This selection originally appeared in PANK as part of their This Modern Writer series. It is also the original version of the piece I performed for Scranton Storyslam, which you can see here.
The women at Weight Watchers are tough. We are a gang. We are the Bloods, the Crips, and the Latin Kings all rolled into one. Sure, we look harmless enough. Ten or fifteen portly women standing like preschoolers in a straight line outside the door, waiting for the loud mouthed receptionist to swing it open and begin to weigh us. But make no mistake about it, if you cross us, if you come to a meeting already thin and complaining about five extra pounds that you have gained over the winter and need to lose before bikini season, we will cut you. We will grab you with our fat little paws, roll you up into a tiny little ball, and kick your skinny ass out of here. Because this is our turf. This basement of the Electrical Workers Union, with its mundane pine paneling and shiny medicinal floors, belongs to us every Thursday night from seven until eight fifteen. So, if you have less than ten pounds to lose, stay the fuck home. Get a stomach flu, stick your finger down your throat, or swallow a laxative, we don’t care. Just don’t come here.
“Ugh, I feel gross,” says Sherri (with an i).
“You’ll be fine,” says a voice from somewhere in the front of the line.
“No, I had a brownie last night and I swear to God it went right to my ass.”
“No, it takes a while to catch up with you. You’ll probably see it next week,” says a different voice.
“I hate this,” sighs Sherri.
I am late, as always, so I am in the back and can barely hear the riveting comparisons of this week’s sins. The line snakes around the long thin corridor and is full of women sizing one another up. We smile and greet one another like we are soldiers on the same side, but internally we are praying for one another’s demise. I am nowhere near as big as she is. Wow, I hope I don’t look like that. We stand staring at one another, bound together reluctantly by overindulgence.
It is warm out and all of us have come dressed as close to naked as we can get without being arrested for indecent exposure. I’m wearing tiny little knit shorts, a tank top, and socks with sandals. You cannot stand barefoot on the scale, that is a rule. You cannot hear your weight, the specific number, out loud. That is the other rule. In my hands I hold my bible. The list of everything that went into my body this week, with the exception of the Snickers Bar and three Tootsie Rolls I jammed in my mouth only moments earlier in the car.
“Wow, down three more pounds, Amye! Nice work! What’s that bring you to now?” Joan, the woman who shakes all of the time, smiles at me.
“Um, twenty-seven,” I answer.
“Twenty seven! Wow! Do you hear that everyone? Amye has lost twenty-seven pounds!” she announces to the small room where we have all filtered in and taken off our sandals.
The crowd murmurs congratulations and shuffles forward as I leave the scale. The scales, of which there are two, are hidden behind two screens. You come into this small room, you pay your weekly fee, and you stand on the scale. Simple as that. I have lost almost thirty pounds doing this.
Weight Watchers has developed a system in which everything has a certain points value based on the calories, fiber, and fat that an item contains. I have become obsessed with counting points, calories, and grams of fiber. My dinners come in points now. I have become fluent in points. I can look around and see the points in everything. A hamburger made from lean meat and no cheese, five points. The side of broccoli with one pat of butter, two points. A hot dog, no bun, six points. A banana, two points. Baked chicken, two ounces, three points. A delicious mouth-watering Double Whopper with Cheese, twenty-five points. When I am at the supermarket, I see rows and rows of shiny points. I speak in points. I dream of points. I have become a point. If you cut me open I will bleed points.
After my weigh in I am euphoric. Nothing can wipe the smile from my face. I have lost twenty-seven pounds in three months. I wish I could say I had an epiphany. That would be nice to hear, I’m sure. A heartwarming story about a moment in time when someone said something, or did something, that prompted me to begin this weight loss journey. A threat of abandonment, a wakeup call, or a health scare of some sort would be a great plot point for this story.
As a teenager, I remember reading a book my mother had that was written by Richard Simmons. He described the event that made him lose weight. Apparently, some well-meaning Samaritan who loved him but didn’t have the guts to criticize him, put a note on his car that said something to the effect of “I love you, please don’t die.” This changed his life and inspired him to lose weight and begin helping others lose weight. The story fascinated me, not because of the touching moment in which Simmons realized someone cared about him, but because I always thought to myself: What kind of asshole would leave a note like that? I wish I had a Richard Simmons story, but the truth is there was no cute moment like that. I have had plenty of events over the years that should have inspired this change but never did.
I have been in a stuffy elevator and had some guy ask me when my baby was due. I have had the people at work call me an elephant and make cow noises when I walked by. I have stared at myself in a full length mirror, being wedged by two seamstresses into a size 28 wedding dress. I have been told I will almost certainly contract Type II Diabetes. I have been at an amusement park and left a ride line because I was afraid that the pull down bar would not fit over my stomach. I have been rendered infertile. I have had chairs break under my weight in the company of friends. Still, none of these events triggered that moment of inspiration.
I wish I could say it happened in one of those ways, because the truth is actually pretty boring. One day I woke up, rolled out of bed, and thought: I’m tired of being fat. And that was it. Luckily my best friend Georgia also had about thirty or forty pounds she wanted to lose, so she was more than willing to accompany me on my journey.
“You know what we need?” Georgia asks. We are huffing and puffing our way around the three and a half mile walking path that circles Lake Scranton. It’s flat, paved, and very popular for exercising. Georgia and I meet here almost every day after work.
“We need to go away to the beach. When we lose the weight, of course,” she says.
“Of course. Yeah, that would be fun,” I say, winded from the slight incline under our feet. We have this lake down to a science. We know which way to start (going left is easier, right has more hills), where all of the tough parts are, and exactly how long it will take us. Fifty one minutes is our record. We know that if we can complete the first mile within seventeen minutes, we may beat that time.
“We won’t tell anyone where we are going, not even our husbands,” Georgia says.
“No way. And, whatever happens down there, stays down there. We won’t breathe a word of it to anyone,” I respond.
“We can act like total whores,” Georgia says and her whole face lights up at the thought of being a slut at the beach.
“It will be our lost weekend,” I say. I can imagine us in our bikini’s with bold boys doing belly shots off our washboard abs. I imagine neckties on doorknobs, awkward mornings, and splitting headaches. All of the things that skinny women get to enjoy that I have missed.
Georgia and I have lost a combined total of fifty-six pounds walking around the lake and dreaming that our lives will be different someday. I imagine the pounds we lost, hiding in the woods along the path, watching us. They are peeking out from behind rocks, looking down from tree tops, and longing after us from behind thick tree trunks. They miss us, those pounds, they miss the warmth of our thighs burning together as we walk quickly around this gigantic circle.
4 thoughts on “Belly Shots”
I love the part about how everyone is wearing as little as they can for weigh in. Excellent post, Amye. So, did you memorize this whole thing for Story Slam?
Thank you Gale! I altered it for Story Slam to make it a little easier to memorize, but yes, I basically memorized the whole thing.
“We smile and greet one another like we are soldiers on the same side, but internally we are praying for one another’s demise. I am nowhere near as big as she is. Wow, I hope I don’t look like that.”
I genuinely and literally spat out my skinny soya latte reading that this morning. I hate to think of myself as mean spirited and I am certainly not. I am not prone to schadenfreude… but I have to admit I have been guilty of this. I feel like a bad person sometimes 😦
Compelling, poignant, funny, heartwarming, inspiring. I love this piece.