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.
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…
THIS IS NORMAL.
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.