Several weeks ago, I was admiring my bodacious booty in the locker room mirror post-workout (don’t pretend like you don’t do this too) and congratulating myself on taking control of my health and well-being when I overheard two young ladies (I’d put them in their early twenties) discussing their own physiques and personal goals. One of the gals had apparently consulted a doctor about her fitness goals and was venting to her friend that while she wanted to slim down to a specific weight (120 lbs), her doctor was encouraging her to work toward the more attainable goal of 140 lbs.
While gazing into the mirror, I was silently agreeing with the health professional (it seems like an obvious course of action to me: lose a little, reevaluate, lose a little more if need be), when the young lady said something that snapped me out of my ass-admiring reverie-
“140 pounds is still way too fat.”
It was a record-scratch moment for me; 140 pounds is roughly what (after almost a year of sweating, huffing, and puffing) I currently weigh. I hazarded a glance around the corner to see what this girl looked like and she was about the same height as me and maybe had twenty pounds to lose before she hit 140. Moments before, I had been happily noting my progress in the mirror and was satisfied, maybe even pleased with how my body looks, but her comment sucked all of the wind out of my sails.
In the span of a few seconds, my reflection changed in my eyes from a healthy woman to that of a woman with big upper arms, a kinda flabby middle and thighs verging on the size of THUNDER. I quickly went about the business of showering and leaving the gym post haste and vowed to eat nothing but lettuce for the next month (a vow I broke as soon as my next meal, thank goodness).
After stewing, then pondering and later reflecting upon the situation, I have adopted the view that the young lady does not, in fact, know what 140 pound looks like, and maybe, if I had been bold enough to step out of the shadows and say, “hey, that’s what I weigh, girlfriend, and I look pretty damn good!” she might have reevaluated her views or, at the very least, learned that bodies are not one-size-fits-all, and she should not be so quick to dismiss a randomly-selected, intangible number as “too fat.”
Most importantly, that situation reminded me of something we learn when we are little kids but seem to either forget or misinterpret as we grow up, and that is the fact that words, even when you don’t mean them to, can hurt. In the words of Thumper from the movie Bambi, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say nuthin’ at all.” This advice should apply even when we are talking about ourselves. Body shaming, whether done by so-called Fit-spiration memes on Pinterest or by people gossiping among friends and picking apart their perceived trouble spots, is one of the most annoying instances where words can make a big impact on how we feel.
Just the other day, I was joking with a friend about the little bit of extra weight I can’t seem to get rid of around my middle and I compared it to always wearing an inner tube around my waist and at least I didn’t need to worry about drowning. I said this to be funny; I don’t have that much extra and it is probably only noticeable to myself, and, if you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at, but, for the rest of the day, all I could think about was that little bit of a spare tire. I kept fidgeting with my shirt trying to simultaneously pull it down to cover and billow it away from my body to conceal. That joke was at the ready probably because my stomach is the part of my body that I am most self-conscious about, and I did myself a great disservice by making fun of something I am sensitive about. I could also have been doing my friend a disservice; if she thinks I look fit and healthy and I’m picking myself apart, I could cause her to question her appraisal of her own body and of bodies in general.
We all need to remember that our words have a huge impact not just on the ourselves and the people we are speaking to, but also on those who might overhear us, and we need to be careful about basing our appraisal of ourselves strictly on how we look and how much we weigh. What I want to say to the girl in the locker room if I could go back in time is that not only does she not realize that she is unconsciously insulting me and trivializing all of the exercising I have done since last August, but also that at 120 lbs, she will probably still find things she doesn’t like about her appearance. At 120 lbs, I wanted bigger boobs and curvier hips; it felt decidedly un-sexy and un-feminine to be flat-chested and have boy-hips, but now, with bigger boobs and curvier hips, I still have things I want to change about myself.
The message here is not that we should all give up because we will never be happy with how we look; it is that we can learn to be happy with who we are despite the fact that there may be things about our appearance we’d like to change, and that our weight as described by the number on a scale is an abstract concept that is, really, meaningless. What is meaningful is our weight as described by our health and the things we can do with our bodies. At 140 pounds, I can climb over 130 flights of stairs in one day, I can run 4 miles, I can bike 50 miles, I can pick-up my large dog and lift him over the backyard fence when I accidentally lock us out of the front door, I can ride a horse, I can carry all of the groceries from my car at once negating the need for a second trip, I can swim, I can do, pretty much, anything I want to.
We need to turn our attention away from what we think we should weigh and how we think we should look, and instead, make goals that are conducive to better health and a more functional existence. Instead of griping about wanting to lose 40 lbs, how about focusing on walking up the several flights of stairs in your office without being winded or on biking to the top of the really long, REALLY steep hill without stopping to walk. As I’ve become more aware of my body, I’ve learned that these are much better ways to gauge my health than comparing my reflection to photos of myself at 22, and I’m trying to remember that a wisecrack about my love handles isn’t always funny. As my friend said in response to my joke about my built-in inner tube “at least you’re healthy, that’s the important thing.” My suggestion is that we keep the body-shaming, of ourselves and of others, to a minimum, and we’ll be better able to focus on what really matters.