[Trigger warning: This essay discusses weight and eating disorders.]
As of last week, I weigh 172 pounds. This isn't a goal number or a starting weight, it's just the weight that my five-foot-seven-inch frame carries, give or take a few.
According to the US National Institute of Health's calculator on Google, I am overweight.
At one point in my life, I would have been ashamed to tell you this. In fact, there are undoubtedly people out there who are wondering why I'm not still ashamed. "Isn't it unhealthy to be proud of being overweight?" one might ask. "Wouldn't you be happier if you lost 13 pounds and dropped down to a 'normal' BMI?" The answer, to be frank, is no. I would be happier if the number that showed up when I stood on a scale didn't dictate my worth. This is why I recently decided to post my weight, including selfies, on my Twitter account.
The First Tweets
Here's how it started: In December, I noticed that my friend Angela included her weight in her Twitter bio. My first instinct was to say, "I love that, but I could never do that." And then I started wondering why I couldn't do it. Why was I so embarrassed and self-conscious over the idea? Even though my self-image has drastically improved in my mid-twenties, I still felt afraid to tell people what my weight is...so I just put it in. And guess what? I didn't feel any different! But over the last several months, people have occasionally asked why "172 pounds" is there. So, few weeks ago, I started tweeting about my reasoning:
I also described how surprised people get when they find out I often shop in plus-size stores.
Several tweets later, I decided to post a full-body shot plus my stats: 172 pounds, 5'7", size 12/14, 34E bra size. And I encouraged other people to tweet theirs at me too.
I was not prepared for how many people would respond to my call to action. I was flooded with gorgeous people posting their pictures in response to mine, as well as their height and weight.
As I saw firsthand through my Twitter thread, it's been very difficult for many folks to feel comfortable talking about their stats, but once you get people talking and showing themselves, it's clear how deeply some of us have yearned for this discussion.
Why I've Always Lied
Let's rewind. I have a complicated history with my body. I've struggled with an eating disorder for 14 or so years, though the past few have been a lot better. A potent combination of major depressive disorder, post traumatic stress disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder (trying say that three times fast) amplified my bulimia. I'm at that point where I'm well enough that I can be very honest, sometimes even joke about my past, but it's given me some lasting health complications that will likely last for the rest of my life.
During my eating disorder's worst periods, I was obsessed with numbers. My caloric intake, the calories burned during exercise, the deficit between the two. Sometimes hopping on the scale several times per day, I logged my weight nonstop. If it hit above arbitrary goal numbers, I would feel anxiety and shame. If it hit below them, my self-worth would inch upward. I'm much better now, but this is not the story of my recovery as much as it is about the lingering after-effects of basement-level confidence. I spent the better part of my life either protecting my specific weight like a dirty secret, afraid of what people might think, or lying about it in an attempt to convince both myself and others that I was doing well. I was healthy. I was "worthy," according to their standards.
The Relentless Pressure
Female and femme characters in media rarely deviate from slim silhouettes — unless it's amply pointed out within the dialogue and plot line — and diverse body representation diminishes exponentially if you start looking for non-white, cisgender, able-bodied people. We simply do not see enough images of people who don't look like the singular standard that society has long told us is beautiful.
To get a more well-rounded picture, I asked several people why they have felt inclined to lie about their weight. Here's a sampling of their reasoning:
"I can't remember a time before I was obsessed with the scale, and there would always be some excuse if I didn't see the number I wanted to see. I've been told by so many people that I don't look my weight, so it was always easy for me to come up with a number that I 'looked like' and give that as my weight instead." —Emma, 32
"I struggle with binge eating, especially when my depression and anxiety are in full swing. Right now, I'm just under 200 pounds. Two years ago, I was at least 40 pounds less than that. I don't look like I've gained that much weight, so I still say I'm at 160 if the topic comes up. And around my thinner friends, I lie about being a size 10. I'm always adamant that I'm still a six." —Andrea, 20
"I don't know where the pressure comes from. When I renewed my driver's license a few years ago, all I could think of was that, if I ever were to go missing, I would hate for the news bulletin to say that I was 125 pounds, so I shaved off a few pounds, which I realize is insane. I'm 5'2", so people comment on how 'little' or 'small' I am; if I were to tell them how much I actually weigh, I would feel like I was disappointing them somehow." —Ginny Monaco, 25
"I lie to my mother about my weight because if I tell her the real number, she freaks out and calls me names like 'gordita.'" —Natalie, 22
Stripping the Stigma
As evidenced above, one of the main reasons for lying is the stigma surrounding weight. Society has long pushed the idea that being thinner is inherently better—though not "too thin," lest your body be critiqued for that, as well. For many people, lying about weight is a strategic tactic: If I tell people I am smaller than I am, I will be perceived as smaller than I am.
Meanwhile, many thinner folks feel the need to lie about their weight in front of other folks, afraid they'll be accused of bragging or, much worse, having an eating disorder. It's a vicious cycle: Everyone feels pressured to look a certain way, so we wind up lying about our weight, then nobody has a clue what anyone else's weight actually is, so we all continue feeling pressured to lie.
Let's say you're a 14-year-old girl. For your whole life, you've heard family members arbitrarily use the weight "200 pounds" in a negative context. For example, "Oh my god, that woman is so fat, she must weigh 200 pounds" or "I'm so bloated, I look like I weigh 200 pounds." Not only do these phrases stigmatize fat itself, but they may give you an unrealistic idea of what 200 pounds looks like. Let's say you hit 200 pounds. Regardless of your health, you're bound to have a little voice inside your head telling you that your weight is bad and, therefore, you are bad and will not be "better" until that number changes.
Personally, I don't want to be a smaller size or a lower weight. Both regardless of and in response to my weight, I have every right to feel good about myself whether I'm wearing a ski jacket or a short skirt or a skimpy bikini.
So, as is the case for so many people whose bodies are seen as imperfect, I would simply prefer if size prejudice didn't exist. If my friends who are size 20 and my friends who are size 6 were treated the same, that would be fantastic, but we all know this isn't the case. Not even close.
In my mind, there are two keys to destigmatizing weight in a positive manner: representation and widespread honesty. The more we see different bodies of all sizes, ethnicities, abilities and gender representations, the less we'll feel like differing from the current norm is inherently negative. And the more we push ourselves to be honest about our weights, the more well-rounded of an idea we'll all have regarding how people actually look—and the less power those numbers will have over our individual psyches.
Feel like joining in? Tell somebody your actual weight today, or just talk about body image with a person you trust. You don't necessarily have to post a selfie or announce your weight to the world—one baby step is still a step forward.
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