March 15th, 2010

I walked into the locker room of Unbridled Nakedness (see previous posts if you need further explanation) and stopped short when I piled into a gaggle of young girls stacked seven deep in a line. They had stopped suddenly as a woman who was in at least in her 60s, walked in front of them. The woman they were waiting on to pass had nothing on (that I could see) except a towel around her WAIST.

I’ve already owned up to being a prude so not only did I run smack into girls, I also resembled the girls insofar as I was standing there my mouth dropped open, looking like a guppy.

Without getting too graphic let me just say this woman (in her 60s, did I say that already? Well it bears repeating.) had the largest set of ‘er, well, breasts, I’ve ever seen with the naked eye. The visage of a (clothed) Dolly Parton popped into my head, actually. And while gravity hadn’t been too kind to the naked sexagenarian, I quickly felt down to my size B- cups to make sure my saggy, baggy boobs (I lied about not getting too graphic) were strapped up inside my sports bra: a place where they cannot go anywhere regardless of how much I might need to take a deep breath and decided that age had been kinder to her, in myriad of ways apparently, than it had ever been to me.

After the spectacle, the girls moved along and I escaped to a locker where I divested myself of my coat and car keys. As I was locking up, trying to get the image of that woman’s breasts out of my mind, I found myself wondering what was up with the group of girls. There are rarely more than 1-2 girls in the locker room at any given time. Heading out of the locker room (and trying to keep my eyes on the floor) I once again stopped short.

There were the girls. Now, however, I noticed they all had on t-shirts that said, “I Came to Play” sprawled across their backs. They were standing, still in a line, with a perky 20-something gym employee-cum-camp-counselor with them. The ‘camp counselor’ was – you guessed it – blonde. They are always blonde. They are always perky.

The chipper 20-something was weighing each girl on the scale kept in the locker room. This is not your normal bathroom scale. It is a stainless steel box that when you get on it, your weight is displayed on the wall in a nice red digital format, rather large font. I glanced at the line of girls and wondered what on earth would possess anyone to weigh young girls in a public setting where they each get to see each others’ weight.

Aren’t our young girls already too focused on their weight and have body image issues? Why start them at eight or nine or ten?

Then I caught myself and thought, “Lara – not everyone has weight whack-a-do-ness like you do.”

I quickly scanned the line of girls. They were all about the same weight, probably around 60 pounds. All of the girls were laughing and looking on curiously as the girl in front of them was weighed. They didn’t seem stressed out.

Then I saw the girl at the back of the line. She was not joining in the friendly chatter; she was not smiling. She was heavier than the rest of the girls. And when she looked up and I saw the unhappiness in her eyes I wanted to scream at the 20-something: “Stop it! Right now! Do you have any idea what you’re about to do to this child?”

In the next few minutes, if it hasn’t happened before, that young, heavy set little girl is going to be stigmatized and it might take her 30+ years to get over it.

I know of which I speak.

Suddenly I was transported back to my first grade classroom: Classes for first and second graders were taken in what used to be called, “Pre-Fabs.” The buildings were wooden, and the floors noisy when young children ran across them. I can still smell the chalk, and hear the loud excited voices as we all line up, grateful for any chance to get out of our desks.

Mrs. Walls, in her infinite wisdom, had decided to draw a long line on the chalk board where we would learn about numbers plotted on a number line. As part of the lesson she was going to weigh us and then we would plot our weight along the line. She had already told us that she would be point farthest away.

Like the little girl in the gym locker room, as we all filed down to the side of the classroom to form a straight line, I too, hung toward the end of the line.

Why wouldn’t I? I was the fat kid.

I watched as each child ahead of me was weighed and then successfully plotted their respective weights on the number line.

When it came my turn, red hot shame suffused my face and I refused to get on the scale.

There was nothing Mrs. Walls could have done would have coerced me onto that hateful piece of metal. “But, dear,” she said, her voice kind, not to mention clueless. “If you don’t want to be weighed can you tell me how much you weigh?”

Having no idea how much I actually weighed but almost in tears I blurted out the biggest number I knew, “125!”

Even Mrs. Walls gasped.

My humiliation was complete when I walked to the black chalkboard and with trembling hands plotted the hateful number in front of my abruptly silent classmates.

Mrs. Walls duly weighed herself and recorded her weight as 128.

Snapping myself back to the Locker Room of Unbridled Nakedness and to the young girl at the back of the line who was fidgeting nervously as she grew closer and closer to the scale, I longed to take her into my arms and tell her it would be okay: that her weight isn’t an indicative of her value as a person. Unfortunately I had to turn 40 before I realized that….and occasionally it is still a struggle.

I wish I could tell her that she would not be judged by her size or her looks, but that would be a lie unless something drastic changes in our society.

I wish I could tell her that this moment in time doesn’t matter but chances are she will remember that day in the locker room as one of the worst days of her young life.

Standing in one spot long enough that I was beginning to draw looks from the girls, I weighed my options. What could I do? What could I say either to the little girl or to the 20-something camp counselor? Any interference on my part would only draw attention to the little girl and I’m fairly sure that is the last thing she’d have wanted.

I swallowed hard and forced myself to leave the locker room and head toward my car. I felt like a failure. I felt as if I’d watched a train wreck and then turned my back, walking away from the victims.

It has been two weeks since I ran into the group of girls in the locker room and still I am haunted by the face of the little girl at the end of the line as well as haunted by my own painful past in similar shoes.

This was the story I set out to tell when I started my gym arc of these three posts. I hope you enjoyed them all. It was fun to write to a theme….and fortunately for me, there is a lot of fodder at my gym!

A question to you now: what could I have done differently? What words of wisdom might you have offered to that little girl or even this old-little girl? What own torturous stories of childhood do you have to share with me? We all know misery loves company! I hope to hear from you here or on FB or via email.

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