body image · fitness · weight loss

What Women Weigh

The morning after the presidential election I had my regular quarterly checkup with my rheumatologist, a wonderful south Asian-Canadian woman who treats my Ankylosing Spondylitis. I was already reeling from exhaustion and sorrow and rage because, you know; then I remembered that I would have to get on the schmancy digital scale the nurses trot you past before taking your blood pressure and making you wait. Cue… feelings.

I don’t own a scale and I don’t mind them all that much, to be honest. I know what I weigh, for training purposes, and I know when my body feels strong and comfortable in my favourite outfits. (I am a clothes horse, for which I thank my fantastically hedonistic psychotherapist.) But I get anxious getting on the scale all the same; this is learned anxiety. I grew up fearing my weight – fearing being weighed. I grew up fearing the scale’s gaze, like so many of us did and do.

Me at 10. I found this roll of film in my mom’s old camera three years ago. Our dachshund was called Nancy; my friend was called Francesca.

I was a chubby kid. I didn’t exercise much until university, and I ate the menu at home – hearty German fare. When I moved out on my own I moved in with a long-term partner, and together we did the thing most couples do when they hit the comfort zone: we gained weight together. At my heaviest I was extremely unhappy in my body, my relationship, and my life. That was about 15 years ago.

Today I love my body. It has taken work on my psyche (see above, re hedonistic therapist), on my past, and on my relationships with loved ones. It’s thanks to my feminist support network, and to the sports I adore, but I am now at a place where I do not really care much what the scale says. Other things matter more to me.

Which is why, when I stepped on the schmancy digital scale at the specialist’s office on 9 November and it read 172.8lb, I did not feel much bother. This was a number I had not seen in many years – I’ve been hovering between 160 and 169 since about 2003 – but I understood its origin. I’ve been working with a personal trainer for 16 months; I have gained enough muscle in that time to be able to do body-weight pull-ups and many other badass things. I’m also substantially faster on my bike than I’ve ever been despite the added weight. So I knew it was largely muscle I’d gained, which mitigated the feeling I would have expected to experience at seeing that number:


The doctor helped further. (Did I mention how awesome she is?) She entered, looked at me, looked at my chart, and said: you look just great. How do you feel? (At which point a tearful conversation about the election ensued. Suffice to say my weight was soon forgotten!)

I left feeling buoyant. And then I got to thinking about why I was feeling these feelings, even though the scale had just told me something ostensibly fearful – because women fear weight gain, always. Right? I felt good because I had gained lean mass, and that was my goal. I felt good because my doctor saw the same lean mass gain in my shape and on my chart and knew it was a positive – for me and for my wellness.

I felt good because I understood what I weighed and why I weighed it. Because the number, in fact, matched my expectations – my own goals, not the social message about what weight is, or should be, for women.

I felt good because I saw the true correlation between my weight and my body – the human female body I know and love – perhaps for the first time, ever.

Women are told from a young age to stay small and thus be beautiful: the less of you the better. The scale is your enemy: unless it registers LESS than expected, you are a failure.


I spent my childhood knowing this; key numbers were taboo. (180lb was THE ULTIMATE TABOO. I remember this well. Mom, do you?) So I fought to lose weight. I fought to shrink my body. I fought to shrink my expectations. I fought to take up less space in the world.

Sound toxic?

It sure as hell is.

This is one of the reasons Tracy firmly believes in dumping the scale – and she’s not alone. Get rid of it. Get rid of those shrinking expectations! But I have an ongoing relationship to my trainer’s scale, for training purposes, and to the one at the doctor’s, and thus I don’t wish to ditch. Instead, I have decided to use my new feeling of buoyancy (weight + knowledge = light-heartedness) as a teaching and learning tool.

This past Monday, I hatched a crazy plan: to run a “guess my weight” game on Facebook.

I wanted to test a theory: that very few people know what a human female actually weighs. We know what she “ought” to weigh, according to the toxic mainstream messages we are fed constantly about female embodiment: 110lb-140lb, maybe ever so slightly more if tall and (of course) slim – but I was betting we mostly had no clue about real weights in the real, badass, girl world. And I think we freaking should.

70kg is 154lb. This image has some issues… but it was the best I could do after a lot of searching. Enough said.

Why? Because: real women weigh stuff. Real women take up space! If we understand this, really get it, maybe we can make some real progress.

This is what I did. I posted three recent images of myself (below), in which I weigh (from bottom right, counterclockwise) 161, 167, and 172.8lb respectively (the final photo is my #pantsuitnation photo, from election day. SOB). I asked friends not to share on FB feeds (no trolls, please), but to share the pictures with friends and family privately and ask all and sundry to guess. The more guys and kids the better!

I got dozens of responses. While they varied widely, they ranged from roughly 140lb (mostly guys) to roughly 180lb (mostly my athlete, female friends). In the aggregate men guessed low; I don’t know if this is because they feared embarrassing me by saying what they really believed I weighed (I’m thinking this isn’t that likely – these are guys I trust and care about), OR because they don’t actually know what human females generally weigh, even though they love us and have all the best intentions in the world (this one is my bet).

Women guessed much closer on the whole. True, my FB feed is filled with feminists and athletes, but even so I was surprised. And more: I was heartened, and made genuinely happy. And I felt empowered! I’ve got to be honest: even though I know why I weigh what I do, and am totally happy with it, I somehow expected everyone to look at me, guess 150lb, and then be profoundly shocked and appalled when I revealed my true weight. The fact that so many friends came properly close, easily and with generosity, told me something I did not know before: other women also weigh what I weigh. Other women also take up this much space. Other women know…


Now, I know that I’m coming at this as an athlete; my weight is different from weight based on lots of non-lean mass, and all the social stigma attached to that. But two caveats here.

First, I’m not all muscle, people. I’m 42. I like wine A LOT. And cheese. And chocolate. Some of that weight has nothing to do with climbing hills and crossing finish lines. Plenty of that weight is healthy, normal, female fat.

Second, it doesn’t actually matter that much! What matters, to me, is this: I said my (substantial) weight out loud, to a bunch of random people (to all of you!), and I did not die. Nobody looked at me sideways and decided I was too gross to live. In fact, a bunch of people I love and trust guessed damn close, and in the process told me that a) we look terrific, and b) we weigh a lot.

Why have we not told each other this stuff before? Because, ladies, listen up. If more human beings knew what – and SHARED what – human females actually weigh, the space we actually take up in the real world… maybe we could run more of that dumb-ass world ourselves.

Pitch your scale if you want: you have all my love and respect.

But if you keep it: say the number. Out loud. To friends and kids and loved ones. Be not afraid. You’re just taking up the space in the world that you deserve to own, every last bit of you.

And you’re freaking beautiful.






21 thoughts on “What Women Weigh

  1. Love love love this post and its message. Claim the number proudly. Strong athletic women weigh things. Yes. I hate it in sporting events where they display the weights of the male athletes but not the women. Out of consideration. Argh. You are so right about all of this. Thanks.

    1. Thanks Sam. Appreciate it! And yes: this SHOULD begin with journalists proudly talking about weight in sports contexts – for all genders. Women athletes weigh A LOT – if we understood that, when we look at them and think how svelt they are, we might begin to uncouple “looks amazing!” from “obviously weighs very little!”

    1. Robyn, thank you so much! I’m so glad you felt empowered – I couldn’t believe how empowering it was to write. My younger self would not have guessed.

  2. I LOVE this post. And also, I’ve had a somewhat different experience. In my experience, weight was a constant topic of conversation and people (women especially) spend a lot of time talking about it–“I gained x pounds, I lost y pounds” or “I used to weigh this, now I weigh that…” I have been to many a Weight Watchers meeting over the years where people literally get applauded for what they weigh, for pounds lost, and shamed for what they way, for pounds gained. I know you know about this. But this is my main reason for refusing to engage in these sorts of conversations (mostly) and for wanting to ditch my scale (the voices in my head).

    But lately, I’ve come to a different place with it, as I am in more of a body-neutral place: I do weigh myself occasionally and I (interestingly) always expect that I will weigh heavier than I turn out actually to weigh. I’ve lost all grasp of what a woman “should weigh,” which I realize you would think is a good thing and I agree about that. That is what several years of blogging at Fit Is a Feminist Issue and actively working to change my old ideas and conditioning have done for me.

    I want to be cautious, too, about assuming that all female athletic types weigh a lot. I consider myself reasonably athletic and I don’t weigh a lot. Does that mean I don’t work out “hard enough”? I know you don’t think this. And I know that you’re aware of the problems of women’s weight, normative femininity, the expectation and pressure not to take up too much space. And I like the idea of being able to say: “here is what I weigh.” Full stop. And have that be a neutral fact about me, like I have brown eyes and small feet.

    Love your post. Thanks for this.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing all this, Tracy. You know, I bet Weight Watchers is a polarising experience here: I’ve never been, and I imagine it really, really changes your relationship to the scale (and all the social baggage ON the scale). RE athlete bodies, I bet you’re heavier than the average woman of your height and build, simply because you’ve got all the muscle you do – but you’re right; ALL of us, athletes too, come in all shapes and sizes. For me, speaking out loud in “neutral” venues about weight (vs, say, in conversations in hushed tones organised around weight loss as a value) is a first step toward debunking the myth that there’s a “real” or “good” weight for women – every body is different and every female body is different. So many factors! Somehow they are all erased by normative femininity in the mainstream. Just now my dad emailed to share some links and remind me of the role bone structure plays; that’s a huge thing too. So. Many. Factors.

  3. I love this post. I don’t feel great about my body right now (election, stress, wine). But even reading this post makes me feel better. I’m going to go for a long walk, do some yoga – and leave the scales in the cupboard where they belong 😊

  4. Love your post, I have also felt that at any give time, all of us can look, and thus be judged very differently. I have one “look” for work, dressed up, made up and very conforming to societal standards. There is another me, in sweats, not made up and I find it interesting to see how disappointingly easy perceptions can be manipulated.

    1. So true! I’m there too, all the time. I used to hide my body in sweats so I would not be seen and judged… it was years of therapy that taught me my actual size, and actual worth (and that the two were NOT connected!).

  5. Reblogged this on The Activist Classroom and commented:

    Happy Friday, everyone! Most of you know that I write monthly for Fit is a Feminist Issue; I don’t always share that writing here, but today I will because this morning’s post has a teaching and learning angle. It’s about women, weight, and stigma, and it’s gotten enough traction over at FFI and on Facebook that I’d like to capitalise (a little!) on it here, too. I hope especially that you’ll share it with your daughters and sons, friends’ children, and the young people in your classroom.

    Best weekend wishes!

  6. I love this post so much!!!!
    I hesitate to talk about my weight on my blog much because I’m always feeling like women in general are overly preoccupied with it in general & I don’t want to give it more airtime, and also because I’m maybe a little on the smaller side of healthy/normal/fit than most women & I hate the thought of others comparing themselves to me for no good reason. But you actually make a very good case for putting our actual real weights out there — I’ve lost track of the number of books & movies where the heroine, inevitably 5’9″ & on the curvy side, is said to weigh 108 lbs. or less! I kind of wonder how many of the men I know would be shocked to learn what I actually weigh.

  7. I remember as a young adult reading that the beautiful volleyball player Gabrielle Reese weighed 170 pounds – I felt so liberated by that! Here was a body I could truly admire, one that was powerful. It made me feel so much better about being tall and muscular.

  8. Intellectually I love what this is all about. Emotionally I think “Oh God, she thinks her weight is “substantial” and I know I weigh a lot more than that!”

    So even though I ditched the scale a few years ago, and I think I’m making progress … still a ways to go. 🙁

    1. “Substantial” is relative: it means “of substance” after all! But thank you for this: it’s a reminder that this is a post that implicitly invites comparison, even though that’s not my intention at all. Funny how even when we try to talk about weight in a value-neutral way… we can’t. Too much ingrained baggage! Another vote for Tracy’s ditching method, perhaps. You are absolutely right to be using your own sense of self, of personal goals, rather than a scale to measure your own progress. Keep at that and remember that your “substance” is a GOOD thing – an assertion of your body’s space and power in the world.

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