Fitness, Fat and All That Jazz(ercise)


Like many people with weight issues, I can name the year I looked and felt at my physical peak. For me, it was 1981, the year Josh was born. I was 24. (I married at 19; had my first baby at 22.)

I gained 45 pounds while pregnant with Josh, which, believe it or not, was less than what I’d packed on with Sarah and Joe.

Let’s leave it at that.

Not long after Josh’s birth I joined Jazzercise at the Veterans Hall on Yuba Street in Redding, where the classes also offered babysitting.

I became a Jazzercise addict. I slimmed down to 114 pounds, about 10 pounds lighter than I’d weighed throughout high school.

I believed I was fat in high school, just as I believed I was fat in my 20s, 30s and 40s. I avoided all activities that required bathing suits and shorts. I bought baggy clothes to cover as much skin as possible.

The thing is, with the exception of some fluctuations, photographs of me through those years don’t show a fat woman. The fact was, I was never as fat as I thought. Nor was I a fat baby or child.

However, a body-image turning point arrived when Shelly and I were 9. A back-to-school photo (at 1222 South Street) showed I looked chunkier than Shelly.

Here’s one thing that sucks about being an identical twin, especially if you’re dressed alike (in wool, plaid skirts with elastic waistbands that would make even a pipe cleaner look fat): People can see (and help-me-Jesus comment upon) the differences. (Weirdly, this still happens. Drives me crazy.)

That was the year I became the Fat Twin and Shelly became the Skinny Twin. That was also the year my mother and older brother (visiting from Canada) got into a memorable argument at the Thanksgiving dinner table. My mother said I should lay off the potatoes and gravy; my brother contradicted her.

From then on, photographs provide evidence that although I never became a fat kid, I never became as thin as Shelly, either.

“Doni’s fat” image was there to stay.

Until my 1981 Jazzercise transformation. I continued Jazzercise faithfully until I became pregnant with Joe two years later. After his birth I fell away from Jazzercise, though I don’t remember exactly why.

I do know my scales never saw 114 again.

I was still working at the paper when Molly Redmon started her Jazzercise classes. My work schedule never meshed with the few available class times.

Finally, my Jazzercise reunion came last year when I dragged myself there to prepare for my upcoming Dancing with the Stars (Shasta County Style) appearance. Holy crap. What had I agreed to?

I wore a massive white T-shirt (with the inside tag cut out) that reached mid-thigh. I stood in the back row behind rows of fit, happy, enthusiastic women who knew exactly what to do. I was a klutz for probably a full month as I relearned Jazzercise terminology and dance steps. I forced myself to go, even when I wanted to ditch it.

I’m addicted to Jazzercise again. Forgive this infomercial-sounding explanation, but it helps that Jazzercise now offers class times throughout the day for nearly every schedule, from 5:45 a.m. until 6:45 p.m.

Plus, Jazzercise has its own new center, on Athens Avenue in Redding. (Next to Subway sandwiches.) If you’re curious, Jazzercise is offering a free, one-day special so you can check it out.

Sure enough, once again my weight is slowly coming down, but more important, I feel stronger, more fit and have more energy.

I’m inspired by the instructors, some of whom tell stories of their fat, unfit days, and whose words during routines become life-changing double entendres that roll around in my head for days.

If you can breathe you can talk.

I’m inspired by my classmates as I watch their bodies – of every age, size and height – miraculously sculpt and tone and whittle down before my very eyes.

And when a new woman wanders into class wearing a big shirt and an expression of fear and uncertainty, I feel a sense of camaraderie with her and admiration for her. I know that if she just sticks with it, she’ll see results.

I realize Jazzercise isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, just as jogging, spinning classes, treadmills or working out alone on machines in a gym isn’t my thing.

To each her own . . . healthy body.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate, Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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