanted classes and getting all stressy when I wasn’t doing as well as the other ballerinas or gymnasts.. ugh… so I ‘knew’ that I sucked at it ALL. From the very earliest age. And yet, I knew that part of me also kind of loved it all, because I actually love moving.

    And, slightly off topic for this post, but… I think that initial ‘misunderstanding’.. that I sucked at physical activity and sports because I didn’t, in some initial and fundamental way, measure up to a standard that demanded a certain (higher than average) level of agility and ease – I think that initial misunderstanding sort of paved the way for subsequent ones. As an adult, I’ve had long periods of time when I regularly walk for a couple of hours each day, and I was doing yoga for a hour every single day for about five years, and I was, I realize i retrospect, strong and flexible and fit, and I was doing all of those things because I just plain love them and they feel good, BUT, in my mind, it still wasn’t ‘working’ for me. I still wasn’t a successfully-active or athletic or fit person. Because I wasn’t getting thin by doing those things.

    I didn’t do them TO get thin. I had given up trying to get thin. I was ostensibly happy, or happy-ish, with my body. And yet, if asked, i would say that the yoga I was dedicated to, that I almost couldn’t live without, wasn’t ‘working’ for me, because I didn’t have a ‘yoga body’ like the 20 year olds in the hot yoga classes, and because I wasn’t as miraculously flexible as some of them. I wasn’t ‘good at it’, in short. And so it was all for nothing. I think my underlying convinction that I was just simply bad at sports, a conviction I had by the age of 5, just dovetailed nicely into this new one about my lack of a ‘yoga body’ and how it just wasn’t working.

    And the real harm in that is that I didn’t value what I was doing when I was doing it. And I got busy and stopped, and only in retrospect, only after I lost much of the tone and flexibility I used to have, did I realize how much I truly used to have a ‘yoga’ body’. It was like a classic ‘you never know what you got till its gone” situation.

    So, I am working on working it back into my life now.. yoga and walking… from a HAES perspective, with no more ‘no pain no gain’ mentality and no more comparing myself to others in the class and no more expecting to wake up one morning looking like a lithe 20 year old and feeling like a failure when it doesn’t happen.

    yay!

  85. LadyTL
    Posted March 6, 2011 at 12:34 am | Permalink

    I’ve seemed to have had a mixed experience with gym. It was middling in elementary (fun except for the sports and testing). Middle school it got odd though. We were allowed to choose between dance (ballet only though) and gym which was all sports. I went with dance but the teacher really didn’t want me doing it because he was a “serious” ballet teacher and since I couldn’t do the forms right at all (scoliosis and other problems) he let me sit out and gave me Fs. He never really got on me though about it which is why it was odd. It was some sort of unspoken agreement. I would get an F and he would let me sit and read or draw all period with no hassle. I confused the hell out of my high school PE teacher though. I was always active so I could do some things but not others. I would fail the sports but then max out the leg press and ride the bike longer than anyone else when I took the fitness class. I always got the grade reduction though because I refused to wear the school gym uniform, short shorts that I wouldn’t give to someone as underwear and a shirt tight enough to tell what kind of bra they were wearing.

  86. NanceA
    Posted March 10, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    I have had asthma since I was 6 and this meant that I was not able to run for long periods of time. I too hated the President Physcial Fitness tests for the mile run – which I walked. Every year I had to produce a new letter from the same doctor telling the same gym teacher that I could’t run a mile. It was really frustrating to me personally as I was quite speedy at short distances. I ran the fastest 10 yard dash in my class and walked the slowest mile. But my speed was forgotten when I couldn’t do distances. I was asked to go out for track but wasn’t allowed to actually do it when I wouldn’t be able to join the rest of the team for the one mile run that was a daily warm up at practice. The fact that I might have won a few sprints for the team was irrelevant if I couldn’t do what everyone else did.

    Grades most often mean that we are all being judged as equals and we are not equals. I am now a teacher and I always tell my students that I look at their current performance compared to their own abilities and past performance when grading assignments. How much less would grades kill joy in learning or moving if this was true everywhere?

  87. CraftyLuna
    Posted March 11, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    I work at a private international school that goes from primary through high school, and I love the way they do PE.

    First off, PE is separate from recess. Our kids get both. At recess, they run and play and do whatever while we supervise to make sure they’re being safe and not excluding people. (We have an Inclusiveness policy, where you’re not allowed to tell people they can’t play with you)

    At PE, they learn different things. My class is 1st grade, and when they go to PE they play freeze dance, do obstacle courses, kickball, things like that. Mostly just fun stuff, they do warm ups but the PE teachers make them fun.

    But the middle school and high school kids are doing amazing things. In addition to playing whatever sport they’re currently working on, I see posters on the wall outside the gym of research they’ve done on the history of different sports. I see projects titled “How Do Public Parks Build Better Communities?” and “How Can Team Sports Improve Communication?” They do different units throughout the year, with different sports, including a dance unit where they work in small groups to choreograph something to perform for the younger grades. It’s all about cooperation and healthy competition, “healthy” meaning you follow the rules, respect your opponents, work as a team, support each other, and enjoy the game for its own sake whether you win or lose.

    Every subject, including PE, is taught within the context of our broader purpose, which is to help our students to develop into well rounded, community minded, caring, capable adults.

  88. Posted March 12, 2011 at 3:19 am | Permalink

    I just found your blog through the post about eating and poverty… I keep reading and reading. I relate, I relate, I relate! I’m 32, 5’10″ and about 300 (I now refuse to get on scales).

    Reading this post seriously took me back. Where in Oregon did you grow up? I lived out in the Oregon City area, currently St. Helens. Also, I’ve had my ear out for nutritionists that actually practice the “health at every size” technique.

    I was disappointed to reach the end of the comments on the “poverty” post and find them closed because I really relate to that stuff as well (Just used the last of the food stamp card today… now to make it till the end of the month. Right about the 26th I would murder for fruit basket.) It is the sad, sad truth I think that the greatest good I can do for myself is to *not be poor any more*.

    The one year I made a decent income was the year I got pregnant. I felt and looked increasingly healthy and didn’t gain any weight. I was adding all sorts of indulgent, expensive foods to my diet like raw goat milk and local berries by the bucket-full. The fat just sort of fell off on it’s own as I could afford to indulge myself in whatever I desired. At eight months pregnant, I think I felt about as mentally peaceful and physically healthy as I had since childhood. Then, just before giving birth I found myself out of a job.

    The last 2 years have transformed me into someone who feels like an old woman. As I gain weight, my body is starving for true nutrition. I’m practicing extended breastfeeding and I know I’ve got borderline malnutrition going on. My hair, once thick, long and glossy, has thinned and begun to gray. And so–the end of this month I’ll be going back to school to finish my Biology degree. I will set aside the constant hunger/nausea/shakiness cycle, the headaches and confusion, the exhaustion, the muscle pain. I will take handfuls of cheap pharmaceuticals while I pray for my liver. I will hope that I have just enough health left in me to finish the classes and find a job so I can give my body what it is crying for.

    Meanwhile, I’ll also try to do the healthful things that are free, like spend time in the sun, foraging for dandelions, nettles, and fiddlehead ferns, and drinking lots of water.

    P.S. Before you ask, yes, I’ve seen a doctor. Where do you think I got all those cheap meds from to take the place of real food?

  89. Aninabanina
    Posted March 12, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Just discovered you. Love you.

  90. La
    Posted March 14, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    OMG – you are a genius! Ain’t it all the truth!

    When I was in grade school, gym class was about F-U-N! Remember that giant trampoline. I used to LOVE that thing – until, I realized that I was different than everyone else (but, that’s another topic).

    Flash forward to Middle School. There we had the lovely yearly test on how long you could hold yourself up on a chin-up bar (0 seconds for me), how fast you could climb to the top of a rope (couldn’t climb it), etc., etc. Then, there was the weigh-in in front of everyone – the one where all the students couldn’t wait to see how much I weighed. And the icing on the cake? Yes, my friends – we had to wear school supplied bathing suits for swimming AND they were color coded according to size. Guess who wore the only black one in the class? That’s right, me!!

    The only saving grace of the whole thing was my high school gym teacher. I loved that woman. She never made me do things that would embarass me. When we had to run the 340 yard thing every year, so always gave me a time I didn’t make, just so I wouldn’t have to do it again and be humiliated twice.

    It’s too bad that something that was so fun to start out with became a source of torture later on in school. We had gym five days a week when I was in school.

    Now, the high schools in America, for the most part, require just one semester (1/2 the year) for the entirety of high school. So, pretty much it equates to 5 months of gym class total in a person’s high school career.

    Thanks for a great post!

    • Posted March 16, 2011 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

      Our local high school requires two years (four semesters.) My daughter is a senior and put it off, and put it off–she got credit for one of the years for doing marching band, but even if you’re in sports you have to do one year. She hates to run. The women in our family are big busted, including her, and she has exertion asthma, so while I don’t think (God, I hope) that her reluctance has to do with her size (she’s almost exactly the size of a typical American woman), she still just did not want to do it. And then this year they offered yoga instead. She got into that class, and LOVES it. It’s always amazing to me how it isn’t exercise that turns people off–it’s being forced to do exercise you don’t want to do.

  91. Posted March 14, 2011 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    Oh, god. P.E.

    Talk about trauma.

    I envy those who had enjoyable elementary school P.E. experiences. To this day I get jittery and angry when I think about my elementary school P.E. teacher, who frequently publicly shamed the children (ranging from ages 6 to 12) for not being naturally athletic. I was small, but I have always been uncoordinated and clumsy. I have endurance, but no speed, strength, or balance. I was mocked by the man because I was “afraid of the ball.” He threatened a boy in my class for talking back after he accused him of traveling during basketball. He told a chubby little 11-year-old girl that she was too fat too become a cheerleader. He ogled my sister’s developing breasts.

    And the man was never fired. Even after reports were made, he remained on staff until his retirement. I developed a serious inferiority complex due to P.E., and felt that because I was not naturally good at sports, I was therefore less worthy of respect than my leggy, athletic friends.

    P.E., man. ‘Tis the devil.

  92. Samantha
    Posted March 16, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    I really loved this post! Though I wasn’t overweight growing up, I’ve dealt with weight issues most of my life (both real and imaginary) and was never particularly fond of team sports or gym class.

    My most hated was soccer and I’ve only recently realized that this hatred had nothing to do with the sport itself. It had everything to do with the competitive jerks from gym class that never wanted to pass you the ball for fear that you would screw up and lose the game.

    I’ve recently started playing intermural soccer at my university (I was conned into it by a friend) and I have to say that I absolutely love it! (despite the fact that I am definitely NOT good at it)

  93. John
    Posted March 17, 2011 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    This wonderful article brought back a hosts of bad memories concerning gym class, one in particular. Growing up fat, I learned I was always a target – being saddled with “humerous” names was just part of it. I never knew where the next attack would come from: if there was a fat character (almost always a comedic figure) on tv or in a movie, everyone said that was me; endlessly told I suffered from midrift bulge (cringed each time a Playtex commercial was aired); anytime a plus-sized girl was sighted, I was immediately informed that was my future wife, etc. etc. However, high school freshmen gym class provided the single worst moment. One day the gym teacher decided it would be fun to stage a “fat man’s race;” naturally, everyone other than us fat kids thought this was a great idea. The eight fattest kids in the class were entered into the race around the gym course. While we ran as hard as we could (who wanted to finish last?) we were “cheered” on by the rest of the class (laughter and pejorative remarks about our girth being mixed in equal measure) – the race seemed to last an eternity. When it was over, the fun continued because naturally none of us were in any condition to do this intense running, and I remember laying on my back holding my stomach with it heaving up and down while “beached whale”-type remarks were directed my way. For four years I was periodically reminded of that race by chuckling classmates and was almost embarrassed to be seen with any of the other seven who had also run, as if we shared a shameful secret. Always avoided reunions for fear that the “fat man” race would be recalled.

    • Posted March 17, 2011 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      What kind of sadist thought a “fat man’s race” was a good idea to foist on 9th grade kids???

      • John
        Posted March 17, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

        Michelle,

        This was the mid-sixties, when fat people seemed to be viewed as inherently funny and fair game at all times. As a kid, I remember seeing the inane comedy “Pillow Talk” during which there is a scene in which Rock Hudson tries to get rid of Tony Randall in a resturant by pretending he is there with his cousin (a well dressed plus-size woman who is eating by herself, whom Hudson has picked out of the diners and who he lets slip is affectionatley known as “Moose”) and that he wants to set up with Randall; of course, once Randall sees her, he runs the other way. The audience just howled with laughter from the time the actress was shown, as if just the fact that she was fat was somehow funny in itself, let alone Randall’s horrified reaction at the thought of dating her. While everyone else was laughing, I recall just feeling so sorry for the woman (perhaps a bit of empathy). Move forward to high school, where one of the nicest people in the school was a librarian who was a BBW, and whom I loved to talk with. She was endlessly the target of stupid pranks (one particularly very hurtful one) by some mindless boys simply because of her size – among which was saddling her with a nickname: Moose. I found it even more painful the second time.

  94. Eagle
    Posted March 17, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    Now, I wasn’t fat as a kid-bit skinny if anything-but I was desperately unathletic. I hated P.E. (as it’s called on my side of the pond)with a firey passion. I couldn’t catch balls and hated trying. I hated running around in the cold wearing just a polo shirt and shorts. I hated getting thwacked with a hockey stick (generally by accident). I decided very young that I Hated Exercise. No questions asked. My mother had vapours about this, since she was and is a sporty type.

    And yet.

    I liked running. I hated how slow I was when I ran, that I got out of puff so easy, but I loved the feeling of speed. I liked riding my bike, though I wasn’t much good at that either. And I love, love, loved climbing. All the trees around mine were no good for climbing-too small or too big, with no low enough branches-but I tried to climb them anyway. When we went to the beach I’d ignore the water and clamber about on the rocks, looking for rock pools. Never found any, but I was happy anyway, despite the way my mother yelled at me to get down before I had an accident.

    I didn’t remember this, till I saw your post…

  95. Jenny Islander
    Posted March 18, 2011 at 2:48 am | Permalink

    I have a clear memory of running in third grade until my throat tasted like blood and telling the P.E. teacher so. He just looked at me impatiently and told me that I was slowing the class down. He never explained what was happening to me. Why did my own breath taste of blood? There had to be something wrong. I asked some other grown-ups and they just looked blank. I decided then and there that I would not let them hurt me even if I had to get Ds and Fs in P.E. forever, and I kept that promise to myself through nine more years of gym class hell. This, by the way, is reason number eleventy billion and three why I am homeschooling my children.

    If math class were taught like gym class, the teacher would work some complex fractions on the blackboard without explanation, then give each kid a sheet of problems and set a timer. The kids who hadn’t completed the problems or gotten them right when the timer went off would be graded poorly and told they needed to try harder. The next day (week, semester, year) would be exactly the same. The kids whose parents or siblings happened to have explained complex fractions would do well and the rare math geniuses would do well; everybody else would get Ds and Fs. And if you had bad eyesight or dyslexia, nobody would notice or help.

  96. B
    Posted March 18, 2011 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

    Haven’t read all the comments as there are so many but wanted to say thank you for posting this as it’s something a lot of people just don’t get.

    I’ve never been fat but I was the short, skinny, knock-kneed, uncoordinated, afraid-of-the-ball nerdy girl. PE was a nightmare. My teachers always favoured ball sports, all of which I suck at, mostly because I can’t catch or throw very well and also because the boys in the class would hurl the ball around as hard as they possibly could and I was terrified of being hit with it so my “participation” consisted of skirting around the edges of the playing field avoiding any contact with anyone lest someone think I actually wanted to handle the ball. Volleyball was the fucking worst, I couldn’t serve the ball without injuring my wrist and nobody ever bothered to show me how to do it properly even when I asked, so that was a big fail as well. Tennis – same issue, cricket – I couldn’t bat to save my life and fielding was filled with terror because well if you’ve ever been hit in the face by a cricket ball you will understand. Etc.

    The only sport I ever enjoyed at school was lacrosse (I think it’s called), kind of like hockey except you play it on grass with these sticks with nets on the end, and we played it a total of one time that I recall.

    Then there’s the change room issue. I didn’t develop boobs until very late in the game, probably about 18, so there was always the subtle or not so subtle teasing about my pre-pubescent chest. I also had bad acne which was not confined to my face and I was just NOT going to let anyone see that shit so I had to develop a bizarre way of getting changed that involved not letting a single inch of skin actually be exposed and took forever to do.

    Also, you’d get really sweaty and our school had no working shower facility so you had to marinate in your own sweat all day which did not help my skin issues or confidence in general.

    We DID have decent uniforms though which was a plus, none of this panties masquerading as shorts bullshit.

    My reports always had the same comment: that I would get a better mark if I tried…well, I might have tried if you had planned your lessons better (i.e. gender segregation would have really helped, and mixing up the content to include stuff I might have actually enjoyed or been good at).

  97. Amianym
    Posted March 19, 2011 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    My favorite forms of exercise are sprinting, rock climbing, hiking, dance, and yoga. We never, ever did these in my gym classes. It was all distance running and team sports. I have very vivid memories of repeatedly pushing myself until I had an asthma attack, but apparently my teachers never cared? Because I cannot remember getting a grade better than a C in gym. Even when I joined the track team (75m hurdles in 16 secs!) and was in perfect shape, I have never been able to run a mile. Apparently that means I’m “lazy” and not, y’know, built different.

    (Why, yes, I might be just a teeeeny bit bitter.)

  98. Dorkier Elizabeth
    Posted March 27, 2011 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    Man, my boo had a gym teacher who made fun of the way my boo walked. Walked. Can you even imagine? People are just such jerks sometimes.

    Also, as a kid, I enjoyed ice skating, horseback riding, and dance class . . . but hated PE. HMMM!

  99. Posted March 30, 2011 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    Oh wow, am I glad to see I’m not the only person who hated the Mile Run. Oh god. I’m never going to be a runner – I can enjoy sprinting, but nothing sustained, and my jog isn’t actually any faster than my walk, just more exhausting. I, too, was graded on how fast I could handle the mile. But more than the F I got for not getting within 15 minutes, I remember how horrible it was to be the last one. The dead last one. When the kids who had finished in 7 minutes were clearly antsy, and even though I wasn’t getting picked on, having everyone cheering me on telling me I could do it when I KNEW That I could not, that was almost as bad. No, I can’t do it. No, I can’t run. No, I can’t just try harder. and GOOD GOD NO I can’t do a cool-down walk after I’ve collapsed barely able to breathe and sobbing after finally crossing the finish line.

    And no I can not play floor hockey afterward for the rest of the hour.

    The kicker is I can walk a good long while without getting that tired. I did a 6-mile charity walk one time that left be feeling basically good until mile 5. It’s just running/jogging that drains me that fast and that badly.

    It’s just kind of good to know I’m not alone. I’m not a horrible unhealthy person just because I don’t have a lot of running stamina.

  100. dee
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    Rockin’ post and comments – and i’m glad to see i’m not alone. PE was an exercise in humiliation for me and turned me off physical activity for years. It was nothing short of cruel. The odd fitness tests were the worst. They were graded but why didn’t they train you for them? Plus i remember the things i could do well (flexibility stuff mostly) were ignored by the teachers. But…so it’s not a total wash, years later it turns out i’m not the faster runner but i can out last almost anyone. I’m heavily into mountain and trail running, and plan to start competing in ultra marathons. I started this type of running as i was too embarrassed to be seen running (i think in part it harks back to being teased by kids and the teachers in PE). So i started running on mountain trails where no one would see me! I still have trouble resisting the habit to stop when i see someone else….it’s really hard to shake that attitude that grades gives – if you’re not the best at something, why bother.

  101. Nicole
    Posted April 13, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    This post and the subsequent comments are INCREDIBLY… empowering? Heartening? Reassuring? I’m not quite sure of the right word.

    My gym class experience was relatively decent next to the horrors others’ have recounted in this thread (I was lucky enough to transfer to a girls’ school before I started growing breasts) but I definitely had my problems. Many of them stemmed from not knowing the rules to whatever sport we were playing and then getting crap from my classmates about losing a point or whatever, and were relatively manageable (nobody really bothered me off the field, at least) but for sixth and seventh grade I had the gym teacher from hell. She hated my guts, and our loathing was decidedly mutual. You see, I have a problem with YELLING, and that was this “instructor”‘s primary method of transferring knowledge to the next generation. Like some other “teachers” mentioned upthread, she was one of those types who expected kids to know the rules to whatever sport we’re playing and then grew angry if(when) they messed up/didn’t know what they were supposed to be doing. I knew nothing about sports and, frankly, she inspired in me no desire to learn.

    I’m lucky in that I am difficult to beat into submission– screaming at me doesn’t frighten me into cooperation, it just makes me want to make your life as difficult as possible– but I can’t count the number of times I butted heads with this asshole. I remember one incident very clearly– I was about twelve, and I’d (ignorant of the subtleties of kickball) failed to run and steal a base or something. The teacher basically stopped the game and went into a tirade about how I wasn’t participating adequately, I wasn’t even trying, she couldn’t stand people who cared so little about what they did, etc. I was pissed off enough that I made some kind of retort, and she demanded to know if I wanted to sit on the sidelines and do nothing for the rest of the game. When I began marching towards the bench I’m pretty sure she actually spat with rage; it was only when she threatened me with a zero for the day that I returned, grudgingly, to play. I’m eternally grateful that I get angry instead of cowed in such situations, and that she no longer teaches at my school.

    I’m with all the people who say that people who like gym are the ones who end up teaching it, though I’d like to make an addendum– I think that more than a few of those who teach PE are nursing some kind of old sports-related bitterness and use their position of power to express their frustrations. The teacher I had used to be a professional lacrosse player, if I remember and clearly would rather have been doing that than teaching brats how to play ball. The fact that she was somehow demoted to a middle school gym teacher clearly infuriated her– not that that excuses her bullying behavior. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if some of the worst of the bad gym teachers were the “jerk jocks” of yesteryear, who knew most of their glory on a highschool or college team but weren’t good enough to go pro, and are still nursing feelings of inadequacy. Traumatizing children will surely buoy their self-esteem! (Apologies to all excellent gym teachers out there; I don’t want to slam what good work you’ve done, but I just wish there were more of you.)

    That rant aside, I’ve recently discovered that I love physical activity– a few months ago I began working with a personal trainer, doing a lot of the stuff I’d loathed in gym class (crunches, push ups, jogging, etc.) and I simply love working out. It’s frankly eerie. This discovery has made me realize that I wasn’t actually a lazy bum when I was little– it was just the yelling and the shaming that I couldn’t stomach. It makes my blood boil that so many people have such a similar experience and come out of school associating physical activity with screaming asshats.

    Um…serious apologies for the novel; like many, I was really struck by this post and had to get this off my chest. Really, really, really great post. You rock, Michelle.

  102. Den
    Posted August 5, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    Oh, god. PE. Elementary PE wasn’t so bad. The teacher (an older lady who I still see around town from time to time) made the class fun. It was more about playing than actual structured sports. Kindergarten through fifth grade, we would run around, play gym hockey (which was always fun), play scooter basketball, play flag football (which was okay… except for the year when I had a broken arm due to falling off the playground), go bowling (LOVE Bowling, and if I could afford to go to the alley in town more often, I’d be there nearly every day.), play with the parachute, and just generally run around and be kids… I was string-bean skinny during all that time. I enjoyed being active, and it showed.

    I hated PE in middle school. I had an EMT/almost Olympic Runner for a teacher. I was not athletic. I was uncoordinated, and tended to be anemic (though i didn’t realize it at the time). We had to run laps around the gym every day that we had class (every other day), and since I had started to put on weight due to hormonal issues, I was one of the heavier kids… and one of the slowest. I was always one of the last to finish laps, and since people started getting competitive, I started withdrawing into a shell. I was no longer enjoying moving, and it showed. For the next three years, from sixth to eighth grade, every other day was sheer hell.

    My ninth grade year was no better, since I had a male teacher that year. I had suffered a knee injury during the summer, thanks to volleyball camp and my own klutziness, and we had to walk/run laps around the gym. I was overweight, and even with band, was not in any shape for strenuous activities… We had similar activities to my middle school PE regimen. I did participate, though only halfheartedly, and passed with an acceptable grade. Though I did enjoy archery, showing a startling aptitude for it that I had never realized I had (we don’t exactly have archery teams around here, and we never did it in middle school).

    My sophomore through senior years of PE were much better, since I had the other PE teacher, a woman who was a very wonderful teacher. I actually began to enjoy PE again, since I didn’t feel pressured, and Coach Subert encouraged us to try things, and if we weren’t so good, so what? At least we had tried, and that was the important thing. I spent time in the weightroom on the treadmill, walking, or I’d be lifting weights and trying to see how much I could do, or even dancing if I felt like it. All Coach Subert cared about was that we weren’t just sitting around and doing nothing. Having the freedom, but still being supervised for safety’s sake, did a lot to make me like moving again.

    Nowadays, I dance, even if it’s only with a game on the Wii (there are no ballroom dancing classes in my area, and I can’t find a guy who would be my partner), and I walk most everywhere I go in town (most everything is within a mile of my house.) when the weather’s cooperative (I don’t go outside if the humidity and temperature are high, due to allergies and breathing problems, and I bundle up like crazy when it’s cold outside). Finding my own pace has helped me enjoy moving and being active again.

  103. Astraia
    Posted August 13, 2011 at 4:58 am | Permalink

    *Very* belatedly commenting, but I just wanted to say thank you for this post and for everyone sharing their experiences.

    I was a slightly overweight kid with a physical disability. I hated PE in high school, mostly, because I was embarrassed so often by being so much worse than everyone else. I came to the conclusion that physical activity was just something I couldn’t do.

    I used to try *really* hard, though. Once when playing netball, I tried to make a catch, and just missed, so that instead of landing in my hand the ball hit and shattered the bone in my finger. I had to have several surgeries – but worse than that was the memory of standing on the sidelines with my arm in a sling while the teacher berated the rest of the class, saying that the only people who get injured playing sports are those who don’t *try*. Adult me knows how nonsensical that is. 12-year-old me was very ashamed, never mind that if I’d let that netball fly past me and not tried to catch it I’d have been far better off.

    Then as an older teenager I was encouraged to take up some kind of activity, so I tried karate, which was awesome, because I didn’t go in for competition, so all I cared about was being better than I had before, and my instructor was very understanding of my disability. I felt fitter and stronger and it was awesome. All good until he left, and the new instructor was of the opinion that yelling at people and telling them how useless they are is good encouragement and motivation to improve. Might work for some people, not for me, so I left.

    I’m quite a bit older now, and I wish I had the courage so many of the other commenters have, to take up something new on their own terms and be active for the joy of it. I’m fairly certain though that because of my disability I’d be the worst in whatever class or group I joined, no matter how much practice I put in, and I’m not up to dealing with that just yet.

  104. Petunia
    Posted September 26, 2011 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    I’m in high school gym class (ninth grade) and I HATE IT. I HATE IT WITH A PASSION.
    I don’t even know where to start. I was always just an out of shape kid, and bad at sports, (except, of course, for dance). Of course, the PE standards at my high school are apparently “higher than the state standards” (WHY?)
    And so, every day we girls must change in front of one another(“No changing in the bathroom stalls!” yells my P.E. teacher), into hideous uniforms that they could have at least made girly in some way, maybe pink?
    Then, most every day, we are forced to run. We run the mile about three times a week. It is pure torture. I have always felt like I’m going to puke or collapse every time we do it, and I fear someday I actually will. My high school is in awful California heat which means running in flipping 100 degree weather.
    Of course, right now, as if running wasn’t bad enough, we also have a swimming unit. Yep, diving into the probably infested smelliness of the chlorine and being forced to do swimming you cannot do. Not to mention the “treading water to learn safety…blah blah blah”, because I, of course, cannot tread water and am always on the brink of drowning each time.
    And of course, at the end of every P.E. class, you are given no time to get ready. I am forced to feel sweaty and disgusting for the rest of the day, or hair that is dripping wet and refuses to dry.
    I hope one day the track, swimming pool, and gym magically disappear at my school so we are never subjected to this torture ever again.

    • Posted October 3, 2011 at 9:08 am | Permalink

      As a ninth-grader, if you had control of the gym class, how would you run it? (I mean, other than doing away with it altogether, haha!) What kind of activities would actually be fun, and how would the rules work? I think hearing ideas from someone who is currently going through it would be particularly useful.

  105. yourock
    Posted October 27, 2011 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

    THANK YOU.
    I’m a 13 year old kid in 8th grade. Not easy years anyway, what with the annoying boob growth and peer pressure. But gym class? My daily source of anxiety.
    I’m a very shy, quiet person who lacks self confidence but is quite intelligent and loves to write. I’m strong in my arms and have an athletic build (besides large boobs, which I HATE), but I can’t run worth a crap. Seriously. During the five minute run, I only get about ten laps. And running is the only thing we do in gym because our school is dirt poor.
    The gym teacher grades on effort, but even though I’m trying, she doesn’t think I am due to the fact I look athletic. I do writing club, art club, and debate, but no sports. She’s called me out for lack of participation before, and I think my grade is dropping. As a straight-A student who wants to be the best at everything and please everyone, I’m taking this personally.
    I think gym class should be optional. I’m certain I’m not the first kid to feel this way, and I definitely won’t be the last. I can only hope this year will be over quickly; a day doesn’t go by where I don’t feel anxiety about gym class.

    • Posted October 30, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      Gah, I’m so sorry you’re still stuck in gym class. It sounds to me, anyway, like you ARE making an effort – so even if your teacher doesn’t recognize that, at least you know!

      And running is the only thing we do in gym because our school is dirt poor.

      I think this is a really good insight, and now I wonder how often it happens that schools push running because they simply don’t have the time/energy/funds to engage in other activities. Which is a shame, because running can actually be fun – just not when it’s forced on you over and over and over.

      It also sounds like you do so many other awesome things – hang in there!

    • KellyK
      Posted November 1, 2011 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      I’m sorry. That really sucks a lot. Would it be helpful to talk to the teacher to ask her how/why she feels you’re not participating? Not in a confrontational way, but just say that you feel like you’re working hard, but she’s had issues with your participation, so what does she want from you that she’s not seeing. That’s pretty much a band-aid to keep gym from messing up your GPA, but if you demonstrate to the teacher that you are interested in making an effort, it might suck a little bit less.

      It might also help to remember that in the long run, no one’s going to care about your mile-running time unless you actually decide to run races. It sucks now, but it won’t suck forever.

    • bluhbluh
      Posted January 8, 2012 at 3:30 am | Permalink

      Oh God, I remember middle school gym. My school was also pretty poor and really kind of terrible, so there were 150 or so of us in one gym class. On one hand, having that many people to a class meant that participation grades were entirely arbitrary and it was fairly easy to avoid doing any actual work. On the other hand, every so often the teachers would force all of us to line up in two huge teams and have a free throw competition for “fun.” Yes, the fun of desperately trying to shoot baskets while standing alone in the middle of a gym with 148 people staring at you.

      Ninth grade gym class was like a breath of fresh air… for the first month or two. There were only twenty people in the class, and we actually played sports. Yes, the male teacher made the occasional perverted comment or bitchy insult, but it was passed off as a joke. I had fun until the day when two of the three athletic people in the class were picking teams for dodgeball. There were about five people left, myself included, and one of the guys sighed dramatically and said, “I guess I’ll pick bluhbluh, at least she actually tries.”

      Well.

      From that day on, I never put any effort into gym class again. Why should I, since I was just going to be ridiculed by my classmates AND my teacher? Now that I’m in college, and now that my college has a brand-freakin-new, super shiny awesome FREE gym, I’ve actually found out that I love running, and I wish I’d known sooner.

      @yourock: I was a lot like you: shy, quiet, straight-A student with a lot of anxiety about gym class. Honestly, though, even if your gym grade does slip, by the time you get to high school, it won’t matter at all. Not a single little bit. Focus on your other classes, and on the activities you enjoy, because they’re way more important.

  106. giishu
    Posted October 31, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    It comes as a surprise when I look at my school photos, but I wasn’t a fat kid. I was just a bit bigger than most of the other kids in my class. I wish I’d noticed that.

    I have two problems with PE classes and sports in general. I’ll start with the smaller problem.

    I hate competing. I don’t mind friendly games against your classmates (or another team, if you so wish), but once I’m forced to compete, I stop liking the sport. I played volleyball on the girl’s team for almost half a year, before I realised that. So as there was no way to play volleyball and not go to school competitions, I stopped playing. Later I did a year of tennis, before I came to the same conclusion. And yet most every sport we did in PE was a competition with our classmates – to get the best results. (In later years we did have a PE teacher who insisted that the only person we’re competing with is ourselves and not to compare yourself to others. But that didn’t undo the years of conditioning we’d had.)

    The second thing I hate (and hate with a passion) is that PE starts out by putting all kids in the same box and saying that we should start at this level and work to improve. WHY? When you take a language class, say Russian, you start by assuming that NO ONE KNOWS RUSSIAN! And, if you see that there are people who can speak Russian at some level, you test the kids at the start. You put them in different classes OR you tell the kids who can speak Russian that you are going to start with the basics. You’ll start with the alphabet and the Russian-speaking kids can revise or do something else – read or write or whatever. You set them a different task and start with the basics. You do not tell the kids who don’t speak Russian that you’ll expect them to know the alphabet and be able to converse at the barest minimum level by the next lesson.

    So why, in the name of all the things that are holy, is the same method not applied to PE? I had to re-learn things as a grown-up. I didn’t remember that I liked running. Sure, I ran as a young kid, but once we HAD TO run in PE, it sucked the joy out of it. Not only because of the grade, but because I was expected to run at a level my body was not prepared for.

    Last year I re-learned to run by a program (available online) called Couch to 5K. It made the basic presumption that you weren’t fit enough to run 5 km (but you could be) and set a 9-week course during which I was instructed to go walking/jogging on 3 days – every week the program would have a little less walking and a little more running. It gave my body time to adjust. It was like learning the running alphabet, if you will. And because I never once had that awful blood-at-the-back-of-my-throat-out-of-breath-dying sensation, I realised that it was never the running I disliked. It was running at a pace I could not sustain that I hated. I was willing to give running a chance because I tend to test my likes and dislikes after a certain amount of time has passed. I wonder how many people don’t. And you know what? I loved running. It was hard, sure, but it was also exhilarating. You know that lovely feeling of moving fast you get on your bike? Turns out you can get the same from running.

    I’ve never met a kid who doesn’t sometimes run just for the sake of running. It saddens me that so many of us learn to hate it, just because no one starts from the basics. You really do need to walk before you can run and PE teachers should know that.

    If you want to give grades in PE (though why you would will never be truly clear for me), then you need to teach the basics. And you really do need to start with the basics at the start of every schoolyear. Then you can truly see how far someone’s come over the course of your class.

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