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Thursday, February 24, 2011


Holy Shitballs, Batman.  I just looked up my “ideal” body weight. Ostensibly, the purpose of this was to bolster my planned article about how I think I’m overweight despite scientific evidence to the contrary.  Instead, the result has turned the trajectory of this whole article on its head.
Popular culture and fashion magazines aside, our society is based upon the idea that there are, to certain questions, scientifically correct answers. Science is used as a purportedly “neutral” identifier of the ideal body type.  But even scientific medical and psychological information can be challenged.  For example, many studies have come to the conclusions that fat people can be healthy[1] weight is not always controllable by diet and exercise[2]; weight to a certain extent is predetermined by genetics[3]; and that diets may be the reason people get fatter.[4]
I have never been at a point where I was truly happy with my weight. As I have said before, the infestation of popular culture with dumb skinny bitches messes with my competitive spirit. I would like to think that I am smarter than the majority of them, and that I have willed myself through some of the most difficult experiences this country has to offer (law school and boot camp come to mind), so how can they figure out how to be skinny and I can’t?
Uncomfortable honesty time (ooooh, I really  don’t want to type this): I am 5’4” and right now hovering at 140. This is about 5 lbs over what I typically consider my “healthy” weight, and 11 lbs more than what I consider my “race” weight (i.e. the weight I prefer to be when running endurance races, due to impact on my joints/ less to carry.) I am muscular and have always weighed more than I look. I wear a size 8 comfortably and a size 6 fitted.
The following are my “ideal” body weights according to these websites:

Whaaaa? Talk about failure. I am, according to the average of the above, twenty-three pounds over my ideal weight.  This got me thinking: ideal for what? Certainly, a 97 lb woman would not be “ideal” for carrying wounded Marines, or full battle-gear. Could a 97 lb woman have the endurance to run an ironman? Or have a baby? As any personal trainer will tell you, muscles weigh more than fat. Thus, the scientifically “ideal” woman is…well… weak.  Could it be that as women become stronger outside of the home, the “ideal” becomes smaller and weaker as a way to perpetuate women’s internalization of subjugation?
Slimness is one of the primary physical indicators of female success. Failure to be slender, in the eyes of society, is evidence of a woman’s failure to work hard enough.[5]  But body size is determined not only by diet and exercise, but by many other factors including genetics [6] age, gender, nationality, social class[7] and environment.[8] A very successful woman will likely still feel the societal pressure, while a similarly situated male will not. Think of it as the Oprah/Limbaugh dichotomy.
“Ideal” body images, and scientific “ideal” weights without reference to body composition, etc, add to the conundrum of failure by pitting a woman quite literally against herself. Assuming that all resources are to some extent limited, how much of our limited psychological resources do we consume battling ourselves over physical appearance?

[1] Ernsberger, P. and P. Haskew. 1987. Rethinking Obesity: An Alternate View of Its Health Implications. Journal of Obesity and Weight Regulation 6: 58-137
[2] Stunkard, A.J., and M.McClaren –Hume. 1959. The Results of Treatment for Obesity. Archives of Internal Medicine 102, 79-85.
[3] Stunkard, id.
[4] Bennett, W. and J. Gurin. 1982. The Dieter’s Dilemma. New York: Basic Books.
[5] Banner, L. 1983. American Beauty. New York: Alfred A. Knopf
[6] Stunkard, A.J., T.I.A. Sorenson, C. Hanis, T.W. Teasedale, R. Chakraborty, W.J.Schull and F. Schulsinger. 1986. An Adoption Study of Human Obesity. New England Journal of Medicine 314 (4): 193-97
[7] Atrens, D.M. 1988. Don’t Diet. New York: WIliam Morrow.
[8] Beller, A.S. 1977. Fat and Thin:  A Natural History of Obesity. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, Ltd.


  1. This is crazy to me! I'm considered to be a small or slim person. That's what people say anyway. But, these charts that say how much I am supposed to weigh tell me that I am almost 30 pounds overweight. They tell you by your age and height. Well. I'm 29, and 5'6"..and I wear a size 3. I also have a bunch of boobs. They don't take this into account. I don't go by what the number is anymore, because if I lose 30 pounds, I am not going to be healthy at all and I will look ridiculous!

  2. Arg. I was just about to write a post on weight and body image, and now I have to wait at least a week because yours is better and I don't want all your analysis and research polluting my stream-of-consciousness kvetching.

    But, you're right. "Ideals" are a bad idea because there are too many other factors to take into consideration - age, body-type, and so on. Like the comment above says - boobs.

    AND, in addition to patriarchal society programming us to be thinner and thinner, to take up less and less space, and so on, there is also a backlash on the other end. You sort of touched on it. Women - even thin women - hate thin women. I have never been at an unhealthy weight (well, I did gain more than I was supposed to when I was knocked up . . .), but I've always been slim. It's largely genetic and partially due to food ethics/neurosis and forgetfulness. It is NOT due to any sort of eating disorder, but do you know how many times I've been accused of having one? Ridiculous.

    Also, I recently heard a rumor that muscle weights the same as fat, but I have yet to look it up . . .

  3. Bless you for bringing this up. I'm in the process of getting life insurance, and based on my height/weight ratio, I'm at the very top of the "normal" BMI. Otherwise, I'm super healthy, and even have to stress out about my mother-in-law before donating blood to have a high enough blood pressure. I'm taller and heavier than you, and though there's a little extra padding in a couple areas, it's mostly muscle. Did my first triathlon last summer and freaking gained weight. My body just loves adding muscle. This wouldn't be a problem if it wasn't for my passion/hobby of ballet. I'm the ballerina built like a brick house, dancing with tiny girls, some of which don't even have driver's licenses yet. But my strength allows me to be a superior dancer, and my husband loves my muscles and curves. Even if magazines show the skinny body as being ideal, most men I know prefer an athletic one, so own your well-deserved figure!

  4. "As I have said before, the infestation of popular culture with dumb skinny bitches messes with my competitive spirit."

    Query: Why are they "dumb" and why are they "bitches"?