Thursday, October 15, 2009

Delusional Girl

194 pounds
One of the reasons I started this blog in the first place was to dispel the notion that we should be ashamed of the numbers on the scale and that they have anything to do with how good we look or how attractive we feel.

For years, I believed that I had to keep my weight secret because it was so different than the numbers we hear women talking about in the media. Granted, most of these women are celebrities, but I still felt—even when I was in perfect shape—that my number was somehow wrong and, thus, conveyed something ugly about how I looked.

When I meet people now or when readers check out my blog, I get the feeling that they imagine that I have always struggled with my weight. But that's not the case. This misconception might be my fault because I've talked before about how, even as a kid, I weighed more than everyone else. And though that's true, I was never overweight. I was not even a few pounds overweight. Not as a child—when my BMI was around 21—or as an adult when my BMI was 24 from the time I began college until I hit my later twenties. I was, at around 150 pounds, very fit, and I stayed that way by exercising regularly—something I have done all of my life—though I never worried about what I ate because I was still young enough that I could eat whatever I wanted. In truth, I was in perfect shape until I had a skiing accident when I was 26 years old that kept me off my feet for three months. I know it sounds silly, but the only reason I weighed a little bit more than other women my size before that was simply because I was big boned.

Still, when people found out I how much weighed in my twenties, they would act appalled. All the time, people would say to me, "You don't look like you weigh 150!" and I would enjoy the compliment to some degree. But deep down I felt like my weight was something to be ashamed of. I had the sense that every other physically fit woman my age weighed less than 125 pounds, that I was the exception, and that I would never be attractive until I hit that magical number.

Since my skiing accident, I have learned a good deal more about women's bodies and now know that there aren't very many adult women who weigh less than that magical number, and recently I had a chance to put that theory to the test.

Some of my students have been reading a Joyce Carol Oates' novel called Black Girl/White Girl about a delusional college student. One of the more disturbing things about this character is that she believes that, at 5'8" and 140 pounds, she is unattractive and overweight. At my age, most of us know that's not true—a woman that height and weight has a BMI of 21—but what surprised me was that my students—most of them between the ages of 18 and 22—knew that as well. They repeatedly get offended when the protagonist calls herself—and her similarly sized roommate—fat. I was thrilled by their skepticism about her weight, but for weeks, it didn't occur to me that it was because most of them weigh more than the characters in the book. I think this was because I still cleaved to the idea that attractive, thin women—because most of my college students are super thin—have to weigh less than 140 pounds.

Then it hit me: maybe my students were shocked by the protagonist's attitude precisely because they don't weigh that little either.

So I decided to put this theory to the test and asked those who weighed less than 140 pounds to raise their hands. I was SURE that half of the girls in each class would raise their hands, but only two girls in my first class raised their hand and only one did in my second.

I was shocked. Apparently, I still bought into the idea that super thin = super light.

And what surprised me even more was that the young women who did raise their hand were really, really, really tiny people. Not just thin, but also pretty short. They were, in truth, petite little girls.

And many of the women who didn't raise their hands are in great shape and very attractive. Like I said, it shocked me to realize that even though I think and write about these issues all the time, deep down I still believe that all of the thin and fit women I see on a daily basis are tipping the scales at little more than 100 pounds.

This is, of course, good and bad news. Bad news because it means that somewhere deep inside of me, in a place I don't even know is there, I still buy into unattainable standards of beauty. But the good news is that it also means that those standards really are both ridiculous and incorrect.

So when I get on the scale tomorrow morning, I'm going to remind myself that I can finally let go of that magical number, a number I've I always known I'd never achieve, but a number I've nevertheless been obsessed with all of my life.

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