Through the looking glass: Feel the burn

Every morning I slap my alarm to stop the intrusive assault on my dreams and auditory nerves. Five minutes later, I do it again. Depending on whether I successfully hit snooze, and not off, I will repeat the game in another five minutes. I am not now, nor have I ever claimed to be, a morning person.

After squeezing every last ounce of sleep I can possibly muster, I concede and decide to get up. Sitting on the edge of my bed long enough to allow my brain to grasp the concept of forward movement, I take in the view from my window and do a quick checklist on wardrobe for the day. By the time I make it to the bathroom, I have a rough idea of what I want to wear, how I want to do my hair and makeup and a vague itinerary for the day. Nothing is confirmed, however, until I complete a ritual that continues to dictate what my mood for that day will be. For as long as I can remember I have started each day this way. Within mere seconds, what may have started as a day of optimism, cheerfulness, or grand intentions, can be catapulted into a spiral of grief, defeat and complacency that has no room for productivity or creativeness. The smallest fixture in my bathroom, it has the largest, and often most ominous, presence: the scale. It has been my inner voice for most of my life. Occasionally I have been able to shun the scale for up to a week, but I can never hold out for long. I always come back. It waits patiently; fully aware of the hold it has on me.

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About a year and a half ago my love/hate relationship with my scale hit a fever pitch. Something finally clicked and I decided to become obsessive in a healthier way. I immediately ate only healthy food and smaller portions. I never ate after supper and refused to even touch chocolate. Some things I just can’t do in moderation! Along with my new regimen I decided to start exercising.

Having been down this road before I had long since abandoned the community gym. I’d once had a routine that brought me to the gym daily and included the elliptical, treadmill and weights. Having been sufficiently mortified by the buff and slenders and competitive body builder types, I had quickly scoped out the least busy time and faithfully entered the gym each day at that time. One day, after completing my workout, I went over by the mirror where I had left my water bottle and towel. My heart racing, pits sweaty, I felt good. Accomplished. Soon I could come workout with the popular kids! Turning to complete my sets on the weights, I walked squarely, with great purpose, INTO the barbell that had been placed perfectly at eye level. My response, however immediate and sincere, was less than eloquent. ‘Feel the burn’ soared to a whole new level as I swore, staggered back, slammed into the mirror and slumped into a moaning, blubbering, tearful heap. My eyes flooded with tears as if I’d just been maced. My head instantly throbbed and the ringing in my ears became louder than even my own graphic profanity. My knees failed and I felt a fleeting urge to vomit.

When I was finally able to focus my vision on shapes and colours again, despite my dramatic display, it seemed I had failed to draw any attention whatsoever. The music thumping through the speakers had effectively camouflaged my articulate rant. The other patrons seemed oblivious to my theatrics as they casually went on with their workouts. Part of me was annoyed, but the bigger part was relieved. I left quietly and never returned to the gym again. My two black eyes took a few weeks and copious amounts of makeup to cover. Incidentally, I was working with Social Services at the time, helping women who suffered from spousal abuse. I tried to explain the event to one client to which she scoffed, “you think you’d come up with something better than that.”

Following that fiasco, I purchased an elliptical trainer for my home. Now, many years later, I confidently marched up to my elliptical trainer, took a deep breath and removed the clothes, pillows and magazines that had claimed it as home. I’d forgotten it was blue! I placed my feet firmly in the treads, programmed a nice easy workout and began the familiar circular strides. Happy with my progression I began to dream about swimsuit season. After five minutes I was crumpled in a heap on the floor trying to punch out 911 on the phone with my lifeless fist.

After a few days I decided to try a different approach. I decided to go running. Well, jogging. OK, walking, but I got out there nonetheless! Strapping on my iPod, I found just the right beat. I stretched. Double knotted my laces and clutched two leashes at the end of which stood two very confused, yet excited, dogs. I live in the country, perfect jogging roads. Pfft! Please! After five minutes I was devoured by bugs, choked by dust and I swear those cows were going to charge! Dragging my dogs back into the driveway, I was determined to find a better way.

Within a few more days I decided to go swimming. I’d always loved to swim. Optimism oozed out of my pores as I climbed into the pool again after many years. I secured my goggles and began a slow, easy breaststroke. About halfway down the lane I was breathing too fast to put my face in the water so I continued, slapping my head side to side like a drowning victim. By the end of the lap I was floating on my back, gasping for air. By the end of the week I had found a stride and was enjoying my bug, dust and obstacle free workout. Finally met with success I faithfully swam for almost an hour every day. I loved how I felt. Then it happened. The stalker. I knew he was trouble after he cannonballed into my noon hour lane swim. With a sigh of annoyance I continued my swim. I had settled into a comfortable sidestroke when I was hit by a sudden tidal wave. Waves crashed over my face and I desperately swam for the side to pull my head out of the current. When I was able to take in enough oxygen to survive I turned to glare at the assailant. Reminiscent of the perfect storm, he had now stacked several flutter boards under him and was proceeding to speedboat down the length of the pool. He swam one length and stopped. I continued to glare. Finally regaining my composure I completed my length, where I realized he was still hanging there. Watching me. I saw his mouth open to speak as I made my turn to continue another lap. His words trailed off as I continued my swim. It took a few more visits before the David Hasslehoff wannabe finally left me alone. I haven’t seen him since.

Sometime after that I had my hysterectomy. Then depression hit. Then knee surgery. And now an extra 30 lbs. My self loathing consistently confirmed by my faithful companion; the scale.

About a week ago, following my usual morning routine, I entered my bathroom. Immediately my attention was drawn to the scale and a very out of place piece of paper draped across its’ surface. The message, written in a whimsical script, would alter my day more than the scale ever could have:


This scale can give you a

numerical reflection of your

relationship with gravity.

That’s it.







I have yet to remove this piece of paper. It is not glued, taped or adhered in any way, yet I seem unable to move it. My daughters have each read the note and love it. My son has tucked it away for future use on his girlfriend. I haven’t set foot on the scale since. And while my pants don’t feel any different, I have felt a weight lifted, if only in a metaphorical sense. The pressure of my constant check-ins with the scale is subsiding. Not gone. But lessening.

Jennifer Barry is a writer for The Spectator Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @rsqdog 

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