Thursday, June 23, 2011

What are they teaching these kids in Sunday school?

Yesterday I got an email message from a former student telling me that I am “fugly” and I need to get on a treadmill and have plastic surgery.

Sure, I’m hurt by this message, but not on a personal level as much as on an intellectual one.

For instance, it doesn’t really hurt my feelings that the student called me fugly or implied I’m overweight. Since I don’t think he really believes I need plastic surgery, his attack is rather toothless. In that sense, it's kind of obvious to me that he was just trying to wound me.

But what really hurts me is that he doesn’t respect me. Because if he did, he wouldn’t be trying to wound me at all.

Like most of the teachers and college professors I know, I work my butt off trying to help students learn the material and become better writers. I give it everything I have, and when school is in session I basically live and breathe my job. Though I don’t have “summers off” in the sense that I still have to work on my writing, I honestly don’t know how I would survive if I didn’t have these three months away from the classroom to recharge.

So when a former student sends me a hateful message—and it happens almost every semester, though it’s usually not this personal—it bothers me because it tells me that the student doesn’t think I work hard or care about my job. Because if the student believed that, he wouldn’t intentionally try to hurt my feelings.

To be honest, it’s hard to imagine any student—this one included—not knowing how hard I work after spending a semester in my classroom, and that’s what really burns me about this message. This kid knows I bust my butt for my students, and despite this, he’s basically saying, “I don’t care how hard you work or how much you care about your students because I still hate you. “ He’s pissing all over my attempts to be a good teacher.

It also bothers me because it’s the kind of comment that’s designed to attack me where I’m most vulnerable, which seems especially cruel. Most of my students learn over the course of the semester that I have a blog about body acceptance, so it’s clear this student thought he could undermine my self-confidence by attacking my physical appearance. It’s a cheap shot, but one he apparently thought would work.

Finally his comments bother me because they imply—especially the “get on the treadmill” comment—that I don’t exercise just because I’m not thin.

Twice every week on this blog I try to send the message that curvy does not mean unhealthy and a curvy person is not necessarily a person who doesn’t work out, but I’m clearly not getting the message across.

Not only do I work out, I work out religiously. I walk every morning—lately for eighty minutes, during which time I alternate between walking and running—and I usually exercise almost every afternoon and evening as well, which is my attempt to follow my own advice that we should all “play and play often.” So when this student told me to get on the treadmill, it actually hurt me more to think he assumes I don’t work out than it does for me to realize that he thinks I’m overweight.

So let me be clear—just because I’m lumpy or imperfect does not mean I am sedentary or lazy. It just means I’m no longer young, and I have a little wear and tear on my body. Of course, when you’re twenty-two, you have no idea that you can do everything in your power to be thin and still fail.

Though all of these issues are a problem, the biggest problem is why anyone—student or otherwise—feels comfortable saying these kinds of hurtful things to anyone else. Whatever happened to the golden rule?

I am not a religious person in the sense that I don’t read a Bible or go to church unless you count communing with nature every morning, but at times like these I find myself thinking of Leviticus 19:18“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. Love your neighbor as yourself”—or Matthew 5:39—“But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”

Which makes me wonder, what makes a human being want to harm another person this way? What kind of issues must one have to be so hateful?

I don’t have the answer to that question, but I do hope that each of us—myself included—will think twice the next time we are tempted to lash out at another.

If need be, think of the Torah, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Quran, the Bible, the Tao Teh Ching. Think of Socrates, Buddha, Jesus, Matthew, Luke, and Confucius. And treat others as you wish to be treated.


  1. Great post, Molly! You rock.


  2. Google the '4 agreements.' Never let anyone's agenda take you down! You are beautiful, inside and out! Yes, you rock! Miss you bunches!
    Debbie Smith

  3. The mind reels. You are beautiful, generous with your help and knowledge, and kind. Thanks for being open, even though someone has abused you in your transparency.

  4. Thanks, Debbie and Rachel. It means a lot!

  5. So about a month ago, I was at a bar with a couple of my friends. At the end of the night, one of my friends got into a fist fight with some random guy. I yelled for them to stop (obviously) and tried to pull them apart. The guy looked at me and said, "You know, you'd be really hot if you lost fifty pounds." And then his friend yelled, "No, sixty" as they were running away. I was stunned because ... what the hell? Where did THAT come from? And then I realized, after trying to process it for a day or two, that it's kind of the go-to way to insult a woman--just call her a Fat Bitch. Even though I know that, intellectually, and even though I realize the insult was a typical, sexist slur designed to make me feel awful about myself, well, I still felt awful about myself. So I guess we just need to keep reminding ourselves (and other women) that these kinds of insults are thrown around as a way to take power away from us. And to try not to let it.

    Thanks for this post!

  6. Oh, to be young and stupid and think that sending people hateful e-mails is a good use of time.

  7. Wow, Stephanie, that's an awful story, but I'm so glad you shared it. I hate to say it, but I think this happens more than we realize (because we're ashamed to talk about it). One of the features that I will be including on the new IWillNotDiet site is a button called "unburden yourself" where we can all talk about these kinds of experiences. You're right that if we talk about them more, they have less value. You also make a good point that these are go-to insults. I had a man call me a bitch behind my back about a year ago, and it just seemed so easy. Don't like a woman? Call her a bitch.

    I do want to add that, based on my experience, women who really do have a weight problem aren't usually ridiculed for their weight as much as medium-sized women. I think average- or medium-sized women are sometimes attacked more because men assume we want to be skinny.

    Emily—thank God we are not young and stupid anymore, right?

  8. Also, Dave says that this insult wouldn't work as well on a grown man, so he agrees it's a gendered insult. He points out that if you told a woman--thin or not--that she needed to lose ten pounds it would most likely hurt them, but if you said the same thing to a man, he would just shrug it off and say, "Who cares?" This obviously means that a woman's self-esteem is more wrapped up in her body than a man's--as if we didn't already know that. Incidentally, there is research that shows that female instructors are verbally insulted for more than their male counterparts.

    Let me also say that I'm sorry you felt awful, Stephanie. I felt good when I wrote this post on Wednesday night, but by Thursday night, this student's comments had set me back a bit. I'm only now--on Saturday--feeling like myself again.

    One last thing--you couldn't possibly lose fifty (or sixty) pounds and still be alive. That's absurd.