Thursday, September 29, 2011

P.E..... Gym Class...

... Gym class
Just the thought makes a lot of people cringe. Here are some comments I've come across recently online: 

Gym class was a nightmare from the word go. I had years of physical ability shaming, as a lifelong fat kid–like the time we had to run a mile in the field behind the junior high school and I walked it, because running was and is uncomfortable and something I’d been laughed at for doing. It took 20 minutes for me to walk a mile, everyone else was long since finished, and the gym teacher was screaming at me from the doorway to hurry up because she was sick of waiting for me. Anyway, once in high school we were being made to do the step test for the Presidential Physical Fitness Award thing (gah). The step test, if you don’t know, is having to step up onto the bottom row of the bleachers and then down again until you feel like dying. The teachers were walking along the row behind us as we stepped up and down, “encouraging” us, and I didn’t want to be ridiculed for not being able to hack it. So of course I pushed myself to the point of exhaustion–and I fell. I had weak ankles anyway from ice skating injuries and being so tired, my foot landed wrong, and I just went down. My mother had to come and pick me up and take me to the ER to get an x-ray. Luckily I didn’t break my ankle, just sprained it really badly.
But on top of all the fat-hating, it’s just awful that physical activity is presented to us when we’re young and impressionable as something that’s about being tough and hard and not being weak or giving in to pain or tiredness. Gym class was like boot camp, I swear, and the other kids were allowed to treat the clumsy and unfit among us like sh**–though of course us braniacs were soundly rebuked should we pick on any of the jocks for being stupid because “they can’t help it.” School sucked.
Kell Brigan:
Jane, your experience in gym is one of the reasons I am motivated to do activism (however, that winds up being). I don’t know how I lucked out, but I had sane coaches & teachers in PE all through school (and I was the “second fattest girl” in my town, as the bullies made sure I knew). I know so many people my size and smaller who were put through hell by sociopath gym teachers. That level of abuse is just… ARGGGGGG!!!!
I’m sending you the psychic equivalent of wicked cool magic playballs that have nothing but happy attached to them!!!
Just chiming in on the gym class experiences…My sophomore year of h.s., the very thin, driller of an gym teacher was telling my all-girls class about how important is is to work out. Not a bad lesson, until she started pointing out all of the bad things that could happen to your body, including, in her words, “the disgusting pockets of fat underneath your arms that seem to extend from your chest” while looking at me in my tank top (I often didn’t change into the stupid gym uniform…). Thirteen years later and still remember. And I HATE her. I was 15, DD breasts, and 170 pounds. B**ch

The outfits, the showers, being picked last, being forced to participate in sports you loathe, the dreaded mile where if running fast is not your "thing" you are pretty much humiliated as the ones who did run faster than you sit on the sidelines and make comments.
Some things have improved with time. Showers have stalls. And any teacher worth their weight in salt don't have the alpha-kids pick teams anymore.
But thanks to the "OH MY GOD DEATH FAT IS COMING" I mean "Obesity Epidemic" Gym teachers the world over have a new mandate to increase the pain of gym class.
I have a few theories about how I think gym class could be improved.

1. Have more choices for exercise that suit different interests and skills. I enjoyed walking - still do. I LOVED field hockey. Kind of liked volleyball. Hated just about everything else in the realm of contact sports. My eye hand coordination is crap. So every six weeks spent on other sports pretty much made me dread gym class. Softball in particular was my nightmare. I was terrible at it. I remember one of the few times in my life screaming at an adult is when they forced me to go to first base. I can't catch to save my life. First Base was the equivalent of a dunce hat for me. It was awful - Its one of those things I can't even laugh about yet. I remember three boys who teased incessantly each time I missed the ball, which was every time it was thrown at me.
One year in 9th grade I was dreading going to bat that day. I worked deals like Donald Trump getting kids to take my place in the batting lineup. In my ignorance I didn't know a batting lineup should not be messed with. After several innings the gym teacher said "Grinels - why haven't you gone up to bat yet?" I died a little inside and said because "I really, really don't want to so I've been letting other people have my turn." Then he raised his voice "You can't do that GRINELS... its a LINEUP" - Which meant nothing to me... so I just shrugged like I didn't care and it made him so mad he said "That's IT Grinels - walk laps the rest of class"
BEST. GYM CLASS. EVER. I walked laps the rest of the class enjoying every minute of it. I made a point the rest of the year to be as rude as possible in the hopes I'd get sentenced to walking laps.

2. Have more teachers. Have one or two highly trained teachers and more teacher's aides willing to host smaller classes in various exercises. Kind of like a gym for adults but for kids. 
Would you sign up at the Y for exercise and show up to be forced to play basketball when you want the spin class?
One teacher could host traditional contact sports for those interested - all the basics in flag football, basketball, soccer, etc.
One teacher could teach yoga/dance/aerobics
One teacher could supervise kids walking/jogging laps and traditional strength training - push ups, sit ups, etc.
Each day kids could choose which activity interests them. They pick something suited to their body and skills.
Kids enjoy activities more when they have a choice. Every activity I have ever signed my kids up for has been better when they were part of the decision making process. If kids never choose to play contact sports it won't do any harm. I have never missed out on any life skills because I don't like softball.  But I did avoid sports related places/people for too long because it conjured feelings of inferiority. 

3. Drop the weight talk. Shame does not inspire. All teachers should be trained about HAES

Telling kids don't be fat is a high risk message.

One morning a few years back Benjamin was at his dresser beside himself upset looking at each tag in his clothes and throwing them on the ground. I can't wear any of these.  "Why not?" They are all husky, he said in a hushed disgusted, embarrassed voice.
I put on my chipper mom voice said "who cares" and probed deeper. Turns out he was shown this video in Health class:

I'll be honest I've never watched the whole thing through. But the beginning is so offensive I can't make it past that. The gist of the Arthur video is that He has to get a "husky" costume for the school play special ordered because he's been eating too much junk food. He stops eating junk food and then manages to fit into a regular costume in time.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: You know nothing by looking at someone's body except what their body looks like.  You don't know what their diet is like or how much they eat or how active they are. 
But when you choose to discuss size, even under the guise of instilling healthy lifestyle choices you are making the kids who are fat feel like they are wrong - they are living a life to be avoided.
A person's size is determined more by genetics than lifestyle choice.
Dieting doesn't work. Diets have a 95-99% failure rate. When you try to inspire someone to change the size of their body you set them up for failure and self hate.
Not every diet starts an eating disorder but every eating disorder starts with a diet.
Restricting calories in children is harmful to their development.
Schools need to collectively take a deep breath and remove themselves from the equation of trying to fix something that isn't really a problem and is none of their business even if it was.

4. Stop weighing kids at school. Write your school administration today and refuse BMI testing of your children!
Its no ones business but you and your chosen doctor.
There is no need to get a report card on your child's body. No one's body needs a "Grade"
NO BODY deserves a failing grade.
Here is a good letter you can send to your child's school.
Here is information on the idiocy of BMI in general.

** My only other thought which could be the most controversial is that school sponsored gym class shouldn't exist at all.  Free play is marvelous exercise and very much needed in a long school day.  And I'd love for there to be no gym and my kids to get home an hour earlier each day. We'd have more time to do things together as a family. There would be more time for organized sports that we choose to enter.  Its my opinion that the government is not responsible for the health of my family.  We can make those choices on our own. Forced softball or four square during the school day is not the pinnacle of a healthy lifestyle.


Nikki said...

I can totally agree that gym isn't for everyone....but neither is math, science, reading, writing, or academics in general. Everyone has to do something at some point that they loath and that puts them in a situation that makes them uncomortable/made fun of etc. And it's sad, but true. It's not just gym.

Just my opinion on the whole "diets failing thing". The number one problem is that people go "ON" a diet. A heathly diet is not a short term, kick a few pounds and it'll all be perfect solution. A "DIET" is a LIFESTYLE. The biggest problem is that people think once they lose the weight they can just go back to their old habits and "maintain" it. FALSE. If your body gains weight because you were eating X Y and Z and you stop eating those to lose weight, what would make people think that they can just go back to eating them in the same manner again?

The problem is that people go on CRAZY FAD "diets" and can't maintain them. Professionally, the word "diet" is not what it is made out to be. It is literally your lifestyle. And includes not only what you eat, but your activity level (aka your LIFESTYLE) as well.

Janie said...

Math, science, reading and writing are skills that are needed in day to day life and the majority of careers. Much to the dismay of sports enthusiasts one doesn’t need to know how to play or enjoy softball, basketball, soccer, etc. to make it in real life. I didn’t gain one single lesson from gym class except that I hate sports and that kids are very, very mean.

“Everyone has to do something at some point that they loath and that puts them in a situation that makes them uncomortable/made fun of etc”

ummm. No.
Kids should stretch their comfort zone, but never be put in a position to be made fun of – and other kids should not be in a position to make fun of anybody where its accepted especially by teachers. Or teachers doing it themselves in the name of motivation.

“Its not just gym” Yes I know its every single class for fat kids.

As for the rest of your points the best I can do is direct you to the book Health at every size or back to my blog for a re-read or

If you are only reading to find what you disagree here you won't have to look far. Your opinion that it should be “lifestyle” change and not a diet is as old a rhetoric as they come.
1. you are assuming that fat people are not already healthy eaters and active people.
2. what you meant by change your lifestyle is diet FOREVER… because as soon as you stop, the weight will come back… cue Jaws theme…
There are plenty of thin people who live by the big gulp and can’t stand vegetables. There are fat people who are whole food vegetarians.
My message is clear and its not changing – trust your instincts, love your body, eat instinctively, and move in what ever way makes you happy – for the majority of us that’s not in gym class.

PS. I've already discussed the data that shows people gain back the weight within 2-5 years even if they maintain the diet (or lifestyle change).

Nikki said...

First off, I don't know why you think that every "thin" person (or me) hates fat people, just FYI, I personally have absolutely nothing agaisnt anyone remotely fat (at least not for weight related reasons)

I'm not even remotely disputing HAES, I think it's a great thing. More power to it.

I'm talking about where "diet statistics" come from. If a fat person is already healthy and happpy etc., then they aren't part of the "95-99% failure rate" statistic, right because they aren't doing diets?? Diets fail for skinny people for the exact same reasons as fat people. I wasn't even talking about fat people. Just the general statistic. Where at in my comment did I direct it to a FAT person??

Oh and just so you know, every child, skinny, average, fat etc goes through some sort of bullying/miserable class etc etc. EVERY kid. No matter what you think. Even us who were super star athletes, popular and smart most of our lives went through SOMETHING.

Janie said...

Because your comments are glaringly against what HAES is all about.

You didn't direct your comment against fat people but was pro weight loss.
Your use of diet-speak "The biggest problem is that people think once they lose the weight..."
which I take to mean the lifestyle change you speak of really is about losing weight.

And going through SOMETHING no matter who you are does not make it a noble thing that we should wish on children, much less everyday in gym class.
Correct me if I'm wrong but you are saying humiliation is a valid character building tool - I'm gonna have to disagree there.

But I should clarify gym was miserable for me but I was not a fat kid. It was still humiliating. That is why I think the whole shebang needs a makeover for gym hating kids everywhere.

Kleanteeth said...

I tend to agree with Nikki. I think one faulty notion is the healthy fat people are the rule and not the exception. Being fat is genetic, well, sort of, it's like saying periodontal disease is genetic. While the familial incidence is high, one doesn't necessarily cause the other. A parent has perio because of poor oral hygiene habits, lack of dental cleanings, smoking, etc. These habits are passed to the kids so yes, they end up with perio too. I use this example because this is what I deal with. I have to explain this to patients all time that they do not have to lose their teeth because their parents did. This is similar to weight. P.E. is representing physical activity in school. Physical activity is life is just as or more important than math. I don't think most kids who don't like p.e. exercise much period. If your kids do, great, but I think again, that's not the rule. I know that my kids and most others love p.e. and we shouldn't cater school to the exceptions, but the rules. It's like how we can't have Christmas parties because of the one kid in school who doesn't celebrate Christmas, pisses me off.

Janie said...

I think disease is size neutral - and we fall victim to the correlation = causation mentality that permeates society, and the medical establishment right now.

But as far as gym I think my suggestions are valid. Exercise is the focus not sports. Your kids love traditional gym in my plan they can have it. But I have a more open view that doesn't traumatize the ones who don't.

I remember going to EFY, there was an hour of exercise each morning, you could play contact sports in the field or walk the track - it was just right for me.

And even if I took a moment to agree with the Obesity epidemic(which I don't) wouldn't making gym more 'user friendly' be a positive thing? Right up the alley of everyone crying "lazy video gaming couch potato kids everywhere!"

Walking for one hour five days a week is a good thing - even if it means missing softball.

Janie said...

oh and being fat is genetic -

Janie said...

clicked enter before I was done. read the article about twins raised apart and BMI - its not the same analogy as your perio - its not inherited bad habits as you are insinuating that make people fat. If so my adopted brother would have been as fat as my sister and I were.

Unknown said...

I was very bullied in gym class. I was in elementary school in the 1970's and at that stage of the game, all little girls were supposed to be graceful little gymnasts. I have inner ear problems and do not have the balance for gymnastics. I'm also kind of a klutz generally. I was very tall for my age and was always picked last for teams. I hated gym and was so glad when I got into junior high that it wasn't a requirement.

Unknown said...

Kleenteeth, I know you are the dental technician here, but from personal history I can say that some people do have naturally stronger teeth than others. My mother has very good dental hygiene, but people in her family had bad teeth. Although she brushes and flosses three times a day, Mom has to go to the dentist FOUR TIMES A YEAR for a cleaning and checkup just so she can keep her teeth. She tends to be very prone to decay and tartar buildup, and it isn't because she eats a lot of junk food. She actually prefers chicken and vegetables over just about any other food choice.
I, on the other hand, inherited my "concrete teeth" from my father's side of the family. My father did not have even one cavity when he died at the age of 74 and he still had all of his own teeth. He rarely went to the dentist either.
Because of financial constraints I have not been to the dentist in 5 years. But I have had no dental issues to speak of.
I do not eat more than the average person. My job requires me to walk a fair bit. But I still weigh 300 pounds. My great grandmother also weighed 300 pounds. I have many cousins on my mother's side of the family who are heavy. My mother fights to remain at 160 pounds. Sometimes she hardly eats at all. By all rights she should be rail thin but she still isn't.
My father always exercised and ate a fairly healthy diet. But he had a stroke at 68 and died from congestive heart failure at 74. His vascular system was a mess, and his diet had not a thing to do with it. His grandmother died at 57 from an abdominal aortic aneurysm. That side of the family has terrible vascular problems.
Genetics has a lot to do with how we are built, and many other health issues. It is erroneous to belittle others for a genetic tendency to hold onto adipose tissue.

Unknown said...

One more thing: My son's high school offered a variety of choices for physical activity classes. He chose Chi Kung, volleyball, and martial arts weapons. He was very happy and enjoyed his physical exercise, unlike me who by the time I was in high school would have ripped the head off anyone who tried to force me into gym class with my bare hands!

Janie said...

I appreciate your comments - Chi Kung in gym - what fun!!!