The Numbers

weight numbers body image

I was pretty ill at the beginning of May and I finally hauled my ailing ass to the doctor’s office during week two of the Martian Death Flu. They weighed me, like they always do. I was a good seven pounds heavier than I expected and I wasn’t thrilled about it. I mean, I didn’t get that sad-sick feeling that used to seep into my consciousness like a poison gas when I finally, grudgingly acknowledged weight gain. But I was surprised and dismayed and disappointed.

I stopped weighing myself ages ago when I realized that doing so regularly was just filling me top to tail with self-doubt and anxiety. I could LOOK fantastic in the mirror and feel confident about my body, but the minute I stepped on the scale and faced the numbers, it was all over. And after years and years and YEARS of this, I realized that since weighing myself wasn’t making me healthier – wasn’t a motivator to eat fewer French Fries or bike to work more often – then I just didn’t need to do it. And I stopped. And I have felt much more confident and strong and beautiful since I made that change.

But I get sick sometimes and I go to the doctor and they weigh me every damn time. So I can’t avoid those numbers completely. And since gaining seven pounds in the past six months didn’t send me into the emotional tailspin it once would’ve, I guess that’s OK. It’s progress, and I feel like I’m progressing still toward an understanding that my weight is not my body. There’s more story there than a single number can tell.

Due to my love ofΒ shopping, the numbers that invade my brain FAR more frequently are my clothing sizes. And I say “sizes” in the plural because I wear them all. Extra-smalls from J.Jill and extra-larges from American Apparel. I’ve thrifted skirts in size 4, size 14, and everything in between. My summer closet contains dresses from eras both current and past in sizes 6, 8, 10, 12, and 14 and am quite sure there’s a 16 out there somewhere with my name on it. And that means that I have finally made my peace with clothing sizes and their mind-blowing arbitrariness. When I weighed less than I do now, it was SUPER important to me to buy only sizes 4 and 6, even if they squoze my tender flesh and looked ghastly. Now, I buy what fits and flatters, no matter what the numbers. And I can honestly say I don’t give a flying rat’s ankle what those numbers are.

Then there are the numbers that hit me sporadically, like BMI and hip-to-waist ratio, that are just DRIPPING with skewed statistical information and implied judgment. And those I actively disdain. I don’t want to know, and if someone forces them on me, I am able to dismiss them as uninformative and unhelpful.

Mathematics can be elegant, poetic, and illustrative. Numbers can be precise and revealing and they are often a key factor in understanding complex concepts. But human bodies cannot be described by numbers, cannot be encompassed by statistics, cannot be explained by figures. Human bodies cannot truly be categorized because each one is unique, and using numbers to describe them is almost futile. We may need to know these numbers for pragmatic reasons – to give the cops some idea of how big we are if we rob a bank, to give the Anthropologie website some idea of which pants to mail to us – but they do not define our bodies. We are not our weights, our dress sizes, our BMIs.

We are ourselves, and beautifully indescribable.

Image courtesy Stewf.

Originally posted 2009-05-19 06:09:00.

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44 Responses to “The Numbers”

  1. Ella

    Wow. I can honestly say that I haven’t reached that point yet. I always reach for the same size and although I won’t purchase what doesn’t fit, I also seem to avoid purchasing clothes which aren’t a size which I’ve brainwashed myself into believing is acceptable. Your perspective really encourages me and I hope that one day, numbers won’t make me feel sick to my stomach. Sigh.

  2. eednic

    i hear ya! i got on the scale at the doc recently too and was up about 8 pounds. i’ve lost 6 of them since. but in general, i don’t like weighing myself. i guess i find useful only when i find out i’m above what i probably should be health wise. all of mine was to blame on eating cheeseburgers, fries, etc. way too often and not eating healthy. suddenly i start eating healthy and those little extras just melt off. and my clothes fit better.

    but as long as i feel good about myself and have fun with fashion, i’m A-OK with being my size/weight (or sizes, rather, as you mentioned, my range far and wide as well). i used to be in a much worse place but weighed a lot less…how is that possible? hahaha. i really hated myself for years about my body and eventually got tired of it. i have probably mentioned before too that my sister has struggled for years with bulimia and anorexia and at her worst weighed around 75 pounds. seeing someone in that physical state, so weak and confused…that can really put it in perspective. i mean. i can get up and walk the dog and jog and i have energy to clean the house and shop and have fun. i appreciate my body. it treats me well. now i just have to remember not to always put junk in it! hahaha.

  3. futurelint

    I love this post and HATE the random sizing of clothes…

  4. Audi

    It’s interesting that when you go to the doctor, they always measure your weight but never recheck your height — I know for a fact that I’ve grown at least an inch in the last few years (weird, I know!), which means that my ‘ideal’ weight has changed. Not that I pay much attention to the doctor’s scale anyway — I swear those things add on at least 4 pounds.

  5. The Raisin Girl

    Yeah…I’ve always found it a little hilarious that converting my chub into muscle actually increases that pesky little number on the scale, no matter how much healthier it makes me feel and look.

    I went through this phase, too, where I refused to buy above a certain pants size or bra size, and I distinctly remember the first time I was finally forced to buy a bra bigger than what I had been wearing for years. I sat in the dressing room and cried. Looking back on that incident from a perspective that is both more accepting of my body and all its beauties and flaws, and wearing a bra one cup size up from the one I once cried over, I think sometimes it’s truly awful, what we women do to ourselves.

    Kids in elementary school and middle school teased me and called me “fat.” But that’s nothing in comparison to the things I’ve said silently to myself when I was dissatisfied with what I saw in the mirror. It took me a really long time to stop saying those things, and sometimes I still moan over some tiny imperfection, some lump of my body that nobody else is even paying attention to.

    I think the worst part is that I tell myself–and other girls I know tell themselves–that if I were just thin, or if I could just get down to this jeans size, I would love my body. I tend to assign more importance than is due to my weight, specifically, and start thinking that I’d never be insecure if I looked a certain way.

    Sorry for the book I just wrote. πŸ˜›

  6. i_b_erin

    I have been many sizes in the last 3 years, starting at a size 28, down to a 12, and now a comfortable 14/16. What really matters is what is inside you, the beauty shining from inside. The health of your body and well being will carry you, no matter what size.

    I worked in clothing for over 20+ years, and sizing is terrible..go for a flattering fit, and the numbers can just fly out the window..because we are all wonderful!

  7. Clare

    Sal, you never fail to start my day with a smile. I have never owned a scale, and I tend to avoid them like the plague, for all the reasons you oh-so-eloquently pointed out. I have found, however, a freight delivery scale at work and made the poor choice to hop on one day on my way home. Of course, it read heavier than I thought it would (or should). Granted, there’s a pretty good chance that this thing is wildly inaccurate on a small scale since it is meant for weighing VERY heavy (multiple tons – which I am not!) things. Or at least that’s what I told myself.

    It’s so silly because that one moment made me think so negatively about my body image. When I see myself in the mirror, I KNOW I’m skinny. Visually, there’s no problem. Numerically, however, I get upset. WTF, world?

    Anyway, this is my very long-winded way of saying that I’m glad you bring this up. We’re beautiful, dammit! Why we let a plastic square on the floor tell us otherwise is beyond me.

  8. Sal

    Audi: For really? You’re getting taller? Are you downing Miracle Grow milkshakes and not telling me about it?

    The Raisin Girl: NEVER be sorry for long comments, especially ones that are as brave as yours. Thanks for sharing your experiences, doll.

    Clare: Oh my! Yeah, I’d say that freight scale is nowhere NEAR accurate, lady. Steer clear from now on, ya hear?

  9. K.Line

    First, I’d tell that doctor to lay off the weighing. But, as a semi-regular scale-user, I can say that it’s a tool to keep me on track. I didn’t weigh myself for decades and then discovered I’d gained a lot of weight. So I’m giving this system a try for a while πŸ™‚

    I think you’ve got such a great idea about developing self-acceptance and wearing what looks great, size be damned (I’m so down with this in my own wardrobe), and getting healthy by fitness etc.

    You have also mentioned many times about how the winter is a time when you gain a few pounds, only to lose them in the summer. Strikes me that being weighed at the very end of winter would be a recipe for observing that gain.

    No worries, you’ll be feeling fabulous, summertime fit very soon. And you’re always gorgeous.

  10. Margaret

    I was in The Gap in NYC recently and overheard a petite 20-something saying to her friends that she ABSOLUTELY could not buy the pants she tried on because the ones that fit were a 4 not a 0 or 2 and that she WOULD not size up, saw NO reason to HAVE to do such a thing. The 30 something person in her group clearly saw this as insanity, “if the jeans fit, buy them” she said. I guess I have always assumed that the sizing thing is someone else’s problem, like the manufacturer and have not found myself concerned with those numbers. The idea of not buying something that fits in a flattering way just because of the number…. I remember years ago I had a coat that was “XL” and it was draped over a chair. My Boyfriend looked at it and said ” “XL”? For what, a doll?” since I was like a size 8 at the time.

  11. knubbsy-wubbsy

    Since I left for school and my weight started pogo-ing around what I thought my weight was “supposed” to be I simply stopped weighing myself, it helped that the roommate with the image problems and the oh-so-handy scale moved out. Since then I’ve been happier simply ignoring the scale and as long I’m still wearing the same clothes and I look healthy I’ve stopped caring. The sizes on clothes vary too much in comparison for me to care all that much, my newest size 8 skirt’s waistband is larger then my size 10 dance skirt and smaller than my size 6 suitpant.

  12. Winnie

    With the various sizing of different brands it can be quite a booster realising you’re an UK8 in some stores….but then it’s a downer when you’re UK12 in others. It’s a little crazy but these days I tend to be somwhere between a UK8-10. I’ve not reached the stage where I don’t look at the numbers yet!

  13. Christina Lee

    today at Target I just bought two dresses-one was a size 6 and the other?? A size 12!!! If I feel bad about that number, I’ll cut off the tag so the psychology of it doesnt get to me!at th doctor’s office, i look away, and I ask them to not tell me my weight. they just quietly write it down πŸ˜‰

  14. The Budget Babe

    another poignant post! yet so much easier said than done, i fear. ya know I sometimes get caught up with shoe sizes? I bought a pair of boots in a 10 because that’s the size that fit best but now i refuse to wear them because i don’t want to be a size 10 (no offense to anyone else out there who wears that size, i’m the one with issues not you!)
    but like you, Sal, i don’t weigh myself. no use in knowing. even at the doctor’s office, i tell the nurse politely, please don’t say the number aloud, and then i look away from the scale. hahahah. hey it works for me!

  15. Michael McGraw Photography

    I think the scale is very important, but only for weighing the cats and luggage.

  16. pretty face

    You know, until two days ago, I hadn’t weighed myself since August, when staying at a friend’s house.

    In the many months since August, I knew my weight was roughly the same; clothes fit the same, etc etc. And in that time, there were days I felt great about my body, days I felt awful. In recent weeks I began to feel a mounting body hatred which had nothing to do with any number, and everything to do with my messed up body image.

    Two days ago, I stepped on some scales and weighed 3kg more than I weighed in August. I was upset for all of one evening, until the next morning I pulled out the scales again and noticed there was a zero error, so I actually only weighed 2 kg more. Oh, wait, I stepped on the scales and I only weighed 1 kg more. And I reasoned that maybe because they’re different scales I actually weigh the same.

    Immediately I felt better. I completely hear where you’re coming from about muscle weighing more than fat, rugby players registering as obese on the BMI scales, crazy clothes sizing.

    BUT sometimes, a couple of numbers in front of you in black and white can be the perfect antidote to the wrong person I see when I look in the mirror. That’s probably a bad thing, I should probably read more of your posts πŸ˜‰

  17. Cosmo

    I have a completely obsessive personality so I had to get rid of my scale my first year in fashion school. When the girls in class were calling size 6 girls who were interested in modeling in the fashion show fat, knowing how much I weighed just made me crazy. Add to that that my mother who is a good 4″ shorter than me who never crossed 100lbs unless she was pregnant kept saying “wow” when I said I weighed anything over 110. I do not weigh myself very often. I feel like as long as I look in the mirror and think I look ok(at least) then I am probably doing ok weight-wise.

    I also have a lot of different sizes in my closet. Mostly because I buy a lot of vintage and sizes used to be bigger so I have quite a few 12s, 14s, and 16s. Though most of my modern stuff is about a 4 or 6.

  18. WendyB

    I have to weigh myself or my eating would get out of control. The only thing that slows down my Cadbury consumption is seeing my weight start to climb!

  19. Alli

    wow, good for you! i threw out my scales years ago, but when i’m at a friends house and theres one in the bathroom – i can’t stop myself. and hence the evning is ruined;)

  20. Erin

    AMEN! My scale is under the sink, crammed behind some junk, without batteries.

  21. rb

    My very skinny eight year old daughter stepped on the scale this morning and saw that she weighed sixty pounds. She said, “Aw! I want to weigh forty pounds!

  22. Iheartfashion

    You always have the option of declining to be weighed at the doctor’s Sal. Because of my own history of obsession with weight, I know I’m better off not hopping on the scale and always say no. It’s pretty obvious from the way my clothes fit if I’ve gained or lost anyway.

  23. AsianCajuns

    The only scale I will ever own is for the sugar, butter and flour I use for baking. That being said, when I get on the scale at the doctor’s, I’m always semi-shocked at the number.
    I love what you say about numbers though- so very, very true.

    ps- I introduced my mom to your blog and she looooves it as much as I do!

  24. lisa

    I’ve been eating a lot more lately, and not all of it healthy, and my weight has crept up at least 5 lbs. πŸ™ My clothes still fit fine and I feel the same about my body that I always have, but for me this is more of a wake-up call that I havne’t been taking care of my body like I should. Time to cut down on the sugar and the deep-fried stuff, and step up the physical activity! πŸ™‚

  25. elena-lu

    im tiny and people usually roll their eyes if i ever say “oh i should loose a few pounds” but i dont mean i weigh this and i should weigh that; i mean i dont fit into some clothes and im feeling kinda yucky and unhealhty and i should stop with the fast food and cokes already.
    but i think since others are stuck on the numbers on the scale then they think thats what i mean.
    when people hear i am a size 4 in some clothes they freak out but um yeah im 5′ 0″ im like one of the few heights that can be a size 4 and its ok im not malnurished.
    but i can be a size 6 and i can be a 2 even! it doesnt mean anything im still the same in all 3 sizes its not like im magically changing bodies to get into different sizes, its just how clothes are labeled!

  26. hollarback

    We get warped about this, it's true. Age and acceptance is really the only cure. Thank god we do grow a bit wiser as we get older. Or maybe we just fret about wrinkles instead πŸ™‚

    I once worked as a dresser for a fashion accessories concern for a week (not runway, an in-house thing for buyers)and at the beginning of the week me and my friend (normals) thought this one model was just perfect (my model) and another was too thin (her model). By the end of the week we both switched our opinions and thought my model was much too fat and hers (emaciated) was just perfect.

    The fashion industry and that (unknowing) conformity training we all underwent at school is a powerful force when you are young. We tend to fall into groupthink in regard to whatever is the "important" attribute in our circles (big or small).

    I can't wait to be an 80 year old, wrinkles and all and not give a crap. Of course I do look back on my 20's now and see that I was %#*&! perfect in regards to body shape…such a waste of time/effort really.

  27. anna

    Thanks for this article. I just bought an XL vest, and a medium dress this weekend. I was bummed about the XL even though it fits great.

  28. Allie

    Thank you for writing this Sal. A lot of us women hate weighing ourselves. I cringe at the sight of a scale. I also found myself cringing when I went to Target to try on some of the Tracy Feith stuff and figured out that my favorite dress from the line fit me in an 11. 11???! I was mortified, and learned that even though I know I am a pretty thin gal…I still have those body issues buried within. Bleh, it’s a story we all know too well.

  29. Sharon

    You can ask not to be weighed at the doctor. If they pitch a fit about it, you can tell them, politely but firmly, “This is a big issue for me. I know I’d notice if I gained or lost a ton of weight, so I do not want to be weighed.” Unless your weight is the reason you’re there or it’s absolutely necessary for figuring out a precise dose for a drug, they don’t need to weigh you. Even then, you can ask to be “blind-weighed”– you stand with your back to the numbers on the scale and they don’t say your weight out loud.

  30. Annie

    I know what you mean… I’ve got a pair of pants in size 11–I usually wear a size 9 in pants, but I’m a 5 in panties and small or 6 in dresses! It’s all over the place..


    oooh…various sizing of different brands & countries gives me the headaches!…I avoid weighing myself πŸ™‚

  32. La Belette Rouge

    Years ago I got rid of the scale and I avoid them as the number can determine how I feel. I went to the doctor this week and I decided to look at the number on the scale and I was delighted to see it was 5 lbs. less than I expected. You’d think that would make me feel good and inspire some self love. Hah! It made me want to go buy a scale.

  33. Laura.

    you guys weigh your cats? hilarious. ugh. i hate scales, but can pretty much predict my weight accurately based on how my body looks. here is the good/bad thing about being tall: you can gain five or ten pounds without anyone noticing. or, without noticing until it’s too late. all of a sudden, boom! what? twenty pounds heavier?! which can be really discouraging, because, hello, twenty pounds is a lot harder to get rid of than five.
    anyway, yeah. i hate scales, i don’t ever really weigh myself.

    i also hate the bmi thing, which doesn’t at all take into account things like bone structure. the bmi calculator tells me i should weigh SIXTY POUNDS LESS than what i do. and while i could stand to lose some weight, that measurement would actually make me look–and be–totally emaciated. seriously, people. who comes up with this stuff? it’s nice that we have the option of ignoring stuff like that πŸ™‚

  34. casey

    Once again Sal, you’ve hit the nail on the head! This post was so timely, as I’m going through a “I’m gaining weight!” crisis due to some medication I’m on for a health problem (the thing is, I’m not gaining weight, but the meds make me feel heavier. Blah! ;). As of this morning, I feel so much better and not quite as freaked out, thanks to your post! πŸ˜‰

    I started to avoid the scale about two years ago when I realized that weighing myself compulsively (3-6 times a day) was just adding to my already warped sense of my body as well as my anorexia. We own a scale, but Sailor Husband is the only one who uses it, and I’ve pretty much forgotten it’s even there.

    I have to say reading through the comments I found it helpful to hear that I could politely refuse to be weighed at the doctors! It never occurred to me. haha! Even though I consider myself “recovered” from my eating disorder, I still struggle with “The Numbers”, and have been known to get so stressed about being weighed at the doctor’s, that I don’t eat before my appointment. *sigh*

    It’s funny how just a few numbers can cause such consternation in our minds. I’m determined if I ever start a clothing line to come up with some brilliant way of naming sizes, that doesn’t directly involve numbers… πŸ˜‰

  35. Heather

    I’m now allowed to use the scale- I’ve started a hardcore weight training regimen and muscle mass is denser than the fat. So my clothes fit better but the scale will creep up before it comes down. Unfair, and frustrating, but that’s how it works. I don’t know if anyone has suggested it yet, but maybe you should tell the person who weighs you to not tell you what your weight is, because you don’t need to know if it sets you back emotionally. Of course, if it were me I’d be compelled to peak at the chart because that’s just how I am! You’ve come a really long way though. Keep up the healthy body image- you’re loads better about this than you were 18 months ago.

  36. Diana

    You know I feel you on this one. I still like to weigh myself at least once a week at the gym, but each time I try to remind myself that the number really doesn’t matter, and that I won’t punish myself if the number isn’t what I want it to be. Doesn’t always work, but I think I’m slowly learning to love my body how it is, regardless of numbers.

  37. Spandexpony

    Sal, in classic form! Great post! I wax and wane when it comes to numbers dictating my body happiness. I just started working out (intensely) again, thanks to numbers but also how I felt– although I am a “normal” weight, I don’t necessarily feel zesty and full of life, so I’m trying to drop a few, without falling into the ano pit I was in a couple of years ago. It’s a frickin tightrope!! But I wish that it wasn’t. I wish it would feel more natural.

  38. Spandexpony

    PS– my little brother does genetic research on obesity. His supervisor recently wrote a book (can’t remember the name of it but it was fascinating) about obesity. In it, he mentions that we as people did not develop weight obsession until the following 3 things were invented (all about the turn of the 20th century):

    1. Bathroom scales. Before they were invented, they had grain scales, but no one ever thought to weigh themselves on one, or that the resulting number would even be important. When the farming industry started to shrink, scale manufacturers created a need for consumers and a source of income for themselves: bathroom scales. Now people could weigh themselves whenever they wanted.

    2. Full-length mirrors. Before, mirrors were prohibitively expensive, so most people owned only small hand mirrors, or vanity mirrors if at all. Only the very rich had full-length mirrors. Mirroring processes were simplified and cheapened, so that many more people could see –and pick apart– how they looked from head to toe.

    3. Photographs, particularly in magazines. Before, drawings “painted a picture” but no one necessarily drew personal aspiration from them. When photos of glamourous, aspirational models became widely disseminated through magazines, that’s when the real trouble began.

    I’m going to ask my brother the name of that book and pass it on to you. It was a seriously good read, and I think you would enjoy it– maybe get some blog use out of it!

  39. shoppingsmycardio

    hallelujah, woman πŸ™‚ the day i banished a scale from my bathroom was a very, very good day. and you know what? hasn’t made a single drop of difference as to what i weigh. i really believe most people just *are* a certain size/shape, and things might change a bit…but fundamentally, you is what you is. know what i mean?

    glad to hear you’re embracing life without numbers…much, much better over here πŸ™‚

    (by the way, i’ve missed “seeing” you at SMC! hope you’re well πŸ™‚

  40. lisadom

    WEll Sal, you know my theory on weighing yourself -Dont!

    Just go by how tight your clothes feel, and when you need to; Wear Bigger Pants!

    (ps. I used to make good commission on selling Size 14 pants to women who were really a 16 by going through all the stock in the stock room and finding the roomiest cut)

  41. Zuzuli

    It’s always been a numbers game for me – ever since I was like 8 years old! I hate that that kind of pressure was put on me as a kid…the worst part, I look back at pictures and see that I wasn’t even a big child! But definitely made to feel like one.

    Thanks for your blog Sal! It is very comforting to read about stuff that is definitely in my mind all the time!