The women of Weight Watchers are tough. A gang. 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. The basement of the Northeast Pennsylvania Chapter 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 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.
“ 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 all the way at the tail end of the line and can barely hear the riveting retellings of this week’s sins, but I know they are happening. 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 fighters on the same side, sisters in arms, but deep down 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. Who does she think she is, wearing that kind of top?
There is a certain code of conduct required. You won’t find it in your introductory binder or your new “Getting Started” booklet. You have to become one of us to learn it. For instance, you have to get here early. That’s one of the unspoken rules. If you’re late, you are stuck in a long, very slow moving procession of nerves and anxiety. What you want is a quickie. Hop on the scale, get the good or bad news, leave the money on the counter and move on. The desire to be here first and to avoid the long wait results in a hallway full of overweight women staring at a closed door, clutching their weekly food journals in one hand and thirteen dollars in the other.
It is the middle of December, yet 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, another rule. You cannot hear your weight, the specific number, out loud. That is yet another rule. If you do not follow these expectations, you stick out like the new kid in school. We can smell it on you.
When it’s my turn, I hand my book and money over to Joan, an elderly woman with shaky hands and a broad smile. My book is my bible. The list of everything that went into my body this week, with the exception of the Snickers Bar (6 pts) and three Tootsie Rolls (2 pts each) I jammed in my mouth only moments earlier in the car. Joan stamps a red PAID over this week’s date and motions for me to climb onto the scale.
“Wow, down three more pounds, Amye! Nice work! What’s that bring you to now?” she asks loudly, hoping my success will serve as inspiration.
“Um, twenty seven,” I answer, barely able to conceal a smile.
“Twenty seven! Wow! Do you hear that everyone? Amye has lost twenty-seven pounds!” Joan announces to the small room where we have all filtered in and taken off our sandals.
The geniuses at Weight Watchers have developed a super-secret system in which everything has a certain points value based on the calories, fiber, and fat that an item contains. These points then consume your life. 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.
My best friend, Georgia, who has only a handful of pounds to lose, has agreed to accompany me on this journey. Together, we have developed a language that only we understand.
Me: I am starving, what can I eat for two points?
Her: Can you use Flex?
Me: Maybe, if I go under tomorrow. How about a granola bar? Her: Too pointy. Can you do a veggie?
Me: Sigh. I guess.
It’s a language that draws confused stares from skinny strangers and smiles of recognition from pudgy women in the grocery store. The shaky receptionist affixes a golden star to my weigh-in booklet, folds everything nice and tight, and sends me on my way.
I wish I could say I had an epiphany that brought me to Weight Watchers. That I had cared so much about my own body, my own health, and my own well being that I dragged my fat ass to the only place I knew could help me. But that was not the case. I’m here because I’m desperate. I’m here because I have nowhere else to go. I’m here because I need help.
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 an 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, while being wedged by two seamstresses into a size 28 wedding dress. I have been told by a doctor that 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 labeled sterile because of my heft. 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 worse. I’m here because of a man.