If a size 8 is “overweight,” we’re all in trouble.
I’ve gained some weight over the years — about 20 pounds since I moved to Philadelphia twelve years ago. (What can I say; we have great food here.) It happens to many women, especially those of us over 40. Metabolisms slow down, life gets too busy for exercise, we don’t have time to cook healthy meals… You know the drill. Part of me dreads getting on the scale at the doctor’s office, wondering how far to the right the little arrow will land this time. I have an appointment in a couple of weeks, so out of curiosity, I decided to plug my numbers into a BMI calculator.
25.2 BMI. Overweight, according to the World Health Organization.
I am 5'4" and 147 pounds. I wear a single-digit pants and dress size. And the WHO considers me overweight. Suddenly, “fat acceptance” is a personal call-to-action. After all, I’m apparently fat now.
This is the same calculator that says I was perfectly normal and healthy size 4 at 112 pounds twenty years ago, despite the fact that I ate nothing but spaghetti and ice cream, drank far too much every weekend, and walked obsessively. The same calculator that doesn’t distinguish between body fat and muscle. If your number is over 24.9? You’re fat. End of story.
The WHO can cite all the statistics about obesity they want; the fact remains that they are reinforcing a demonstrably untrue and potentially dangerous myth about weight, that normal and healthy = tall and thin. It’s also inherently sexist, since women are more prone to being overweight (at least by the WHO’s definition) than men are and worry about their weight — are even encouraged to — far more than men do. Were I not over 40 and much happier in my own skin than I was even 5 years ago, I can only imagine the psychological damage this would have done to me as someone already struggling with depression and anxiety. Or what it does to people who are truly overweight to see that the goal of being a “normal” weight is not only unrealistic but nearly unattainable. It is beyond insulting to those who are genuinely struggling with their weight to label someone of my size overweight, and I’m angry for them. How can we ever be healthy when even my current size is no longer considered that?
Before writing this article, I came across the Smart BMI website. I typed in my numbers and cringed in anticipation of the result. Here’s what it said:
“Your weight is at a level that, in our view, should be good for your health. We hold this statement contrary to the ‘overweight’ classification of the WHO….
“With a good balance of body fat and muscle mass, your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar values are likely to remain at moderate levels. You would then seem to be well-protected against a heart attack, stroke or diabetes….
“ You are already in your optimal weight range. Losing weight would add no benefit to your health.”
Well then. The WHO and the medical industry seem to cling to the old BMI mostly because it’s easy, without taking into account all the differences between and within bodies that make up a version of “healthy” unique to each of us. That, of course, would require an entire restructuring of our health system and require doctors to actually get to know their patients beyond the numbers on a chart. Until then, I’m done worrying about those goddamned numbers. I hope you are, too.