Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Why women should wait before asking about weight


Oh, ye of the feminine sex, how you distress me. Where along the evolutionary chain did we women develop a penchant for commenting on and discussing each others' weight? And why do we insist on using other bodies as benchmarks for our own?

Exhibit A => this conversation that happened last week:
Woman: Julia, how do you stay so skinny?

Me: Umm ... I eat a lot of vegetables. Lots and lots of vegetables.

Woman: Wow! I love that you gave me an actual answer and just didn't say "Uh, I dunno." You're like, "No, I work hard on this and it doesn't come naturally!" Awesome. Whereas I just ordered an Oreo milkshake for dinner ...

On the face of it, the conversation seems harmless, even flattering. But deep down, several elements of it bothered me.

FIRST, I abhor the word "skinny." To me, it connotes malnourishment, no softness, no energy. Even its letters have pointy knees and elbows. I never want to be skinny; I want to be barefoot and big-chested in the Mediterranean strong, soft, flexible, etc. Nor do I think "skinny" should be women's dream weight goal. The exception: women who are naturally thin and equally deserve to celebrate their God-given shapes without shame.

SECOND, why are people always so surprised to hear me cite diet, exercise, and moderation as the keys to my current weight? This is not new medical information. Any successful long-term diet program is founded on these principles, and they've been linked to numerous health benefits, such as reduced cancer risk, longevity, and better sex.

I'm starting to think it's not the information, but rather the idea that someone is working really hard to keep that discipline in her life, that surprises others. Because no, it's NOT easy. Especially when the Breyers half-gallon in the freezer and the bottle of Chianti on the shelf call my name each night. But it's a helluva lot more satisfying to fit into my pants year after year than indulge in my two favorite things every day.

THIRD, to the interrogators: Asking about weight makes you teeter on the edge of a slippery slope. Nine times out of 10, you do not know a person's health history, lifestyle choices, or genetic makeup. A thousand factors are combining to give a particular woman a wide frame or a small waist -- some of which are planned and others just chance. So even the best-of-intentions questions run the risk of embarrassing or offending the person you're asking.

And FINALLY, to the interrogated: Why are women embarrassed to admit they take care of themselves? Maintaining your health and energy to the best of your ability is a badge of honor in my eyes. It signals to the world you love and respect yourself enough to keep your body in proper order. By the way, proper order does not necessarily mean slender and toned. It means having the right BMI for your height and age, minimizing your weight-related health risks, and feeling positive and confident about your appearance.

From one woman to all my sisters ... please, claim your weight, for better or for worse. We owe it to ourselves to nurture these fragile shells that are keeping us alive and upright in a buffeting world. How else how we going to have strength to protect everyone else in return?

To paraphrase Her Bad Mother's post on What Does A Body Good, we are stuck between wanting to love our bodies as they are, and wanting to change them. I hope we can find a happy medium -- one of acceptance, discipline, and continuous improvement and enjoyment.

Photo by carloalberto

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