Excerpt from Moose: A Memoir of Fat Camp by Stephanie Klein.
I realized its effectiveness while filling out a personal progress journal, one of those fill-in-the-blanks self-help journals, Mad Libs for the manic. I purchased it the afternoon following his admission. Not as attracted, I kept repeating to myself. I hid away in the bookstore, sipping water in the upstairs café. I borrowed a pen and did some of the exercises within.
In a short paragraph, the journal instructed me to “identify one person in your everyday life who is taking positive steps to be healthy and control his or her weight.” Oprah was first on my list—not exactly in my everyday life, but certainly a person who’d broadcast her weight-loss successes. I paused, biting my inner lip in thought. Then I scrawled the name of a woman from work who was quite possibly anorexic. As far as I could tell, the only calories she consumed came from the milk in her coffee. And as fucked up as it is, there she was in blue ink on my role model list. I added a childhood friend I’d heard lost a lot of weight. Then Michelle, another coworker. And then the list changed.
I scribbled the name of an exboyfriend who once said, “You’re bigger than the girls I usually date.” Another who when we returned from winter break in college had said, “Well, someone’s mother fed her well.” I added the name of ex-friends, including the slurs I could remember. “Jordan,” I wrote, “and the case of the fat pants.” I added my motherfuckerinlaw, and then my husband.
I’d get thin and stylish and look better than ever, and my motivation was never “so he’ll love me more.” It was “so the ass-hat will regret ever uttering those words.” Healthy marriage, I know. That’s a different book.
It was just as it had been at camp all those years ago. I was still motivated by hate. Take that, judgmental windbag. I’m thin. I suppose it’s along the same lines as “the best revenge is being deliriously happy.” My best revenge was being thin. Because you can’t really see happy; people can fake that. You can’t fake thin.
So I would begin, as we all do, a diet. A crash and burn bitch of a diet. But how? What would work this time? Hadn’t anything I’d learned from Fran or fat camp prepared me for this? No, there had to be something easier.
I resolved to follow the advice in the journal and ask the thin people on my list how they did it. Oprah had personal trainers and private chefs and wasn’t, if you can believe it, returning my phone calls. I hadn’t actually seen the childhood friend on my list, so it would be quite awkward to phone her out of the blue. “Hey, it’s been forever, but I heard you’re no longer a tub. What’s your secret to staying motivated?” I decided to ask my waif coworker how she did it.
“Don’t do anything that makes you sweat,” she confided, quite eager to divulge her secrets. “It’ll make you too hungry. Do yoga if you have to, but not the hot kind. And don’t keep any food in the house. Just turkey. That’s it. And drink lots of coffee,” Waif Worker said, raising a fresh cup of it.
“But I’m hungry,” I’d whine over our cubicle divider.
“No, you’re not. You just think you are. Let’s go tanning.” Instead of using our lunch hour to eat, some afternoons we’d zip to her favorite tanning salon. “Seeing yourself naked should be enough motivation to keep your mouth shut,” she’d said. “Well, I don’t mean you,” she stumbled, “just in general. Besides, tan conceals cellulite.” Yuh-huh.
I liked how bossy she was. It was almost as if she personified my own selfcontrol. My willpower was power-walking around the streets of New York in her Nike trainers. When I was around her, I didn’t have to regulate myself because I knew she’d do it for me.
When I wasn’t with her, I did all I could to keep my mind off food. I knew my motivation to lose weight would wax and wane, so I needed a plan I could stick to whether I liked dieting or not. I couldn’t just wake up and decide I was going to eat healthfully; I’d actually need to do it. I knew myself well enough to know my patterns. Usually, I’d feel hopeful that I’d made it through the first three days of whatever diet it was. Then the diet seemed easier. “Hey, I can do this!” I’d feel proud of myself for doing what my mind was urging me to. I respected myself more and wanted less. “I will not fail at this” became my mantra, and I believed it. But after a few weeks of success, I’d slip into my old ways again, thinking I was immune to weight gain. So this time I thought all I really needed was to get out of the house, away from food, as often as I could. I scribbled ideas into the journal.
At night go to Barnes & Noble.
Hide in movie theaters.
Wake up early & get your tan cellulite to the gym.
When out for dinner, order only a small salad, and an appetizer, not an entrée.
After work, instead of rushing home to prepare dinner, I’d go to Bloomingdale’s and try on clothes two sizes too small. On purpose. If I chose clothes that actually fit, I might start to feel okay about myself. And that wouldn’t do. See, I’d say to my stomach as it toppled over, you’ve still got a long way to go. The very words, by the by, Poppa had uttered when I was twelve and just starting to lose weight again with Fran.
After a few weeks, Waif Worker asked me to grocery shop for her. “It’s just that Kyle Peck is coming over, and you’re so good at all that domestic stuff.” And? “And I don’t have time to do it all myself. I have to go out and buy plates.” Of course she didn’t own plates. She didn’t eat. Still, who doesn’t have plates? I blinked at her. “I have to put food in my cabinets, or he’ll think I’m a freak.” You are a freak. “Can’t you make me seem normal?” It would be a miracle at the 34th Street supermarket.
I food-shopped for her apartment because it never occurred to me to say, “Are you fucking kidding me? Why you gotta send the fat girl for the food?” It never crossed my mind to say no. So I went to the market and spent too much time analyzing not my own behavior, but what items would say about her.
What exactly would cornflakes seem to convey about Waif Worker? Wholesome, with an appreciation for the simpler things. I strolled amid the colorful rows of food products looking for other statements. The red and navy canister of Quaker Oats declared that she had patience. Microwave popcorn: the girl appreciates technology. I added a pound of Bavarian old-fashioned pretzels to the shopping cart because girls are always snacking on pretzels. Lorna Doone shortbread cookies.
I paused. No, men like to eat Mallomars. Impressive, he’d think upon seeing the yellow box. I bet she likes sports. I’d buy nothing low fat or low sugar. She wouldn’t want him to think she ever thought about her weight. Instead the goal was to wow him with her genes, a girl who can eat and still look like that! A six-pack of Dr. Pepper and a tub of Jif and I was done.
I retraced my steps to the Lorna Doones despite having decided on the Mallomars. Screw it. I filled the cart with everything I wanted. Nacho-flavored Combos, potato skins, frozen miniature hot dogs, and a red bag of Tater Tots. A jar of Cheez Whiz. Tostitos. A half-gallon of Moose Tracks. A canister of Pringles. The cart brimmed with all the things I could never have. A tub of icing. Now we’re talking. A box of cake mix—no, not just cake mix. Mix with pudding in the batter. Ooh, what else? How extraordinarily freeing. Go on and giggle, Doughboy. Oh, yes I can! How delicious to pretend I could be this free from food.
When I reached the checkout counter, I picked at my nails. People are going to think this is all for me. Well, it’s no wonder, they’ll think as they eye my arm lard. What am I doing? Just look at yourself. You have no control. But she gets to. Yeah, but she doesn’t eat it. For her it’s just decor. Go home to your husband, the one who thinks you’re too fat to fuck.
I abandoned the cart in the checkout line, pretending to double back for a forgotten essential item. I left the store emptyhanded.
I went home and filled my empty hands with folded slices of white pizza. I annihilated the pie and wondered how her date would go without the props that told the story of a life she didn’t live. I ate until I felt ill. I stepped on the scale and became afraid of myself. That was it, my moment. That moment you have when you know you’re out of control. I didn’t want to undo all the summers I’d spent at fat camp, all the times I’d exercised and suffered. I didn’t want to become Moose again. In that moment, everything stopped spinning and I was left with a quiet truth that wept and hung on my insides.
I couldn’t continue to live like this anymore. Like Waif Worker, I too needed someone to make me seem normal.
That someone, I hoped, would be Michelle, the second coworker on my list. Maybe she’d have an answer. If she could do it, then so could I. I demanded she share with me her weight loss secrets.
“Oh, I just eat right and exercise,” she said.
“Bullshit. Tell me.”
“What? It’s true.”
“No it’s not. You love food as much as I do.” She’d gone from a size 12 to a size 2 in approximately eight months, and now she had sculpted arms—guns, really. A woman with chiseled triceps is never hiding fat elsewhere. It’s the telltale sign that she probably even looks better naked. I wondered who’d pissed her off; that kind of thin only came from hate.
“Why are you asking me this?” Why? Because I’m fat and miserable, and that never happens.
“Because you look so great.” Because I need help.
“Well,” she softened. I leaned in. “Okay, so you have to promise not to tell anyone.” I shook my head quickly, my left hand in the air.
(Part 1) | Part 2
Excerpt from Moose: A Memoir of Fat Camp by Stephanie Klein