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Dead Girl Walking…

by Dr. Deah on Jan.26, 2011, under Tasty Morsels: by Dr. Deah Schwartz

….And the School Nurse says, “Next…” and you are walking the last mile.  Unlike the walk to the “chamber” or the “chair” there was no “last meal request.”  In fact, you haven’t eaten since noon the previous day when the principal announced over the P.A. that, “Tomorrow is Weight Day.”

That morning, I tried every trick in the book to get out of going to school, but my mother had to work, my father was already at work, and I didn’t have the pre-requisites for staying home.

  • Fever over 100 and or
  • white spots in my throat, and or
  • Having been up all night puking.

I put on my lightest weight clothing.  Even though it was winter and I was in Far Rockaway, New York.  Girls weren’t allowed to wear pants to school yet so I knew I would be cold no matter what.  I might as well go ALL OUT!

I went to the back of the closet where my summer clothes were hanging and pulled out the tulle princess skirt and the light cotton blouse. “Perfect,” I murmured, the combined weight of the clothing would be less than my warm wonderful woolen skirt, woolen knee socks and thick hand knitted favorite gray sweater.  That would be good for at least a two pound difference.

I covered it all up with my heavy winter coat, so my mom wouldn’t yell at me to change into something warmer. I threw the Cream of Wheat cereal in the garbage, and made it past her X-ray eyes.

I had a higher purpose in mind.  I was battling the enemy that day.  It was me versus the Dark Lord, The Sith, The School Scale.  I was six years old.

The Last Mile

I couldn’t understand it.  Why was it so public?  Why did they put the scale on the stage of the auditorium and have every person in the school there to hear the nurse announce the NUMBER for all to hear.  It was like the Salem Witch Burnings! Why did the boys, except for Michael O. (name changed) NOT seem to care?  Why were there other girls wearing crepe paper to school that day instead of clothing???

Why? Why? Why?

I never knew there was anything wrong with my body until they started weighing me at school.  I played kickball, flipped baseball cards, jumped Double Dutch and was NO slouch at Freeze Tag.  One of the gang, until I met up with Scale-a-tor, who zapped away my self- esteem in one defining moment.

“Next!”  The Nurse called again, impatiently. There were so many more people to humiliate and time was ticking away.  I took off my shoes and socks.  (Years later I would also take off my rings and watch, but I was still a novice).

“Step On.”  In retrospect I wonder, what would have happened if I had said, “No.” and just curtsied and walked off the stage?

But I was obedient and stepped up.  She moved the little weight bit by bit and then raised her eyebrows.  She had to move the BIG weight…the one that brings you into another decade of the scale…the ten pound weight.  I was bad.

I was BAD!!

She proclaimed my weight for all to hear. I grabbed my saddle shoes and socks and ran off the stage.  (Ironic, years later I would be on the stage performing in Leftovers, a play about self and size acceptance).  But in that moment I had walked the Last Mile, got zapped and a part of me died.

Today Childhood Obesity is being proclaimed the new epidemic. You cannot open a newspaper or watch the news without reading about the topic. My hope is that people stay informed on the subject.  That nurses, nutritionists, therapists, moms dads, focus on other SCALES to measure a child’s health. Eating Disorders among kids are running rampant and self-loathing is a co-morbid condition anytime a child is measured just by BMI and weight alone.  Montana is introducing a new health focused plan for kids, that may be a better model. Linda Bacon and  Lucy Aphramor are presenting pertinent research for a paradigm shift.  And Leftovers To Go is committed to providing tools for therapists and educators to help their clients by using humor and the arts to heal from their time on “Death Row.”

Happy and Healthy and No Scale in Sight!

Happy and Healthy and NO SCALE in Sight!

3 comments for this entry:
  1. elizabeth

    Sadly, your story is one that is still repeated over & over in the name of “health” for kids all over the USA. I love the idea of using humor & the arts to heal from our culture’s widespread obsession with body size, and as an easier introduction to the concepts of being healthy (and happy) at all sizes.

  2. Bill Fabrey


    Your great post a few days ago (Dead Girl Walking) brought back some memories about school weigh-ins.
    I remember, all too well, similar scenes from my grade school gym class
    once a year in the 1950′s. It wasn’t enough we had to worry about the
    atom bomb and pimples. My situation was a little different than the fat kids: I was
    skinny (at the time) and embarrassed at how LITTLE I weighed. One other
    thing, though. I admired the chubby girls, and listened carefully as
    the weights were called out. I remember once being disappointed when my
    favorite girl was last in line, and the school nurse (fat herself) ran
    out of time because of the bell to change classes.

    And then I began to notice that the larger kids acted embarrassed when
    their weights were read, and that the largest of them always got on the
    end of the line, to postpone that moment of agony for as long as humanly
    possible. I began to personally commiserate about how they felt, and
    how wrong it was to weigh people in public.

    That was more than five decades ago, and I became a size acceptance
    activist in 1969, only 15 years after the events I described to you that happened
    in grade school! Your writing brought it all back to me–thank you!

    Bill Fabrey

  3. Dr. Deah

    Thank you Bill and thank you sharing this poignant and powerful story!

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