Remember when Wii Fit came out, back when the Wii was still a thing? The households of my neighborhood held a certain status if they had all the Wii titles, so soon enough the almost-rectangular balance board could be spotted in the corner of everyone's basement game rooms. My brother and I were beyond excited when we tore it from its wrappings to find that we, at last, had one of our own.
I was surprisingly baller at the hula-hooping exercises (contrary to my abilities in real life), but I was convinced that the meditation-flame game was rigged. But there was also a larger trend at play every time I played Wii Fit. No matter how many calories I burned, the anthropomorphic board on the screen would shake its head in disappointment as the digital scale tipped to overweight, borderline obese. It made my Mii accordingly, unmistakably fat, just to drive the point home. I was nine years old.
A few months after marked the start of my dieting. I was in the normal weight percentile for my age, my pediatrician said, even if I had a little extra chub here and there. But the Wii Fit board had been calling me obese my entire adolescence; I'm an all-or-nothing kind of person, so even if the game wasn't completely accurate about my health, I believed that it must've had a point, right? I had to change my body so I wouldn't hear the sad little beeps of "oh!" when the Board took my weight, daily.
So I started dieting soon after. I didn't know it was related at the time, but I suppose it makes sense; even my source of escapism, video games, had turned the screen into a fun house mirror.
Soon after my parents announced their separation as I was nearing the end of the seventh grade, I pushed myself to exercise more, just to get out of the house and think to myself for a bit. I lost 60 pounds in three months. Every time a neighbor told me I had lost weight -- moms' eyes widening, watching a child achieve what they had been searching for in their bookshelves of dieting books -- I didn't know how to feel, so I felt nothing.
Wow, you look so great now!
What was I before?
I'd press my lips into a smile, mutter a thanks, and turn away, or steer the conversation somewhere else.
At thirteen years old I was counting goldfish like a beggar counting coins. At one point, I was subsisting on 500 calories a day. Then 300. The Wii Fit Board still shook its faceless head at me, but I had moved from borderline obese to only slightly overweight, though, so it was working. I was getting healthy!
Except for whenever I tried to stand up too quickly. One time, as I was getting out of my dad's car, my knees disappeared and I fell against the side of the door before I could convince the blood to stay in my head. My dad, alarmed, rushed to my side, but I had to tell him I just tripped. I laughed so he wouldn't worry. I did think it was kind of funny, the whole world melting away, then finding myself on the ground. It didn't even hurt! In my mind, a small price to pay.
I was never really concerned with my condition, knowing full well I could stop at any time because, god, I loved food. I would just have to deal with the numbing guilt and searing self-hatred afterwards. But that's all on the inside, so no one else would know. Everything was perfectly under control.
Even when I fast-forward to today, remnants of that time of my life still float to the surface every now and again -- I feel guilty, restless, and irritable if I skip a day of exercise. I chastise myself when I eat something unhealthy. I have bouts where I start logging my calories on MyFitness again. Now that I'm home for the summer, I'm joining Weight Watchers. Instead of wearing tank tops and sunbathing like other people my age, I'm poking and prodding at pieces of myself that need to be slimmed down, tucked away, unseen.
I finally felt spurred to put these thoughts into words after talking to friends on Twitter who had reported similar experiences. Wii Fit wasn't a terrible game; it taught yoga poses, muscular balance, and other healthy habits. But game developers need to be aware of the risk they take when socially- and emotionally-charged words like "obese" are being thrown around children playing with a scale that has no way to measure muscle mass, lifestyle, or genetics. Weight sits differently on every body, and that what's normal for one kid might not be normal for the next. When impressionable children are too young to understand this simple fact, it can have a profound impact on how we perceive ourselves, and it's something that may last for the rest of our lives.