No one is perfect, that’s a reality we all have to face and yet, in my feminism, I often find myself struggling to explain my every choice, every action, with the “right” reasoning… it can get exhausting. I wrote this post as an attempt to cleanse myself from this need – to analyze something that is both personal and political (in this case, my weight) in a way that acknowledges my imperfections. My motivations may not always be completely selfless, enlightened, or even right but they are mine and I will own them regardless.
Crossposted to Amplify
To be completely honest I am not what most would call fat. I’m chubby if we’re being frank, curvy and fuller-figured if we’re being euphemistic, and overweight if we’re asking the wii Fit. I experience a good deal of privilege along with my size; clothing stores almost always carry things that I like in sizes that I can wear, strangers and acquaintances aren’t too often compelled to spontaneously comment on my weight, I can eat what I want in public without worrying about what people might think and, to top it all off, I am lucky enough to have a significant other who loves me just the way I am (weight & all) and is very vocal about that fact.
On the scale of size privilege I rank pretty far towards the top, but that does not mean I haven’t faced challenges. To be specific: years of body-hate, diet attempts that got obsessive all too fast, and the comments from family members (who always have my best interests at heart) concerning their concerns about my health.
More than anything the constant insistence that there is no way I could be healthy enough at this size just wore at me… these last few years have been a constant state of wondering – how many pounds would I have to lose before the people I love would consider me healthy? And more importantly: am I really unhealthy?
This article that I received via e-mail just today seems to indicate that, even though my wii fit (which bases my “health” on a BMI rating) doesn’t necessarily believe I am fit, I probably am since BMI is not an accurate indicator of much:
1. The person who dreamed up the BMI said explicitly that it could not and should not be used to indicate the level of fatness in an individual.
2. It is scientifically nonsensical.
3. It is physiologically wrong.
It makes no allowance for the relative proportions of bone, muscle and fat in the body. But bone is denser than muscle and twice as dense as fat, so a person with strong bones, good muscle tone and low fat will have a high BMI. Thus, athletes and fit, health-conscious movie stars who work out a lot tend to find themselves classified as overweight or even obese.
4. It gets the logic wrong.
The CDC says on its Web site that “the BMI is a reliable indicator of body fatness for people.” This is a fundamental error of logic. […] If a person is fat or obese, he or she will have a high BMI [but] it doesn’t work the other way round. A high BMI does not mean an individual is even overweight, let alone obese. It could mean the person is fit and healthy, with very little fat.
5. It’s bad statistics.
6. It is lying by scientific authority.
7. It suggests there are distinct categories of underweight, ideal, overweight and obese, with sharp boundaries that hinge on a decimal place.
8. It makes the more cynical members of society suspect that the medical insurance industry lobbies for the continued use of the BMI to keep their profits high.
Insurance companies sometimes charge higher premiums for people with a high BMI. Among such people are all those fit individuals with good bone and muscle and little fat, who will live long, healthy lives during which they will have to pay those greater premiums.
9. Continued reliance on the BMI means doctors don’t feel the need to use one of the more scientifically sound methods that are available to measure obesity levels.
Those alternatives cost a little bit more, but they give far more reliable results.
10. It embarrasses the U.S.
It is embarrassing for one of the most scientifically, technologically and medicinally advanced nations in the world to base advice on how to prevent one of the leading causes of poor health and premature death (obesity) on a 200-year-old numerical hack developed by a mathematician who was not even an expert in what little was known about the human body back then.
[Read the full explanations for each reason here!]
Furthermore, a fabulous blog I have been reading lately called Junkfood Science has been opening me quickly up to the idea that a little extra weight may actually have health benefits rather than the detriments I am always being warned about. If you have a little extra time I really recommended reading the Obesity Paradox series of articles that Junkfood’s writer Sandy Szwarc has put out. They dispel a lot of common weight-health myths that I was honestly shocked to find were not true. For example:
“Among nonsmoking people under age 60, being “overweight” (BMI 25-30) and “obese” (BMI 30-35) was actually associated with lower risks for premature death than those of “normal” weight.” [Source]
Putting physical health aside for a moment, there’s also an emotional factor to weight (at least for me.) I’ve been trying for awhile now to figure out exactly why the well meaning urges from my family to “get into shape” upset me so deeply. I am an argumentative person I suppose – I don’t often get personally offended by opposing viewpoints, rather, I try to view them as a chance for education, for both parties, and I make my side known as best I can. With my weight, however, its different. Why? Because I view my weight as a victory.
I love fruits, vegetables, and other “diet” foods; I lead a fairly active lifestyle; it would not be much of a stretch for me to drop ten or twenty pounds, get down to the “respectable” 125 pounds I once was and free myself of the criticisms… I just don’t want to. I eat well, I exercise, and while I may not be in marathon-shape I can hold my own on the treadmill or in the fitness classes my college offers.
Moreover, emotionally, I have come to a place where I love my body – every last pound of it. I love the way it feels and the way it looks, I love how my clothes fit – I have fun with my body, the way it looks and the things that it does and I don’t want to change it.
To lose the weight would be like losing a part of myself – ten or pounds is a big deal. I would feel different, look different… I’m not saying I couldn’t grow to love that body, I just wonder why everyone seems to think that body would be so much better than the one I have, the one I already love.
I think I also see it as a hold-out, a badge of honor in a way – the one subtle way in which I am “not like them.” The them here, of course, being the portion of our culture obsessed with creating a beauty norm and fitting into the narrow norm. Sure I may spend way too much time, money, and energy buying clothes that make me feel pretty and highlight my hourglass curves buts that’s not because I am superficial – or at least, that’s what I’d like to believe.
I think its funny how even I, until this moment, perceived myself as being “over the top” in terms of confidence – as in its nice to love your body but do you really have to do it so loudly and unapologetically?
In short: yes I do. It seems like no person out there is truly happy with their body… no matter how close to the ideal it is. It may seem hyperbolic but, at the same time, it has such an air of truth to it that the statement is hard to deny… yet I want so badly to prove it wrong all the same.
I want to be that woman – the one who does love her body, even if it doesn’t fit anyone else’s idea of perfect. I want to change the idea that no one truly loves their body – not only for myself but for as many people as I possibly can, and one of the best was to incite that change is to love my own body openly and loudly, to prove that it is possible.
My reasons for staying overweight, for embracing being overweight, are not compelling enough to many, and I understand that, but for me they’re right and in the end…. that’s what matters.
I think this comment from the original post on Amplify really adds something to the discussion, so I’m going to reproduce it here:
I just wanted to address something you said, “I just don’t want to. I eat well, I exercise, and while I may not be in marathon-shape I can hold my own on the treadmill or in the fitness classes my college offers.” What caught my eye about this particular line is your reference to “marathon shape”. As a runner myself and a marathoner, I am here to tell you that there isn’t even a “marathon shape” anymore.
I ran cross country and track in high school. I always thought I was fat because I was one of the average sized girls. However, how was I to know any differently? I was surrounded by girls who wore 0’s and 2’s, so I thought to myself, “THAT must be what a runner looks like”. I just assumed I was a freak, who wore a size 8, who just happened to love running and I just didn’t have the typical “runner’s body”. I didn’t understand why my lucky teammates got to sport teeny singlets and split shorts every day, while I felt that I had to be stuck in my oversized t-shirt and baggy soccer shorts.
It wasn’t until I graduated from high school and started training and running in marathons on my own that I realized that I was no freak. Runners come in all shapes and sizes. Old, young, fat, skinny, chubby, average, thin, muscular — you name it, they were out there every morning on the Lakefront, training just like I was. For four years, I believed I didn’t really belong to this community that I so wanted to be a part of because I weighed in at 140 and stood on my tip toes at 5 foot 6…and now, I feel I am an integral part of it.