By Margery Berger
My scale is always with me. It was with me when I went away to college, when my mother died, when my children were born and when my marriage ended after 28 years. I spend time with it every morning, every night, before bed and often at some other point during the day if I change my clothes.
I’ve been weighing myself since 7th grade. I did the math--that’s 48 years times 365 days, times two, which equals 35,040 weigh-ins. That’s not counting the additional times I weighed myself when I changed my clothes.
I’ve picked up a few other rituals through the years. I sleep with my iPad in case I need to read in the middle of the night. I don’t touch doorknobs without covering my hand with my sleeve. I hate using the pen things on credit card processors to sign my name especially at the pharmacy. Who knows how many people picking up Tamaflu touched it before me? If I have to, I’ll use my trusty hand sanitizer I keep in my purse. And the scale, I still eat and go on vacations, as long as I have it with me.
At 12, since I didn’t have my own scale, I would go into my parents’ bathroom, shut the door and strip down to my underwear. I stepped on the scale first thing in the morning, when I got home from tennis and again after dinner. If I weighed 88 instead of 87, I’d exercise more and eat a little less.
At sleepaway camp in Maine, I’d head up to the infirmary, before breakfast, where the scale was on the front porch. One summer--I can’t remember if I was 13 or 14--I grew almost 4 inches and lost 8 pounds. I went from 92 to 84 lbs. I wasn’t fat before that, but I wasn’t one of those kids who looked like a noodle with knees either. When I got home from camp, my mother told me how great I looked. I liked my new skinny body. A few years later, boys liked it too.
My weighing ritual hasn’t changed much through the years, except, of course, I no longer have to sneak into my parents’ bathroom to do it.
I take off my watch and my clothes, but I leave my underwear on if I’m not going to take a shower. Sometimes, I take out my ponytail rubber band, though I know it doesn’t weigh anything. I pee, even if I don’t have to, because I might weigh less after peeing. When I was pregnant, the nurse at the obstetrician’s office wasn’t surprised when I took off my jewelry and whatever else I could. She said all the skinny ones do that.
Twenty years ago, we took the kids on a 10 day ski trip to Vail, a long time to be away from my scale. I found a travel scale at Bed, Bath and Beyond. I justified the purchase by thinking I’d enjoy what I ate more if I knew how much I weighed. Unfortunately, the scale beeped every time I stepped on it, broadcasting my not-so-secret weigh-ins to my family through the closed bathroom door. Immediately afterwards, I would put it back in my suitcase, out of sight, not wanting to impart my bad habit to my 11-year-old daughter. I didn’t want to give her the message that being thin is the only way to be.
I’ve since found a better, quieter travel scale—a sleek looking, non-beeping digital one. It has a protective sleeve and fits neatly in my carry-on. That matters to me--I’m a good packer. The type that reads articles about the virtues of folding or rolling clothes and I have lots of Container Store inserts to keep my suitcase in perfect order. That’s off the scale topic... Or is it? People with eating disorders have control issues.
My travel scale comes with me whether I’m going for a few days or a few weeks. I always feel anxious as it goes through the screening machines. On the few occasions when my bag has been flagged, the TSA person finds my travel scale, takes it out of its case, rubs that thing over it that checks for dangerous chemicals and asks, “What’s this?”
“It’s a scale,” I say, and feel my face heat up. I want to think of an excuse, like it’s a gift for the friend I’m visiting or I need it for medical reasons. The scrutiny and embarrassment are worth it to me. I’ll know how much I weigh.
I keep a backup 9 volt battery in my toiletry case. There’s always a possibility that the travel scale battery will go dead. It would be difficult to find a 9 volt battery in the middle of Vietnam, and even harder to explain why I need it.
In 1992, I inherited the best bathroom scale ever from my father-in-law, the medical kind, and it looked so good in our black and white tile bathroom. When it broke about a year ago, I ponied up $488 for a worthy replacement. Bc I couldn’t trust a lowly $20 digital scale, no matter how good the online reviews were.
How did this obsession with the scale begin? Was it creepy cousin Ira’s comment, when I was 8? “You have such a pretty face, but you’d look better if you were skinnier.” Or was it images of Twiggy, the model, or the skinny Mary Tyler Moore or the gorgeous, but eating-disordered Audrey Hepburn? Or was it my stepfather telling me I had a Jewish figure, code for not skinny? Or is this compulsion to weigh myself hard wired into my brain. like OCD? Maybe all of the above.
I remember how much I weighed for each of the major events in my life: At 5’5”, I was thin at 116 pounds, my weight when I got married and when I got pregnant with both of my kids. I gained exactly 25 pounds each time, and lost the weight within 2 weeks of giving birth, both times. In 1986, I exercised to Jane Fonda’s video while my 1 week old daughter napped in her bassinet.
The most I ever weighed, non-pregnant, was my senior year of college. After a winter blizzard and lots of Entenmann’s cookies, I ballooned up to 128 pounds. When I got home from college that spring, my mother said, “You got chunky.”
My future husband/now ex-husband used to remind me regularly that he remembered the noise my corduroy pants made as my thighs rubbed together during that heftier time. For years he said, “You look much better thinner.” He said, “I wasn’t as attracted to you then.”
Now, I leave food on my plate. Many of my friends watch what I don’t eat. Some say to the others at the table, “She doesn’t eat.” or say to me “I wish I could be like you and have willpower.”
I explain, “I’m a grazer, I had a banana before I came. I ate a bunch of mint chocolate malted milk balls from Fresh Market. They’re my favorite.” Again, the scrutiny, while uncomfortable, is worth it.
Running helps. I can weigh myself before a run, then again after, and be a pound and a half less. the morning my marriage blew up, I had trouble catching my breath, but I ran. I told myself it was therapeutic, and sometimes running helps me think more clearly, but I ran that day, like I do on lots of other days, so I can see the number drop on the scale. I weighed 112 that day. I stayed at 111 for the next 6 years. Now, I weigh less. This morning, 107.
I can’t control my wrinkles or my age spots or my kids or my ex, but I can control my weight.
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This story was read by Margery Berger on Episode 46: An Object is Not Just an Object. Click to listen.
The world feels so ugly right now. Everything on the news is sickening. But there's a way to cope and that is to create art. No one does it better than Asia Samson of the Asia Project, who is coming to Miami to teach us how to write and perform.
You're invited to take a day and make something good. All levels. Space is limited. Sign up here!
I am a 35 year old woman and have been married to my husband for six years. We have two young boys, and our relationship has been strained for about a year. Lately I’ve become suspicious of my husband’s friendship with a coworker.
He started mentioning her name more and more this year, and one night I couldn’t help myself.
I looked through his text messages and saw two messages from the co-worker saying “Here’s my number for when you’re lonely :)” and “You know what they say about things people do when they’re drinking…”
There was no reply from my husband and these were the only texts from this woman. I don’t know if he’s cheating on me, but I have so many questions. Do I tell him I read his text messages? Should I ask if he’s cheating? I’m embarrassed that I read them at all but I want to confront him about this woman.
Ashamed of Snooping
I feel pretty strongly about this. You must tell him. Yes, invading the privacy of someone you’ve committed to partnering with is a destructive move, but your mistake doesn’t negate your husband’s behavior. You cannot un-pick up the phone and un-read those text messages, so there’s no reason to dwell on the wrongness of the act itself. You’ve done it already. Shame will not serve you half as well as honesty.
I am not speaking from a place of judgement, Ashamed. Far from it. I can clearly remember a former me, hunched over an ex-lover’s phone, thumbs shaking and breath shallow as I clicked through his private conversations.
One morning (because I usually did this in the morning, while he was taking a shower) I found something I’d been looking for. It was a confirmation of a needling suspicion: my boyfriend had indeed been hiding something from me.
The striking thing about that morning is not what I found or that I found it, but how I felt once I did: relieved.
Relieved because the distance between us had a recognizable shape, something tangible to blame. Relieved that I was right, he’d stopped touching me for a reason, he was not just “stressed about work” — and relieved because I didn’t have to continue pretending to be satisfied in my relationship. It was, for me, the excuse I thought I needed to blow shit up.
Dear Person Week 3
I’m just a woman seeking a birth control method that isn’t going to torture me and destroy my body. I’ve been on different birth control pills since I was 16 years old; at first for acne and then to “help” with ovarian cysts. In February, I decided to swap my pills for a hormonal IUD. It was okay for the first 3 months, but now I’m getting cysts again. I’m in so much pain and in and out of the ER constantly. If I take it out, ovulation will cause cysts, but if I leave it in, the IUD will cause cysts. I can go back on the pill, but it makes me moody and heightens my anxiety.
I truly don’t think enough research has been done on birth control methods and the female body in general. Is there such a thing as a doctor who knows what they’re talking about in this regard? The raging feminist inside me is furious with the fact that men don’t have to deal with this shit. I’m feeling totally lost and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life hopping from symptom to symptom, all for the sake of pregnancy prevention. Part of me just wants to say, “fuck it,” and go off everything and just deal if I start getting cysts again.
I realize you’re not a doctor (as far as I know), but I wondered if you had any advice on how to navigate this under-researched and over-medicated territory.
I am so sorry to hear about how much pain you’re in, dear. Some people have bodies that allow them to move through the world easily and without pain, and others simply don’t. To make matters worse, many of us in the “don’t” category happen to have uteruses. I’m not going to tell you that your suffering is noble or that you’ll learn valuable lessons from it. There’s enough of that rhetoric floating around already, and most of it is bullshit.
You’re right that I am not a doctor, but I think the raging feminist in me can at least sit on the couch and talk with your feminist for a little while, and maybe afterward we’ll both feel a little less angry and a little more hopeful.
Like most teenagers, Frustrated, I spent a significant amount of time watching and imitating people I thought were cooler than me. At sixteen I wasn’t really a person at all, I was more like a wire figure covered in a patchwork quilt of my heroes’ habits. Patti Smith wore black? I wore black. James Joyce wrote his manuscripts in blue crayon? I wrote in pen because I didn’t know who the fuck James Joyce was until college.
Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Anyway. . .
Maya Kieffer is a Writing Class Radio student, bookseller, writing teacher in prison and the creator of Dear Person, an advice blog. Below, an excerpt from her blog.
Dear Person Week Two: In This One, We Bring Up Nazis.
I recently moved to a beach town and needed to make some money while I set up my own business, so I applied to work at a hotel on the beach front. I have years of experience and got the job offer on the first interview. They also told me they were seasonal and closed during the fall. It sounded perfect for my needs.
The job is great, I can see the beach from my desk and my coworkers are nice to me. The issue is that my manager and the operating owners are extremely racist. I should say before we continue that I am white. I work with people who are African American and some maids who are Mexican.
The people in management make comments like, “The maintenance man does a good job, when he does his job. He can’t help it though, because he is black.” If they suspect the majority of our guests for the day will be black they will say stupid things like, “Today’s forecast: 69 degrees and the sky is Black.”
They are also diehard Fox News watchers and love Trump but can’t name a policy they support. Lately, they have been coming to me because of the Facebook hearings because they don’t understand and I “keep up with these things.” That makes me so upset. They are being intentionally obtuse and just internalizing what hate mongers tell them.
I need to make it to October so I can launch my business. How can I handle this in the best way?
Dear Staying Silent,
I suspect your question is not actually about how to remain at this job until October. I say this because you already know how to stay: continue showing up to the hotel and completing your paperwork with a sealed mouth. I also suspect you’ve written in hoping that someone might respond with absolution in the form of “Do what you gotta do to keep paying the bills!”
But Silent, I truly believe there is something else buried within your letter. The fact that these ugly (and, honestly, straight up idiotic) comments have stayed with you — and that they’ve become so heavy you needed to dump them out — tells me there’s a decent-sized chunk of you genuinely seeking change. This is the part of you that I’d like to speak to.
By Maya Kieffer, Writing Class Radio student and creator of Dear Person, an advice blog.
When I hear the word black, the first word I think of is lives and then matter, which is good in a way. I’m glad this movement was successful enough to be the first thing I think of, but at the same time I’m so resistant to being advertised to that I hate how my thoughts go to a slogan. That’s sort of the point of a slogan though, right? To be memorable.
The other day a guy came into the bookstore — a really hot black guy in a Black Lives Matter t-shirt — and he asked me if we had any history books about slavery. The weird thing is, we don’t. The weirder thing is that I didn’t say, “We don’t.” Instead, I said, “We don’t, but we do have this,” and I showed him a copy of a book called Things That Make White People Uncomfortable.
This was a stupid joke, a bad move considering I’d never met this guy and couldn’t guess whether or not he’d be offended, but I’m trying this thing where I say and do things without over-analyzing them. Normally, I’d consider the joke and then retreat down into some frightening cavern in my brain where I try and assess if this is a good or a bad idea. But my hair looked good that day, I was wearing my favorite shoes, and like I said I’m practicing being bolder. So I made the joke.
He didn’t laugh. But he didn’t look angry, either. He looked confused, as if I, a white person, seriously thought this book was a viable substitute for a history of racism in the US. I tried to save myself and said, “Sorry, bad joke.” His puzzled face softened into a half-smile, but I’m pretty sure it was more out of pity than amusement.
He said, “Thanks” and walked out the door.