I remember that red lollipop like I wasn't six-years-old then and 46 now. Before being bestowed that glistening cellophane-wrapped, ruby-red, cherry-sweet consolation prize, I was just a little kid trapped in a world of grown-ups who hated themselves for reasons they were too ill-equipped to identify. After, I served a very important role. I was broken, and everyone's identified project to fix. I was finally needed.
Oh, everyone had good intentions. There is certainly nothing more honorable than to repair a damaged child. But we all know what the road to hell is paved with, and as the doctor held up that sugary treat -- the apparent reward for being a child, despite my pending punishment for my flawed job at being one -- I was set squarely on the pavement.
The story goes more or less like this: My parents were hippies, artists and freaks. They should never have been married, but they were, and they should never have had children, but they did, and during the prolonged collapse of the partnership, perhaps I was soothed with the only drug-like substance you can give a child. Or my mother started me on rice too early. Or nobody did anything wrong and my body just happened to be larger than was fashionable in the early 1970s.
My mother's relatives, wealthy and self-important, had me seen by the "best" pediatrician in New York City. You can't scrimp on a child's medical care. At my sixth birthday checkup, I was found to be at the top of the percentile chart for fatness in children, and I was prescribed a diet. Then I was given the red lollipop. A child's first irony. Don't think I didn't notice.
As explained to me decades later, no one gave my parents instruction on putting a six-year-old on a diet. Parents like mine didn't ask questions, and doctors like mine didn't offer explanations. I don't actually recall what being on a diet as a six-year-old was like. But I do recall that my mother told my first-grade teacher I was on one. My teacher was, in my recollection, a sadist, and she brought me to the front of the room and informed the class that she and I were both on a diet, so we wouldn't be having birthday cake with the rest of the class.
I was the sole dieter in the family. Six, seven, eight, nine, and so forth, I dieted. I dieted every day of my childhood. Or at least I was supposed to be dieting, and I was monitored closely. So I had to learn the tricks of the trade early on, which I did.
For some reason there was a lot of cheese involved. What diet ended up meaning, in not too short an order, was a battle of the wills. My mother put me on a diet, and I put me on a mission to eat whatever I could without getting caught. I don't remember if I was hungry or if I did whatever I could to acquire food on principle. But I ate a lot of the Weight Watchers treats that involved putting cottage cheese, saccharine, and cinnamon on low-calorie bread, which was then baked to vaguely resemble (or be an illusion of resemblance to) some kind of cheese-cake-type-facsimile concoction. I can still taste that in my memory now. It's not even that they tasted terrible, which they did, but they seemed terrible, which they were.
But what I remember the most was the cheddar cheese. There was always a block of cheddar cheese in the fridge. My job, as I saw it, was to eat as much cheddar cheese as I could without raising suspicion. This meant both being very quiet and also somehow making the cheese appear as if it hadn't been violated. I doubt very seriously I accomplished either of those goals, but my mother's apathy allowed me to complete the caper frequently.
I learned where the food was, which of my friends' houses were well-stocked and which parents had an open bar. When I got a little older, but not much older, and could go out to stores on my own, where there was little parental supervision beyond that of food monitor, I found what could be bought and eaten during any given surreptitious errand.
There are endless stories I can tell about my escapades as a dieting child. Wacky stuff. Like the time I blamed my little brother for eating all the special sugar cereal. I still remember the inquisition. The long and the short of it is I was not so much put on a diet at six, as much as given the eating-disorder starter package. Not to mention the initiation into the society for lying and mistrust.
Edited excerpt from the book "Fat Kids: Truth and Consequences" by Rebecca Jane Weinstein. See more at FatKidsTheBook.com.