When I walked into the doctor’s office yesterday for a not-routine, but not-alarming visit, the nurse immediately directed me to a machine that looked like a teleportation device. Or a segway for a giant. Or…whatever. To the point, my reaction was a resigned sigh. I hate the scale, it is my arch-nemesis, etc. I offered to take off my shoes in a way that came off as politeness, but was really just meant to shave a few ounces off the number. The nurse gave me a casual, “nah, that’s fine,” and I stepped on. I was only slightly dismayed by the number that popped up, and I stepped back off and hoisted myself onto the exam chair as the nurse asked me some standard questions about why I was here. I was distracted by the computer screen behind her, where she’d entered my weight into my records, which calculated the BMI category I fell into. And there it was, in plain black and white: obese.
I stared at that word for quite some time. The nurse didn’t seem to notice, because had she, I think she would have changed the screen. I wish she had because I spent the next few minutes, as she took my blood pressure and pulse, scanning my records for more information. And I found some. Not only was I classified as “obese,” but I was 75 pounds higher than what this system considered “normal weight.”
I’m sorry, what?
To be clear, I’ve never been a skinny Minnie. I developed curves at a relatively young age, and have always been on the heavier, curvier side in my friend group. This has cause me periodic angst over the years, naturally, and learning to love the body I have is a task I still struggle with almost daily. But to see in such stark relief this system telling me to lose 75 pounds to be “normal” was an assault on my psyche. I tried to listen to the Nurse Practitioner, when later she told me that my blood work looked good, and I had no reason to be concerned about my health. The chart, I knew, thought otherwise, and this new data point with respect to my weight shook me.
It wasn’t until I got back home that I added another data point I’d seen to the equation: the “low weight” benchmark, which I assume means the lowest weight before you can be considered technically “underweight.” It was four pounds less than my “normal weight.” I paused on that for a moment. You mean to tell me, Mr. BMI (the body mass index is quite obviously a dude,) that I, a five foot five curvy woman who mostly fits into standard fashion sizes, needs to lose 75 pounds, but no more than 79? The window for a “healthy” weight is 75 pounds away, give or take four pounds?
I realized: How. Goddamn. Boring.
I am to believe that a person’s height should be the sole indicator of what their weight should be, and the window of acceptability is so small (in both range and number) that it is practically unattainable even in a strictly medical opinion? That the amazing diversity in shape and size of bodies is something to work against, and that we should shun that spectrum in favor of uniformity of weight?
The flaws in the BMI scale are well-documented, and I’ve never given much credence to the system, in spite of my anxiety about my own weight. I have never identified as obese. I don’t think any of the people I know would either, whether it be to my face or in their own minds. And the Nurse Practitioner didn’t say a word about it. She urged me to quit smoking, but not a word on my weight. Which makes me think that she knows it’s bullshit too. When I was 24, and probably 40 pounds lighter, I had a psychiatrist who suggested I lose weight because she was afraid I was going to become diabetic. (This is the same woman who told me to find a “nice guy” because I wasn’t “getting any younger.” I didn’t yet have the words to say, “oh, so you’re a medical doctor now?” and “hahahahah, go fuck yourself.”) Not all medical professionals are as enlightened as this NP seemed to be.
It would be nearly impossible for me to lose 75 pounds. Not because I couldn’t physically do it; I suppose I could. But because I just don’t have the force of will to do it. I feel good. And sometimes, I even think I look pretty damn good. Am I supposed to spend the rest of my life stressing about this excess weight, or lose it and stress about staying in that four pound window? How about a third alternative: just don’t stress about it. Sometimes, I kind of like being a little fat. I dated a guy recently who liked to play with the flabby part of my belly. I fucking hated when he did that, but now when I do it to myself out of shame and frustration, I remember that his was out of affection, and I believe that one of the reasons he and I didn’t work out is because he saw that I didn’t love myself completely, and it almost offended him.
I want very much to love myself completely. Not as some mechanism to get that guy back, but because I know it will pay off dividends for my mental, and physical BY THE WAY, well-being. It’s something I have yet to master, but I do know that one good step is to conclude:
Keep your BMI. I’m good.