At 9 nine years old, I was a fat girl. Well, not fat, but chubby, and to be fair, in 1971 it was the same thing. My best friend’s asshole brother had a nice little song that he composed and sang just for me; “Fat cow. Fat cow. Wendy is a fat cow.” Soon, the kids on the bus all learned the words to this little song and trust me, they sang it often. Even at this young age I was boy crazy (that’s what they called it back then,) not that it did me any good; boys did not like fat girls…but they did like funny girls. Even so, boys still didn’t like fat girls; even if they were funny. Cute and thin trumped fat and funny, even back then.
One day, I came home from the bus stop in tears. The kids had been teasing me and I guess my mom had enough. What set this day apart from all the other days of me coming through the door complaining that the kids had called me fat? I don’t know, but she drew the line in the dirt right then and there. She asked me point blank if I wanted the teasing to stop. I told her I did and the next day I joined Weight Watchers.
1.) So much was different back then, you must realize this.
2.) All of what I’m telling you is factual. It’s not exaggerated or embellished for comedic effect.
3.) My mom and dad did the best they could with what they knew, at the time.
I was so excited. I was not going to be fat anymore. People would not make fun of me anymore. Everything that made me unhappy would vanish with every lost pound. My possibilities would be endless. The boys would like me, whether I could make them laugh or not. I could be a cheerleader. I could be Miss America, a model, a movie star, or best of all, a ballerina. I’d always had that dream; I guess lots of little girls do, but nobody wants a fat ballerina. But now, the sky was the limit, and just as soon as I was “normal” I would be happy.
I was five feet tall and weighed one hundred pounds, even. I know this because the nice Weight Watchers lady weighed me; on a very official looking doctor’s scale, in front of everyone. That’s right; no little private cubicles with the 3 digits of your weight silently written on your card; the weighing took place right in front of everyone. After weighing in, we (and by “we” I mean a bunch of fat women,) seated ourselves in the main room and awaited our great and mighty “Lecturer.” That’s what the group leader was called back then; a Lecturer, with a capital “L.”
Okay, if you’re not sitting down then you need to pull up a chair right now so that you don’t hit the floor when I shock your ass with this next part: After the attendees were all seated, the Lecturer entered the room. My Lecturer’s name was Marty. Marty was a man and it was strange because he was the only man I ever saw at a Weight Watchers meeting. All of us females wanting to lose weight and for what? Men. Oh sure, there were other reasons, but for most of us none of those reasons were nearly important as the “Man” reason. Society had shoved it down our throats and we bought it hook, line and sinker. We were nothing without a man and men wouldn’t give us a second look if we were fat. And now, who were we waiting for? Who were we to be accountable to? A man. Think I’m overreacting and getting all fat girl militant? Read this next part and tell me if you still feel that way.
Marty was handed a stack of cards. Every Weight Watcher member had her own card. They pulled it from the box when you paid your weekly dues and you took it to the lady who weighed you in, so that she could record whether you had gained, lost or stayed the same. We all sat holding our collective breaths while Marty pulled the first card.
Marty: (Scanning the room) Fran Walker. Where are you Fran?
A terrified, fat woman raises her hand, reluctantly.
Marty: Fran? (Fran makes quick eye contact at Marty then looks at the floor.) Let’s see here, Fran, It says that you gained two pounds this week?
Soft gasps and some low moans of pain from the room.
Fran: (Almost imperceptibly) …y…y…yes.
Marty: (Loudly and with mock disbelief) TWO POUNDS? How did you GAIN TWO POUNDS?
Fran: I…I…don’t know…
Marty: You don’t know? Well, you must be EATING a lot of ILLEGAL FOODS!
Yep. You heard right. Foods that you were allowed to eat were “Legal,” and all others were “ILLEGAL.”
Marty: Well, I don’t GUESS. I know because you gained TWO POUNDS! Do you have your food diary?
Fran: I…I didn’t keep it this week.
Marty: I guess not, because you gained TWO POUNDS. (Pulling another card) Marcia Crane. Where is Marcia Crane?
(Marcia raises her hand, easily. She is not afraid. She seems fine; almost eager, but here’s why.)
Marty: Marcia, is a new member. Marcia, stand up. (She stands, a bit self-consciously in a snug, red dress.) Marcia, why are you here?
Marty: Why are you here?
Marcia: (More uneasily, now) Well…I’m…um, I here to lose weight.
Marcia: I’m here to lose weight?
Marty: You’re here to lose weight?
Marcia: (Very uneasily, now)…yes?
Marty: No. You are not here to lose weight. Why are you here? Say it.
Marcia: (Looking around like a scared rabbit and trying to decide whether she should bolt from the room.) Say…what?
Marty: Say it. Say, “I’m not here because I need to lose weight. I’m here because I’m FAT.”
Now, you might think that we were all outraged, incensed and in our collective fury beat Marty to death with our heavy duty, metal folding chairs, but we didn’t. Why? Because this was nothing. We were used to it and better yet, we deserved it. We were after all, fat women. We didn’t deserve respect. We were invisible. And even this next exchange, didn’t cause us to bat a false eyelash.
Marty: (Continuing, calmly) Say it.
No, he didn’t step up to her nose to nose, like some deranged drill Sargent and yell “I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” He didn’t have to, because what he said next was far worse.
Marty: Yes, you are fat. You look like a Coke machine in that red dress.
Ohhhh, I can hear your collective gasps of outrage through the span of cyberspace between us. That’s more than poor Marcia got that day, but it did give us pause; for a second or two.
I reached my goal weight of seventy seven pounds, two months later. For those two months, I was afraid to stray from the program; God only knows what humiliation I would have underwent at the hands of our Lecturer. I remember when they pinned that black enamel pin with the little diamond chip to my dress, I was so proud. I was finally pretty. I was cute. I had a “nice figure.” I didn’t have to shop in the “Chubby” section. I…was…NORMAL!
Now, I told you that Weight Watchers was very different in 1974, and here’s how different.
The eating program was this: Everything was prepared wither DRY BROILED, GRILLED or BOILED. NO seasoning except for salt, pepper or lemon. NOTHING ELSE. There were no diet anything except for a few diet sodas: Tab, Diet Rite, Shasta and Fresca. You couldn’t go anywhere and get a diet beverage except the grocery store. Nothing light, low fat, no fat, diet, Lean Cuisine, Smart Ones and NO FLEX POINTS. It was so horribly difficult to be on a diet back then.
Chicken: 2-3 days a week. NO SKIN. NO SAUCE OF ANY KIND…and don’t even think about frying it.
Fish: 2-3 days a week. NO SKIN. NO SAUCE OF ANY KIND…and don’t even think about frying it.
Beef: 1 Day a week. Grilled, broiled. You won’t think about frying it because it will taste so damn good to you that you won’t need to.
LIVER: 1 dreaded horrible day out of the week. Grilled or broiled ONLY. And you will not think of frying it because it tastes like shit and will always taste like shit no matter what.
That day; the day that I reached my goal weight would also be the day that I would start “Maintenance.” I could not wait to begin Maintenance because Maintenance meant no more liver! I HATED liver. Saturday was “Liver Day” and I would beg my mom to just let me skip eating it altogether, but she wouldn’t She said that if I skipped any meals I would just get hungry later on and then I might “cheat.” What she didn’t realize was that I wouldn’t have cheated. I would have fallen over dead from malnutrition if could just NOT EAT THAT LIVER.
Aside from not having to choke down liver anymore, Maintenance meant that I was ready to maintain my perfect svelte weight. After my, “I’m skinny now, bitches, pinning,” I stayed after and went to Maintenance Classes. Classes. Plural. That should have tipped me off that this would be a process, but it didn’t. I guess in my 10 year old head you got skinny, walked through that door, something magical happened and you came back out able to eat anything you wanted and not gain an ounce.
No. That is not the way it worked. As a matter of fact the first stage of Maintenance was a bitter letdown, to say the least. All I got; then only thing that happened was that I could substitute one sheet of graham crackers for a piece of bread. I was devastated. I couldn’t believe it. I remember crying hysterically as I left, saying, “But all I want is to not eat the liver, anymore.”
That’s was it, though. Nothing changed. Nothing. I was still the same person, only thinner. Let me say that again: I was still the same person I was only thinner. I didn’t realize the power of those words then, but I do now. I was still the same. I was still beautiful, funny, caring, intelligent, incredibly creative, kind, compassionate and generous to a fault.
I was still the same person, only thinner.