Content Warning: Discussion of bullying, body image struggles.

Unpublished…for now.
Featured image sourced from ‘Spongebob Squarepants’ episode: ‘The Great Snail Race’.

Reassembled April 2022 from actual journal entries at the time of high school.

Retrieved from homemade-potato Tumblr. On a multi-user thread of former athletes condemning P.E pedagogy, improper warm-up methods and the basis of the subject in the 1955 Presidential Fitness Test.

There were several things in high school which I dreaded with all my heart; getting my braces tightened, the chemistry titration assessment, and the complete and utter humiliation of Physical Education. Phys Ed. P.E.

I have come to the realisation that it may have been a case of good subject, bad pedagogy. Earlier last year, I had been experiencing continued mental health struggles. My heart sank when part of my doctor’s intervention plan included ‘regular sport and exercise for endorphins, confidence and better sleep’.

P.E is a place where you first learn that presentation of your physical abilities means scrutiny towards you and your body. Violet* was someone who I wanted to befriend on the first week of high school. A quiet girl who was passionate about writing and had a parent of a migrant background, like a parallel of me. But it was not to be. In a P.E softball game, Violet had gone over to the other pitchers in the field and within earshot, whispered, “look at Keeara, she’s absolutely useless, standing around, not knowing how to run or do anything. That’s all she can do. Pathetic”. I wanted the grass to grow around my body and swallow me like quicksand.

P.E was taught almost like autopilot, with antagonistic ‘team’ sports such as dodgeball or the dreaded benchball. Teams were selected on a schoolyard pick of students selecting their teammates. I was almost always amongst the last chosen. There were mostly activities to test aerobic fitness and endurance, but not necessarily the skills which P.E can and should foster; teamwork with different abilities, joint strength or exercise for positive mental health.

A sample from Howard Schatz’ photo series: “Body Types of Professional Athletes”.

Lack of sports variety tends to mean under representation of a wider range of body types and ethnicities enjoying and engaging with fitness. My experience working for affluent families of a similar social class to my classmates taught me that children had the luxury of sports lessons and being familiar with multiple team sports and competitions. By contrast, such sports may not be commonly taught or accessible to migrant or indigenous communities.

During one class, a group of students, including myself, were called to assemble in the locker room after failing a beep test. The teacher began yelling at us for being ‘shamelessly unfit’, grabbing my wrist to scream that my pulse had hardly risen, berating us for being ‘lazy and unhealthy’. This continued until one of the students started to cry. Looking around, we were students of atypical body types, some with varied relationships with eating, some with asthma. But we were also students who enjoyed some alternative form of physical activity; sailing, cultural dance, childcare, yoga, figure skating and so on.

That was the day I decided not to care anymore.

It became apparent from bus conversations, that students wanted to engage in exercise, not for health, but to get a thigh gap, an aspect of the trending body type of the 2010s. After dreading class and similarly obsessing with wanting to so ‘fit’ that my collarbones would protrude, I decided it wasn’t worth it to injure my self esteem to continue to please others in P.E class.

2011 Rugby World Cup Final, New Zealand.

Aotearoa’s (New Zealand’s) sport culture is…unique. Nationalism, achievement and wisdom are commonly associated with success in sports. Athletes are as revered as pop culture icons, with sport and physical fitness as some of Aotearoa’s most popular cultural exports. Pride in ingenuity, endurance and physical strength are considered markers of survival and popularity. We then see this influencing a hyper-competitive sports model where it is not only good enough to be healthy, but to be the top in your field and look the part. But what happens to those who do not conform to this?

My friend Alix* is a healthy and athletic person, yet felt out of place in her team despite her high skill level. Her curvy body type along with a desire to play for her leisure instead of wanting to turn sport into a professional career, set her apart from the other student athletes on the team, catalysing an environment of pressure.

Fast forwarding to the present day, it was in Lockdown where I would find my niche with dance and martial arts, enjoying physical activity for fun, health and better sleep.

Danity Kane of Making the Band 3. Aundrea Fimbres is second from the left.

I was marathoning Making the Band 3, an early 2000s reality series about young artists competing to be in an RnB band, which would later become Danity Kane. The competition came down to two teams; S.H.E, comprising of the archetypal sexy and athletic girls, and Chain 6, comprising of the girls who were the wild cards, ladies of different body types, levels of confidence and adeptness to dance. I identified with the performers in Chain 6, in particular, Aundrea Fimbres, who had the same body type as me and struggled with the dance aspects of the band. Her perseverance and optimism helped me see that she knew she wouldn’t be the leggy, toned-tummy lady, but that she could be the petite, energetic and charismatic lady with her own body. And if she could see that for her, I could see that for me too.

Since then, I have felt committed to finding fun leisure activities I enjoy. Like anything in life, having role models who are reminiscent of you, and not wanting to pursue activities for the sake of arbitrary trends or moods of others, can be how you approach your wellbeing. And how you can approach the younger version of you who so needed that care and inclusion.

*Names have been changed.