TRIGGER WARNING: MENTIONS OF EATING DISORDERS
This is the story of every person I have ever met. Well, not every person, but a vast majority. Weight governs how people see themselves and how they live their life. As a culture, we have been conditioned to care about the numbers on the scale, whether we see them in a negative or positive light. But the range in what those numbers can mean suggests that maybe we shouldn’t put as much stock in them as we do.
In a YouTube video by the channel blogilates, a social experiment was conducted in which women were told to pair up with each other based on what they thought each other weighed. As you may guess, most of them were very wrong because (spoiler alert!) weight and size are two different things. When the women were paired together based on how much they actually weighed, they then compared BMI and body fat percentage. BMI, or body mass index, is a person’s weight (kg) divided by the square of their height (m) and body fat percentage, if you haven’t already guessed, is the amount of fat a person has relative to their total body weight. BMI is used as a tool to determine health levels (for example: fitness, average, overweight, or obese), but it is too simple to be as accurate as body fat percentage tests.
This social experiment showed that people’s perceptions of weight are intertwined with their ideas of size; higher weight indicates a bigger size. While this is true, it doesn’t account for muscle. People with more muscle will typically have a higher BMI, putting them in the “overweight” range, when in reality, their body fat percentage could be well below average.
In context of the video, we can see that people have preconceived notions about weight and size; however, most of the women in the video are happy enough with their bodies to where the negative side affects are not very clearly shown beyond some discomfort. And here’s where I come in with an anecdote. Hi, I’m Hope and I used to be fixated on my weight. It never got to the point where I was underweight. I didn’t have an eating disorder. But there were definitely days where I wouldn’t eat because I wanted the numbers on the scale to be lower. Even now, I still feel guilty sometimes when I eat what I perceive to be “too much,” when others wouldn’t even bat an eye. And there are so many others who have these same habits and more severe, life threatening ones.
In the past, I spent a fair amount of time on anorexia and bulimia forums, which members of the community so lovingly called “Ana” and “Mia.” Every calorie was counted. People shared what they ate to lose weight, what their lowest weights were, and what their goal weights were. The numbers on the scale were all that mattered. I knew that the people on the forums were taking it too far, but I didn’t see a problem with what I was doing to myself. As an athlete, I felt weaker when I wasn’t eating enough and deep down I knew that I needed more calories to fuel my exercise, but I just pushed that feeling aside and told myself that it was working and I was losing weight. I was a lucky one. I stopped before I took it too far. Many people aren’t as lucky and while eating disorders are linked to other mental health conditions, they are also due in part to a culture that unwittingly encourages them.
We live in a society that focuses far too much on the numbers on the scale and not enough on what they mean for any given person. Everyone is different, everyone’s weight is going to be different distributions of fat and muscle, and everyone needs different amounts of fat and muscle to function anyway. The toxic culture that sees low numbers as inherently good and high numbers as inherently bad needs to end. This culture that immediately correlates weight to size needs to be dissolved. We need to realize that weight, short of actual health concerns, means nothing. It is just a number.