Body Worries: Changing for Gym

I thought I’d already survived the most embarrassing moment I’d ever have. That day I slipped in the cafeteria and ended up with spaghetti in my hair, milk dripping off my nose, and the entire school laughing at me ought to have done it. Of course, that was before I’d even heard about changing for gym.

In grade school we had gym in our regular clothes, and no one seemed to care. But I guess when you get to middle school there’s enough B.O. potential that the teachers don’t want you stinking up your clothes when you’ve got half a day of classes to go. So they made us change into shorts and t-shirts, and then back again. The only way to get out of it was to be excused from gym—and that took a note from your mom.

“Honestly, Kit, it’s not that big a deal,” my mom said. “The first day will be a little weird, but everyone else will be just as self-conscious as you are.”

I knew my mom meant well, but she didn’t understand. How could she? I’ve seen pictures of her at my age. Her clothes were pretty weird (if you ask me), but she looked just like the cheerleader she was. Pretty face, nice figure. But me...well, let’s just say I took after my dad. Short. Glasses. And kind of round in the middle. Not that I minded so much. My friends seemed to think I was fine the way I was, and most of the time I didn’t really worry about that round little tummy of mine.

But changing at school...being practically naked in front of people like Andrea “that’s-An-dray-ya-to-you!” Ford and Dara “I’m perfect” Parker, girls with great bods and self-confidence up to their eyeballs...yikes! I’d been picked on by Andrea and Dara before, and that was when I’d been fully clothed. I could just picture the scene in the locker room: Andrea and Dara with their cutting comments, everyone laughing, and me—a flaming round lump of embarrassment.

So...there had to be another way, right? That first day I grabbed my stuff and headed for the bathroom. There was just one problem. Our school is small, and the girls’ bathroom next to the locker room is really busy before third period. By the time I finally got a stall, changed, and scurried back into the gym, class had already started.

Mrs. Cramer, my gym teacher, raised her eyebrows at me, but didn’t say anything. But after I’d been late two times more, she called me into her office.

“I’ve noticed that you don’t change with the other girls,” Mrs. C. said. “Is something wrong?” The question took me by surprise; I’d expected to just get yelled at for being late. “No,” I said. “I mean, yes. I mean...I just don’t want to.”

She was silent for a moment. “Look, Kit,” she said finally, “I know changing in the locker room is hard for some girls, and I understand. But I think if you just try it once, you’ll find it’s not so bad.”

I nodded, wondering if she was nice enough to let me keep changing in the stalls even though it made me late.

“I can’t let you keep coming into class late,” she said. (Scratch that idea.) “If it happens again, I’ll have to give you detention.”

“O.K.” I turned to go.

“Kit...” Mrs. C. stopped me. “I know it’s hard to be comfortable in your own skin when your body is changing so fast. And I think all these gorgeous girls on TV and in magazines give girls a totally unrealistic idea of what they’re supposed to look like. Try not to let that get to you, OK? Not one girl in this class is perfect, and I can guarantee you they all feel insecure about something about their looks.”

For some reason it was embarrassing, talking about this stuff. Maybe because she was absolutely right about me—I had a round stomach and it made self-conscious. But maybe also because I was sure she was dead wrong about Andrea and Dara. Obviously, she didn’t know them very well.

“Also,” Mrs. C. continued, “I don’t tolerate teasing in my locker room. Ever.”

“Uh-huh,” I said, backing out of the room. “O.K., thanks.” I turned and fled.

The next time I had gym, I went straight to my locker. What choice did I have?

I sat down on the bench and took off my sneakers. I unsnapped my jeans and wiggled out of them, stealing a quick look around to see if anyone was watching me. No. I pulled on my gym shorts and put my shoes and socks back on.

Now came the hard part. I eased my sweatshirt up, eyes focused straight ahead on my locker, as if I could keep everyone else from seeing me if I didn’t look at them.

Suddenly I heard Andrea’s laugh behind me. I almost yanked my sweatshirt back down and bolted, but I forced myself to keep going. I tugged the sweatshirt over my head, then held it in front of my stomach like a shield as I reached into my locker for my gym t-shirt.

“Hey, Dar,” Andrea said loudly. “You sure do have skinny legs.”

I quickly wriggled into my t-shirt, then snuck a glance in their direction. Dara did have skinny legs, I realized. I hadn’t noticed before—but then, I’d never seen her in her underwear before, either.

“Shut up, Andrea.” That was Dara. Her voice had a funny little quaver to it.

“Maybe we should call you Twigs,” Andrea went on, apparently oblivious to the fact that Dara’s face was getting redder by the second. “Or...”

“All right, Andrea, that’s more than enough.” Mrs. C strode out of her office. “Let’s go, girls, we’ve got a soccer game to play. No one else saw it, but I swear, as she walked past, she winked at me!

That’s when I realized that there was no way getting dressed for gym was going to become my new most embarrassing moment. Mrs. C. meant it when she said she didn’t tolerate teasing. But—and this is the weirdest part—it didn’t really even matter that much anymore. So what if my stomach was round? Dara Parker had skinny legs—and it bothered her! I don’t know why, but that made all the difference.

 

What lesson did you learn from Kit's story?