• Tue, May 17 2011

Hunger Games: I Am Not Obese

What the fuck is up with the BMI, anyway? Can I please just rail against it here for a minute? Why do I feel so horrible about being in the “obese” category? I KNOW that I’m a goddamn size 8 and I have big boobs and work out a lot so the BMI is full of shit. Being obese isn’t some horrible flaw anyway! That a column about men and women and diet culture is stupid for using the BMI scale to call motherfucking NFL athletes “obese” and “whales”. Why do I know that the BMI and even the number on the scale is an idiotic way to determine health and self-worth, and yet I STILL feel guilty for not being more slim?

When did this guilt begin? With my genetic heritage of swarthy, busty Latina-ness? Growing up with my mom who, like most Colombian women, is obsessed with weight and would happily drop a few thousand pesos on liposuction and permanent make-up? Or was it college, along with the stress-eating, the copious alcohol intake, and the lack of time to exercise? When I got the job where I sit at a desk? Or was it as simple as a lifetime of ads and doctors and the BMI telling me what’s normal and “healthy”? Goddammit, why is there so much conspiring against us? Why does it affect me so much even when I’m an independent fierce feminist who knows this shit is stupid, who knows that “obesity” does not mean “bad” or “a failure”?

I’ve been reading all kinds of body positive blogs– fatshionista, eat the damn cake, etc.—trying to get a handle on this. I’m in therapy. I look at myself in the mirror and remind myself of the parts I find slammin’. I try to practice mindful eating. I exercise almost every day, but never weigh myself. My partner tells me I’m beautiful. I read studies about how “obesity” is arbitrary and not actually well correlated to increased morbidity or illness. And I know all these things are true and useful and should make me feel like a strong female, hear me roar. But every single day, while I’m walking around with the swagger of a confident lady who never thinks about these absurd things, I find myself thinking, if only I could fix my upper arms, if only I could flatten that weird bulge at my hip bone, if only my thighs were slightly more defined…

Then what? Would there be more to fix if I attacked my “problem areas” with crazy diets and furious weights or even, as I sometimes am tempted by, lipo? Would it ever end? Will I ever stop feeling guilty about my body, and then feeling ashamed for feeling guilty?

The thing is, I can’t diet. I just can’t do it. Diets to me are like lipo: hugely prohibitive, dangerous for my health, and it doesn’t even guarantee that the fat stays off—in fact, to the contrary, as we all know, the weight almost always come back. I know that’s true. And I still hear the siren song of HCG or fasting or that weird cayenne pepper one or…

So, I exercise and exercise, trying to enjoy the endorphins and peacefulness, but I still have the nagging thought: ‘the fat would come off faster, you’d get toned faster, if you just stopped eating so much.’ I feel almost lucky that I can’t even bring myself to stop eating carbs and cheese, because I think that once I started, I wouldn’t be able to stop until I was as hyper-regimented and disordered about food as humanly possible. I think I’m scared of how far I’d take it, of how much of myself I’d be willing to sacrifice for thinness: my Colombian curves, my time, my mind, my health. I think that once I started buying into what the BMI is telling me to do, I would be willing to sacrifice everything. It makes me ashamed to say it but I have to fight it every day: ‘I am not obese, I am not obese, I am not obese… ‘

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  • J

    I think the BMI scale is way off base. It says I’m “obese” and where I could stand to loose a few pounds, it’s no where near as much as the BMI would have me. I’m 5’9″ and when I did weigh what the “ideal” weight for my height I looked sick. In fact I had just spent three weeks in the hospital not eating, I WAS sick. I have a large frame. I always have and I always will, no amount of dieting/exercise will change that.

  • M

    I had a serious eating disorder when I was younger, and at my lowest weight I was juuuuust on this side of ‘normal’ according to BMI charts; not quite underweight. I also skipped periods, my hair was falling out, I was constantly freezing while wearing sweatshirts in the middle of the California summer, I never didn’t have a massive headache, if you pinched my finger it would take me a minute or two to pink up again, my pulse was down to fifty [now that I eat my resting heart rate is usually 80something], and I could only stand up without passing out about half the time. So yeah. Screw you too, BMI. I’m not saying it’s always wrong, but it is most definitely not always an accurate indicator.

  • Dove

    I’m EXACTLY the same way. I’m fit, have medium-large bones, muscle, and some fat (mostly on the boobs, butt, and belly). Whenever the nurse weighs me at the doctor’s office I get a double take, because my weight is higher than anyone expects, because I have muscle. My BMI is exactly on the overweight/obese line but I’m constantly told to ignore that, because I’m visibly not obese. (same as others have said, I could stand to lose some pounds, but no one would consider me obese)

    Also, I can’t diet for shit. I either eat 500 calories a day and starve myself or I relax and eat what I want, which is why I exercise.

  • Carolyn

    I am 5’4 and according to the BMI my “healthy range” is anywhere from 110-140. This is bullshit. I would look really ill if I weighed only 110, and really really chubby at 140. I usually stay around 125 and that works for me. but come ON. The thing is based on height alone and that just doesn’t make sense. there are so many other factors that need to be considered.

    • Christina

      Actually, doesn’t that make sense? To you the healthy weight is in the middle range of your healthy BMI – to someone else who was the same height as you, it might be the 110 or the 140 and that would be their ideal weight. Yes, it is based on height alone, but it does allow for personal fluctuation.

  • Beth

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this post! I actually had to calculate my BMI for a project earlier today (31.8). All I could think was WTF? Sure, it wouldn’t hurt me to lose a couple pounds, but I am not obese by any stretch of the imagination (unless girls on the runway are your measuring stick for normal). Even when I was in top condition playing college softball back in the day, I was still a 28.3 (well into “overweight” territory) according to my recollection. I’ve been a rabid femi-nazi for years, but society’s expectations for my body still inflict massive amounts of insecurity into my psyche. It’s somewhat comforting to know that I’m not the only one who experiences this, despite recognizing that BMI, and our perceptions of beauty across the board, are a skewed system.

  • G

    Of course the BMI is off. It’s based on height and weight. It doesn’t factor in bone structure or muscle mass at all. Most responsible sites and colors administering BMI results will tell you this. It caused an uproar with the Wii a few years ago.

  • Nicole

    thanks for all these great comments! I knew there were more of us out there…

  • Jaclyn

    Weight Watchers….seriously, it’s sane and supportive and not restrictive. I’m not saying you need to lose weight or should lose weight. What I’m saying is that if you are looking for something that won’t make you feel deprived and miserable, go to WW. The meetings are great, if you can find one you like, and are a weekly reminder of why you are doing this, how to have success and that you aren’t alone. There isn’t anything you aren’t allowed to eat on WW. You just have to account for it and be reasonable about portion sizes. I’ve lost 13lbs so far and I really do LOVE it.

  • MM

    BMI was designed for population dynamics, not for individual health. So, yeah, some people have a healthy range above or below it, depending on your bone structure. A good doctor should help you find a weight that’s right for you.

    I’m 5’6 and used to weigh 120, which is “normal BMI range”, but my doctor said I was actually underweight because I have a large bone structure. Now I’m 140 which is higher than the ‘ideal’ on some charts but I look and feel much better without my ribs poking out.

  • Brit

    Its good to be health conscious like you say but not obsessive. Unfortunately that is a REALLY fine line. I used to exercise every day but as I’m now in training to become a police officer I have to exercise twice a day. I still eat like a horse though. In fact, I eat MORE now because my body demands it since its burning double what it did.
    Now to my actual point, about the BMI. In my recruit training guides it says I have to mantain a certain level of fitness and be able to do a run in this time, an obstacle course in another but most surprising is that I actually will have to PUT ON weight if I am to be applicable. Thanks BMI! They do not take recruits who are in the ‘under weight’ range because apparently they are considered to have higher mortality risks.
    Soo, I’m supposed to do excessive cardio and strength training and maintain a heatlhy diet while also packing on a few kilos? Mixed messages or what?
    (btw, i’m NOT complaining that I’m so called ‘underweight,’ i really don’t think its a correct assessment and i’m not being pretentious either, i’m just saying, BMI is warped)

  • Patricia

    Wait a minute. You’re a size 8 and you’re “obese”? WTF?!?

  • Patricia

    Oh come on! I realize I’m not American, but I don’t how by any standards someone who is a size 8 – who eats normally and exercises frequently – should consider dieting.
    I’m sure you’re beautiful, sweets.

    My mother is Brazilian and my father French, and I lucked out on the genes department; I got my mother’s curves. it’s just that maybe curves mean something altogether different in Brazil and France than it does in America. I am a totaly hourglass shaped-woman and I love love love it. I’m a size 6, have been most of my life except for in my teens during a brief stunt of undereating and overexercising when I dropped from a 6 to a 2 in a a bit over two months. Super healthy; huh? Like Nicole, nowadays I jog daily, do pilates, and take my bike out on the weekends, and eat normally. By normal I am not referring to all those “disgustingly obese loosers” as so many delightful people would have us believe; I am talking about all the people out there who think that living on raw salad and flat water is healthy and NORMAL. I eat healthy meals, go out for drinks, and don’t feel like a pedophile for having pancakes on saturday with my kid.

    Here in Brazil, and even in France – Land of The Skinny Asses – curvy is beautiful – unless you’re a model or postulating for a position as Karl Lagerfeld’s BFF – curvy is something nice as opposed to what appears to be an euphism for something not so nice in America.

    So Nicole, I’m sure you’re a beautiful woman. And no, size 8 is not obese. F*** BMI and have a muffin.

  • Kelly

    sounds like you are insecure about it and that is why you get so angry. You are being affected too much my the magazine industry. Try and step out of yourself and look at other things in life. Make good friends, give to charity, learn a new skill etc. You will be happier. It is about being healthy anyway. Conventional medicine doesn’t know a thing about what is healthy and what isn’t. Check out Sally Fallon, you then can eat fat to lose fat and your life will be WAY happier cause your brain will get the fat it needs, and your digestive system will be healthy and can regulate your hormones. Good luck!

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