Female Bodies: A Weighty Issue

Posted: March 28, 2014 in Political Wrangling
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Hypothesis:

We have, as a society, such a completely disordered, distorted perception of female bodies that the vast majority of people are incapable of recognising what “overweight” actually looks like on a woman, let alone “healthy”. As such, we’re now at a point where women are not only raised to hate their bodies as a matter of course, but are shown, from childhood, a wholly inaccurate picture of what they “should” look like – a narrow, nigh on impossible physical standard they are then punished, both socially and medically, for failing to attain.

I don’t say this lightly. I say it because this is the only conclusion supported by the facts.

Let’s examine the evidence, shall we?

1: BMI

Overwhelmingly, the measurement used to determine whether or not someone is a “healthy weight” is the BMI, or Body Mass Index. Most people are still taught it in schools; indeed, it’s commonly used by doctors and in medical underwriting for insurance purposes,  and is also used by the WHO and various other official bodies, including many universities. It is, however, flawed to the point of uselessness – a fact acknowledged by the man who popularised its usage, Ansel Keys, who explicitly stated that it shouldn’t be used as a tool for individual diagnosis.

There are several main reasons why our cultural reliance on the BMI as a means of assessing health, and particularly women’s health, is deeply problematic:

1. It doesn’t take into account the fact that muscle is denser than fat. As such, it frequently registers athletes and bodybuilders as being obese or overweight, despite their incredible fitness, just because their bodies have greater muscle density, a prejudice which extends to anyone with significant muscle-mass. This is why, for instance, a superfit bodybuilder, Anita Albrecht, was yesterday told by an NHS nurse that she was obese and ordered to go on a strict diet.

2. It doesn’t take height or bodytype into account with any degree of accuracy. Taller individuals will always have a higher BMI regardless of their actual weight, because of the way the measurement is constructed, while shorter people will always have a lower one. Having been originally developed in Europe, using European physical norms, in the 1800s, neither does it factor in ethnicity or metabolism, which is why a Yale University student, Frances Chan, is currently being pushed to develop an eating disorder by the college’s medical administrators, all of whom are so obsessed with her naturally low BMI that they’ve assumed she must be anorexic, and are forcing her to gain unnecessary weight or risk expulsion.

3. Although women are both shorter on average than men while naturally carrying more fat, the BMI calculation doesn’t take this into account, but uses the same measurement for both men and women. In fact, it was originally formulated based on studies of white male populations only – which means that BMI is fundamentally predicated on judging female bodies against male norms. As such, and as useless as the BMI is anyway in terms of individual diagnosis, it’s especially harmful to women and POC, whose morphology and metabolisms it was never meant to accommodate.

4. It doesn’t account for age, or any change in height that occurs with age. A teenager who hasn’t yet achieved their full growth or settled into their normal, adult weight is held to the same standards as someone old enough to have begun losing height

Combine these facts together, and you have a recipe for disaster. All over the world, women of all bodytypes, ages and ethnicities are being told by physicians, family members, universities and insurance companies to try and adhere to a single, “universal” notion of bodily health that is, in fact, predicated entirely on what was considered normal for white European men in the mid-1800s.

2. Clothing Sizes

Consider the women in these two photos, all of whom, despite their wildly differing bodytypes, weigh the Australian average of 70kg, or 154 pounds:

American women who all weigh 154 pounds Australian women all weighing the average 70kg

Clearly, these women all wear different size clothes for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with their weight, and everything to do with height and bodytype. But because of the fashion industry’s obsession with tall, thin, white, ectomorphic models – women chosen, not because they’re a representative sample of the population, but so their minimal frames can better serve as coathangers for clothes that privilege a very specific aesthetic over function – we have learned to correlate small sizes with healthy bodies, the better to justify their primacy on the runway, in advertising and on screen as a healthy ideal. Never mind that modelling agencies have been known to recruit at eating disorder clinics, with store mannequins more closely resembling the bodies of anorexic girls than average women, models eating tissues to stay thin and rail-thin models photoshopped to hide their ill-health and prominent ribs: because “plus size” models – that is, women whose bodies are actually representative of the general population – are treated as a separate, exceptional category, the fiction persists that “plus size” is a synonym for “overweight”, “unhealthy” or “obese”: women too enormous to wear “normal” clothes, even though the norm in question is anything but. As such, plus-size models are frequently derided as fat, a joke, unhealthy and bad role models. Today, catwalk models weigh 23% less than the average woman, compared to 8% just twenty years ago – yet whenever this disparity is pointed out, the reaction of many is to just assume that average women must be overweight, and that using plus size mannequins will only encourage obesity. Throw in the fact that women’s clothing sizes aren’t standardised, but fluctuate  wildly from brand to brand – or within the same brand, even – and the idea of judging a woman’s health by what size jeans she wears becomes even more absurd.

For anyone still temped by the idea that the standards set by the fashion industry aren’t really that bad, and that the obesity epidemic is surely skewing statistics somewhat, let me put it bluntly: Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder. Women aged 15-24 are twelve times more likely to die of anorexia than of anything else, while 20% of all anorexics die of their illness. So when I tell you that 20 to 40% of models are estimated to suffer from eating disorders, and that only 5% of American women naturally possess a model’s bodytype, I want you to comprehend my full meaning.

Think about that, the next time you’re tempted to call the girl in the size fourteen jeans overweight.

3. Fat Health

And here, we come to the nub of the problem: the ubiquitous conflation of slenderness with health. With all the statistics I’ve just listed, I shouldn’t have to point out that one can be fantastically thin – model thin, even – and still dangerously unhealthy: among their many other evils, for instance, eating disorders can lead to bone loss and heart complications, to say nothing of the mental health component. What’s much harder to convey, given the overwhelming social incentives to the contrary, is the idea that one can be fat – and I want to talk about that word more, in a moment – and still be physically healthy. Obviously, there are also health risks to being obese, and that’s still something worth discussing, especially given that 6% of deaths are attributable to obesity. But on a daily basis, our fear of this fact, when combined with myriad other social distortions – our obsession with an extremely narrow and largely unrealistic image of female beauty, the conflation of small clothing sizes with healthy bodies, our phobia of anything “plus size”, the false reporting of BMI as an indicator of female wellness – means we’ve lost the ability to tell what obesity actually looks like.

(One cannot help noticing that, while the WHO claims the number of obese persons has doubled since 1980, this statistical leap neatly parallels the adoption of BMI as standard by that same body, which also happened in the 1980’s. Given the appalling flaws of BMI as a system – flaws which not only lead to average-sized women being categorised as overweight or obese for failing to have male proportions, but which also award higher BMI’s to taller people at a time when the average person is getting taller – it’s hard not to wonder, therefore, if it’s not that we’re gaining weight in such massive numbers, but rather that the yardstick for obesity has radically shifted. At the very least, if actual obesity is on the rise, I sincerely doubt it’s rising as much or as quickly as scaremongers seem to think it is, given the undeniable skewing of data inherent to the BMI system.)

 

Particularly for women, possession of any visible body fat whatsoever is invariably conflated with being overweight or unhealthy, and while that’s true some of the time, what it means in a practical sense is that fat, as a concept, rather than being a simple bodily descriptor, has instead become pejorative, a warning that we need to amend our ways. We talk about fatness like it’s a single, static thing, rather than a relative term: as though, if you’re fatter than someone – anyone – you must also be fat absolutely. We don’t talk about degrees of fatness, or bodytype, or distribution of mass. We LOVE big breasts (provided they’re not saggy, of course, or possessed in the expectation that you’ll be able to buy affordable bras to put them in, which – surprise! – you can’t) and we talk, gingerly, about “curves”, but always in ways that serve to disconnect them from the type of bodies to which, more often than not, such attributes belong: fat ones. Because being fat isn’t the same as being overweight, or obese; it just means not thin, and if you think “overweight” and “not thin” are synonyms, then you haven’t been paying attention. Being called fat, in fact, is often just code for “not the ideal”, which can be down to any number of things – that you have wide hips, stomach rolls, thighs that touch (our obsession with the thigh gap is dangerous in and of itself; unless you have a naturally splayed pelvis, it’s only attainable via malnourishment). Our language is full of mocking, heavily gendered terms tied to particular bits of anatomy or pieces of clothing, all of them designed to police women’s bodies: cankles, cameltoe, muffin top, whale tail, tramp stamp, thunder thighs, junk in the trunk, saddlebags, child-bearing hips. As a teenager, I remember seeing a gossip magazine mock Jennifer Aniston for having “arm sausages” – little rolls of skin at the side of her armpits – and feeling physically sick as I realised I had them, too, and must therefore be fat.

Conclusion:

We need to stop reinforcing this idea that if you’re not thin, you’re obese. As a concept, it has absolutely nothing to do with health, and everything to do with justifying our demand for idealised female beauty by mocking anyone who doesn’t meet its impossible standards as overweight. We need to stop relying on BMI to tell us how healthy we are, or not – especially for women – and accept instead that “health” is too complex a concept to be boiled down to a single calculation. Especially given the horrific biases in the healthcare system against anyone seen to be overweight, using a single glib rule to determine the most likely cause of unwellness is not only counterproductive, but dangerous. We need to stop using “fat” as a pejorative, and we sure as hell need to stop the toxic culture of eating disorders, photoshopped images and outright malnutrition currently fuelling the fashion industry.

Because society deserves better. Women deserve better.

We deserve better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments
  1. missmaddie95 says:

    THANK YOU so much for this posts as someone who’s suffered from an eating disorder, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this post. We don’t even know what healthy is anymore. And if society could stop equating skinny with beautiful, that would solve a number of problems. Great posts care to check out my blog? Downwiththenorm.wordpress.com

  2. Tasha Turner says:

    Well said. We really need to apply correct data to correct people. Why is so much medical data based on young white males? It’s not overly useful for the rest of us. Of course women aren’t going to fit the BMI of men our bodies are different. I can’t wait until get to a point where multiple shapes are considered beautiful instead of having an impossible standard. Why don’t I think I’ll live to see my ideal?

  3. Lorelei Staudenbaur says:

    “Eating disorders have the highest morality rate of any mental disorder” — Might that be a typo? Was that supposed to say highest mortality rate?

  4. I am afraid that i have to “nit pick” on something in this article: “…fashion industry’s obsession with tall, thin, white, ectomorphic models …”. Really? I am 5’10 and I wear US size 6. Most people consider me tall and slender. However, consistently over the years I have trouble purchasing clothing, especially decent European brands. Short sleeves, wide waist, short pants, etc. Why? because majority of brands still produce for shorter and heavier people, “for the average” consumer.

    • fozmeadows says:

      I’m 5’9, and I’ve traditionally had the same problems. I suspect it’s a question of brands and price-range – because even though, as you say, it can be harder to find things that fit if you’re tall and female, the average model is, paradoxically, still around our height.

    • Veronica says:

      Oh boo hoo. This is not the point of this post and you know it.Nice humblebrag though.

    • Maria says:

      Really, you’re complainig? 5’10” and a size 6, there are people with real problems

      • Liberty says:

        I think this is exactly the point of the post. What gives you the right to look down on her simply because she is tall and thin? Society makes us feel bad about not being tall and thin, but we make woman who meet these standards feel they are not good enough because they are too thin, we hurt them out of bitterness and jealousy. I have yet to meet a woman who doesnt hate something about her body, no matter the size and that to me is extremely sad. I am a big girl, size 18 to be exact, and this is not the largest i have been, so I know what its like to have a poor image of yourself and I know what its like to hate myself and listen to a woman who meets society’s standard of beauty complain to me about the size of her thighs when 1 of mine is easily larger than both of hers. It is not her fault she looks the way she does and I look the way I do. It’s society’s fault for telling us that’s not good enough and our fault for going along with it. If you heard thin girls making fun of someone who is big, you would probably think it was wrong and want to stand up for her so why is it ok for woman who aren’t thin to make fun of woman who are? To tell them they need to eat and gain some weight? Is that not he same thing? We as woman need to embrace our individual beauty and start telling each other we are good enough, we are beautiful, no matter the pant size.

    • Ros says:

      The fashion industry’s models are not the standard by which high-street shops manufacture their clothes. In fact, everyone, of every size and shape, finds it hard to buy clothes that fit well, because people do not come in set sizes or shapes. Your problem purchasing clothes long or tall enough is nothing to do with the kind of women chosen to display clothes on catwalks or in advertisments.

      Get over yourself. It’s not all about you.

  5. Laura Lam says:

    Amen. I’ve always been naturally slender, but I still had people make weird comments on my body – “oh you have a little roll on your belly, maybe do some sit ups!” That was when I was 13 and had stored some fat on my belly right before I grew 5 inches and lost it naturally.

    I had a severe eating disorder for years and had so many compliments on how I looked when I was at my thinnest (which was 107 pounds at 6 feet tall), when I looked very ill. Though my bloodwork was okay, I couldn’t walk up a hill without getting breathless, and mentally I was an absolute mess. Even after being recovered since around 2009, I still daily battle guilt for “eating too much” or eating “bad food,” and it doesn’t look like it’ll ever go away entirely, even though right now I’m the healthiest and fittest I’ve ever been.

  6. […] a poem that I’ve always wanted to share but been too afraid to. But this article written by Foz Meadows about Female Bodies and the strange, contrary messages we constantly send to girls and women has made me pensive. I […]

  7. lkeke35 says:

    Laura Lam:Forgive my ignorance please,if so, but this is an interesting comparison.
    What you described sounds a lot like alcoholism. Like a disease. Would you say that having an eating disorder was like that, in that one is always an alcoholic, but non-practicing? One always has an eating disorder but is non-practicing?

    I know a lot of people tend to focus on the physical aspects of eating disorders, but hardly anyone discusses the specific mindset that leads to one. I hear people say they have or have had an eating disorder but they don’t discuss what lead up to it.

    I have an 8 yr. old niece, and there is so much to protect her from and counteract. How do I recognize it and counter it? (If you have any links you recommend, please…and thank you.)

    • That’s a good point. The mindset leading to an eating disorder is the key to prevention, I believe. I’m not a therapist, but I pursued intensive therapy for myself for years & read loads of books to aid in my healing. Obviously, low self esteem is part of it. It has a lot to do with control. (Especially as children, controlling the way we eat provides an illusion of power to one who feels powerless/restricted.) Often times, trauma (sexual abuse/rape) plays a big part.

      If your niece is 8, I’d recommend the book Beautiful Girl by Christiane Northrup. And just love her, as I’m sure you do. Show her how to care for herself. :)

    • Nicole Beal says:

      An ED is an addiction and like all addictions comes from a place of trauma and lack of healthy coping skills. As a woman who has gone 6 years without a relaps to ED behaviour I attribute the death statistics using the following analogy:
      The ED behaviour is cycled trigger (bad mark-feeling of intense inadequacy), behaviour (over eat, excessive restriction and/or excessive exercise, binge purge) just like that of an alcoholic (trigger/drink). For a person in recovery from alcohol you would not tell them have one shot 3 times a day and an extra shot 3-4 times per week and expect successful recovery. For a person in recovery of an ED this is exactly what is asked. Food and exercise is our addiction and in order to live a healthy life humans need to eat 3 times a day and exercise 3-4 times a week.

      Recovery is hard and there was a time that I was tempted every hour to revert back but those moments are almost non existent now. A lot has to do with having learned better coping skills and healing from the traumas that led up to the disease.

    • Morgan says:

      TRIGGER WARNING for talk of self-injury and ED behaviours:

      As another person who has recovered from an eating disorder, I can say that it definitely feels like an addictive behaviour. For me, as someone who self-injured in various ways from age 15 but didn’t develop ED until I was in my early to mid-20s, I have often conceptualized my ED as an outgrowth of my overall self-injury behaviours: another way to hurt myself to feel more in control, and another way to reach the catharsis that comes with cutting, etc.

      I definitely feel — and I’ve heard a number of other people with ED say similar things — that I will be battling the symptoms of ED and self-injury addiction for the rest of my life, very similarly to someone who has a substance addiction like alcoholism.

      However, I think there is a major difference with ED: while someone who is an alcoholic or a cutter strives to limit their exposure to the things that trigger them (e.g. not having alcohol in the house, or removing the implements you’re most used to cutting yourself with from your environment), it’s not possible to do that with an ED. While giving those things up may be one of the most difficult things the addicted person has ever had to do, alcohol and sharp tools are things that people can conceivably learn to live without. But it is impossible to live without eating food. A person with an ED can’t take a break or create physical distance from the thing that triggers them, because without it, they will die (and of course, with some types of eating disorders, that is the whole problem to begin with). It can make starting to recover a very different kind of battle, I think. Personally, I’ve found it a lot harder to stop eating in a disordered way every day than it was to stop cutting myself on an almost daily basis, and I think that has a lot to do with the necessary proximity to my triggers. When it feels like a battle every time you eat (and/or try to stop yourself from binge eating), it’s really hard to stop thinking obsessively about food during the rest of the day. And when you can’t stop those thoughts, it’s really hard to change your disordered behaviours.

      When it comes to trying to take care of your niece — first of all, I’m glad you’re there to help look out for her. That alone can have such a positive impact. I have a niece who just turned 6, so I really feel you on wanting to stop her from going through this kind of crap if it’s at all in your power to do so. So far, with my niece, I try to avoid bringing up topics to do with weight and bodies altogether (luckily, she’s still young enough, and raised in a supportive enough environment, that it’ll probably be another year or two before she starts becoming acutely aware of those things. Though that still seems far too young…) If your niece brings up something along those lines, I would try to gently draw her out about what has made her think about those topics to begin with and steer her towards a more nuanced point of view on weight and bodies than the one she’s likely to pick up from her peers and the media.

      If you’re looking to keep an eye out for signs of her possibly beginning to develop an eating disorder, there are a number of sites that give helpful lists of behaviours that can serve as warning signs. Here’s one that I’ve often found useful, especially for 101: http://www.something-fishy.org/

      I’m also a big fan of Geneen Roth and her books on (more or less) the practice of intuitive eating and breaking down strict rules around food. They’re almost certainly not appropriate to share with your niece, but a good resource for a better understanding of what it’s like to have ED (in its various forms) and how to shift disordered thinking to have a healthier relationship with food (something that, in my experience, a great many people could benefit from, even if they do not have an ED themselves). I hope this helps a bit. I wish all the best to you and your niece!

  8. Sylvia says:

    I love this article.
    There’s a page on the wall in the gym, right in front of the scale, which tells me the weight I should be for my height. If I went down to the ‘max’ weight allowed for me, I’d be thin. If I went down to the proper weight for my height, I’d be skeletal.

    And… *checks down front of shirt* I don’t look much like a man, and I don’t want to.

    • Morgan says:

      I get how you feel about that list. At the height of my ED, when I weighed what is supposedly a low-normal healthy weight for my height — according to the BMI, of course — I was beginning to look skeletal.

      My current partner looks at pictures of me from back then and remarks on how much healthier I look now, at about 30 lbs heavier. At the time, I thought I looked the best I ever had in my life (and got more than enough positive feedback from people to reinforce that point of view…). But from the vantage point of recovery, I can see how right she is. I’m thankful that I don’t want to go back to looking like that anymore, because I used to desperately, and not all that long ago.

      That paper is absolute b.s., and I’m glad you’re not buying into the shit it’s trying to sell you. :) (smile)

      • taylor collingsworth says:

        How do you know the paper is BS? Based on what someone says “looks healthier”?

        Subjective standards are just that. Arguing for a subjective standard that is heavier than a lighter one does not make a lot of sense. It’s just trading one set of voodoo for another.

        • Morgan says:

          I went to see doctors and therapists to recover from my ED. They told me I was borderline underweight, regardless of what the BMI claims, and reinforced to me (as Foz points out in her post) that the BMI is no longer considered a good standard for determining healthy weight, particularly for a female-bodied person. So no, it’s not based on what “someone says looks healthier”, it’s based on actual medical advice I got for a serious mental and physical health problem. And I am not arguing for a specific other subjective standard, I am only commenting on how the BMI is not a good standard for either myself or, according to her comment, Sylvia; and based on the info in Foz’s posts, we’re hardly the only ones.

          Going forward, maybe consider not arguing with someone who has openly said they have an eating disorder about whether they’re actually healthier at a heavier weight than they were when they were disordered and at a lower weight. That is incredibly triggering for me. Also, I don’t need to justify myself to you: *I* know I look better and feel healthier now. You have never seen me. What right do you have to seed doubt in my mind and make commentary about my body and weight? Especially when there is no way you could have missed the fact that *you are talking to someone who struggles with ED and still has to fight the urge to not starve themself back to that lower weight*. Real compassionate, Taylor.

  9. So much love for this post. So. Very. Much.

    Now, I have to admit that I am overweight. And very much need to lose weight. I know it would help with a lot of health problems I’ve been experiencing, like chronic pain, asthma, and my energy levels. But due to my body type, I am never going to be thin. Never. The only way I can be thin is to be skeletal. I have wide hips and a barrel chest and short libs and a frame that doesn’t exactly lend itself well to being skinny. In short, I’m built much like a fantasy-novel dwarf, sans beard. (I blame being from an area known for its coal-mining history. :p) Even if I lost 120 and brought my weight down to a little over half of what it currently is, BMI is still going to tell me I’m on the high end of normal. If I just lost 100 pounds, I would look effing fantastic compared to what I do now, and improve my health and energy and flexibility and so very much about my life, BMI would still tell me I’m smack-dab in the middle of being overweight and I need to slim down even more.

    Never mind that I could be healthy and happy. I wouldn’t be “healthy” enough.

    I’ve suffered through eating disorders. For a long time in my teens, I ate very little, trying to lose weight and be less ugly. I associated hunger pains with happiness, because if I was hungry, that meant I was doing something right and would lose weight and be a better person. I fit all the symptoms of anorexia… except for being underweight. So nobody paid attention to the problem. To this day I still have to fight against the urge to starve myself, to tell myself that being hungry ISN’T a good thing and that it shouldn’t be associated with happiness and the idea of self-improvement.

    I’ve been denied decent medical care by a doctor well-known for telling overweight people that their problem is their weight, no matter what problem they’re having at the time.

    I’ve been shamed into hiding my body because of public judgement and opinion. I dislike my body anyway, due to gender identity issues, but being overweight isn’t exactly helping that any.

    And as for big boobs… Yeah. I always want to smack people who say that bigger is always better when it comes to breasts. Seriously? ALWAYS? You try shopping for an H-cup bra only to find that maybe 1 store in the entire city carries that size, if you’re lucky. And they’re usually budget-breaking to buy. And they never help support the weight fully, because those damn things are so freaking heavy anyway that the strap is always, ALWAYS going to dig into your shoulders uncomfortably. Some women say they’d love bigger breasts. Me, even if I identified with being female, I’d kill for smaller ones.

    So yeah, mini-rant over, thanks for this post. It highlighted a lot of thoughts I’ve had about weight, put fine points on some good arguments, and really spoke to me. I appreciate you taking the time to post it and to stand up for the side of good sense. The world needs more people to do that.

    • Lee says:

      Amen… the knowledge that my doctors and insurance would still treat me the exact same abusive way even if I DID lose all the weight I PERSONALLY WANT TO in order to be healthier and feel better about myself is a big part of why I’ve never really tried to lose the weight. It feels kind of like… why bother? Society is gonna still abuse me in all the same ways, and even if I think that I’ll be healthier, no doctor is gonna back me up on that.

      PS I share your bra agony. :/ I can find ONE store to shop at that carries my size and they are $45-50 each. And they always break or tear within a year or so…

  10. Kimberly Pflieger says:

    As a fitness professional of 25 years, I completely agree with your hypothesis and supporting statements. I have always encouraged both men and women to embrace exercise as a means to good health, not as a means to lose weight. We need to think of being healthy through exercise and not being thin. I presently work in the Cardiology department of a hospital conducting stress tests on high risk cardiac patients. What has been proven over the years is: if a person is moderately overweight and exercises regularly, their heart health is way better than a slim person that does not exercise. Moral of the story – KEEP MOVING!

  11. Kate says:

    It’s not just skinny “white” women, it’s skinny any color woman. I haven’t weighed myself in decades nor do I allow my doctor to tell me how much I weigh. I am a short woman with some extra weight, but i feel good, walk miles every day and eat healthily most of the time, though I do have a piece of cake or some ice cream occasionally. It’s the fashion industry that has made all of us feel fat, even the skinniest of us. I hate skinny jeans. They are not made for real women.

    • Windyindy says:

      What’s to say that skinny women aren’t “real” women? We have out own issues with image like everyone else. There is no one “real” woman. Regardless of size, we should all stick together. Skinny jeans may not be made for your shape, but to say they’re not made for “real women” is wrong. They are what they are.

      • Lee says:

        Although she might have a point because the only one I know who can squeeze their legs, thighs and hips into them… is my BOYfriend who is hardly a real woman. ;P

        (PS my boyfriend is not trans in any way, he’s cismale and I’m just saying that to make a joke)

  12. Georgiy Potulov says:

    Women are too worried about what others think of them and are never satisfied enough with themselves and end up cheating themselves and as a result they become unhealthy and end up stressing themselves out. Maybe if they can have fun in life and not think about it, then I am sure most of there little problems would literally burn right off of their bodies. Lol..

    • fozmeadows says:

      Oh, of course! How silly of me! The problem isn’t society, or sexism, or unrealistic standards of beauty – it’s women themselves, and specifically our inability to have fun! If only we were happier about how shittily we’re treated, all of those “little problem” calories would just burn away!

      L.
      O.
      L.

      *BANNED*

      • Your response to this creep really hit the nail on the head. It’s something we need to work on adjusting as a SOCIETY. Thin is not necessarily healthy and “fat” is not necessarily unhealthy. I reblogged this fantastic article. You’re amazing. Keep it up! <3

  13. […] all started with this brilliant, beautiful and perfectly judged blog post by Foz Meadows, followed by this poem and this .gif (both seen on Tumblr), and finally this podcast from the […]

  14. Jason says:

    Foz’s note: this comment has been flipphammered as per the newly-updated comment policy, and the commenter banned for gross misogyny. A screenshot of the original comment can be found here.

    Another “Quick, put your head in the sand and pretend human nature doesn’t exist” MRA delusion. For a man, self–image equals self-worth – it’s the male condition. If he’s not happy with his self-image and feels worthless then he puts the blame on advertising, media and all the other equality-led ‘evils’ like some adolescent MRA automaton locked tight in his “gender is binary and absolute” box.

    Clinical anorexia is NOT driven by social pressure. Men are NOT brought up to hate their bodies. And fat is fat, whatever your definitive fantasy of fat is. Self-perpetuating myths are great for men who are psychologically or emotionally unfit for life, but life is not unfair because of feminist tyranny or sexist hobbits that live at the bottom of the garden.

    I presume you are one of those silly men who rage against GI Joe because a toy doesn’t depict reality. Such men, crippled by political correctness, will never be satisfied. They rebel against human nature because human nature does not meet their requirements; they refuse to accept that men is body-centric, that the notion of strength is paramount. It all boils down to attracting a mate. And if it’s a tussle between Nature and MRA doctrine there’s only one winner.

  15. becky says:

    BMI expressly takes height into consideration.

    • fozmeadows says:

      Sorry, I haven’t been clear: BMI *uses* height, but it doesn’t take height *differences* into account, which skews the results. To quote the Wikipedia entry linked above, “Because the BMI depends upon weight and the square of height, it ignores basic scaling laws whereby mass increases to the 3rd power of linear dimensions. Hence, larger individuals, even if they had exactly the same body shape and relative composition, always have a larger BMI.” THAT’S the problem.

      • katyhuff says:

        I think this is a case where you might consider correcting the article to state this accurately. As is, it’s patently false. I nearly stopped reading. Saying that BMI “doesn’t take height into account” and then linking to a wikipedia page explaining the subtle way in which BMI does take height into account (albeit badly) is really unhelpful.

  16. Danielle says:

    Great article! However, I thought that BMI was assigned based on height and weight. Can someone point me to a correction if there is one?

  17. xcelpt says:

    Reblogged this on XCEL Personal Training and commented:
    Healthy Body Image! We all need a good dose of this!

  18. While think this is a great article and makes some excellent points, I want to caution the author and those commenting to not disparage naturally thin women while affirming curvier women. ALL women are beautiful and all body shapes can be healthy. (And to be clear, I am not one of those naturally tall or thin women. I am 5’4″ and a very busty and hippy hourglass shaped size 14. But I am ever so happy with those broad hips that allowed me to easily birth 7 children including my last who was 10#6oz and breasts that breast fed those children for 21 years total. I could probably exercise more and eat better, but I am comfortable in my body and care more about being healthy than being thin. But my self worth in being a more ‘fluffy” woman is not found in making thin women feel bad because their body type puts them closer to society’s distorted view of beauty. Thin shaming is just as ugly as fat shaming. Don’t do it! (And I think we all agree that anorexia, bulimia and morbid obesity aren’t good for anyone, not because of how they look, but because it is not healthy) All women are beautiful, fat and thin, short and tall and every other variation out there.

    • fozmeadows says:

      I’m not trying to disparage thin women in any way whatsoever; as you say, skinnyshaming is also problematic. I’m simply trying to note the relationship between the fashion industry, its models, and eating disorders.

  19. victoriabg says:

    If you deserve better, then work on your body and do it!

    • fozmeadows says:

      Or, conceivably, we could have a concept of “deserving better” that isn’t geared solely to physical appearance. Which is the ACTUAL POINT.

      • Liam says:

        Why eliminate a potential area of self improvement? Most people still need to be fitter (myself included) and just because you do not wish for yourself or others to be judged solely based on your outward appearance, nor should you wish for people to ignore that it’s a part of being a rounded healthy human (as long as its not taken to the extremes of over exercise or malnutrition).

  20. Impossible for me to read all… are you really trying to make us think that because the BMI isn’t good enough, we shouldn’t care how fat we are (we are, not we look like). The people shown on your pictures do not have the same BMI anyway cause they’re different heights. There are several systems to measure the fat percentages around the different key parts of our body. I know about all the stereotypes in the society and all this, but these people you show basically are fat. It’s unhealthy and then you will want to demonstrate that too much exercise is also unhealthy… Then both unhealthy.. too much and too less. To be honest all this is just because of the physical aspect, unlikely for us we were born in a western country in a century were tanned skin and slim and fit figure is fashion, rather than pallid white and with big belly… But other than this social aspect, please don’t try to convince people it’s healthy to be the ones on the left and it’s the society and the BMI who’s wrong…

    • fozmeadows says:

      If you’re not going to be bothered to read the evidence that explains, in detail, why BMI is a shitty measuring tool – among other reasons, because it was designed for MEN ONLY, even though it’s used for women – and if your definition of “healthy” is tied in to physical appearance rather than ACTUAL BODILY HEALTH, then yeah: I’m gonna go ahead and say you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    • “are you really trying to make us think that because the BMI isn’t good enough, we shouldn’t care how fat we are ” Straw man fallacy, let me introduce you to it.

  21. Petra says:

    A few years back I was sent to a private hospital for a procedure. The only reason I was referred there was that the NHS hospital had an incredibly long waiting list. I was seen by the specialist, the procedure was explained and I was sent home with the confirmation that the letter containing details of the appointment would be sent to me. Two days later, whilst at work, I received a phone call from a nurse at the hospital. She told me, literally: ‘We will not proceed with your procedure, you are too fat to be operated on. As the procedure requires full anesthetics, we cannot take the risk of adverse reactions due to your weight.’ The fact that not 10 months earlier I had had a surgery removing my gall bladder (which requires full anesthetics) and had had no complications with that, was of no concern to her. Nor the fact that I have had several operations before then.

    Yes, my BMI clearly states that I am obese but with PCOS losing weight is nigh on impossible. I am 1.77m and weigh 112kg: yes, I am overweight but most people that see me would only place me as ‘of normal’ build. I am not unhealthy (although I admit, I should stop smoking), have moderate exercise every day, eat generally healthy but will not deny myself a treat every now and then. The world can sod off: I am happy with who I am and how I look. Their argument is not valid.

    Thank you for putting my world to rights; I knew it wasn’t just me who knew that BMI was rubbish!

  22. Reblogged this on and commented:
    Wow. What a powerful article. I urge all women to read this! <3 I needed this entry right about now!

  23. Rae says:

    The point of the article is spot on. I think we put to much importance on numbers (the scale should say Xlbs) and visual cues (think and small equal fit and healthy) and not enough impetus on function (how far can you go, how fast can you go, how much can you pick up, how long can you go for…).

    However, I did just check three different online calculators and the only factors taken into account are weight and height. So the statement that BMI “It doesn’t take height or bodytype into account”, is only correct in one of its premises. Possibly stating that it doesn’t take the average differences in height as a comparable factor between men and women and height as a comparable factor at varying ages into account would be more correct?

    However, any of these ‘health’ calculators can be helpful reference points when reviewed regularly in comparison with other methods of measurement. Especially if you don’t put too much emphasis on the number itself but the upward, downward or steady trend indicated.

    I am 5’7″, 35 years old, and just over 200lbs, but I am very active, I regularly run obstacle course races, participate in CrossFit, and lift heavy weights. So I look at Body Fat percentage, BMI, Body Weight, tape measurements as well as Personal Records set in my activities and compare them to get a picture of where I am at. Yes, Body Fat, BMI and the scale say I am over weight, however, tape and PRs say I am on track – the numbers don’t matter the upward trend of PRs and the downward trend of BMI, Fat % do for me.

    Realistic expectations, it takes work to find them, but I’m certainly happy to have found them!

  24. […] link on Facebook for an article about women and BMI, it’ by Foz Meadows and titled “Female Bodies: A Weighty Issue”.  The thing I liked about this article is that it discussed how our perception of what a healthy […]

  25. […] saw this wonderful post about body image, and I found the whole project very interesting and […]

  26. Reblogged this on The Catholic Writer and commented:
    “Combine these facts together, and you have a recipe for disaster. All over the world, women of all bodytypes, ages and ethnicities are being told by physicians, family members, universities and insurance companies to try and adhere to a single, “universal” notion of bodily health that is, in fact, predicated entirely on what was considered normal for white European men in the mid-1800s.”

  27. […] post together. In that time, these amazing posts were written – this one, by Sinéad O'Hart and this by Foz Meadows. Their focus is slightly different but go read them. It's okay – I'll […]

  28. First, to those who have shared about their eating disorders. Sending you all my love! I, too, suffered from bulimia/anorexia as a teen. 20 yrs later it is no longer an obstacle for me. Total healing is possible!

    The one problem I have with this post is that the blame is on BMI, measurements, society. Those are big huge outside things that we really cannot control. There is no benefit in the blame game. The only real change comes from within. Encourage, love, uplift others & take care of yourself. What truly matters cannot be measured. Blessings to you all.

    • fozmeadows says:

      Society isn’t as external as you’d think – we change and enforce its norms simply by being part of it, as well as absorbing its messages. Saying society is too big to be controlled or changed is like saying society can’t ever progress; which, manifestly, it can. But in order for that to happen, we have to be willing to try, and to speak up about the problems that we observe within it. I agree that change comes from within, but not just from within individuals: it also comes from within society.

  29. Reblogged this on Bodhi and Me and commented:
    Indeed.

  30. susanauthor says:

    Thanks for this. Women are thrown into total despair looking at heavily photoshopped pics of models and movie stars. I have family members who have struggled with weight all their lives, and it has taken me 50 years to stop agonizing, nagging, hinting or manipulating them in other ways to make them be thin. Shoot, they want to be thin, but I have finally figured out that their struggles are not my struggles, and their weight is none of my business, and they are just fine as they are. I am 70, and packing extra pounds. The only time it really bothers me is when I come to a hill on my bicycle, and I regret having to haul up the extra baggage!

  31. This is one of those issues that is extremely relevant and yet most people seem to shy away from actually talking about it. I was one of those tall, lanky kids growing up; naturally thin and able to eat anything without gaining a pound. Yet I was rarely satisfied with my body, always thinking I could be more thin. When I turned 25 it was like my metabolism just quit working and I quickly gained about 50 pounds. I’ve since lost about half of that but I still feel awful. The image of beauty that is absolutely ingrained in my mind (based on media, fashion, nasty peers, a nasty sister) is that of supermodel thinness, which is almost impossible to attain. Yet that’s what I compare myself to, and obviously I come up short time and time again. I hate it, I wish I could learn to love my “grown-up” body, and I am trying to. Intellectually I realize that comparing myself to supermodels is ridiculous, but changing what I have always believed is a little more difficult. I commend you for bringing this issue to the forefront!

  32. Amanda says:

    Reblogged this on Snack Wars and commented:
    BMI (Body Mass Index) is NOT useful when trying to calculate healthy body weight. Read why.

  33. […] See full story on wordpress.com […]

  34. Astrid says:

    Reblogged this on The Chrysalis and commented:
    I’ve been meaning to share this for a while. This relates in a MAJOR way to that whole idea of being body-positive that I’ve been going on about lately. If you haven’t seen this around the internet yet, I highly recommend giving it a read.

    “We have, as a society, such a completely disordered, distorted perception of female bodies that the vast majority of people are incapable of recognising what ‘overweight’ actually looks like on a woman, let alone ‘healthy’. As such, we’re now at a point where women are not only raised to hate their bodies as a matter of course, but are shown, from childhood, a wholly inaccurate picture of what they ‘should’ look like – a narrow, nigh on impossible physical standard they are then punished, both socially and medically, for failing to attain.”

  35. […] Female Bodies: A Weighty Issue – This is from a couple weeks ago, but it’s a great exploration of the crock of shit that is BMI and a “healthy weight.” […]

  36. AJoyFace says:

    Reblogged this on Joy(Full)Face and commented:
    I think everyone should read this… no matter what your weight, what is “said to be true” about your body isn’t always accurate.

  37. Love this article…
    Fyi for some people, I -am- a tall, plus-sized model…I am 6’2″ bare foot and weigh 245lbs, my measurements are 42, 38, 47….and I am constantly told i am obese, over-weight, and so on and so forth….and I love my body…in school I struggled with eating disorders, I still struggle with them, but I have started to accept myself and my body type. I am telling you, that was one of the hardest things to do, but once you start too, you will be much happier….:D

  38. Reblogged this on The Tragic Story of a Bleeding Heart and commented:
    Worth a read.

  39. […] *Here’s the link to the original article: http://fozmeadows.wordpress.com/2014/03/28/female-bodies-a-weighty-issue/ […]

  40. Kristi says:

    I went to see a doctor because I’d been having shooting back and leg pain a few years ago when I was overweight. He did the bare minimum of examining me, and then refused to consider that the problem could be caused by anything other than my being overweight. I left in tears and never sought out another opinion, afraid of facing the same thing. The pain came and went over the next few years. Meanwhile, I took up running in a serious way and lost about 50 pounds. I went back to the doctor earlier this year because the back and leg pain was still causing issues. This time, I was taken seriously and the pain, along with some other symptoms I’d ignored or brushed off, was eventually traced to sciatica caused by undiagnosed endometriosis. Nothing had changed in the intervening years except my weight and fitness level, but now I was someone with a legitimate complaint and not just another fattie. The whole experience really opened my eyes. Plus, now I’m getting treatment that I could’ve received several years ago.

    • fozmeadows says:

      I’m so sorry you had to wait that long to have the problem diagnosed. Medical antifat bias, UGH.

    • Lee says:

      Yeah I don’t even go to doctors for any medical problem that isn’t the flu or strep throat because I K N O W the reaction is just going to be “cause you’re fat” and sending me on my merry way. Yeah, I really want to pay the fee for a doctor’s advice to be told he’s not even gonna try and diagnose me beyond glancing at me and declaring all my health problems are because I’m overweight.

  41. Ladies and Gentlemen says:

    What I can strongly agree about in the article is we do live in a society where some women don’t have a great self-image or are demonized as a result of a preference of womens’ body size. Women do deserve better. However, I’m not very fond of the article’s conclusion (if the author refers to the ‘concept’ as weight) because body composition can be a crucial element to health.

    I usually don’t tell people what to do. I don’t make any assumptions of ppls’ weights. I think women can be thick and healthy, but it’s important to look deeper into the issue. Is BMI a reasonable marker of health? No. Can you be thin and sick? Yes. Are there certain elements considered in BMI or body consumption that’s unhealthy? Yes and in the form of visceral fat. If you have fat in your legs and not in your organs, if you’re muscular, if your bones are healthy, no one should worry. People should do whatever it is they think is right for them. If women are concern with their body composition, there may always be help available. This is probably a better line of thinking than all of that Maria Kang weight loss preaching bullshit.

  42. Daniela says:

    The IBM point is right but in both ways. I’m 5’6 (1,68m) 99lbs (45kg) and size 4uk and according to IBM I’ve been anorexic since I was 13. It doesn’t take into account that I’m very narrow and have a very fast metabolism. I would’t feel bad about my body if people weren’t constantly saying that I’m too thin, even pointing at me on the street, Worrying about me even if I do sports, eat healthy and have more energy thank anyone else. Finding clothes is very hard for me, they are just made for very specific measurements. And I think the fashion industry should show diversity and not te average because it leaves everyone else out.

  43. […] Female Bodies: A Weighty Issue […]

  44. Bellebelle says:

    It is rare for me to leave a comment and I had to with this post. Thank you! thank you! This is so well written, well done! We do deserve better ladies, we are worth more then what is being thrown at us as the ideal. Those of us who are older need to help the younger generation and not take the lead in perpetuating this sickness. We need to take the lead in stopping it, where ever we have influence. We have so much more to offer as women then body image!

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