Cutting Gym Class With The 4-Eyed Girl


Mine had a little skirt!

Mine had a little skirt!

Yeah! It’s time to take on the one subject in school I hated even more than math: gym. Otherwise known as P.E. or Physical Education or Phys-ed, I never liked it and opted out ASAP as millions of red-blooded American girls do even today.

Now, I know that for some students sweat class was the only class they got a decent grade in. When I was a student in Norfolk, VA the grown folk used to say that ladies never sweat, they “glistened”. Sweating was to be avoided at all costs. No matter. I was the “4-eyed girl” who never got the knack  of having 2 periods a month; that is, until menopause. I just suffered in my huge, voluminous navy regulation gym suit while my hair turned back to nappy nature from its Watkins pressing oil perfection. Were it not for the bi-weekly switch-off with the boys for the gym (co-ed classes were unheard of) when the girls studied “Personal and Community Health”, I would have utterly flunked the course. Gym class reinforced my image as a clumsy bookworm, but, coupled with biology class, health class acquainted me with  the rudiments of nutrition and the systems of the human body immediately involved in what my gym teacher called exercise. As a survivor, I am deliriously happy to tell you about the four kernels of learning from gym class:

  • The “one size fits all” approach does not benefit every student because of temperament, personality, and natural ability. The beating our self-image took in gym class continues to be a nightmare loop for some of us.  We need “memory cleansing” from the time we most needed encouragement and support but often got derision and shame.
  • Every student, not just the natural athletes, should be encouraged to discover their personal way of making fitness a lifetime habit. It would be grand if schools and neighborhood gyms (that gave out membership coupons) cooperated, enabling the addition of more personal sports like Pilates, Yoga, spinning, and hiking to the curriculum.
  • The heavy emphasis on team sports that required learning certain kinds of physical skills discouraged “body confidence” so I grew up believing I was a klutz and became “movement-averse”. I came to understand very late in life that play is not just for kids and how important honoring the body–which is built to move–is.
  • We are not disembodied minds; we live in and experience life through bodies. It took reading, “Our Bodies, Our Selves” to straighten out my attitude. Best of all, I found out that appreciating and accepting my own body promotes self-acceptance in other areas in life.
  • I dream of a day when a prescription for physical movement written by a cardiologist, endocrinologist or GP could be filled at a gym of choice and paid for through health insurance the same way we now buy medicine.
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