According to this charming article which has been lurking about the internet for a few weeks now (several decades in internet time, I am aware), a full quarter of women who are overweight perceive themselves as normal.
Oh, and this is a problem. A terrible, terrible problem, because all of those women? They might not know about all of the horrible health conditions they could be suffering from right at this very minute! These women might even be eating a normal amount of food and not starving themselves, because they don’t even know that they’re
disgusting, sick freaks of horribleness possibly maybe kinda unhealthy. Maybe. Because, of course having a BMI over 25 automatically makes a person unhealthy than their 24.9 counterparts. Because a woman could never know herself if she is healthy or not. Because the only way to be healthy is to eat a restricted diet. Because, of course, a person who is overweight can’t be normal.
But less of the snark, and let’s get to actually looking at the article, shall we? Most of the article focuses on the fact that a reasonably large proportion of women feel themselves to be in a different BMI category than they are. Some women who are ‘overweight’ see themselves as ‘normal*’, and vice-versa.
Okay, fair enough. Not all of us have the time or the inclination to constantly check our BMIs. We might be more interested in how our bodies feel and look to us than how this relates to a height-weight ratio that is, frankly, of very little use on an individual level. We might be busy with actually getting on with our lives and have different priorities.
But then we get to the discussion, to what is talked about, what is left out, and how topics are actually discussed. While the research itself appears to have included ‘underweight’ as a category, this article defines ‘normal’ weight as a BMI under 25. Can anyone else see the large, glaring problem here? Particularly when being severely underweight comes with rather more acute health problems (actual starvation) than being equivalently overweight (claims that certain chronic conditions are more likely which, contrary to popular opinion, are frequently contested).
When contrasting unhealthy behaviours among people who misperceive their weights, there also seems to be an imbalance in discussion in this article. While ‘normal’ weight people who perceive themselves as overweight are more likely to smoke or take diet pills- both activities which are dangerous in themselves- those who are ‘overweight’ might simply not be restricting their diets. How… terrible?
Later, however, we get to the really peachy stuff**. The last section of the article talks about how the ‘fattening of America’ could be causing people to feel themselves to be ‘normal’ when they are really
abnormal ‘overweight’- how seeing other people of similar weights around them causes people to normalise higher weights.
Leaving aside that this is problematised? Again, okay, fair enough. I can see how seeing people like you around you would lead you to think that being like you is pretty much normal. However, let’s go back to the numbers, shall we? Some back-of-an-envelope calculations give me, in this study, 22% of ‘overweight’ women seeing themselves as ‘normal’, and 16% of ‘normal’ women seeing themselves as ‘overweight’. While there is a disparity between the two, I’m going to guess that it isn’t a hugely significant one***. It’s around the same range, ish. Oh, and no numbers at all are given for women classed as ‘underweight’. Surprised?
Which is where we go back to the problematisation of ‘overweight’ women perceiving themselves as ‘normal’. There simply isn’t an equivalent problematisation, in this article, the other way around. It’s not there. The idea that there are every bit as significant a fraction of women who think themselves to be ‘overweight’ when they’re not? The fact that we’re shaming women of all sizes into behaviours that are both unhealthy and damned un-fun in the pursuit of a certain body type, and then writing damning articles about them when they have a healthy self-image? Not there either. And all of this without even a mention of the 49% of the human race left out of this discussion entirely.
There’s just one more thing I want to talk about, regarding this article and the women it criticises. And that is that it appears to me that one of the people they’re talking about here? The people they’re criticising like this for not restricting their diets and being suitably ashamed of their bodies? Is me.
See, I did some calculations over the past few weeks after this article came out. It turns out that my BMI? Varies between 23-ish and 25-ish. If I’m feeling a bit bloated, a bit on the PMSey side of things and happen to have eaten recently? If I’ve decided today that I’m probably closer to 5’2″ than 5’3″? I could, without even noticing, cross that great divide between Normal and
Abnormal Overweight, between Healthy and Should Be Starving Herself. Today? I have no idea, and I have no interest in getting on the bathroom scales and taking out my calculator to find out.
*Here I recommend tying a nice pillow onto your forehead to avoid bruising from the inevitable headdesking and facepalming. If you don’t happen to have any pillows of appropriate size, you should be able to McGyver something with, say, some nice thick socks and some string or elastic.
**You might want to make sure that pillow is firmly attached to your forehead before going any further.
*** Feel free to jump in here please, statisticians!