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    Contest Winners - My Butterfly Year - Aug-Sept Winner!

    Mary Anne Hahn ( is editor and publisher of WriteSuccess, the free biweekly e-zine of ideas, information and inspiration for struggling, stalled and aspiring writers. She lives and writes in Syracuse, NY. To learn more about her resources for writers, visit http://www/

    My Butterfly Year - Aug-Sept Winner!

    Call me a nerd, geek, brainiac or whatever you want, but by early August every year I got antsy. Summer vacation lasted two or three weeks too long, if you asked me. I itched to get back to the dusty smell of chalk, to rejoining old friends I hadn't seen all summer, to toting new books in a new book bag and learning new things, to joining clubs and receiving positive reinforcement from nearly every teacher I ever had. I was what you might call the model student. I absolutely loved school.

    This, and the fact that I was an overweight child, hardly made me one of the popular ones, but I didn't care about that. I had a few close friends, and that suited me just fine. It seemed to me that being popular meant having to wear certain things and behave in certain ways that I didn't much care for. It meant not liking school (which ran against my very nature), sneaking alcohol into boy-and-girl parties (my mother would have killed me and, besides, I wasn't interested) and teasing other people about their imperfections (as I was teased about my weight). From my point of view, being popular meant being mean and dumb and rebellious. I just wanted to be me.

    The weight did bother me, though. As I neared the edge of adolescence, I discovered teen magazines, and began to really notice the girls in them.  I admired their Marcia Brady-straight hair, their bright smiles and flawless skin, and the adorable outfits they wore. I knew that I didn't want to be those girls, but wouldn't it be nice to look like them? Wouldn't it be cool to be able to wear those clothes and not look like one of the tubbier seven dwarves? And while I didn't yearn to be a part of the popular group, wouldn't it be wonderful if they just didn't have my weight to tease me about any more?

    What if I returned to school that fall with a whole new reason for wanting to go back-a thinner, healthier me?

    So on the last day of school in seventh grade, I stopped by the local bookstore and bought a calorie counter for twenty-five cents. I was 12 years old; it was time for me to drop what my favorite aunt kindly referred to as my "baby fat."

    I took to my first real diet with all dedication that I'd put into piano lessons and getting straight As. I kept a little notebook and faithfully recorded the calorie count of every morsel I consumed for the next 1o weeks. Seeing this, my parents did what they could to support my efforts. Mom made sugar free Jell-O, kept the cupboard stocked with a variety of canned fruits, and included a vegetable with every meal. Dad simply looked on with approval as I passed on everything from second helpings to dessert. And as I stepped on the scale, or slipped into increasingly looser summer tops and shorts, I saw as well as felt my resolve paying off.

    I stuck with the diet so faithfully that I distinctly remember the one sweet reward I allowed myself that summer. My father came home one evening with a box of doughnuts and pastries, fresh from the local bakery. As I agonizingly stuck to my guns and began to decline, he said, "Go ahead. Take one. You've earned a treat."  No pastry even tasted better, nor meant as much.

    But the most memorable moment of all was when I went to try on my Catholic school uniforms that August. The waistbands of the blue plaid skirts I'd worn in seventh grade far exceeded my waist's new circumference. My mother tugged at, measured and pinned them, in preparation for taking them down to my new size.

    I couldn't wait to wear them back to school.

    There were no gasps of awe or rounds of applause as I walked into my homeroom that year, head held high. But I could feel the stares, and received a sprinkling of compliments. The taunting ceased for good that autumn.

    No, the weight loss did not gain me entry into the popular circle, which remained as unappealing to me as ever. I kept my same friends, embraced my same love of learning, and proudly graduated third in my class the following June, not far behind my equally-nerdy best friend Rosie, who was valedictorian. But it was a school year I would always remember-the year I stopped hiding beneath a layer of fat and stepped courageously into that time of change, growth and challenges known as adolescence. 

    It was my butterfly year.

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