It began when I was about five years of age. I think it was five, well close enough.
I was at pre-primary school and the teacher was choosing students for the end of year play, the nativity scene where Mary and Joseph were riding into Bethlehem on a donkey and then having baby Jesus in the manger.
“Johnny would you like to play the part of Joseph?” the teacher asked.
“Oh yes I would” he answered really excited. (Always excited and super enthusiastic!)
“Let me see who I can choose to be Mary” said Miss Johnstone scanning the mass of raised arms and children jumping up and down yelling “Pick me Miss, pleeeeease!”
“Quiet all of you. I’m not going to pick anyone calling out”.
I never called out, I never begged to be picked and I never expected to be picked….and I never was.
I was one of the few still sitting in my seat. ‘I really need to stand up to be seen’ I thought. As I was about to brave it and stand up Miss Johnstone told everyone to sit in their seats and be quiet. She looked at the sea of faces, eager and hopeful.
“I can see one student who has sat calmly in her seat the whole time. “Angela” the teacher said to me looking directly into my face “What part would you like to play?” I couldn’t believe it and nor could some of the kids around me who were giving me dagger stares.
“Umm” I stammered “I would like to be Mary” I said quietly.
“Oh! Well…..” said Miss Johnstone “I really need someone who is… who is …quite ‘little’ to play Mary” she said to me looking embarrassed. “I was thinking you could be one half of the donkey”.
“You’re too fat to be Mary” shouted out one of the boys and all of the class started laughing.
“Stop that noise at once. We won’t have any of that in this class Jeremy” Miss Johnstone yelled at the loudest and rudest boy in the classroom.
I felt like I wanted to disappear under my desk, but I doubt if I could have fitted there. I tried to hide my embarrassment by joining in with the laughter but with flaming red cheeks and a couple of tears in my eyes it was very difficult to hide my true feelings.
To make matters worse, Miss Johnstone then asked “Who would like to be the other half of the donkey with Angela?”…silence. “Well if someone doesn’t put their hand up I will just choose one of you”.
“I will” called out Linsey, a girl with less personality than a piece of lettuce and just as thin. So the donkey was going to be one odd looking quadruped!.
‘Oh no’ I thought ‘not her’.
The rest of the cast were chosen for the play and then we all went home. A lot of kids were happy but not me!
My mother didn’t understand about being overweight – actually she did understand but it didn’t matter to her. She was of German heritage and all of her family was big – “too much German sausage” she would laugh when I told her I couldn’t fit into some of my clothes. ‘And bread, rolls, meat, cheeses, puddings” I said under my breath.
“You’re just big boned” she would also say to me “Just like all of my side of the family. Wait til you grow – you’ll stretch and even out”
All through school I was picked on for my size, and called names. I wasn’t the only one. If you were different in any way to the others then a name was made up for you. Four eyes if you wore glasses, of course the usual fatty and skinny and then it got a lot worse for the kids who weren’t too ‘bright’, dummy, moron, etc. (no originality there).
Whenever it was time to choose partners in sport or kids to make up a team, I was usually left til last, sitting on the grass just waiting. There were always about four or five of us and Linley was one of them. I kind of got used to it and by grade five I knew if I got to sport late it wouldn’t matter – I was never picked early. The only time I felt needed was on sport carnival day and I was put at the end of the ‘tug o war ‘to anchor the team down and if we didn’t win it was always my fault. (They never said “you weren’t heavy enough” though)
High school was the worst. It was the ‘cool’ gangs versus the ‘nerds’…I wanted to be in the ‘cool’ gang but didn’t have a choice because if you weren’t pretty and skinny, if you didn’t turn your school skirt over at the waist a few time so your knickers almost showed, and if you didn’t have a sassy mouth on you, then you were classed as a ‘nerd’.
Of course the boys loved the ‘cool ‘girls – and they too were usually the good looking, funny ones who never looked at me.
No matter what you did to try and be one of the popular group, if you didn’t look the part to start with, then you weren’t in. I mean I would never be skinny, and I certainly didn’t have the room between my waist band and belly to turn my skirt over! It was tight enough as it was.
One year the ‘cool’ girls said I could come to their Halloween party. I was shocked at being asked but pretty excited. Not being able to contain my happiness I went to tell Linley which was wrong of me – it was only to show off. “Guess what Linley?” I gushed
Her pale, thin face looked at me with no expression ‘What?”
“I’ve been asked to Veronica’s Halloween party” I told her proudly and a little smugly too.
“I got invited to one of her party’s once” the monotonous voice told me
“Oh did you?” I replied not believing her for one second. We stared at each other not knowing what else to say and then she turned and ran off.
“Weird” I thought.
My mother was overjoyed for me. She knew I was left out of things at school and after school, so began deciding what I should wear, and most importantly what food I should take. (I told her people didn’t eat giant German sausages at Halloween but she was adamant I should take a homemade apple strudel)
I asked the girls at school – when they let me speak to them – if they would be dressing up. At first they thought it funny saying “What Halloween party – who invited you?” I was beginning to doubt whether I had really been asked or if I had dreamt it. As the laughter died down I heard “That’s what Halloween is about dressing up, stupid” from the girl who regarded herself as the ‘leader’ of the pack. I just couldn’t bring myself to ask what they would be dressing up in – I couldn’t push my luck.
31st October was getting close. My mum took me out to buy a costume. I told her I only wanted something simple but she told me it was better to be over dressed rather than under dressed for Halloween. What would either of us know? I’d never been to a Halloween party before – I’d just seen small kids coming to the door asking for sweets and treats – they didn’t usually have anything too fancy on, they were more interested in how much junk they could get in their bags!
“I think you’re getting a bit carried away with this Mum” I told her as she paid for the ‘Queen of the dead’ costume.
It was nothing at all like what I wanted. I’d have been happy with a witches hat, wig and long fake nails, but Mum had other ideas! We ended up with a black and floral dress, long black head veil with a row of red flowers along the top of it - the front of the dress had a skeleton printed on it – pelvic bones, spine and ribcage for all to see. I thought it couldn’t get any worse until I saw my mother picking up a painted face mask, white with big black panda eyes, bright red lips and black smudges just to make it look more authentic. “No please Mum” I begged but she replied “You can’t ‘half’ dress up Angela!”
We finally got home and I slumped off to my room. I really didn’t want to go to the party now – I would be much too overdressed for everyone else but I honestly didn’t want to let my mother down – she was just so excited that I had been invited to something.
At school the ‘girls’ had asked me what I was wearing to the party – I didn’t want to tell them but they were pretty insistent so I just said that it was more what mum wanted me to wear.
“Your mother tells you what to wear?” They asked as if I’d just said my mother still feeds me with a spoon!
“No never” I lied “but she surprised me with an outfit so I would kind of feel bad if I didn’t wear it”. Halfway through my insipid explanation they had all disappeared anyway.
When the night of the party came I walked out of the front door looking and feeling like a cross between a cheap box of chocolates and a black and red sausage. The dress was far too tight, the stockings I wore underneath it were cutting off my circulation and I thought I was going to suffocate beneath the mask. I deliberately left the strudel behind
“Have a great time” my mother called out to me and when I saw some of the little kids down the street collecting sweets in their bowls I wished that’s what I was doing.
Veronica’s house looked like a party ready to happen. Loud music was coming from inside the house. The front door and fences were tied with black and orange ribbons, a giant skeleton hung from the rose arbour that you had to pass through to get to the front door and inside the windows were flashing pumpkins and ghost figures. As I walked through the arbour a thorny stem caught my black head veil, but as I pulled it to get it free it got more tangled. “Get off” I said aloud, getting angry. With one big tug it became free, although a little torn, but putting it back on properly was a challenge! I did my best and with the veil askew I walked to the door.
The main door was open and as I pushed the bell I could hear whispering and sniggering. ‘Must be the right house’ I though with sarcasm.
A group of girls approached the flywire door and at that very moment I wished I really was “Queen of the dead’. They didn’t have Halloween costumes on, no wigs, masks or anything else. They all looked beautiful in their tight dresses, fancy hairdos and attractively made up faces.
I felt like a fool and I must have looked exactly that – an over dressed and overweight fool.
“Oh didn’t you know it wasn’t fancy dress? We must have forgotten to tell you….shame”.
I turned to walk away before my tears started to fall, not out of sadness but frustration and disappointment – and not just for myself but my mother too.
“You can still stay. We can have a good look at your costume in the light”. More laughter…
I couldn’t even say anything. I started to run down the path and through the arbour. The veil got caught again and this time I just left it – a piece of black lace surrounded by bright orange flowers flapping in the breeze.
When I got home, dishevelled, hot from running in the awful dress and the tights that would leave marks on my thighs for days to come, I was greeted by my mum. She was upset for me and wanted to go around to Veronica’s house and ask why they did it, but after calming down a little, she decided that the next best thing to do was for her and I to sit down and tuck into some sausage and cheese sandwiches…followed by a big piece of strudel.
I learnt to ignore that awful group of girls after the humiliation and embarrassment of that night. Of course the whole class had heard about it and there were sniggers and laughter for quite a while. I built a barrier around my feelings – all I wanted to do was get through school.
Linley said “I knew what would happen” - And I actually believed her then about being invited to a party. ‘I must ask her about it one day’ I thought…..’But do I really want to know?’
When I started to get a bit taller at about sixteen I really appreciated my German heritage, and even thought I never believed all of the ‘when you grow and stretch’ stuff that my Mother used to say to me, it was true. I started to slim down a little - most of my clothes now fitting me properly, not looking like the seams were about to burst at any minute.
I knew that looks, wealth and your neighbourhood determined if you were worthy of the ‘cool’ group liking you, oh yes and your body mass index!! (Although some of the ‘group’ wouldn’t even know what that meant!) As I grew taller and slimmed down a little I became visible and worthy to talk to, but I wasn’t interested. If there was one thing that the Halloween party fiasco had taught me it was that those girls weren’t my type. ‘I’d much rather fly solo than be embroiled with that lot of airheads’ I said to myself after Veronica had offered to pluck my ‘thick eyebrows’ for me .
“No thank you” I replied “I rather prefer them just the way they are”. I actually hated them and had tried plucking them myself but gave in after a few minutes, (there were so many it would take for ever!) Then I thought about waxing them but I could feel the pain just by looking at the packet they came in, so they would stay like they were.
I was glad when my high school years came to an end. In the final year I felt my confidence growing; it didn’t matter to me any more if Is popular or not. I just wished I had felt like this all through high school. “See” said my loving but sometimes ‘simple’ mother “Being treated badly has made you strong in the end…so it was worth it”.
“Was it? “I thought.
Time passes very quickly when you are enjoying life. I had a great job and was very happy. So when the invitation came to go to the ten year re-union of our high school, I didn’t think twice about it. ‘One attendee’ I replied.
I had moved away from where I grew up and went to school, so never saw any of the other girls. I did see Linley once – from across the street and we just waved, mine a strong friendly gesture and hers an insipid movement of her still very thin arm. I wondered later on if I should have gone up to her and asked what she was doing and I don’t know what had stopped me.
The evening arrived. I had bought a lovely dress and felt good in it. I would never be thin but I knew I was an attractive and a confident curvy girl! (who had learnt to wax her eyebrows successfully).
As I walked through the door of the venue I could hear the music playing – songs from our school years. I stopped in my tracks as I recognised the song as the one playing on the night that I turned at Veronica’s house for the Halloween party – a slight fluttering of anxiety washed quickly through my stomach but as I took a couple of deep breaths it was gone.
“Is that you Angela?” a voice asked from behind me. I turned to see who it was and got quite a shock.
“Yes it is. Veronica?” I asked the overweight and slightly haggard looking girl standing in front of me. She was dressed ‘to kill’ but hadn’t quite pulled it off in an obviously ‘too tight’ dress and heels so high that she could hardly stand in them.
“Oh you look amazing. I almost didn’t recognise you” she told me looking me up and down.
“Thank you” I offered “I almost didn’t recognise you either!”
“Come and say Hi to the gang” she said to me waving at a group that had formed in the centre of the room – just like they used to.
I wandered over expecting to see the girls I remembered from the ‘cool gang’ although after seeing Veronica I wasn’t sure what to expect. But time hadn’t been that kind to a lot of them. The girls that did still look attractive obviously had some help from Mr Botox, with not a wrinkle in sight!
The tables had turned. I was the centre of attention….the ugly duckling had changed into an attractive swan…..and with confidence to boot. I loved it. And when I felt like I’d had enough of the ten year reunion, I said my goodbyes, wished everyone well, and told them that I’d see them in ten years’ time.