As a female-bodied American, I struggle a lot with body image.
I do, however, have a surprisingly decent opinion of my body, all things considered. My therapist has complimented me on it, even.
Want to know my secret? Actually, if you’ve spent more than ten minutes with me, you probably already do, but here it is:
I don’t know how much I weigh.
Pretty simple, right? I never weigh myself — don’t even own a scale. I don’t let my doctor weigh me (that’s easier than you think. When the nurse tells you to step on the scale, smile and say cheerfully, “oh, I don’t get weighed,” and then look at the exam rooms til the nurse says which one to go into). When I work with a physical trainer, they don’t get to weigh me either. When I had surgery a few months ago I let them weigh me so the anesthesiologist could do his job, but I faced away from the display and made the nurse write it down without telling me.
For such a simple little thing, it has made a huge difference. I think it’s because I associate weighing myself with dieting, and I associate dieting with hating my body — and by extension, hating myself.
When I was dieting (first went to Weight Watchers in middle school, and was in and out until I went to college), weighing myself was how I determined my self-worth. Weight down? Go me! I’m a good, strong, disciplined person! Weight up? Wow, I suck and am a lazy-ass failure. That continued after grad school when I started weighing myself every day and keeping a spreadsheet to track a seven-day rolling average of my weight.
Our society has a disordered relationship with weight. We act like the number of pounds on the scale gives us an objective measure of health, but it doesn’t. It just tells us how much we weigh, and that’s such an irrelevant piece of information compared to the other objective numbers we could be using that it’s not even funny. It’s just sad.
I’m way more interested in how much I can lift, how far I can walk or bike, how low my blood pressure is, than how much I weigh. When I was a sophomore in high school, I was on the swim team for a second year and was incredibly fit. I swam eight times a week, and rode horses and did Aikido as well. At the start-of-season physical, my blood pressure and resting heart rate were so low the nurse practitioner got a different set of equipment because she thought the numbers were wrong.
And yet, I was pudgy. By most people’s standards, I should have been trying to lose weight. Never mind that I was a serious athlete (I even went to the county finals for the 50m Breaststroke!).
People like Ragen Chastain and my sophomore-self prove that you can be fat and healthy.
But we still care more about what we weigh than about whether we can bench our body weight or do pull-ups. It’s stupid.
And it’s dangerous.
This irrational obsession with weight leads people to disordered eating, to self-harm, to the misery of hating themselves. I’m done with it.
I try to eat well (always a challenge). I exercise. I’m cautiously bringing myself back to a full load of Aikido and working out after a long-ass recovery from my knee surgery a year-and-change ago and my abdominal surgery in January.
Sure, I have moments where I look at my body in the mirror and wish it looked different. I have moments where I see a scale at someone’s home and think, “oh, it’ll just take a sec and it’ll be funny to see what the BMI thinks I am, it’s so stupid!” (when I know all I’ll do is look at the chart and feel like a failure because of what it says). I resist the temptation.
When I see myself in the mirror at the gym or while working out at home, I like what I see. When I’m on the mat at the dojo, I don’t really notice the mirrors because I’m focused on training, but when I catch glimpses, I see my posture and the way I move and I’m pleased.
I can do deadlifts now, thanks to my knee surgery, and that is way more important to me than the occasional roll of fat or what the scale says. The numbers I care about are the ones that actually matter — the ones on my blood pressure reading, the ones on my bloodwork, the ones on the dumbbells I am lifting.
The numbers on the scale are the entry to a rabbithole I am tired of going down. The only thing at its end is a dark cave with a funhouse mirror and a voice that says not thin enough, and I care about my body and my self, so I am staying the hell away.