[a weight loss story]
*kathrynoh at nemesis dot com dot au*
I was in grade three when I moved back to Tasmania. I was fat and I was the new girl. Two strikes against me. But at my new school, I learnt the third leg of my outsider trifecta. I was also SMART! That's it, folks. Fat, new and smart. Not the best way to win friends and influence people in grade three.
But before I discovered that, I had to be enrolled in my new school. That first morning, I waited in the glassed-in foyer of my new school, full of curiosity. Outside the grounds were lush and immaculately - already a big change from the gravel playground of my old city school. The only decorations in the foyer were two display cases holding dolls in traditional Japanese dress and some wooden plaques listing the school's honor students - my mum, my aunty and a heap of strangers. The tiled floor sparkled from frequent waxing; it lead to classrooms full of potential.
Eventually someone to our rooms. I stood at the front, exposed and new and met my new teacher, Mrs Q. She hated me. Everyone told me to stop being stupid, I was imagining it. I tried to believe them but even years later, meeting her at my aunty's house, she still had that look in her eyes, still talked to me in that smarmy voice, still looked down her nose. Trust me, that woman hated me on first sight.
One of our first lessons was reading. She got out the box of reading cards. Finally, something familiar. The same reading cards as my old school. She asked me which colour I was on, because the cards were graded by colour. I couldn't wait. Ever since we'd started using the reading cards, I'd had one dream. To get to the aqua cards. Aqua, the word fascinated. I'd never heard of aqua before. When I got onto the aqua cards my life would be sparkly and magical in some way. But, just as I got there, I had to change schools.
Aqua, I told her, full of joy and expectation. But instead of magical sparkliness, I got a harsh lesson in the realities of life. I learnt something about working and achieving to reach your dream that day. See, she didn't believe me. She accused me of lying; no one got up to the aqua cards in grade three. To punish me I had to start again at the beginning.
I think that's when the report cards saying Kathryn does well in class but she could try harder started. They could say what they liked, but I knew the truth. I was robbed. Robbed of my aqua cards. That's where trying harder got you.
Of course, I didn't have to try hard. I was still top of the class. Not that I was super smart or anything like that. But the rest of my class, well they weren't the sharpest knives in the drawer, if you know what I mean. I cared about one thing, and one thing only. To be left alone to read my book. I'd race through my work so I could read. I'd sit alone at lunchtime to read. And later I discovered the best way to get reading time - play up in class and be sent out. I spent so much time on the bench outside the room that I became best mates with the cleaning lady as she pushed the big floor waxing machine up the hall.
Because I went to a country school, we had classes up to year 9 and that meant we had a proper woodwork department. Once a week we'd go to the woodwork department for Craft. One week the teacher demonstrated that week's lesson but I was stuck up the back and couldn't see. I told the teacher and he said that I should be able to see, I was big enough. I had that feeling, that "prickly eyes, lump in the throat, I'm not going to cry in front of everyone" feeling while everyone else laughed. Even bratty kids like I was (maybe especially bratty kids) have feelings, feelings that are easily hurt by adults who are supposed to be grown ups and above petty teasing.
Eventually, I found a way to make my niche. I'd write stories and bring them to school to read to the other kids. Stories about my classmates. Not just stories, but stories with rude bits. Stories about SEX. Of course, being in grade 3 meant I didn't have a very good grasp on the technicalities of sex, no one had told me to write what I know back then, but I learnt that sex sells. Especially in the school ground. I don't know why I stopped but I did (for a few years anyway). Maybe I got found out and told to stop, but I don't remember a big deal being made of it, maybe the other kids got bored. Maybe we all got coca-cola yo-yos instead.
A new girl started at our school. I hated her. I was the new girl, not her. Boy, did it bug me that she was stealing my glory. We were dead enemies for a few months then best friends for many years. We were the artistic ones, the creative ones. It's so much easier to be an outsider when you have someone to be an outsider with. For years we cultivated that outsider-ness. We rebelled against everything that country town life represented. The only problem was that she was always just a little bit better than me at everything. Well, not school work or anything like that but everything that mattered. And she was thin, stick thin. She could eat whatever she liked.
For me, there was diets. A constant round of diets, instigated by my mother, all starting off shiny and promising then slowly dwindling to nothing. I went to Weight Watchers for a while. That was fun. It was an hours drive away because we lived in the country and I got the afternoon off school. Bonus. The downside was that Weight Watchers in those days was very inflexible. I got weighed in a dark, musty room full of middle-aged women (because kids my age weren't fat). I'd get on the scales and someone would holler my weight across the room. Then I'd have to take weirdarsed lunches to school and eat liver once a week. I hated Weight Watchers.
Another time, I went to a hypnotist, Dr X. Again I got out of school early. I don't know what I told the other kids but you can bet it wasn't that I was going to be hypnotised to lose weight. I'd drive there with my mum and her best friend and her friend's kids that had speech impediments. Mum and her friend would gossip all the way, punctuating their words with demands us kids shut up and stay still and chain smoking cigarettes all the way.
Before the hypnosis session, I'd be weighed. I was twelve years old and on a 500 calorie a day diet of fruit and vegetables - yep, healthy and well balanced for a growing kid. Actually by then, I'd stopped growing, in height anyway. I was five foot six and the tallest person in my class. I was so disappointed when the boys caught up. I loved being the tallest. After I was weighed, the nurse would take the results into Dr X. If the results weren't up to scratch, if I'd only lost 2 or 3 pounds, Dr X would walk out to the crowded waiting room and yell abuse at me and at my mother because I must have been cheating.
Then the whole group of us would go into a room to be treated for our assorted complaints. Yep, in with the bed wetters and the stutterers and god knows what. My mum and her friend soon put a stop to it all when they found at that a guy being treated for impotence was in the same session. Dr X was later disbarred.
In between times, I don't remember eating an awful lot. That would come much later. I loved food, I adored it but no more than your average kid. No more than my rake thin friend, no more than my sister, no more than my cousins. But I was the only one that had a problem.
We didn't eat a lot of junk, we lived in the country after all. We didn't even have a local fish and chip shop let alone anything exotic like pizza or Chinese. We never had many chocolates in the house and fizzy cordial was a rare treat. Still every occasion was celebrated with food. Even going to the shop for bread or milk was rewarded with chocolate. Saturday nights, we'd get our money and walked or biked down to the local shop. We'd work out how to get best value for our cash. The chewy longevity of the Buddies versus the 3 for a cent value of traffic lights, Cherry Ripes versus Crunchies. We'd try to make them last but we'd roll to bed after the Saturday night movie, stomachs bulging.
Our meals were big country meals, lots of meat and potatoes. And the cake tins were always full of home cooking.
I loved riding my bike, I played hockey. I even tried to play netball, a hideous sport but I didn't have much choice. With only six girls in my class, everyone had to join in. One year, we got rollerskates for Christmas. I was going to be like Olivia Newton John in Xanadu, floating along in a dainty white dress. Glowing and ethereal. Then, the hard facts hit. Christmas morning we had rollerskates but nowhere to skate. We lived in the country. There was no cement, no footpaths, no car parks. We tried rollerskating on the road but that didn't work. We tried rollerskating on the cricket pitch at the footy ground but got kicked off. We tried the concrete footpath but that got really boring. In the end we gave up and went inside to work out to set up the bats on our TV pingpong game so it would run for infinity.
But at school I hated sport. I'd always have an excuse to skip PE. I'd be sick or I'd "forget" my gear or something. Having to run in front of the kids was bad enough, getting changed in front of them was even worse. I was the typical last one picked for sports and, not only was I fat, I had absolutely no co-ordination either. I sucked so bad at sport it wasn't funny, so like anything else that I wasn't good at, I just gave up. Missing sport was no hardship and it meant I got to sit inside and read my book.
Most of all, I loved swimming. Still. Summers meant holidays at my Nan's shack. At the beach, I was at my best. In the water, I was equal to anyone. I began to discover that I might not be the fastest swimmer though. Those Olympic dreams were fading. Still at the beach, speed didn't matter. Even in the dead of winter, I'd jump in the water. My dream was to become a mermaid to spend my days in the water, weightless and divine.
As soon as we got the shack, I'd want to spring out of the car, Nan's yellow Leyland, and run to the beach to check out my special spots - the Mermaid Cove and the Princess Rock and the hidden Smugglers Beach. The sun would sparkle off the water so bright and I could sense the foot scorching heat of the sand long before I reached the beach. But my Nan would stop me. I'd have to help unpack the car and change into something sensible and wait for her to put sunscreen on my cousins who had skin so fair they'd burn to a crisp in the sun. All the while I'd be jumping around with my impatience dance and she'd roll her eyes and tsk at me.
My Nan thought girls should be thin and dainty and quiet and ladylike. Girls that were fat grow up to be like my great aunt, Mona, who was so fat that when she died her coffin couldn't fit through the door so they had to take it out the french windows. We'd run in at lunch time famished from a morning of swimming and running around the rocks. She'd tsk again and tell me that I thought of nothing but my stomach. My cousins, on the other hand, had proper appetites. They'd eat so slow, lunchtime would stretch out forever and there was so much to do out of the house. I'd stare at my empty plate and tell them to hurry up.
After dinner, we'd play Monopoly and I'd buy Mayfair and Park Lane and bankrupt everyone then I'd have to go in and ask Nan for a snack because they were too shy. And I never thought of anything but my stomach.
I wanted to be thin, I wanted to wear cool clothes like the other kids and to grow up to marry a Bay City Roller. But I hated the nagging. I hated being reminded that I was fat. Mostly I tried to ignore it. I'm only just starting to realise the worst of childhood is this: when you are a kid, if you are different you are held to blame for your difference. It doesn't matter if you are fat or you have greasy hair or you have short back and side when the other boys have their hair long and shaggy or you wear the wrong jeans, you are responsible for your freakishness. But you are a kid. You have no power to change these things. All the blame, no responsibility - that's why I mock people who say the school years are the best years of your life.
Yet, despite my weight problems, despite the gibes from my Nan and despite the weird diets, I was mostly happy. I had a safe little world, with my best friend at school. I had a comfortable life at home in our weatherboard house surrounded by green hills and a whole army of relatives. I had a colour TV and a trampoline. I had my ABBA records and my sketch pads and oil paints to escape into. This was my world and I knew my place in it. But that was all to change. The pressure to lose weight was becoming stronger. I was about to start high school. And, as everyone told me, high school could be hell for fat girls.
As I read this, I think of a little girl whom no one really knew and who kept herself from those who inexplicably abused her for no reason. It's a heartbreaker.
It is so sad to hear what people do to children - whether intentional or unintentional. I think that it is great that you are working through this and putting it on paper. Take care and be good to yourself !
This is compulsive reading. Reminds me so much of my childhood years.
You are such a great writer. I felt like I was reading a novel, but then realised it was real and that the emotion and teasing and dieting was real, and I feel sad. Good on you for getting it out. And I hate your teacher ;)
boobs: 100 cm
waist: 81 cm
hips: 109 cm
thighs: 50 cm
Weekly Goal Lifestyle Changing Challenge-A-Rama
Week 1 - Drink more water
Week 2 - Cut out sugary treats