Growing up, there were a few things that I was much too embarrassed to even try. And that is totally normal, lots of kids are afraid to try new things, right? But looking back, all of the things I was afraid of were due to my size.
I have a bit of a fear of falling, and I always thought that was just a "me" thing. No one else really gets it because it isn't like I'm afraid of heights, a somewhat rational fear, but I was afraid of diving in pools and doing somersaults, even on tumbling mats. All things "gymnast" I was not, not now and not ever. That includes playground activities, for instance I was never the girl playing on the uneven bars at recess, flipping over and over and over. Not that I was physically incapable of doing so, I wouldn't have even known if I was capable because I never let myself try. I was afraid. Of falling, presumably, maybe also of just looking like an idiot next to the bar girl. I was never the girl on the monkey bars either. I must have tried the monkey bars at some point when I was really young and decided I couldn't do it and shouldn't try.
But I'm not exactly an indoor kid either, something that is becoming more and more apparent the longer we are existing in quarantine. I love the great outdoors–– I love getting dirty, I love being in the sunshine, I love camping and sleeping under the stars. And, I'm an athlete who grew up playing tons of sports. I'm coordinated and great at games that involve a ball. So my bizarre fears of the monkey bars, the parallel bars, and diving (in the pool but also in volleyball and softball) never really added up. Or so I thought.
Last winter, my friend and former coworker Sean (you may know her from Netflix's The Circle, but this was before her reality show fame) expressed to me her desire to learn how to roller skate. There was a new swimsuitsforall campaign that had just come out featuring Ashley Graham rollerskating on the Venice Boardwalk in a very 90s high leg one piece swimsuit with a boombox in hand. The campaign was gorgeous, nostalgic, and fun, and Sean confirmed that the campaign is a main reason why she suddenly was interested in skating. I told her that I would be happy to teach her how to skate. When my high school friend Brittany told me she didn't know how to ride a bike and was nervous to go to a college where everyone biked, I had her over right away and taught her on my bike where she learned in one afternoon. I was convinced Sean would learn to skate just as fast.
But you see, Sean is a fat girl just like I am. And while I learned how to roller skate in 2nd grade and have been skiing since I was 8 (the two skills are remarkably similar) those are activities that could involve falling. So when Sean expressed to me her fear of falling on skates, it made sense. Knowing where her fear stemmed from made me even more determined to help Sean's skating fantasy come true. I hunted for a roller rink in NYC (much harder than I thought it'd be) and ended up stumbling upon one that offered adult skating lessons on Wednesdays at 7pm. The next Wednesday was Galentine's Day, just a couple of days after Sean's birthday. It was a date.
Our skate date was a blast. Sean couldn't even stand up out of her chair at first, and was desperately clutching the walker the teacher supplied. Eventually she graduated from the walker and instead held onto the arm of the teacher or myself. But her fear was real. Palpable. She was extremely timid. All of her muscles were clenched tight and she couldn't relax for a second (not to mention the child's sized walker she was using made her double over). Slowly, she gained some confidence. But that first skate lesson, she never fell. She made sure of it. The second time we met to skate, she fell early on. And I was so relieved when she did, so she could finally see what she was so afraid of wasn't all that bad. After the fall, you could see a weight lifted from her shoulders.
We documented the entire night on Instagram Stories. The next day at work, so many coworkers came up to me to talk about the stories and request for their own lesson with skating, yoga, swimming, or fill-in-the-blank activity that they were afraid of. Later I went on a shopping date with a fellow plus-size pal, Christine. I was expressing how excited I was for summer, camping, and swimming. She admitted to me that she didn't know how to swim. I admitted that I was afraid of diving into the pool, even though I'm a great swimmer. I even told her that I never learned how to do a somersault, even when I was a kid. She told me that she, too, was always afraid of falling and that all of those fears that I have are because I am a fat girl. "Gravity just affects us more," I remember her saying.
I started to realize that all of my "irrational" fears of falling aren't that odd or that unique. Those fears are just part of the baggage I carry with me everywhere from being a fat girl, along with being overly nice, being the funny girl, and making sure that I at least have a pretty face. This is the lens I see the world through, and it has made me afraid of activities that I have never even let myself try. We might show it differently, I happen to be a decent roller skater, but so many of us see our abilities as limited before we even allow ourselves to try.
Here is a list of things that my fat girl baggage has made me afraid to try:
- The Monkey Bars. (Are you kidding me?? My entire body weight is supposed to be supported from my hands?! And then I'm supposed to be able to let go of one hand?)
- Somersaults. (Seriously? I tuck my chin to my chest and then magically flip around? That does not sound like a good idea.)
- Cartwheels. (This one is just nuts to me. I can just be upside down on my hands one second then totally upright the next? But I can't tell you how many times I ran through an open field and said to whomever I was with, "If I could do cartwheels, I'd do some right now.")
- Diving. (Diving into the pool is the silliest to me. I love the water, all water, I love swimming, I love jumping off the high dive. But something about going face first is just terrifying. Diving in softball was scary because I was diving onto dry, gravely dirt. Diving in volleyball was scary because I was diving onto hardwood floors. I just feel like I shouldn't fling all of my weight onto the ground head first!)
- Crow Pose in yoga. (Don't even get me started with crow pose. I thought that I would be able to do this one day, that all it took was a little upper body strength and looking forward and no fear of falling the 2 inches on to the mat. Now I cannot ever imagine being able to tuck my knees into my armpits. Knees too big. Arms too big. No thank uuuu.)
- Handstands, Headstands, Shoulder stands, any of the stands in yoga. (Once I had a male yoga teacher that taught class kind of like a boot camp with a lot of shouting. I was struggling with my handstand and I said to him, "I don't think I have the strength to support my body," and he yelled at me that it was all in my head and that I do have the strength. But like, I'm fat, so, that requires a lot of strength buddy!)
- Being upside-down, in general. (That's just not natural! When I took aerial yoga classes regularly, I got slightly more comfy being upside-down. But my teacher would note that I was always the fastest one to get out of the upside-down pose.)
- Bungee Trampolines. (Nope, nope, nope. Bouncing that high looks really fun but they have to pick resistance based on your weight and if you weigh a lot its a lot of resistance and then people below you expect you to tuck your chin to your chest and bring in your knees and do flips and things. No! No flips here please look elsewhere!)
I want to face these fears head on so that, like falling on roller skates, I'll actually feel pretty relieved once I give it a true test. I want to spend an hour perfecting my dive and actually just dive into the pool, maybe on a day when the pool is completely empty. But I think it's also fair for me to recognize that my fears are valid, and that they stem from real place. If you're reading this, I bet you also have the same fears. And if you do, please comment and tell me what they are so we can both feel less alone.