scale stories

My daughter weighed herself at 8:30 p.m. I tried to stop her; everyone knows it’s bad to weigh at night, and this night was even worse than most. She’d eaten dinner late because of soccer practice and also wolfed down half a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream—some ridiculous fudgy flavor of the usual exceeding deliciousness.

Though she had spent three hours of the day swimming and another hour and a half running around the field and kicking a ball, she’d also consumed a post-breakfast black-bottom muffin, grilled cheese for lunch, and an afternoon snack of popcorn and several mini-cupcakes.

She left the room sulking and got in the shower, where she spent a long time. I pulled back the curtain, and she was crying. “You have to help me,” she said, pathetic as I am when I beg my husband to keep Aunt Margaret’s chocolate cake in the truck or hide it well beneath all the camping gear in the basement.

“You are not fat!” I tried to make her feel better by comparing my stomach to hers.

“At least your boobs stick out further than your stomach!” she said.

I saw her in her swimsuit the day before, and she looked positively gorgeous. “You have a great body!” I told her. “Your stomach looked nice and tight at the pool yesterday.”

“I was sucking it in!” she said.

“The whole time?”

“The whole time!” She cried again and tried to hug me, the shower water soaking my clothes. I made a snuggle date with her after her shower.

Like mother like daughter. I sucked my stomach in from the time I was eleven until the time I was 35 and pregnant. You’d think those muscles would get strong in 24 years of sucking, but it only gives you a stomachache. Eventually, I got too fat to suck it in anymore.

In ninth grade, Miss Brown lined up all the girls. We wore snap-down, short, piss-yellow gym dresses with bulbous matching bloomers, which had the same skinny elastic at the waist and legs. The only thing that harmed your self-esteem more than catching a glimpse of yourself in your gym uniform was being weighed by Miss Brown.

I don’t remember whether she shouted out our numbers to a girl with a pad or whether she let us suffer a private humiliation, but I cried when I heard my number. 132. I was more than ten pounds heavier than my mother when she got married, and I wasn’t even in high school yet. One of the coolest girls in the whole school, Dawn, came over to me and consoled me by telling me that she weighed 138 pounds, and that it was OK because we looked good. (She and I got our periods together in sixth grade; I think we were the only ones that year.) Dawn was an athlete. She was about three inches taller and had long, slender legs.

We hardly ever talked before or after that moment, but I never forgot her. It was easily the kindest thing anyone had ever said to me in all of my years of grade school.

What I wouldn’t give to weigh 130 pounds now! I’ve probably tried to get there 130 times in my life. I’ve made it within a few pounds several times, even as recently as my 40th birthday. I looked and felt great—my back didn’t hurt, I could run faster, I didn’t get heartburn or migraines. But whatever skinny friend I had at the time always told me I looked sick. Because the job of the skinny friend is to be the skinny friend. If you take that away, you take away everything.

Mothers don’t want their children to grow up with our neuroses, especially about our bodies. We’re a country drowning in high-fructose corn syrup and diabetes, and we’re collectively too stupid to see the connection. Our kids see the donut we had to have (hell, they share in that need), and then they see us fret over having had it. Just a couple of days ago, I asked my daughter whether I looked too heavy in something I was wearing. She rolled her eyes. You’re not fat, she said. Then she pinched her own half-inch.

I’m told that most girls go through this phase at some point or another, especially when a crush is involved—even if, I’m told, they come from thin mothers. Maybe that’s true. So what do thin mothers tell their girls to do about pudge? I know what I do. I whip out all those Weight Watchers tools.

“I’m hungry all the time,” my daughter told me the next morning, as I showed her, in a small glass, the amount of orange juice equal to a serving. I gave her the rundown. Sometimes you think you’re hungry when you’re really thirsty; drink water. Eat a piece of fruit. Wait twenty minutes after a meal so that you can feel full. Find an activity that keeps your hands occupied. “And stop drinking tall glasses of that fancy orange-tangerine-cranberry juice you and your skinny dad concocted.”

It’s been about a week since that episode in the bathroom. She’s gone easier on the juice, and she’s feeling a little better about her tummy. I didn’t stop her from stepping on the scale this morning, and she saw a 3.5 pound difference.

When she left, I took a turn on the evil hate machine, and I’m down a few myself.

My mom and I used to joke about our inability to lose weight, saying we wish we could have anorexia for just a couple of weeks. When someone has that virus and spends ten days vomiting, losing ten pounds in the process, we stand a little closer to her. (But we know, of course, that we’d find a way to squeeze the calories in through retching episodes.) I even took diet pills for awhile, but I got used to them instantly and started eating more calories. I even thought I was onto something when I invented “Tapeworm in a Jar.”

Or I could give up my 6:00 Red Hook ESB; the one at 4:00 should suffice.

We all have a scale story—one that we will remember forever, like the day in Miss Brown’s ninth grade gym class. I think of it every time I see a doctor’s scale or a locker room in a spa or health club. I am thankful that my story had a Dawn in it. Without her, it would have been just another painful memory of my ever-expanding waist.

I hope everybody’s kid either has a Dawn or is a Dawn. And I hope none of our daughters grows up to be or have the skinny friend.

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