Saturday, September 30, 2006

A couple of memories

I was having a conversation about alternative schools, with one of the Frog's parents tonight. I generally refer to my primary school (for non New Zealanders primary school generally goes from ages 5-12) as 'my hippy school'. It was run as a parent co-operative, we all worked at our own pace, the entire school was thirty children, there were two teachers, and every family had to do one half-day parent help each week. It was a gillion times better for me than my other primary school in New Zealand where I'd been bored and miserable. Although I don't know how it would compare with the primary school I went to in London, where my Mum says I was really happy (my main memory from that school is not liking gravy, but being too shy to ask the school dinner people not to put any gravy on mine).

I was going to write a post about what my ideal primary school would be like (believe it or not I've thought about it a lot). But as I was thinking about writing that post, I remembered something I hadn't thought about in years. So I thought I'd write about that first. Otherwise I feel I'd have to go into it in great detail in a footnote in the other post, and that'd be a little bit distracting.

I don't know how old I was at the time, I think I was ten or eleven, I certainly wasn't older than that. I know because the main teacher of the school (and the one who taught us 'big kids') left before I turned 12. Anyway she decided that four of the girls around my age were getting fat, and therefore we had to go for walks (everyday? Once a week? I don't remember). We were to go out of the school down to the park up a hill and come back again.

We didn't always do it, of course (no adult came with us). Sometimes we'd go down to a creek bed instead. Sometimes we'd stop behind some bushes that was a fairy place (I was still young enough to like 'fairy places').

There were four girls my age who didn't have to go on these walks, two of whom were reasonably serious gymnasts. I wonder, looking back, how much of it was that the teacher had forgotten how girls' bodies change. We were the first older girls in the school for a number of years (the school always had more boys than girls), and we were all eldest daughters. Maybe puberty took them by surprise.

You see, it was only the girls they did this to. There had been fat boys about our age in earlier years, and no-one thought there was any need for intervention.

It makes me so angry, looking back. Not at the activity itself - it'd be sad if the great injustice of my life was having to go for a walk. If they'd decided that kids who weren't particularly physically active needed to do more walking, I think that would have been cool (and I would certainly have been one of them, but so would some of the thin girls). I am really angry that an alternative school, where there was at least some feminist analysis among the people who ran it, dedicated time and energy into making sure pre-teen girls knew they should try and control their weight.

So tomorrow you'll hear all about my plans for an alternative model for schools. But remember that individualised attention isn't always a good thing, it can allow all sorts of individualised way for teachers to passed on fucked-up ideas.

Of course there is plenty of scope for this at normal secondary schools. In forth form (fourteen) I was taught nutrition by a woman with anorexia. The thing I remember most about that was an exercise where we had to write down everything we ate over a certain period of time. We were told the number of calories we ate each day, and everyone I knew in that class (it was an all girls school) worked really hard to make sure we ate less than that number of calories. To the extent that I thought that was the point of the exercise, to make sure we weren't eating too much. Because the important thing to teach fourteen year old girls is to make sure that they eat less than the calories they need to live.


  1. Anonymous9:44 am

    Wow. I can't believe that happened.

  2. > I was going to write a post about what my ideal primary school would be like (believe it or not I've thought about it a lot).

    it is a very worthy topic I would say.

  3. This remined me of something my sister told me about when she was in her last year of primary school (I would have been about 14 at the time) there they had teachers making sure that girls were eating their lunch, (I forget what exactly the reason for that was) but my sister told me one girl had a teacher stay and watch her until she had eaten an apple, and after the teacher left the girl said she felt really fat.

    I hadn't thought about it since then but looking back on it now its really scary that a girl about 12 would be thinking like that.

  4. I'd really like to know who that teacher was. Do you think you could tell me via e-mail, Maia? It's not just nosiness, but I think it may have been the same one who gave one of my friends some severely fucked-up body image ideas.

  5. Depressing. There's a guest post up about starvation chic and the fashion industry at: