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Friday, 31 May 2013

How President Kennedy's Council on Physical Fitness Almost Scarred Me For Life

By Dani Ferguson Phillips of The Cataract Club

In the early 60s, America was all about fitness. It was mandated by the president that all kids take a physical education class and I was no exception.

However, I really, really didn’t want to take this class. Not because I didn’t want my hair to get messed up but because I was really, really uncoordinated. I had never been good at any kind of sport and was actually told by my softball coach to, “just let the ball hit you.”

I was no fool. I knew my limitations and I respected them.

But the president’s fitness program now required all of us to take physical education so myself along with all the other 7th grade girls in my junior high purchased our gym clothes and gym shoes and showed up for PE.

gym clothesThere were so many things I hated about PE starting with the mandatory blue jumpsuit that, depending on your stage of puberty, either made you look like a pinup girl or a drowned rat.

But the absolute worse thing about PE was the communal shower. There was a lot of peer pressure in the girl's locker room - you knew who wore a bra, who did not and who was well endowed.

I remember trying to hold a towel up in front of myself with one hand while showering with the other. Maintaining modesty in the seventh grade locker room was almost impossible but I gave it my best effort.

Puberty had been good to me and I filled out my gym jumper like a World War II pin-up girl with adolescent acne. I had assets that I later learned to appreciate but were not so appreciated in the seventh grade shower stalls.

I just wanted to blend in unnoticed but with my curvy 34B chest, it just wasn’t happening.

As if my physical attributes weren’t enough, I was a total klutz on the gym floor. I had never played sports and certainly didn’t know the first thing about dribbling a ball down a basketball court.

By the time the first six weeks of school came to a close, I had been injured more times than anyone else in the entire seventh grade including the boy's football team.

Fearing permanent disability, those in charge called my mother and suggested I be removed from PE for my own safety. I never took another P.E. class again until college and by then my 34B chest was unremarkable.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


I bet my yellow jumpsuit was far worse than your blue one! Although I managed to get through PE physically unscathed, I too was well-endowed early in life and hated junior high gym with a passion.

Funny story, Dani. My hatred of P. E. (physical education: do they still call it that?)sprang from what were called gymkhanas, where the parents were invited to spend an evening watching their offspring show off what they were learning. My problem was that I was blind as a bat without my thick glasses and they wouldn't let me wear them--I was mortified when I couldn't even find my floor mat.

Dani, you are going to get a lot of comments. There is a gym full of us, the haters of P.E.
I was the last girl picked for any sport. You said it all, and said it well.

Those of us endowed girls were just as uncomfortable in the gym showers as you were. I wish I had been excused from gym for I was so klutzy I couldn't ever catch or throw a ball. I'm still the same today, but thankfully there are no more gym days but in my senior exercise classes we have all learned to just laugh at our lack of bodies and abilities.

Dani, Your story brings back lots of memories--and not all in a good way. I remember playing basketball in high school PE classes when girls couldn't run the full court.

Nobody explained why, but there were dark hints of the damage we'd do to our reproductive systems if we exerted ourselves that way. It would be funny, if it weren't so pathetic.

Wow! Dani, you sure hit a nerve--I was also the last chosen for any sports team, and was miserable about that even though I knew, too, that I couldn't see the ball to hit it or catch it. I did manage to get pretty good at badminton and even ping pong, despite the little balls. I loved basketball when I discovered it near the end of
my high school days, but by then, nobody would choose me because they knew what a klutz I was.:(

I am, too,surprised at what a nerve this hit. For the life of me, I never could understand why showers were communal in school. I think many of us wouldn't have minded PE so much if that hadn't been the worst part of it. I never got used to nudity in front of other women (or men, for that matter) and looking back, that is such a small thing schools could do to help people grow up liking athletics.

I was 14 in the 10th grade, and looked much younger. I had finally convinced my mother that I needed a bra, so she bought me a 28AA training bra, and I stuffed it with tissues. She showed me a rather Victorian trick to...um...emphasize my attributes--little gathered ribbon rosettes stitched to the OUTSIDE of my bra "cups." Those lasted through exactly one (1) PE class and provided endless amusement to the alpha girls.

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