My favorite way to win a prize at a state fair or amusement park when I was a kid was by challenging the person who guessed weights. They rarely ever got mine right so it was an easy victory. If I ever have to choose a carnie job that would be the one I’d want. I think I’d have a better success rate than most of the ones I met because I’ve developed a knack for accurately guessing people’s weight. It helps that I have a lot of data to draw from (since I am comfortable telling anyone and practically everyone how much I weigh at any given time, people are pretty comfortable sharing their weight with me). What also helps is that I understand the subjectivity of weight.
It seems to me that most people have preconceived notions about weight. Like, if someone weights less than 100 pounds it is assumed they are probably anorexic and if a woman weighs more than 150 pounds or a man exceeds 200 they must be overweight. These ideas are absolutely ridiculous! I have friends who are healthy at a mere 90 something pounds and others who are trim and thin at 210 pounds. There are men in my life who would be overweight at 180 pounds and women I know who could be underweight at 180. Outside of the unique context of each individual person, these numbers have no real meaning.
Bone density, height, muscle mass and, of course, fat all play a large part in determining what someone weighs. It is by looking at each person as an individual, seeing their unique attributes, that I’m able to guess pretty well what weight range they fall into. But this guess isn’t ever a judgement because that number alone doesn’t determine if they are healthy or not.
Age, physical activity, and overall physical well-being in combination with those other factor all play a role in what weight is ideal for each individual person. This complexity of weight is part of what makes it so interesting to me. It is also what makes it so hard to determine what a “healthy” weight is for another person or even yourself. For all of us, these factors change throughout our lives. There may be a time when [insert number] is the best weight for you and a time when it isn’t.
I like being open about what I weigh because it creates the opportunity to talk about the assumptions and misconceptions that we have about weight. One of the first things that I discovered is that many thin people feel as scrutinized and sensitive about their weight as heavy people do. My best friend Nichelle and sister Christa are great examples. Nichelle is 5’ 10” with a medium to large frame and enjoys lifting weights so she never weighs less than 160 lbs. Whenever she admits her weight, people often feel a need to “comfort” her that she only weighs “that much” because she has so much muscle. What they are implying is that they think she weighs more than they expected, so they have to rationalize it to themselves. My sister Christa is on the other end of that spectrum. She’s 5’ 10” with a very small frame and hasn’t ever seriously worked out. She rarely weighs much more than 125 pounds. She grew up with doctors suspecting she had an eating disorder because she didn’t fall into the “healthy” weight zone on their BMI chart. For her, that weight is normal.
There is an odd comfort in realizing that most of us—overweight or not— feel like our weight doesn’t measure up to our culture’s expectations. It bridges the gap that we can feel exists between us and it creates the opportunity for us to realize that we can’t judge ourselves based off of these inaccurate notions of what is and isn’t healthy. In my opinion, we shouldn’t judge ourselves off of these numbers at all.
I don’t need a scale to tell me when I could use to change my habits and burn some fat. It certainly can’t tell me when I could use to gain some more muscle (moving into a new apartment, struggling to lift half of my furniture and boxes, made me realize that). I think most of us know our bodies well enough to know when change is needed. The number I see blinking back at me on my scale may confirm what I already know but it always has to be interpreted though my knowledge of what is healthy for me as an individual, not what is perceived to be healthy for me by others.
Even though this number is subjective, it can be a powerful act to stand up and publicly state what your weight is. At least, that is how I feel about it. I feel like it is a way of saying, “Whether you approve of my weight or not, this is what it is. And I am okay with it.” Even when I know that my habits could use some improvement and I could use to get my body into better shape, I still find it important to own the weight I am at and accept that, ideal or not, this is me.
Feature image by Scott Webb.