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Back in 1961, when I was a 7th grader at Woodrow Wilson Junior High School, gym class, was not a pleasant experience. Unlike today, it was mandatory that we participated and dress for every class. There were no exceptions. Our class was run like a boot camp, filled with close to a hundred girls. We were required to wear identical blue cotton short jumpsuits. On the bodice, right above the pocket, our last name and first initial had to be embroidered with white thread. White socks and tennis
shoes completed the uniform. After getting dressed in the basement locker room, where there was absolutely no privacy, one by one, we ran up to the gym. We lined up like young cadets in boot camp, forming a large human square around the perimeter of the room. Our very stern, athletic teacher was short, with black hair peppered with gray. Twirling her whistle around on a rope, she walked around the square, inspecting us like a drill sergeant, and checking role at the same time. It was easy to tell who was absent. We always filed into our same spots, and if a student was absent, there would be an open space, where she would normally be. After attendance was taken, we fell into formation for the predictable calisthenics regimen. We always began with fifty jumping jacks, then went into the arms up, bend over and reach your toes with the opposite hand exercise. Our exercise regimen usually followed the same routine, with little variation. Sometimes we played volleyball and basketball. Sit-ups was the kicker for me. We had a partner, who held our feet down and counted our progress. At the beginning of the semester we were required to do fifty, and eventually we worked our way up to the mandatory one hundred sit-ups. Our stomach muscles ached for days after having to do
so many. The teacher held contests, to see who could do the most. The most dreaded activity for me, by far, was the ropes. There were two long, thick, twisted, jute ropes hanging from our very tall ceiling. I couldn¶t say exactly how long those ropes were. My guess is, they extended up to the equivalent of three stories high. I had a severe case of acrophobia back then, as I still do today. My heart started to pound, and my hands began to sweat, as my turn to climb approached. When my turn came, with much trepidation, I ever so slowly and reluctantly, inched up the prickly rope, one reach-pull-and-push movement at a time. I was careful to never look down at my classmates on the floor, who were watching me from below. Once I reached the top of the rope, I was always so relieved. Unfortunately, I was too eager to get my feet back on terra firma, and invariably, I slid down my coarse lifeline too quickly. Every single time, I ended up with raw rope burns on my thighs, from clinging so tightly. They were the size of a tennis ball, and usually took several weeks to heal. The real trauma associated with the gym class experience happened after every class in the dungeon-like shower room. In my mind, I likened the experience to what life must have been like in a concentration camp. We
lined up on the stairs, which led from the gym down to the basement, then marched down to the shower room. Unlike in schools today, back then, taking a shower was a requirement. To show proof that we had taken one, we handed over our damp towels to older student gym helpers. We waited in line stark naked, as they checked each person¶s name off. The lull between handing over our towels and walking over to where our lockers were, seemed like an eternity. Everyone¶s naked bodies were practically in full view, for all to see. This proved to be quite intimidating and embarrassing for most of us. I had just stepped up from wearing a training bra, and had very small breasts. On the other hand, there were a number of girls in our class, whose breasts were the size of cantaloupes. Theirs certainly dwarfed mine, which somewhat resembled two fried eggs, sunny-side-up. I'm sure the well-endowed were equally as humiliated as those of us who were flat-chested. The entire experience was simply unpleasant. Back in the early sixties, girls were required to wear skirts or dresses to school. This meant we were also having to deal with the nuisance of taking off and putting back on garter belts and hose. We didn¶t have the convenience of pantyhose until a
few years later.