Our mall has one of those contraptions where kids are strapped into giant elastics and bounced in the air. I think they are actually called Jumpy Things, and you can apparently get 15 to 20 feet in the air and spin yourself around pretty good. Fun, right?
Not for one kid, as my son and I learned on a shopping trip last weekend.
We could hear the screams from about five stores away. A crowd had formed by the time we got to the atrium, so we couldn’t see anything from floor level. Every few seconds, though, a fat boy flew into the air, his face rigid with terror, his hands clutching the straps of his safety harness. The up-and-down had pushed his plain grey sweatshirt over his large, ash-white belly.
At first, the crowd was having a good giggle, in the way we all laugh at someone getting nailed in the crotch on “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” But scream as the boy might, the operator wasn’t letting him down. Maybe they’re used to kids freaking out (I suspect many of them do, no matter their weight), or maybe his mother wanted her money’s worth, but the child was on the ride until the end, whether he wanted to be or not.
The crowd’s mood morphed from amusement to disgust with each jump. Their faces grew stony and cold. Of course, they didn’t turn away. Finally, one guy (no Slim Jim himself) acted as the Chorus:
“That’s just embarrassing,” he said to no one in particular. “Fat kids shouldn’t be on those. He needs to lose some weight.”
We didn’t hang around long, as the scene was taking on a “The Lottery”-like vibe.
The incident bothered me for the rest of the weekend. Seeing a group of adults passing judgement on a child who couldn’t have been more than 10 or 11 years old was annoying enough, but what really got to me was the way people grew angry with the kid for upsetting the order of things.
Fat kids don’t play on jumpy things. And they certainly don’t climb mountains.
One of the great things about hiking is its simplicity: You find a hill and start walking up it. If you’re patient and/or stubborn enough, you get to the top. Then you turn around and walk to the bottom. If you don’t make it, you can always try again. If you do make it, you can move on to a bigger hill.
Another great thing: Hiking is open to folks of all ages, sizes and abilities. There are no tryouts, no playoffs, no picking of sides.
Most people, most hikers, embrace this concept. We’re a happy bunch when we’re outside. Every once in a while, though, you run across someone offended or worried by the sight of a fat person on the trails.
I’ve been approached on the summit of Mt. Lafayette by a hiker concerned I was “taking on too much.” Mind you, I was standing atop a 5,249 mountain at the time, and I had passed this particular hiker on the way up. And I don’t pass many people.
Another hiker told me I’d do great once I “lost a few pounds.” At the time, I was on my way down Caribou Mountain in Maine. I’m not sure if dropping weight would have allowed me to climb higher than the actual summit…
On Mt. Jackson, I was told I should start with smaller hikes because “you’re a big buy and you don’t want to end up dead.” I didn’t tell the helpful gentleman that Jackson was my third 4,000-footer of the day.
Here’s the thing: I used to agree with those people. I wanted to hike and climb for years, always putting it off until I got into shape. That moment never really came. Then one day, spurred on by my son, I said “screw it” and started up the Carter Ledge Ledge Trail. I haven’t looked back since.
That’s one of the great weaknesses of fat people, aside from an affinity for Dairy Queen: We tend to accept the limits other people set for us. We buy into their condescension. If they say we can’t, we believe them.
Another weakness: We put the cart before the horse. If we lose weight, then we’ll be happy. We have an idealized, super-fit future version of our selves who we think is the only one who can do anything challenging, daring or fun. We keep waiting for that person to show up, and he never does.
Do I want to lose weight? Do I want to hike longer, higher, faster? Sure. But just like the kid on the jumpy thing, I’m not putting off trying to have fun until it happens.
I’m fat, not dead.