Feeling: INTROSPECTIVE, READY TO CONFRONT THE ROOT
I first became conscious of my weight when I was eight years old.
My family had just moved to Auckland from Wellington, and I was about a month into my new school in year 4. I can recall the moment as clear as anything; I could tell you where individual people were sitting, how my hair was (plaits, the norm of the time) and even what my teacher, Mrs Flannery, was wearing. (A button down red dress that ended mid calf. I could never understand this cut of fabric – why not to the ankle or ending at the knee? It did nothing for her frame, hiding her nice figure).
The only detail I don’t remember is exactly what maths we were doing. Something tells me averages and medians but I feel like this would’ve been too advanced for out pre tween selves (I recall we had only just gotten onto double column multiplication) so let’s just go with the story that we were doing graphs.
As usual, I was sitting on the mat next to my best friend Sinead. We’d been munching on sunflower seeds we’d found on a big dead flower head in the corner table (we had been learning about plants in Topic) and I was thinking about how tasty they were. Then Mrs Flannery pulled out the scales. This was the last time I ever looked at set without breaking out in internal panic.
Everyone was going to be weighed, she said. We’d correlate the data and work out the heaviest and lightest boys and girls, and then present the findings in a graph.
I was still calm at this stage, swirling the sunflower seed remaints around my mouth with my tongue as I waited for my turn. I didn’t take into account the others girls’ weights being recorded on the whiteboard.
Then it was my turn. 37kg. That number is emblazoned in my memory and even now I cannot have anything resting on it, like radio volume or TV. I even hate when I’m on page 37 in a book.
When everyone had been weighed Mrs Flannery clapped her hands and said, “Now class, we will do the boys first. Hands up, who’s the heaviest and how much does he weigh?”
A teacher’s pet from a young age, I immediately scanned the figures to be the first to answer. It was……. Sam P. And he was……. 37kg. 37kg. 37kg.
That was the moment ED first took his grip. My heart started pounding. The last sunflower seed caught in my suddenly dry throat. There was a roar in my ears and the room went fuzzy.
Mrs Flannery then got Sam P and the lightest boy to stand at the front of the class. I knew what was coming.
“Now, the heaviest girl?” Mrs Flannery queried.
I closed my eyes in shame as hands shot up all over the class. “Poppy miss!” “Poppy’s the biggest girl.” “She’s the same as Sam P, miss!”
I think worst of all was when Sinead was determined as the lightest girl at 24kg. We stood next to each other at the front of the class and I could suddenly clearly see our size difference. She was so delicate, with her tiny ankles and skinny legs. I was mammoth, with my 37kg bulk dwarfing her. I have never been so ashamed.
I don’t think Sinead ever realised, but from there on out I watched everything she ate and made sure I ate just a little bit less. I used to look at her in her size 4-6year-old-girl bike shorts in PE and be filled with envy. I think although I loved her as my BFF, a growing part of me started to resent her.
Then it went beyond Sinead. All the girls in my class were tiny. The Dino twins, Charlotte, Georgina; their pinafores swum on them, while my belt remained snug in my girls 10-12-year-old dress. Out of school I became a great fan of vests to contain my torso, and shapeless three quarter pants to hang loose and not define my legs.
It makes me cry to think about it now. I was eight years old, I should’ve been running around in a bikini with no thought whatsoever to my slightly protruding belly. I should’ve been eating goody gum drops icecream for pudding with relish, not sitting in my room regretting having consumed it.
I was eight years old.
My relationship, a dark, turbulent hate affair, with ED had begun.