How Did an 87 Pound Girl End Up in a Weight Loss Gym Class?
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If you haven’t noticed, there’s been a whole lot on my blog recently regarding that little incident that occurred between me and the Facebook Ad Team. In my wildest dreams (or nightmares), I never thought I would be at the center of a story which garnered world-wide media attention. As the Facebook Fiasco story continues to unfold, I will be writing more on the topic. For now though, I want to shift gears and share an experience I had over 20 years ago, but still holds lessons and meaning for me today.
Imagine a girl walking down her high school halls with red and purple spots sprinkled over her entire body. Envision this girl with skinny arms that are permanently crooked and bent, toothpicks for legs, and fingers that are plagued with painful calcium deposits which resemble tiny craters. Sometimes this girl’s fingers and elbows leak calcium, which she tries to conceal with an elaborate collage of gauze and band aids. I was that girl in high school and gave new meaning to the “awkward adolescent phase.” Throw in the fact that I entered high school my freshman year not knowing a single soul, and you’ll understand why high school was not the best four years of my life. I’ve had scleroderma since I was ten. In its best form, scleroderma is a disfiguring disease that alters ones’ appearance. In its worst form, it attacks internal organs and can be fatal. At 17, I didn’t know how fortunate I was to only be dealing with the external tolls scleroderma had taken on my body. I was a teenager who longed to be normal, and was anything but.
Despite obstacles, I did managed to make friends, join theatre, and do well academically. There was one hurdle I could not overcome; the agony of gym class. Then, a miracle occurred. Shortly before my final semester, I read a description in a course catalogue about a special gym class that was sure to be the answer to my prayers. Here’s what it said:
Do you want to alter your weight? (Yes, I eat two candy bars and four bags of chips a day, but I’m still disgustingly thin and can’t seem to gain a pound)
Do you want to learn how to cook healthy meals? (Hell yes, all these candy bars and chips can’t be that great for my health)
Do you have a medical condition that requires modified physical activity? (Are you serious? Um, yes.)
This class had my name written all over it! I was particularly excited to learn that two days a week, gym class was held in the Home Economics kitchen where we would be cooking, rather than engaging in any sort of athletic shenanigans. This meant I only had to change in the dreaded locker room three out of five days. Yipee!
I’m sure you’re far brighter than I was and realize that I had essentially signed myself up for “fat girl” gym class. I was such a huge moron and honestly did not expect to walk into the gym on the first day of class and see 20 overweight girls staring at me. Their jaws dropped when they saw me and I froze, as I slowly reread the course description in my mind. I knew they were all thinking what the hell is that weird looking, deformed, skinny chick doing in here?
Before there were diet apps and Fitbits, there were Richard Simmon’s Deal-A-Meal cards. We all bought a set and learned how to plan our caloric intake for each day. The idea was to deal food cards into wallet-like placeholders and track what we ate. Once you “ate” all your cards, you were done eating for the day. All the other girls were limited to very few cards, while the gym teacher kept directing me to deal myself more meals. If looks could kill, I would be long dead from the glares I received from this hungry crew.
Everyone had to set a goal weight for herself and each Friday, we weighed-in on a digital scale. My goal was to reach 90 pounds. The weighing was done privately in a tiny closet, but everyone knew if it was good or bad news, based on the expression each girl wore as she exited. Regardless of my weigh-in results, I was caught between a rock and a hard place. If I gained a pound and walked out smiling, everyone would hate me because my smile was a reminder of what every other girl wished they were doing; eating more. If I didn’t gain any weight and walked out looking disappointed, I was the idiot who couldn’t gain weight-a problem everyone else dreamt of having.
The cooking lessons didn’t go any better. While the rest of the class was learning to cook veggies in light oil and bland seasonings, our gym teacher would loudly shout, “Lisa- remember you need to add in the extra butter to yours.” This was met with more grunts and grumbles.
Day after day, week after week, I trudged through this insanity. Slowly, ever so slowly, things started to change. I can’t put my finger on when it happened, or what caused the atmosphere to alter. I started making fun of myself and cracking jokes. The other girls actually laughed and began to join in. We were all laughing together at the absurdity of the situation.
It wasn’t just me who gained acceptance, we all started to gel. At first, it was every girl for herself. Somehow, it seemed that if one person experienced success, that meant the rest of us were doomed to fail. If one girl walked out of the closet and declared she lost two pounds, she was greeted by sneers. Surely, if she lost two pounds, that meant everyone else must have gained weight. We began to realize the flaws in this absurd theory when more than one smiling face emerged from the closet. Instead of sneering, we were cheering each other on.
The day I reached 90 pounds, I walked out of the tiny closet and shrieked, “I did it! I weigh 90 pounds!” My new friends started screaming. Some lifted me up and tossed me up and down. They knew how similar my struggles with weight was to their own and were genuinely happy for me. We had discovered that we all hated changing in the locker room, despised the long stares we received from strangers, and the obnoxious comments from kids in the halls. We bonded over the common desire to just look normal.
Looking back, I doubt there were too many girls at school walking down the halls who felt “normal.” What the hell does normal really look or feel like? I still carry with me the lessons I learned from that gym class; our weight should not define who we are, who we choose to be friends with, nor should it dictate our feelings of self-worth. Most importantly, one person’s victory in no way guarantees your defeat. We are much stronger when we support one another rather than tearing others down.
- I’m sorry to use the term, “fat girl gym class.” I’m not a fan of the word “fat,” but I couldn’t think of another word to accurately depict the situation.
- Shameless plug #1: If you agree with the themes of this post, please participate in my campaign, “Face Off For Scleroderma.”
- Shameless plug #2: If you’re thinking, gee whiz, I dig Lisa’s writing….. I sure wish she would write a whole book. Wish no more, you’re just a click away from reading my book, Does This Hospital Gown Come With Sequins? You can buy it on Amazon right now. I’m donating a portion of all book sales to SRF and SF. If you’re like my mom and don’t know how to buy/read an e-book, click here to understand how easy it is.