Five days until the start of the new semester, when I will begin Human Anatomy & Physiology I. I am terrified! And a little mad.
My new $200 textbook arrived in the mail yesterday, and I eagerly started flipping through. My initial reaction was horror: HOW WILL I EVER LEARN ALL OF THIS.
And then I calmed down and started to skim the introductory chapter. The first thing that really caught my attention was the concept of the “reference man” and the “reference woman”–the prototypical humans to which the book will refer in all the lessons.
He weighs 155 pounds. She weighs 125.
What. The. Fuck.
According to the Washington Post, the average American woman currently weighs over 166 pounds, and the average American man tops 195.
I get it, WE ARE TOO FAT. But it seems to me, there’s no reason to low-ball the weight of a prototypical human by that much. How is 155 an easier number to work with than, say, 175 for a man or 150 for a woman?
Seeing the number 125, in particular, stung a little bit, because for some reason that is the number that has hung in my head my entire life as “the ideal weight” for a woman. I suspect that I heard it in health class when we talked about nutrition, and again in gym class when we got weighed (in front of other girls, no less), and that I read it in 1980s fashion magazines. 125 pounds is actually fairly robust on a woman of average height (5’5″), compared to the size-zero ethos of today’s fashion industry. But I’m tall–5’8″–and somehow no one ever pointed out to me when I was a kid that it was normal for me to weigh more than the average girl. I constantly felt–and was made to feel–like I was a fucking monster.
125 pounds on a woman 5’8″ is Scary Skinny. I know, because I once weighed 128 pounds. I looked like a bobblehead.
But somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I can’t shake this idea, that a “normal” woman weighs 125 pounds. Unfortunately, my mother encouraged this thinking.
Here’s an example that is not going to make you like my mom, so just trust me, she’s a lovely person in other contexts.
The summer between freshman and sophomore year–perhaps not coincidentally, the summer that my mother’s father died and that my sister left for college–my mother got it in her head once again that I was too fat. Other moms might think, “My kid is going through puberty, and being a teenager is hard enough. I’ll set a good example, provide healthy options, and let it ride.” But not my mom!
Nope. My mom coerced me into joining Weight Watchers for teens. When I say coerced, I mean that she shamed me for being too fat, she normalized the idea of dieting, she incentivized my participation by offering that it would be a bonding experience between the two of us, and she said I had to do it. Oh, and she bribed me by offering to buy me a chambray denim jumper that cost $55 (about $115 in today’s money), if I made my “goal weight.”
I kept that jumper until about 10 years ago–changed the buttons out, wore it as a skirt, hung onto it well into my thirties. Why? Because I fucking earned that jumper. I suffered for that jumper. Fuck that jumper.
When I started Weight Watchers at age 15, I was 5’8″ and weighed 144 pounds. That’s a BMI of 21.9, smack in the middle of the normal range.
Going to those meetings was awful, because all the other kids in there were genuinely obese. ENORMOUS. And they looked at me suspiciously, probably enviously, because I had the body they wished for. I still can’t believe that a second “responsible adult”–the teacher of the class–allowed me to enroll, essentially legitimizing my mother’s project of giving me an eating disorder. Fuck that lady.
After a couple of months, I reached my goal weight, and I got the jumper. I weighed 136 pounds, which is on the low end of normal.
Eh, what’s the harm?
In between, I was taught to obsessively measure servings of ketchup. I weighed bananas. I weighed myself, as I still do, every day, naked, preferably after I’ve emptied my bladder and colon. I ate dry rice cakes. In anticipation of the weekly weigh-ins, I ate NOTHING. That summer, I denied myself any pleasure from food, all so I could look “trim” (to use the preferred term of the WW “teacher”) in a medium-sized jumper with a sweetheart waist.
By that point in my life, it was clear that I was never going to weigh 125 pounds, so even getting down to 136 felt like failure.
At present, my weight fluctuates between 160 and 165. I am ambivalent about losing weight, because I like to eat and because I have shockingly nice breasts, and I don’t want them to disappear. Many people in my life think it is weird that I fixate on my boobs so much. Part of it is that they are the one feature on which I have gotten consistently positive male feedback. And part of it is that in jokingly appreciating my girls, I am also speaking to a 144 pound, 15 year old kid with freckles and braces and a mom who found a million tiny ways to say she wasn’t pretty enough, and I’m telling her, “It’s ok that you’re tall and you have curves. It might even be a good thing.”
Because when you marinate in a sick culture like ours your whole life, and the people who are supposed to raise you to be strong instead train you to be weak, then you kinda can’t hear it often enough.
So, fuck you too, A&P textbook. Your Reference Woman is too small.
But I know a jumper that would look great on her!