Every day, i pick up my daughters from school, and we sometimes hang around the schoolyard to play. This past week, i sat at a picnic table while the junior boys’ softball team warmed up, and i was triggered by the team’s coach. No, it wasn’t a rape trigger, but come on – these are jocks we’re talking about. YOU do the math.
(… unless you’re a jock, in which case, uh … YOU teach the geography.)
It wasn’t a rape trigger, but rather a trigger for my unhappy memories of eighth grade phys ed class, most notably during the Canadian winter months when we’d take some time out of the gym to learn “health” in the classroom. The worst – and i mean the worst health class i remember was the one where the phys ed teacher lectured us on this inadequate, incomplete, and downright dastardly theory of body types (“somatotypes”). That class is seared indelibly into my memory, like a tattoo in kanji that translates to “small penis.”
“The mesomorphic body type,” the hairy teacher explained, “is shaped like THIS.” And then, with great difficulty, he gripped the chalk with his hammy jockfist and scrawled a a top-heavy shape on the board.
“Take Chris, here. Stand up, Chris.”
Chris stood up. Chris was a jock. He was the best in the class at sportsing. Chris had a reasonably muscular physique, i guess, if you’re into pre-pubescent boys. Which i was not. i can’t vouch for the PE teacher.
“See how Chris’s shoulders are wider than his hips? See how he has muscle on his chest and shoulders? Chris’s body type is mesomorphic.” He enunciated the word as though he had just spent half an hour in the staff room practicing how to say it.
“This,” the teacher continued, “is the ectomorphic body type.” i giggled, because The Real Ghostbusters was a popular cartoon at the time. Ectoplasm, ECTO-1. You know. Nerd thoughts that had no place here in health class. “An ectomorphic body type looks like this.” Like a scene out of My Left Foot (but using his hand), he shakily drew a tall rectangle on the board.
“Can anyone tell me who in your class has an ectomorphic body type?”
One of my classmates nominated Mark, another jock who was a bit of a wiry beanpole. Mark stood up, and the teacher pointed out how his shoulders were the same width as his hips, and how he had very little body fat. Mark sat down, self-satisfied.
“And this,” said the teacher, “is the endomorphic body type.” Somewhat like a chimpanzee playing with a candy cane, he managed to draw a bulging rectangle on the board. My face fell.
“i’m not going to ask who in the class has this body type,” he said, but he didn’t need to. The jock boys were already tittering and whispering names to each other – the names of classmates who were clearly chubby, including one poor soul named Darryl who, at age 12, was already 6 feet tall and a few hundred pounds. There were other names whispered as well, jeeringly, though mine wasn’t one of them.
The gym teacher continued earnestly. “Can anyone tell me what types of sports that someone with a mesomorphic body type would be good at?”
“Football!” said one jock kid. “Baseball!” said another. “Weight lifting!” And so on.
“Good. And what about the ectomorph?”
“Basketball!” came one offer. “Swimming!” “Track and field!”
“Right, good. Very good. Now…” My butt muscles clenched. “What kind of sports would an endomorph excel at?”
More giggles from the classroom. Cruel glances darting around from overweight kid to overweight kid, thrown by boys who had no idea how it felt, would never know.
“Come on. Think of something.”
“There’s nothing!” said one kid. “Fat people aren’t good at sports.”
“That’s not true,” said the gym teacher, unconvincingly. There was silence for a while.
“Bowling!” said one kid at last. “They’d be good at bowling!”
“Sumo wrestling!” said another. And they all had a good giggle. “Endomorph” became a new tool in the tormentor’s toolbox, to be slung around the schoolyard with cruel ease so that the middle school bloc of popular, attractive kids could stay intact.
Playing Against Type
The Wikipedia page on somatotypes says that the 1940’s-era theory is now discredited – that it was hurt by its “racist, anti-Semetic, and sexist views.” When was it discredited? Was it before or after our gym teacher, Mr. Of-the-Apes, decided to unleash it on us in junior high, at our most self-conscious and most threatened and most vulnerable? Why were we taught, at that particular moment, that we had a type, that we were that type, and that the fates had conspired to keep us that type for the rest of our lives?
To this day, twenty-four years later, i can call the lesson to mind instantly and vividly. And as i battle again to change my type, treading a familiar and well-worn field of combat, i wonder what’s been holding me back: my supposedly immutable body type, or the lies i’ve been fed about it?