A few years ago, I was telling a friend of mine that I wanted to lose weight and she said, “How much do you weigh? Like 150 pounds?” I was shocked. I sputtered out a “Yeah, about that” while thinking, How…how DARE SHE? What was she thinking, calling attention to one of my physical qualities that anyone with two eyes could see?! That shit is PRIVATE!
See, I’d come to believe that weight is intensely personal, something we don’t reveal about ourselves or request of others. It’s like another number we avoid discussing — salary — and I wonder if it’s because we see it as similarly tied to our success and we know it will be used as the context for all of our choices (“You’re eating dessert?” “Your vacation cost how much?”). In both cases, to talk about it is to brag about it and to ask about it is to pry. But…what’s the big damn deal?
That is not a rhetorical question, by the way. I’m trying to understand…what’s the big damn deal? I’m not saying it’s not a big deal; I’m just trying to get to the bottom of it. Why do so many women feel the need to hide their weights?
“Never ask a woman her weight.”
I don’t even know when I first learned this lesson, but I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know it and I’ve never made the mistake of asking someone. (No word on whether or not it’s OK to ask men their weights. In my experience, I’ve never needed to; in relevant conversations, they just volunteer it and no one bats an eye.) I’m OK with not asking. Really, I don’t need to know anyone else’s weight and if a lot of people find the question very personal, I’m not going to try to change that. I mean, people tend to still ask women “When are you getting engaged?” whenever they damn well please, but I’ll fight the battle for better small talk one obnoxiously invasive question at a time.
Better left unsaid?
In the past nine years, I’ve been so many weights, from more than 210 all the way down to 123, but I’ve rarely shared any of them. Right now, I weigh 138 pounds. (And I’m 5 feet 4 inches, in case you were wondering.) My weight has been sort of like a Forever postage stamp for the past year and a half or so; no matter how different my body looks or how loose my jeans get, that remains the going rate.
I don’t know what any of my friends weigh. I mean, I could guess the numbers, but most have never told me themselves. This is sort of bizarre, considering that I’ve had plenty of conversations surrounding weight loss with them. But during these conversations, the only numbers we mention are vague — “I want to lose a few pounds” or “I gained like ten pounds” — and we never talk specifics. The most specific we’ll typically share is our sizes; for some reason, that seems like a safer way to do things than talking raw pounds.
They probably don’t know what I weigh either. I rarely share it because there seems to be an unspoken agreement — probably a result of the “don’t ask” sentiment — that stating your weight isn’t OK. It’s either a humblebrag or something you should be ashamed of. If it’s “OK” (which is highly subjective and depends mostly on the company you keep), then it can come across like a judgment, an invitation to compare or compete. And if it’s not “OK,” then sharing it really freaks people out. When I was overweight, I don’t think people appreciated my mentioning my weight. Sharing it with women who weighed less was met with a look that said, “Uh, hello, I’m skinnier than you and I’m ashamed of my weight? Your lack of shame is weirdin’ me out, freak.”
Now I tend to approach sharing my weight the same way I approach changing in front of another woman. I don’t really feel the need to turn my back when I take my bra off, but if she does it first, then I’ll follow suit because I figure that will make her more comfortable. And if she wants to talk about her pants size and not her total pounds, then I assume that’s the way we’re doing things and I go along with it. But the reality is, like getting naked in the locker room, I’m fine with saying my weight when it’s relevant to the conversation. But I often second-guess myself because I don’t want to make other people uncomfortable.
And I can’t help but feel like there’s some fuckeduppery afoot.
When we avoid talking about the number, aren’t we reinforcing the idea that weight is, in fact, a really big deal? By obscuring it, it feels like we are actually giving it a lot of meaning. When my friend mentioned my weight so casually, it freaked me out because I felt like she’d broken a code or something…but later, I stopped to consider that she had a really healthy body image and relationship with food, and maybe the way she tossed out numbers was tied to those things. For me — drinking my Diet Coke, eating my Lean Cuisine, and giving her butter a serious side-eye — it was a loaded topic with a lot of power. To her, it was just a number. I started to think that we don’t bat an eye at blood type or natural hair color, so what’s the big deal with weight? It’s just another fact about us that makes us who we are.
When I was younger, and it came to certain things about myself that I didn’t like, I was like a child playing hide and seek who will hide in plain site but cover her eyes. “If I can’t see you, you can’t see me.” I’d avoid mentioning the things about myself that I didn’t like, thinking that would make them go away. I avoided weighing myself or looking at the scale at the doctor’s office because I didn’t want to get hung up on it or have it ruin my day. I told myself it was just a number and didn’t really matter, but if it truly didn’t matter to me then I wouldn’t have been afraid of it. Eventually I realized that avoiding acknowledging that I am, in fact, a person who is affected by gravity wasn’t the solution; accepting that I weigh pounds should be the goal.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to get sort of…possessive, I suppose, about the things that make me who I am, and that includes my weight. Like most things about me, it’s a reflection of both nature and nurture, and I feel a sense of ownership, even when I (or others) don’t particularly like these things. I’ve gotten comfortable with the discomfort, and yet I worry that will make other people uncomfortable. I’m still not sure what the social code is or should be…but I’d like to start talking about it.