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Owning Your Size

Earlier this year Joy Nash's Fat Rant took a big chunk of the internet by storm. The video was packed with empowerment and garnered tons of attention in the mainstream media. To me, though, one of the most important moments in the video was when Joy shared her weight with us. The numbers. Her actual weight.

We live in a society that encourages us to hide our weight, hide our size. Lots of people lie about their weight on their driver's licenses or other IDs. We lie to our friends about it. We lie to our families. We generally don't own our size unless we're losing weight. Then it becomes a real numbers game. ("I need to get down to 100." "I need to get to a 32" waist.")

This type of behavior has perplexed me in recent years but, thinking back, I lied about my weight in the past too. I remember that my Official Fighting Weight for a long time (high school mostly) was 150. Nice, even number. 150. Then I gained weight, and my OFW was 165. (Not too fat! Still close to 150!) Later, I gained more weight so my OFW was 180. Then 185.

When I moved a number of years back and needed a new driver's license, I was asked by the helpful person at the DMV if my weight was still 185. Of course it wasn't. I had just a tiny bit of pause when I gave my real weight at the time: 200 pounds. TWO HUNDRED, otherwise known as the First Level of Fatness.

This was a pretty big moment for me. I knew that was my real weight, and there it was. It was official. I was fat. It was actually? Pretty liberating.

It's really interesting how we make that number on the scale a part of who we are. It becomes way more than just a number and becomes a value judgment; it becomes us in a negative way. If you ask someone to pin a number on fat ("bad" or "unhealthy", in non-fat positive circles), chances are you'll hear an even number like 200, 250, 300, or 350 pounds. However this is a number pulled out of thin air (pardon the pun) as many people have a hard time visualizing that - so we go with something that sounds astonishingly big.

That's why, then, it was really interesting to watch The Rotund's recent series on her weight. The genesis was over at Shapely Prose, when sweetmachine implored us to own our weights. Soon thereafter The Rotund posted a full-body photo of herself and asked her readers to guess her height and weight. A day later we got the actual numbers. No one hit it on the nose, although some came closer than others. In advance of any other analyses of this data (including The Rotund's own,) I'd like to point out curiosities about the data. (And the disclaimer that I posted at TR's site applies here - I threw out any guesses that were weights only, heights only, or dress sizes; and she may have more reliable data than I do, etc. etc. etc.)

The most interesting thing to me was that the number of guesses over 300 pounds was only a third (33% on the nose) of all the results, and those guesses averaged 311 pounds. (Her actual weight is 314 pounds.) Elementary math shows that the majority of folks thought she was under 300 pounds. Interesting how it comes back to 300 pounds, eh?

At the other end, the First Level of Fatness, only three people (2.8%) thought she was under 200 pounds.

Setting those answers aside, the average of folks who thought she was between 200 and 300 pounds settled at 257 pounds. And when I look at the data, two numbers stand out to me: 250 and 280; lots of people responded with one of those two numbers.

So yeah, my ever-so-slight geekiness to crunch numbers is showing. What does it all mean? One conclusion I've come to, setting aside the question of height, is she could "pass" for nearly 50 pounds lighter. That's really something.

I'd like to hypothesize that our collective tendency to lie about our weights causes this type of underestimation. Now I'm not passing judgment on everyone who participated; I know and admit I'm terrible at guessing height and weight. But we've become so very divorced from our publically-known sizes that we have no idea what anyone's real size is anymore.

Part of that is inevitably caused by Those Darned BMI Calculators. I noted in a post recently that in order to get to the very highest "normal" weight in the world of BMI, I'd have to lose 80 pounds. (And the scary ass thing is that if I gained just 20 pounds, I'd be eligible for WLS.)

The other big factor is, again, not owning one's weight. It's important for us to claim our sizes as our own; The Rotund put it best when she said that she is what 314 pounds looks like.

When we lie about our weights, we are saying that our sizes are bad. We're saying that we want to be smaller. We're ashamed. We're passing judgment on ourselves, and claiming we aren't "normal". The truth is that we're all normal - people of all sizes - and the best way to demonstrate our complete and utter normalcy is to simply state our weights. As they are. Without BS, without hesitation, and without shame.

The parlay into fat rights? If more weights are seen as normal - no air quotes - more people may open up to the idea that, hey, this epidemic of fat hatred is affecting Actual People, and not some abstract Fat People Collective that's out there somewhere. Or, it's not just affecting fat people with mobility problems who are treated like circus freaks on TV "specials". Or, it's not just affecting fat people with eating disorders.

There is nothing abnormal about being fat. Those who will define you by your weight have small minds. Be proud of that number.

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rebelle September 29th, 2007 | Link | Wow. Thanks for this, Paul.

Wow. Thanks for this, Paul. Not only can people not tell a person's health by looking, they can't even accurately tell a person's weight!

And, confession time: I pegged her at about 230, because I thought she looked a bit thinner than me! (245! Shout it out!) What really cracked me up, though, were the people who put her at about 170. It shows image distortion tends to work both ways: People see that Rotund is fat; they think of 170 as an impossibly huuuuge number, and, bingo, Rotund must be 170! Conversely, others look at her, see a fat woman, and conclude she "must" weigh 350, because "350 is fat and so is she"!

I think she could really melt some minds if she also featured photos of women who actually are 170, 190, 230, 350, etc. I think that would surprise quite a few folks. And it might further help people get real about weight.

Props to Rotund!

PS: I noticed one comment where the person was surprised at Rotund's height as well. This reminds me of a personal trainer, who was floored when she found out I was 5'3". (Yeah, go ahead--chart my BMI!) Turns out she thought I was "at least" 5'6"!

paul September 29th, 2007 | Link | 340

Heh, rebelle... I was one who guessed 340 but, I will still admit that was an educated guess and not an OMG THREE FORTY number.

rebelle September 29th, 2007 | Link | And that goes to show ya

And that goes to show ya what I've long suspected is true: I don't know everything! I guess I thought a lot of people had guessed 350-ish. Which maybe says more about MY assumptions than theirs. Woopsie.

Viola's picture
Viola
September 29th, 2007 | Link | I guessed her as 5-3,

I guessed her as 5-3, 250-260. How funny. She looks about my size, but I'm slightly taller. I usually guess shorter people as being heavier, so I was trying to make a small allowance based on the height I thought, but I would never have thought over 300. Most people who I think are my size usually wear smallers sizes than I do, and it throws me for a loop.

Oh, and I guess the funny thing is is that when I say she looks about my size, I'm not taking into account that I've gained weight in the last 2 years and am not the size or weight I mentally think I am.

I actually did post a full length body shot of myself on a message board and said, "This is what morbidly obese looks like."

nycfembbw September 29th, 2007 | Link | Great post and comments. I

Great post and comments. I am 5'4" 232 last I weighed myself. I've always been struck how in books, for example, a character will be described as incredibly fat and barely able to get around. Added to this will be the specifics, "At over six feet tall and nearly 250 pounds..." It makes me infuriated!

Viola's picture
Viola
October 1st, 2007 | Link | Oh yes, books

nycfembbw, I know what you mean about books. In fact it's one of the things that turned me off to Patricia Cornwell. There was one book where a woman was described as grossly obese and the mental image I had was of someone who didn't move much. I can't remember, but the author might have implied that. Then it turns out the character was 5-7 and weighed 180. I don't think she researched that particular book well, because there were other errors like that.

rachelr's picture
rachelr
September 29th, 2007 | Link | I was actually pretty

I was actually pretty dead-on Rotund's weight. I guessed her at 5'4" and 315 pounds - a pound and half-inch off. I've run the gamut of sizes myself, so maybe that factored in. Or it could have been a hell of a lucky guess.

I did find it endlessly fascinating the range of guesses, anywhere from a size 12 to Paul's guess at 340 pounds. This, and what Kate is doing with the illustrated BMI, is so direly needed to put weight and body size into proper perspective.

Mickariah's picture
Mickariah
September 30th, 2007 | Link | This is swell!!

I think that this is just swell! and I wish I'd thought of it first... I being of 5' 8' and 298lbs stature am constantly getting comments like "Really?! you don't look like you weigh that much." or " You don't look that big to me." as if saying those things were compliments... Maybe people feel that they have to say that to keep the poor fat girl from bursting out in tears... I don't know, maybe I look emotionally unstable along with not "looking that big"... Anyway that it is, I'm pleased as punch to be alive and satisfied with my fat, white ass!

~Brought to you by the most fabulous and amazing Mickie! Eye-wink

rebelle September 30th, 2007 | Link | Yeah, I agree nycfembbw.

Yeah, I agree nycfembbw. This crazy image distortion occurs in literature, too.
I'm thinking specifically of Minette Walters' "The Sculptress," who, if I remember right, was described as so hideously fat that you could barely see her eyes in her fleshy face and so e-normous that she never left the house before she got locked up...but, who, once the actual number was given, weighed 265 pounds. (If I correctly converted stones to pounds, that is). Infuriating is right!

yamigurl September 30th, 2007 | Link | This is the subject of my Master's Thesis!

Intestesing, isn't it that people "pass" for much lower weights because they lie about it so much!
Part of the data collection of my thesis is walking around the Washington, DC area and offering $100 anyone who can guess my weight within 5 pounds. I allow anyone who wants to venture a uess to poke, prod, pinch, and venture a guess. (I've been picked up on several occasions!)
I am five foot seven and weigh 147 pounds. I'm not fat, but I'm also not the "ideal."
So far, I've recieved about 1,500 guesses and only given away $100. The overwhelming majority of people guess my weight to be in the 110-120 pound range.
A "normal" person might take it as a compliment...but I know what's going on!
So many people lie about their weight that no one knows what weight looks like anymore! I am starting to think that this is why so many people want to weigh 100 pound......BECAUSE THEY DON'T HAVE ANY REAL IDEA ABOUT WHAT 100 POUND LOOKS LIKE!

Icecat62's picture
Icecat62
September 30th, 2007 | Link | weight is in the eye of the beholder

5'8" and 177. I'm another one who people always guess the wrong weight. They always say I look like I weigh around 150 to 155. People are afraid to say their weight in fear of being labeled fat. It's okay to be pretty and stupid, but don't be fat and smart. We live in a weird world.

AndyJo's picture
AndyJo
October 1st, 2007 | Link | Hmm... A timely subject

I was at a party the other night, and this actually came up... This thread makes me think about my own responses to the subject.

A woman to whom a friend introduced me was talking about her current health issues. Now... I won't go into the entire conversation, because the whole circumstance was weird (I don't talk about my health issues with strangers at parties - but she obviously does), but the conversation segued into how the doctor said she had to lose weight.

Says she... "I've been the same height and weight since I was thirteen, but now it's beginning to affect me"
Says I... "You have been stable, that is good. It's the dieting and weight cycling that's harmful, not the weight itself".
Says she... "Yeah, but it's beginning to affect me".

She mentioned stuff that could not possibly have been weight related, and I just "hmm" politely.

Then she says: "I thought I was 5'11" all these years. It turns out I'm 5'8""
Says I... "Seems as if that happens as we age..."
Says she... "I weigh 215 lbs"

My eyebrows involuntarily go up in an arch as I try to figure out WHAT to say, but also in surprise because she doesn't look like she weighs close to what I weigh at 5'6 and 230...

Says I... "Wow!"
Says she... " I don't really look like I weigh 215. I don't eat junk, well, I do but not much..." and so on it continues.

By then I DESPERATELY wanted out of the conversation, and someone else unsuspectingly rescued me by asking her a question that kept her occupied. I fled somewhere else.

This thread, however, was enlightening to me... I obviously share an ignorance of what a height and weight look like! I appreciated the pictures on Kate Harding's... They were a real eye-opener for me! I obviously need to educate myself too!

--Andy Jo--

goddess's picture
goddess
October 1st, 2007 | Link | Hmmm...this discussion, from

Hmmm...this discussion, from the get go, reminded me of women's former obsession of the 1950s: their age. No woman was supposed to admit her age in public. As if this mattered! But then again, that was also a time when to be unmarried and of childbearing age was to be a social outcast. Divorcees were in at least as much trouble as the never married. The only morally okay status was widowhood. Anyway, it just goes to show that we always need to hide something, right? Honestly, it makes me want to become a nudist, just to level as many playing fields as possible.

Goddess, who is 58 years old, somewhere around 5'3" and 195 lbs. and whom everybody thinks is a shorter person.

Trudi October 2nd, 2007 | Link | Adding the context of hiding

Adding the context of hiding one's age just lead me to another thought...

Although women are ready to proclaim they are 68, they only do so when they don't "look their age". Tina Turner is fine to say she's past 60, but she looks like she's in her 40's.

And I wonder if that is sort of how it works with weight too. As long as you don't look your weight or more than what you weigh, it's ok to name your weight. Joy Nash is a good example - she's well put together, has an hour-glass figure, which is an *acceptable shape - so when she says, I'm whatever number she is, it is shocking and we can placate ourselves with 'oh but she's still beautiful, so its ok, its not like being that number and being ugly too' or something along those lines.

I got some flack for writing positively about Joy Nash because she doesn't look fat enough to a lot of people. She's not round, she's not slow moving. Her body still conforms to traditional beauty standards and she wears a moderate clothing size.

Where am I going with this? Oh yeah - I think as long as you conform to beauty standards, you can admit anything you want. But the people who dont' conform and speak their truth, are still mocked.

*society's overall expectation of women's beauty

DeeLeigh's picture
DeeLeigh
October 2nd, 2007 | Link | You're right. We put too

You're right. We put too much of an value on a woman's appearance; specifically a young, well proportioned appearance. And, it's easier to talk about your weight and age when you look younger/thinner than you really are. So it turns into "Not all women with BMIs in the obese range look fat. Not all women over 40 look old." And, that's all well and good, when we're fighting the idea that women who aren't skinny and young are worthless. But, the fact is, there is way, way too much emphasis on how we look.

On the other hand, attractiveness is not just about appearance, nor is a certain type of appearance a prerequisite. And, almost everyone is beautiful in their own way.

The people who talk about "shape privledge" or whatever - who have a problem with pretty fat people like Joy Nash - often, you see their pictures, and there's nothing wrong with the way they look. "Shape privilege?" Very few women, especially fat women, are really hourglass shaped. Most of us either have defined waists or big boobs, not both. But, we can do the same things other people do to look good. We can get contact lenses, good haircuts, and flattering clothes. Being physically active gives fat people firmer, better proportioned bodies , just as it does for thin people. However, some people are (understandably) so bitter about how they've been treated because of their weight that they refuse to take any trouble at all with their appearance. Others think of themselves as fatally flawed and ugly even when they look good. It just feeds into the whole idea that appearance is everything. Why can't we just enjoy looking at pretty people, and not feel threatened?

Joy Nash is young, good looking, charismatic, and brave. Those are positive things. They will help draw attention to her - and to her ideas. If people think that her appearance somehow invalidates her ideas, or that it invalidates her experience as a fat woman, then that's their problem. That's just petty jealousy masquerading as oppression. It's ugly alright, and it doesn't challenge lookism - it just reinforces it.

DeeLeigh's picture
DeeLeigh
October 2nd, 2007 | Link | I don't mind telling people

I don't mind telling people my age and weight: 38 years old, 5'-4", 210 pounds.

CarrieP's picture
CarrieP
October 2nd, 2007 | Link | Rob Cockerham over at

Rob Cockerham over at cockeyed.com touched on this idea a while ago (though from a skinny person's point of view) and created this visual height/weight chart. Interesting how hard it is to tell what someone ways, even among the more average-sized folk.

CarrieP's picture
CarrieP
October 2nd, 2007 | Link | weighs. of course I meant

weighs. of course I meant weighs. sigh.... Smiling

goddess's picture
goddess
October 2nd, 2007 | Link | The appearance conversation

The appearance conversation is a great one, IMHO, since so much of sizeism is about that, ultimately. (People who rant against fat people aren't worried about those fat people's health--they could care less about that. They want us out of their sight or thin because we make them really uncomfortable for their own private reasons. Or they want us fat so they can feel better about themselves.)
If everybody knew everybody else, not as an image or stereotype, but as an individual, there wouldn't be any prejudice; prejudice depends on thinking of a group as the defining entity. Sustaining that belief is critical to sustaining the prejudice.
Anyway, I'm personally all confused about how much to care about my appearance. And honestly, I'd probably care a lot more if I were single. But when I start sorting things out, I get to this: I can care about my appearance, or any other surface characteristic, just as long as it doesn't get its teeth into me. If it starts looking like being in my top three or seven priorities, I gotta wonder why I'm distracting myself from more important things in life.

Cathy October 3rd, 2007 | Link | Camryn Manheim

This reminds of a part of Camryn Manheim's book "Wake Up, I'm Fat". She went to casting call for the role of a 250-pound woman, and she was just that weight at the time. When she arrived, they told her she was all wrong for the part because they were looking for someone "grossly"" fat and nearly unable to move, you know, someone 250 POUNDS!

Me: 5'0" | 345 pounds | 33. It's right on my driver's license, and I don't have a problem sharing it.

Alyssa October 3rd, 2007 | Link | Guessing Weight and Height

With all due respect, I fail to see the relevance of Joy Nash's experiment of posting a photo of herself and having others guess her height and weight. How in the world would one guess someone's height from a photo, and, if they did so, so what? Secondly, people carry weight quite differently, whether they are fat, thin, somewhere in between, tall, short, large-framed, small-framed, medium-framed. So it's ridiculous to expect someone to guess another's weight. Again I fail to see the relevance of this contest. The real social stigma in our society is size not weight.

On the other hand, I have no problem with those comments in posts that discuss "owning one's weight" (although it could just as easily be owning one's pant's size or dress size). I think that the shame many fat people (including myself) is function of sizism, and embacing every aspect of one's fatness can be liberating.

richie79's picture
richie79
October 3rd, 2007 | Link | On the other hand, I have

On the other hand, I have no problem with those comments in posts that discuss "owning one's weight" (although it could just as easily be owning one's pant's size or dress size).

Interesting point and very true, since like Paul I've actually no idea what my current weight is and don't own a scale. Last time I went near one was late 2005 (at which point I was already in the obese category at 6'1" and 220lbs) and I've only gained since then. And having deliberately avoided doctors for years, I've no interest in my current BMI number either.

However it's a lot more difficult to be wilfully ignorant of my waist size since I have it rubbed in my nose everytime I walk into a clothing store. *That* number is probably the single biggest threat to my self-acceptance, and it's difficult to own something that by simply glancing at the range of sizes on a rail you are reminded is considered unacceptable and abnormal.

Meowzer October 3rd, 2007 | Link | Actually, Alyssa, it was The

Actually, Alyssa, it was The Rotund, not Joy Nash, who invited people to guess her height and weight. TR's experiment was especially powerful, I though, because she is "morbidly obese" and yet completely defiant of anyone's attempt to make a "headless fatty" out of her. The fact that anyone guessed she weighed 150 pounds (less than half of her actual weight) gives the lie to any "you don't look overweight/obese/morbidly obese" talk. As does the Kate Harding stream on Flickr, which shows people of all shapes and sizes (including me!). And Joy Nash did give her weight (though not her height) in the "Fat Rant" video.

Great post, Paul!

MaryRW's picture
MaryRW
October 3rd, 2007 | Link | It's liberating, finally, to

It's liberating, finally, to be able to shout it out shamelessly: 350. There it is folks! A nice round number for a nice round me!

Melyssa October 4th, 2007 | Link | Even when celebrities are

Even when celebrities are losing weight, I think that they lie. I was watching a talk show where Star Jones was saying that she weighed 230 before her gastric bypass. I think she was lying about how much she weighed.
I am a tall woman, in addition to being overweight. So is Star, and at 220, I looked a lot thinner than she did before her surgery. I agree that with everyone lying about it, it makes it a lot harder to guess someones weight.
I would come clean, but I have no idea what I weigh. I try to avoid scales whenever I can, and also my weight tends to fluctuate a lot, even though my clothes size stays the same.
Last I checked I weighed 250 and wear a size 20.

Icecat62's picture
Icecat62
October 4th, 2007 | Link | the old stand by

The comment I use to hear was when I weighed 235 to 240 was...but you carry your weight so well! Sticking out tongue

Since we're adding our ages...I'm 45, 5'8", and I was weighed today and I'm 175.

One thing I've noticed is the sizing on clothing is bigger than it was in the 80's. The size 12 jeans I bought in the 80's still don't fit me. (Yes I've kept jeans from back then.) The size 12 jeans I bought two years ago do. I think they've increased the size of clothes to make the American public "feel better about themselves". You can't have a bunch of size 12 women freaking out that they no longer fit in their size 10 jeans when you can just change the size on the new stuff. I've seen women force their bodies into smaller sizes just so they can say that's what they wear. Not me. I'd rather be comfortable.

nycfembbw October 5th, 2007 | Link | Thanks for the responses,

Thanks for the responses, Viola and Rebelle. It would make for a good research project!

angelface October 5th, 2007 | Link | owning your size

I did not see the video spoken of in this subject, but the subject is truly fascinating. I am 30, and weigh 298 pounds. I am also an LPN. So yes, I have been told on several occassions that I should "lose weight, and watch what I eat". The thing of it is, I have no health problems, nor do I eat more than my 27yo, 156 pound sister. No body ever guesses either of our weights correctly, she is usually guessed at 170-175, while my coworkers could not believe that I weigh over 200 pounds. (You carry it well, I never would have guessed). I am not ashamed of my weight, and I no longer hide myself under bulky clothing trying to fit into the "average American's" view of beauty. If more people stood up and said" this is what I weigh, you don't have to like it but it is me." then maybe beauty will not only be seen in the skinny people. I'm not fat, I'm large and in charge!

walkallday's picture
walkallday
October 7th, 2007 | Link | Owning your size is rather

Owning your size is rather hard. Even seeing people post their weights here and on that other blog makes me hold back from posting my own. I guess I'm not quite at the point of being able to do that.

BabySeal October 8th, 2007 | Link | Walkallday, I really don't

Walkallday, I really don't think it's a problem. We are all at different points in our journey and that's fine. You'll get there when the time is right for you, don' t put yourself under undue pressure.

Moe's picture
Moe
October 8th, 2007 | Link | I don't know about this. I

I don't know about this. I can't 'eye' anything. If you asked me how far I was from my fish tank. I would say with certainty, "Five feet", but in actuality I'd be off. I'm always off. I can't judge distance, weight, height or sincerity. Smiling

Size is just a number, whether I'm 250 pounds or 325 pounds it doesn't determine if I'm a good person to get to know or a future serial killer.

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