Gemma is an Art Teacher who decided to start her body positive journey after years of having an unhealthy relationship with food and her body. She loves cats, clothes, tattoos, vintage, skulls, wine and food.
So I’m Gemma, I’m fat, nearly forty and an Art Teacher. I get the “Ohhhh of course YOU are the Art Teacher” comments a lot. I have pink hair, tattoos, a nose piercing and my winged eye liner is often a point of discussion with the students I teach. I am on my own path to body positivity and I thought I’d drag you and the kids along with me.
A bit of back-story. I have always struggled with my weight and felt such a lack of confidence because I wasn’t the lithe whippets my friends were. My self-worth, from an extremely early age, came from how my body fitted into this world. I struggled with being the chubby kid most of my life, embarrassed about my chubby little self, especially during particularly vulnerable moments like PE or swimming. I put all of my self-worth into being a “good girl” following my parents’ divorce. And being a good girl meant I was not only well behaved but thin. Thin made everything better. And being “good” = thin and therefore everyone would continue to love me.
As a teenager in the 1990s we didn’t have the vocabulary that is much more prevalent in schools these days. Anorexia / bulimia was tolerated, even somewhat revered by us girls, desperately trying to get to grips with our changing bodies. It was wrong and I wished we had better references other than the film about Karen Carpenter. Even more taboo was mental health, although we were struggling and had no clue how to help ourselves or each other. Whilst now we are starting to form better understanding of ourselves and mental health for children, there is still so much more work needed. Our young people deserve to feel safe and secure.
Fast forward a decade and I find myself standing in front of the class. WHAT ON EARTH WAS I DOING?!!!! Me? Having the guts to face a load of kids?? And we know that kids can be ruthless. I expected to get a barrage of abuse. It didn’t really happen, not really. In my teaching career of 15 years, I’ve been called colourful variations of “Fat something or another” only a handful of times. And most of those have been followed up by a mortified kid saying “I don’t know why I said that”. I’m like “Well, I do… I am fat, it was a cheap and easy shot”. Regardless of the apology, and that I am a woman in a position of authority, that still cuts. I still go home and cry. I think it’s easy to forget that teachers have feelings too. I’m pretty convinced most of my kids think I live in the Art cupboard. “YOU have a husband??? YOU went to Mexico??? YOU wore a BIKINI??” I can’t help but still be amused by it all.
I want to recall a conversation I had with a student recently. I am trying desperately to stop the name-calling and body shaming in my school. I did a huge presentation on body image, looking at fat, thin, disabled, black, white and all of the glorious bodies. The first thing I did was get the students to tell me the worst insults they could come up with. I even let them curse a little bit. And then we talked about just how hurtful these words are. And guess what, they get it. But yet, somehow, don’t practise it. So I started introducing the “no name-calling” rule in my lessons. So a chap, decides to announce to his mate that “it’s not an insult, if it’s true”. Cue me stopping everything. I needed to right this OH-SO- wrong opinion.
“I’m fat, does it make it OK for you to call me it?.” Chap tries to tell me that I’m not fat. “But I am, I am fat, by NHS standards I’m obese. So I ask you again is it OK to call me fat?” Suffice to say he saw my point. But it was amazing how many of the kids during this, or any other time during body image talks where I have referred to myself as fat will rush to defend my honour. Yet are quick to call a friend fat or skinny or some other insult. Because… Well it’s “banter” innit. I’d ban that word in an instant. In my book, banter almost always equals bullying. (Really look at the face of the bantee on the receiving end of the “banter”, I bet they’re not enjoying it as much as the perpetrator thinks they are).
I wished kids would defend themselves and each other as fiercely as they defend me. There’s nothing worse as a teacher, with her own body issues, to see teenagers suffer.
I wish I could let everyone of those students, who thinks that they are too fat, too thin, odd, weird, useless, broken, damaged, too “whatever”, understand it’s just a mirage. People can be a wonderful spectrum of shapes, colours, sizes and sexuality and be HAPPY. Like actually blissfully, outside of your own body, happy.
I thought no one could truly love me. Then I found body positivity and it ROCKED my world and I finally found self-love. It can rock yours too! Learning that you do not have to put plans on hold, until you are smaller or fitter or more perfect, can change your life. Stop determining your worth by a number and go out and live your life. You are wonderful and no one else has the right to comment on your body.
A good little tip I’ll impart to you, if you’re struggling to tell yourself how lovely you are, here’s something my uni friend used to do: Get a poster of someone you admire (hers was Brad Pitt) and she had a post-it speech bubble by his mouth that said “Good Morning, Sarah, you look beautiful today”. I always loved it. So simple. Or just a post-it on your mirror reminding you of the things you love about you. During CBT I found affirmations really difficult, so instead I drew a word cloud with words I could cope with, like “creative”. I then progressed to adding more and more. In the end I liked looking at it and I ended up feeling really proud of it.
Celebrate your uniqueness, allow yourself to like yourself and be proud of who you are. It’s not always going to be easy, but it will be worth it!
So be you, be wonderful and above all, be kind.
By the way, did I tell you how beautiful you are today?
Keep up with Gemma’s body positive journey on her blog Madame Munki’s Body Positive Journey, Random Ramblings And General Musings.