17th March 2022 “Close your mouth girl! You look like a hippo in a pond!”
(I intend to use initials instead of full names for the protagonists of this blog, as some of them are still very much alive and kicking, so to avoid any embarrassment, on my part at least, I’ll be discreet.)
The above insult shouted across the classroom brought me from my daydreams and back to earth with an embarrassed jolt. I had had the temerity to yawn in Mr. B—-‘s geography class and he – never a subtle, or even nice man in my humble opinion – drew once again the attention of the whole class to the fact that I would never, in a million years, be called dainty.
It had happened previously many times, and most recently in the run up to Christmas when instead of our usual PE class we had been forced into learning ‘Country Dancing’ along with the boys of our year, ready for the coming Christmas Party. We all knew that not one single one of us would be dancing actually at the party, at least not country dancing. The girls would be huddled into their little cliques and would perhaps dance round their handbags once the disco got going but the boys would never risk the ribbing they would inevitably receive if they should even contemplate asking one of us to dance at any point during the evening. Except of course, for at the end when the slow dances started and the older students might pair off without attracting comment, until the next morning anyway.
But I digress – in the PE lesson, Mr B—-, during the practice for the ‘Gay Gordons’ had yelled at my unfortunate and most unwilling partner, Geoffrey H, to “…hold her properly boy – you’re not driving a bus!” to which the sainted Geoffrey had whispered in response but loud enough for the rest of his reluctant classmates to hear, “You wanna bet?”. On a tangent, is it still allowable to call a dance ‘The Gay Gordons‘? Who knows, in these politically correct days…
I guess what I’m trying to establish is that I was the class fat girl, as if you needed to be told. I had always been big from being a tot, and am still struggling with my weight to this day, almost 50 years later. I don’t think teachers are allowed nowadays to point out and ridicule pupils for their faults and disabilities, but back in the seventies, it was very common for them, in addition to sticks of chalk and blackboard dusters, to hurl epithets across the classroom, and in effect these often hurt much more than the actual physical missiles. Certainly the ‘hippo in a pond’ remark has lived and burned in my memory these last forty-plus years…
But being fat didn’t really bother me that much. Although we weren’t the ‘popular’ clique there was a crowd of us who hung around together, not quite nerdy or weird enough to be bullied, but not ‘In with the In Crowd‘ either, to quote the Bryan Ferry song. I can’t remember ever being bullied enough to make my life a misery, unlike some poor kids today. My weight had never prevented me from joining in with anything I wanted to do. From being practically a toddler, I had gone every Saturday to the ‘Rene Rawlinson School of Dancing,’ which my mother and my Auntie Dorothy had also both attended when they were children. God knows how old ‘Auntie Rene’ was by the time I left when I was about 14. Although I was overweight, I was still quite light on my feet, and dancing came easily to me. The only downside was that whenever the dance involved any ‘acrobatic’ moves I always found myself at the bottom of the pyramid supporting the lighter and more agile girls.
I had mortally offended Auntie Rene by wanting to leave dancing class: my behaviour was unforgiveable – I had betrayed her because I wanted to do Amateur Dramatics instead of just dancing. It was one of the few times I recall my mum actually standing up for me. She and Auntie Rene stood in the middle of the rehearsal room yelling at each other, something along the lines of: Rene – ‘after all I’ve done for her, how can she be so ungrateful…’ and Mum – ‘If she wants to leave, she can leave. It’s not like you haven’t been paid for teaching her’ and so on.
Suffice to say, it must have been about 1972 or so, when I joined the amateurs and performed in the chorus in the Abbey Musical Society’s presentation of “Summer Song” – a 1956 musical based on the visit to Iowa, USA, by Anton Dvorak, the Czech composer, when he wrote his Symphony ‘From the New World’ which is still one of my favourite pieces of classical music. I recently came across a photo of me in costume for one of the ‘crowd scenes’ in the play – I was dressed in a white nun’s habit. Anything less like Audrey Hepburn in ‘The Nun’s Story’ you can’t imagine! Although I dreamed of reaching the heady heights of a major role in the amateurs, and from then onto stardom on stage and the big screen, I knew it would never happen after hearing the director suggest it would look better if ‘the big girl’ was placed behind everyone else whenever I was on stage. I stayed with the AMS for only a year despite my favourite uncle being one of the major players. But it didn’t matter, because by that time I’d discovered the attraction of boys! I have always got along better with the male of the species than other girls; I think it stems from following my older brother wherever he went when we were children. It must have been embarrassing for him having me tagging along, but I never noticed.
Unfortunately, there were only six boys in our class, and if I’m honest there were probably only two or three of them worth mentioning from a ‘potential boyfriend’ point of view. I’d had a serious crush from the first year on one of them – ‘A’ was a big, broad, very sporty lad and was my hero after putting one of the other lads, ‘S’ to rights after S’s rock-hard snowball was aimed straight in my face and found its mark. Another time S had pushed me into a hedge during one of our breaktime ball games. Once again, my hero put him in his place. Sadly, nothing more ever came of it despite my mooning after him at all the school discos. Sport was much more important to him than girls, although I know he’s married now at least. I know this because he lives across the road from another schoolfriend of mine – honest! I never stalked him after we left school!
There were other crushes, of course, mostly the boys in the year above us. I can think of several of them who were the unknowing (I hope!) recipients of the affections of me and my schoolfriends. We would all meet up in town on a Saturday afternoon, endlessly walking up and down Dalton Road and Cavendish Street. We would listen to hit records by David Cassidy and David Essex among others, in the booth at Kelly’s Record shop, or drinking Marsh’s Sass or Vimto ‘floats’ in Brucciani’s coffee shops, always on the lookout for one of the objects of our desire to walk by. Then we would immediately finish up our drinks and head out to follow the poor unfortunate. Nowadays I supposed they’d call it ‘stalking’ but to us it was just a bit of romantic fantasy. God knows what we’d have done if they had ever actually stopped and talked to us!
I’ve always been teased about my weight – for the most part it never really bothered me as it was mostly done with affection; good natured ribbing by friends or relatives without any malice at all. Even our dad ironically nicknamed me ‘Delicate’ – “What are you up to, Delicate?” but it was a term of endearment and I didn’t mind.
I suppose my weight did have some sort of effect on my psyche, in that I dreamed of torrid romances with handsome suitors, but never thought it would happen in real life. I had lots of friends who were boys, but very few boyfriends. I never thought I was attractive enough to find true love, and often, in moments of solitude and self-pity, seriously believed that the Carpenters’ hit song ‘Goodbye to Love’ was penned solely for me – it was the theme tune to my life. I think that’s why I married so young, mistakenly believing that I’d better take my chances in case it might not happen again that someone would propose! It’s so easy to see the mistakes in hindsight. If only I could go back and tell 16-year-old me to avoid that one like the plague!
After that marriage broke up, I confess that I became completely promiscuous; trying to prove to myself that I was still attractive to the opposite sex and not all washed up at 20 years old! I became the original good-time-girl, sleeping with anyone who showed me some attention. Looking back, I still blush when I think of some of the characters I went with – more often than not in drink – which didn’t help matters. It became that sex was just another bodily function – the next man was just like the next drink, pleasant while it lasted, but just a passing fancy, not for keeps.
I’m thankful to say that when I was 26, I met the man who would become my second husband. Unfortunately, there is guilt attached to this relationship too, though – he was married and there was quite a lot of heartache on all sides before we finally moved in together. But we had fallen in love – he never seemed to notice my size and loved me for what I am, for which I will always be grateful. We had sixteen happy years together before we grew apart; he was a decent man who treated me very well and I have lots of happy memories.
In my (vast) experience, men seem to like girls who have a bit of meat on their bones. At least there is no fear of snapping them in two during a passionate clinch! And, fortunately, some men like women who have a LOT of meat on their bones – there is a whole wide world on the Internet devoted to BBWs – to the uninitiated, that’s Big Beautiful Women. And some even go as far as to adore SSBBWs (Super-Size Big Beautiful Women) but sadly much of that adoration comes at a price. Whilst there are dating sites who try to match men with their ideal larger ladies, much of the Internet is taken up by big women who charge for men to watch them do – well, whatever it is they do – and it all seems a bit seedy somehow. I have nothing against the fetish aspect of being large, but I do think there’s something not quite right when women will deliberately overeat and risk their health becoming larger and larger for financial gain. Each to their own, and I’m currently happy in my skin, but in an ideal world and if I had a magic wand, I would be at least half the woman I am now, and I’d still be what they call ‘Plus-Size’.
I had an encounter on the street not all that long ago that I’ve never forgotten. I was driving to Bury to visit a friend, and going through one of the small towns en route (it might have been Heywood) I was stopped at traffic lights in the town centre. It was a nice day, around lunchtime, and I was driving with the car window fully open. Two men were standing at the crossing, and as the lights were changing, one of them said to me, “Excuse me, love, do you know where the pie shop is?” “Sorry,” I replied, “I’m afraid I don’t know; I don’t live here.” “Come off it, sweetheart,” he grinned at his mate, “you look like you know where every pie shop is!” and laughing with his mate, they crossed the road in front of me. I can tell you they were exceedingly lucky that I was driving a tiny Fiat Cinquecento and not some huge 4WD monster truck! I can laugh about it now, but at the time I was pretty hurt.
Nowadays, I’m no longer looking for love. I’ve been lucky in my life that I’ve had several significant relationships that meant a lot to me. Since my Glyn passed, I haven’t really had any interest in finding someone else – I think his shoes are too big for any mere mortal man to fill. Sure, I’ve been on dating sites, and get plenty of ‘friend requests’ online and in my weaker moments I think it might be nice to have some male company; someone to go to theatre or gallery, or drives to beach and the countryside, but for the most part I’m happy alone. My cat, Toni, doesn’t care how big I am as long as she gets fed regularly – and in all honesty, I can’t be faulted for my well-padded body parts that make for her a very comfortable ‘cat cushion’. I think at last I have found my metier in life!
Have you struggled with your weight? Or suffered bullying and micky-taking because of your looks? I’d love to hear your views – why don’t you enter them in the comments?
Until next week,