I Went to Weight Watchers and Refused to Do The Wave

When the tide is working its way towards the shore, it doesn’t just rush in, plop onto the sectional couch, and dig in to a plate of nachos. Rather, it flows in stirringly, breaches the sandy banks, and then recedes. As the water retreats centrifugally, giving in to gravity and the moon, regrouping for the next surge, there is a momentary pause in sound and energy–a quick second of breath caught–before the slack water reasserts its force. There is a blip of silence before the next roil and crest.

A few years ago, at a Weight Watchers meeting, I pushed back against a wave and created just such a moment of tidal paralysis. I could actually hear the intake of breath before the place fell silent.

It all started, as most fantastical tales do, with a children’s librarian, a woman with a silver-bell voice and penchant for motivational thematizations.

Toward the end of the meeting that night, The Children’s Librarian stopped taking notes (oh, yes, she did) for a moment to suggest, “Now that it’s 2012, we need to set our yearly group goal: let’s lose at least 2012 in 2012!”

Her suggestion propelled my brain to the year 13,022, when the 35 members of our group will not only ingest nothing for twelve months, but they also will go out and take hostage 10 of their closest friends and starve them into the grave, as well, just to reach the goal. As the calendar ticks towards 13,023, each member will push a skeletal hand up through four feet of dirt to report her losses on a whiteboard reading, “I weighed 232 pounds at the start of the year. I lost 232 pounds during the year. Please tally my contribution to the group goal and let me know if I should push my other skeletal hand up through the dirt now so that I can clap my bones together delightedly to celebrate our achievement.”

Far from skeletal in 2012, the group agreed that this was a good challenge to take on, at which point The Children’s Librarian put down her paper and pen and tooted, “This is so awesome we have to do The Wave! Come on: it’s time for a Wave! Let’s do it!”

A stir ran through the room as members tugged down their sweatshirts to ready themselves for the synchronicity that comes from standing and putting hands into the air as part of a group swell.

Taking charge, the weight loss Group Leader gestured towards the member sitting in the outermost chair at the end of the half-moon seating arrangement. “Okay, you start! Let’s have a great Wave!!”

She had gestured toward me.

With no delay whatsoever, I replied in a strong teacher voice, “Nope. It’s not going to be me. I’m not a Waver. Someone else, please.”

It was like the tide had been coming in, rushing forward merrily, and then the wave was rudely sucked back from shore, creating a vacuum of sound and energy. All breath in the room was suspended, hanging, waiting for the wave to break the tension, push back, and be realized.

I looked at the woman to my right and said, “You should go ahead and start. I can’t be part of A Wave, so it’s on you.”

She looked at me curiously, as though she wanted to ask, “Are you a Jehovah’s Witness or something?”

However, she simply yanked at her sweatshirt self-consciously and whispered, “Naw, you just go ahead.” At the same time, Group Leader gestured to me again and, thinking I needed the idea of a Wave illuminated, said, “You’re on the end, so that means you start us out, and then we all follow. Let’s start Our Wave!!” I shook my head un-self-consciously, glanced down to appreciate my lack of sweatshirt, and maintained, “I’m not a Waver. Someone else should start. I don’t do Waves.”

Seventy eyes looked upon me with confusion. Whaddya mean, not do A Wave? Attempting to lubricate the situation, Children’s Librarian called out, as she swooped up out of her seat and extended her arms to the ceiling, “It’s like this. You just stand up and do that, and then everyone follows.”

“Yea, I get it. I know what A Wave is. The thing is, no.”

At this point, a group of three women, working together, angled for my attention to show me how the thing would go, if only I would play my role and get it started.

Leaning back, crossing my legs, I debated my soap boxing options. I could use this opportunity to explain, “Here’s the deal: I participate in this group because my psychology responds to external accountability. Also, the food plan is not nonsense. That’s why I’m here. And I know women are acculturated to be apologetic about their impulses, but I seem to have overcome that tendency pretty admirably because I feel no need to say ‘Sorry’ here about the fact that I don’t want to pretend to be a scrapbooking sports fan type who thinks The Wave is cool or cute or, more confoundingly, meaningful.” Alternately, I could keep my mouth shut and let them riddle through my unpredictable behavior. I went with the latter.

Group Leader tried one more time, coming closer and urging, “Start now! Stand up! Then we all go!” In return, I raised my voice and noted, “There is another side of the room.  Why not start over on that side and have Your Wave end with me sitting here?”

Flummoxed, the group energy of the room tried to right itself but became agitated and fluttery. As something like desperation gripped the room–Whaddya mean, not do a Wave?–women from all corners started popping out of their seats, floating their hands upwards, reaching down and tugging on their neighbors’ sleeves in an effort to get The Wave flowing and crashing. Ultimately, The Wave came off more like a round of Whack-a-Mole, with heads bobbing up and down haphazardly, the disparate factions of energy never synchronizing into amplitude.

Like an offshore reef, I had broken The Wave.

On this note–with me feeling perversely tickled and the rest of them wondering what had just happened–the meeting adjourned.

As I was heading for the door, however, any sense of personal triumph over ridiculousness was deflated when the group leader chirped brightly,

“See you ‘lighter’!”

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Published by Jocelyn

There's this game put out by the American Girl company called "300 Wishes"--I really like playing it because then I get to marvel, "Wow, it's like I'm a real live American girl who has 300 wishes, and that doesn't suck, especially compared to being a dead one with none."

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36 Comments

  1. And this, in a nutshell is why I love you to death. Yous got attitude! I mean, seriously, the Wave? Librarian lady needs to be hamstrung. I’ve never met her and she annoys the hell outta me.

    And I must let you know that I’m truly amazed. You guys lost two tons (plus 11 pounds) in a year? For a group of 35 (70 eyes), that averages 60 (well 57.4 actually) pounds per person . Why is there still a WW group? How much weight to Duluthans need to lose?

    My mind is just the teeniest bit boggled.

    1. Well, there are more who show up and get weighed in but who don’t stay for the meeting (clever folk!). Plus, pretty much everyone does losing followed by bad weeks of gaining followed by better weeks of losing, so the numbers have a certain balance to them–the gaining is never tracked, just the losing and relosing of the same pounds. There are also huge numbers of people who show up for a few weeks or months and then stop attending…then more join and lose and stop attending…and so on.

      It helps, finally, that we are Americans, and what with candy given out in the classrooms and candy given out every holiday and fast food every 100 yards and a population who maintains French fries are a vegetable, well, we’re set up to be eternal losers.

  2. This is why I cannot do WW. I have tried, 4 times to be exact, but I do not play those games in MY sandbox. Who IS this library lady and why do I conjure images of Dolores Umbrage when you write about her? Nice references to LOTR and my birhday twin, Louisa May, by the way.

  3. Librarian Lady needs to get back to her children’s library where she is perfectly at home. Public places full of so-called adults are not her milieu. Personally, I feel guilty that I would most certainly have joined in The Wave; peer pressure is nothing if not effective with me. Hurrah for you!

    I had just read another blog post by another teacher (middle school, teachers the *problem* kids) with a similar attitude. Her particular trigger was trust circles — the mere mention, not the actual thing (whatever that is). You can read her here: http://sheepishannie.blogspot.com/2012/01/wnbp-new-year-old-routine.html

    I think the two of you would get along.

  4. thank you. you’ve reactivated the ptsd from when my mother took me to one of her tupperware consultant rallies back in the 80s. it made doing the wave over weight loss look desirable by comparison. i was waiting for prayers to the great plastic preserver in the sky to start, followed not by an amen but a group burp of the seal.

  5. Very interesting that, instead of just passing on you after the second attempt, they didn’t give up. But then, this is part of what makes people behave badly in large groups, and really badly in mobs. You mmight have explained to them that Germany responded similarly during the 1920s and had there been more refuseniks, the Holocaust might never have happened.
    It’s innocent really, all the rah-rah stuff in your group, but so tiring. And childish. I would have been extremely pissed, but I’m not sure I would have had the fortitude you had to continue to resist. I watched a doc last year about an experiment done with people who thought they were part of a reality/game show, in which they had to inflict pain on volunteers. The idea planted in their heads was that the volunteers stood to win a huge sum of money if they could withstand up to a certain level of painful stimuli.
    In fact, they only thought they were causing pain when they flipped the switch and upped the dial, but what was horrifying was that, at the urging of the ‘game show’ host, the majority of them overcame their disinclination to hurt another human. They did things they never imagined they were capable of simply because a kind of authority figure told them to.
    So stick to your guns always, Jocelyn.

    1. Dearest Deborah: You have given my nonsense a context that heartens me. My increasing unwillingness to play along with crap has made me happier in recent years. You remind me that there is power to such convictions.

  6. So the Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t wave either?
    Oh I am DYING laughing at you–and the collective weight loss goal–and that they don’t measure pounds gained–and that RAHRAHRAH librarian. Sweet baby Jesus, you SLAY me, Jocelyn and if I lived in Duluth, I’d totally join Weight Watchers just to hang out with you IRL.
    The Wave.
    Hoo boy.

  7. Like all the other commenters my first impulse – I gave in to it – was to laugh.
    Then I thought for a bit and realised that there are a few things I don’t understand about this post:

    a) how much weight do you all need to lose to reach such horrendous targets?
    b) what are YOU doing in this group, can’t you watch your own weight, without the public humiliation?
    c) what’s with the mass hysteria?
    d) how can one person in a group of 35 determine the actions of the others? Are you the only adult?
    e) why is librarian still alive? And, as she is, how come you haven’t thought of a public humiliation for her which makes her crawl under a boulder?
    f) how can you bear to hear – without puking – see you ‘lighter’?

    I suggest you either go bolshie and sabotage everything infantile (having first sounded out one or two likely supporters; surely not everybody in the groups suffers fools gladly?) or you walk to save yourself further embarrassment. It must have been excruciating to sit there, standing your ground. (yes, no pun intended.) Whenever I’m the only one who sneers, it costs me dear. And sneering comes easily to me.

    I also find omg or ohmygod, or even ohmeingott a touch uncool; not that I ever come across it other than on American TV shows.

    1. Friko:

      a) Many need to lose much. Many others need to lose not so much. The children’s librarian, apparently, entered WW by swearing that she would do the program so as long as she didn’t have to ever eat fruits, vegetables, or do exercise. Now she does all three. In short, there are hugely ingrained cultural obstacles that have created the success of WW;

      b) No, clearly, I can’t. Hence my participation. I felt less singularly broad as a broad when a good friend of mine caught a glimpse of an old black and white photo of my grandma lined up with her three sisters. The friend’s immediate, unchecked comment was, “Oh, look at all those hips and breasts! Poor thing, you didn’t stand a chance, did you?”;

      c) I’d argue much of society draws its energy off mass hysteria. Should we talk Manchester United fans?;

      d) I like this thought. Yes, I think I was the only adult. An amazing number of people–even my colleagues in departmental meetings at the college–are taken aback by my “adulthood”;

      e) Pretty sure the librarian is still alive because she’s an overweight woman with bad knees and a desire to bring people together. This appears to be a winning formula;

      f) I did puke. Right there in the corridor of the basement of the church. I left the puddle there as a reminder to those filing out behind.

      Final thoughts: it wasn’t excruciating or embarrassing to sit there. It was a scream to see how my easy conviction freaked everyone out. This has been the case, again and again, since I moved to the Midwest of America. In no way does it make me uneasy.

      Re: Omg or ohmygod, or even ohmeingott: thankfully, I came to terms with my uncoolness in roughly 6th grade. Some decades later, I came to terms with my agnosticism. Now, just like attending a WW meeting, using OMG or its variants is ironic enough to give me a good giggle–even when I’m not referencing inane American TV shows.

    1. I daresay you’re in the right line of work, Secret. That sentence you highlight is my absolute favorite of the entire bit of blather.

  8. “Clap my bones together” -so funny. The whole thing is so funny. Do you not have access to the TV series “Little Brittain” in the U.S,?… wonderful dark humour with Marjorie who is the group leader for :Fat Fighters” goading on her Weight Watchers attendees with cheerful misplaced enthusiasm. You should look it up on You Tube.
    We also had a series here in Australia for a while called “The Librarians” which covered in satire, the life of a passive-aggressive community-based librarian who smilingly makes requests of everybody as if they were aged about two. There are certainly others in the comedy industry, who share your take on things.
    “I shall not partake of the hoola hoops
    Nor bow to the pressure to “wave’
    I have a quest to maintain self-respect
    and sanity to save.
    “No, nein, nicht” stuff your requests,
    your goals and pointed stares,
    The last time I weighed what you request
    My butt was squeezed in flares”.

  9. This is hysterical, it made my day. I have gone to WW on and off and I also find that I just don’t fit with that rah rah group. Most of the time when I stay, I can sit quietly, listen to what the speaker has to say and occasionally be enlightened or often bored stiff. And I just hate it when people raise their hand and give their interpretation of what the speaker just said.

    I like their eating plan just fine and I like the accountability; however as a rule, I just don’t fit in with that WW group dynamic. Though where I live, I get plenty of practice in many of my day to day interactions.

  10. i think you had me a gooey butter cake.

    (the group thing would kill me. my shrink once tried to talk me into group therapy; i fixed her with an evil eye and said no.)

  11. I think the wave is funny out of context. About 10 years ago in Vegas we had a good round of blackjack and we were all high fiving and I said, “Let’s do the wave!” Maybe it was just our buzzes but 5 or 6 people doing the wave at a blackjack table seemed like the funniest thing in the world at the time. But I’m so with you on the mandatory group in a room together thing. I never clap or call things out on command. I don’t care for commands.

    1. I’m pretty sure I’d get a kick out of seeing you, tipsy, doing The Wave at a blackjack table in Vegas. So long as I wasn’t asked to participate. I’d run get another round of drinks for everyone, though. For tips.

  12. Wow. I’d like to think that I would say “no” too, but I’m not sure what I would have done. Actually, I probably would never have signed-up for WW due to the built-in group dynamic, though I compltely get it about external accountability. For as much as I can stake-out controversial, feather-ruffling positions on occasions, I still struggle with peer pressure in these situations. Frankly, most of the time when I give-in it is because I just don’t want to muster the energy to resist. In other words, it will occur to me to say “no,” but then I think “do I want to spend the energy on this issue or just get through it?” I’d sure like to think that I would sort out the important issues from the less important ones and take a stand where it had larger implications, but the truth is many a good person has gotten sucked into being complicit with larger group actions due to precisely this laziness, or fear of standing out. This is the danger inherit in an abstract desire for conformity — you lose the ability to shape what you are trying to conform with and simply adjust your position to be within the boundaries, thereby losing all orientation as to where you really are. Hence my mantra to my children: normal is overrated. One of the things I wish most for them is the ability to go their own way and stand separately. My favorite people in the world are the ones happily doing their own thing.

    I do think it gets easier as you get older. I am much more willing to “out” myself on various issues/beliefs etc. now than I was in my teens and twenties. I think seeing death come more sharply into focus as you crest the hill of midlife has that effect.

  13. I am so glad that there are others out there who relate to this. I have begun to wonder if I am just a snob because I am not interested in/willing to be part of this type of thing. I know it is a bit off subject, but watching my mom at her assisted living and the group “activities” that they have for the residents has made me worry for my future. I will NEVER be able to make cute little craft projects from old holiday cards when I am 80. I had a friend whose relative was a man who was an MIT graduate in something quite erudite—-economics, history, engineering, something like that, and the young things who ran the place expected him to enjoy singing and clapping to “Let Me Call you Sweetheart” and making small craft projects. They could not understand why he would not join in with the others. Oh, Jocelyn, when the time comes, we shall be at the mercy of some new children’s librarian who will expect us to do the wave from the seat of our wheelchairs.

    I say we buck authority whilst we are still able.

  14. I love you. Like pants that fit and intelligent conversation, I can’t tell you how much I love you, your thought processes, your style of writing.

    Next meeting, I want to sit next to you.

    Pearl

  15. The wave? Seriously? Do you really need to stay for the meetings to get the full benefit of the program? Because, the wave…that’s just lame. I’m thinking you should start your own group and put up a sign that says “Points will be taken off for dumbassery of any kind, especially the wave.”

  16. The children’s librarian sounds suspiciously like she was once a mean girl. She’s not the leader (who apparently is also not really a leader) she just pushes her personal agenda forward and over people in her path. I do not like people like this woman. I suspect I would have been far less civil than you.
    I have a mental picture of this woman- it can go one of two ways as I see it. Neither are pretty. 1. She is the type of person that wears holiday sweaters in a non-ironic manner complete with matching jewelery. Come July 4th she’s in red, white and blue, etc. She controls everything and everyone around her and her nervous laugh goes up an octave or two when she’s challenged. 2. She is the Duluth version of Kate Gosselin. Simmering rage just below the surface of an overly made up smile. You can see glimpses of it now and then- when her eye twitches.
    Excellent writing as usual. 🙂

  17. Oh I hate that touchy feely group dynamic thing where we’re all supposed to hold hands or cheer or do the wave. It’s so not me. I just want to get my 12 bucks worth of diet tips and recipes, get weighed, and get out of there. The last WW group thing I attended was a laugh-fest of confessions and one upmanship regarding unique ways of sabotaging the program and gaining weight instead of losing! The cackle clique went on and on about the yummy foods with which they cheated, *cackle cackle*, and I ran out of there in a clucking flurry!

  18. God I love you. I’m always the contrarian too, though I doubt the wave would have bothered me that much. The librarian on the other hand…

    For me it’s my book club. I’m usually the only one who admits to not liking something. Everyone else is so polite it drives me crazy. It’s like there’s no critical thinking allowed. I’m not sure how much longer I can take it.

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