Saturday, March 2, 2013

Body Lies

     This morning, I was reading a popular fashion magazine. Each month, they feature a brief highlight on fashion ideas for “big women in a skinny world.” One word jumped off the page and struck me right across my face. The article used the word “curvy” to describe the author and other women like her. The problem is this women is not “curvy,” she is obese. I don't use “obese” as a pejorative; she is a beautiful women, obviously intelligent, creative, and her use of accessories is inspiring.

     I joined the growing ranks of obese women when I was about 23 years old. I had never been an active child, or teenager, preferring to read instead of forcing my uncoordinated and clumsy body to play a sport of some kind. My parents were never into sports, and as they led active lives in their professions, the last thing they wanted to do during “down time” was more physical activity. I never struggled with my weight as a young person, and assumed I never would.

    As many people do, I found myself with a desk job. As my adult metabolism started to slow, the pounds started first creeping, then piling on. Never having the foundation of an active lifestyle left me unaware of where to begin. I had the vague notion one needed to “eat healthier” and “get moving” to lose weight, but knowing the formula and putting it into practice are two very different things. To complicate matters, I didn't eat all that unhealthily. I ate out maybe once a month, ate vegetables and fruit daily, and while I certainly enjoyed a good Doritos nosh, I wasn't pigging out on junk food regularly, so what exactly was I supposed to change?

    I knew that a “diet” was not going to work for me. I also knew enough about weight loss to know that most people gain back not only the weight they lost, but an additional 10% MORE weight within one year of going off a diet. I listened to friends complain about their weight more and more and list every excuse in the book about why they couldn't exercise.

    “I don't have time.” “I'm too busy.” “My kids/spouse/pets/job makes it impossible.” “I'm overweight, but I'm still pretty healthy, so it's fine.”

    That last one was my excuse, until I began realizing I wasn't very healthy at all. I couldn't climb my stairs without feeling out of breath. I certainly couldn't jog around my block. Having to carry my groceries and laundry baskets up to my second floor apartment was a chore I dreaded. I didn't even like taking my dog out to play because it felt like too much effort to run around for 5 minutes. I developed plantar fasciitis in both my feet. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the leading cause contributing to the development of plantar fasciitis is carrying extra weight on your frame, and the best way to get rid of it is to lose the excess weight. I had severe acid reflux disease and had to take nearly double the amount of medication than what is standard to treat the condition. Guess what the best treatment for GERD is? Yeah. Losing weight.

    Nobody actually told me I had to lose weight, not even my physicians. In fact, everywhere I went made it easy to stay heavy. Clothes for bigger women are available in all department stores and most chain boutique stores (unlike the old days where you had to go to “specialty stores” for plus sizes.) In fact, I technically wasn't wearing plus-sized clothes anyways, so that meant I was fine, right? Everyone (except airlines) makes public seating bigger nowadays, so one barely even notices their bum getting wider. “Curvy” has replaced “Heavy” or “Full-Figured” as the descriptive term for bigger women, and who doesn't want to be curvy? Curvy is sexy!

    Except...let's be clear about something vitally important. There is a world of difference between “curvy” and “obese.”

    Obesity is defined by the American Medical Association as having a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 30 or more. I am aware that BMI doesn't take into consideration a person's muscle mass, and so, there is SOME leeway in this number. (You can figure out your own BMI using the following formula:

(your weight in pounds)
(height in inches) x (height in inches) and multiply by 703 = BMI

Underweight- Less than 18.5
Normal Weight- 18.5 to 24.9
Overweight- 25 to 29.9
Obesity- 30 or greater

    It would be easy to take comfort in the fact that the average woman in American is now a size 14. As long as we are amongst the average, there is nothing really wrong with us, is there?

    Except, there is a LOT wrong with us.

    Curvy is an undefined term adopted by the masses to make women feel better about being overweight. In a culture that is striving to shame no one, we've instead managed to invent a term that keeps us sick and unhealthy and feeling okay about it.

    I'm not writing this because I'm perfect. I'm writing this because calling someone who is obese “Curvy” is a lie, and being lied to infuriates me. I'm writing this because over 60% of Americans are medically overweight or obese. Over 500,000 women succumb to heart disease every year. Type II Diabetes is the fastest growing ailment among Americans. Billions and billions of our dollars are spent each year by our Insurance Companies to treat our obesity-related ailments. Foot injuries, back injuries, high blood pressure, GERD, and chronic pain are some of the “less important” medical issues facing obese people.

    I didn't want to be one of those people anymore. I didn't want to stay unhealthy. I started doing the only thing I thought just MIGHT start me down the right path - walking for 20 minutes every day.

    A year later, I don't feel unhealthy anymore. It's not about vanity. Sure, I want to look good and feel sexy, but I refuse to give that more importance than the fact that I've been able to cut my acid reflux medication need in half. The plantar fasciitis is gone. I can run around, and carry laundry, and play with the dog. I feel capable. I ENJOY exercising (most days, ha). Sometimes I eat dessert and pizza and I still nosh on Doritos and I refuse to feel guilty about it.

    I'm not skinny. It's never been about that. I don't want the women of the world to be skinny, I want us to be healthy. If you can't climb a set of stairs without getting winded, you are not healthy. If you can't jog around your block without feeling like you are going to keel over and die, you are not healthy. If you can't actively play with your kids for 20 minutes, or your pets, you are not doing them or yourself any favors, and you aren't healthy.

    I don't want a world full of women hiding behind a false sense of security because they are “average,” and meanwhile, their lives are being cut short by ten or twenty years. That magazine, as well as any other that hides America's worst health epidemic behind a misleading term, ought to be ashamed. We shouldn't accept being lied to and told we're okay when we are actually dying. We're worth way more than that.


  1. *standing ovation* well said! Obesity is a huge problem and nobody wants to deal with it. There shouldn't be an option to supersize food, or 'all you can eat' places - they make the problem worse. Creating bigger ambulances to transport patients isn't the answer. But people don't want to take responsibility for themselves. It's easy to blame fast food restaurants and busy lifestyles, but nobody forces them to eat that stuff. Nobody forces them to stay on the settee and watch TV. We know it's hard to lose weight - many members of our family have suffered with it, so we refuse to. We've always exercised, always eaten fruit & veg. Being healthy is far more important than an 'ideal' body size. Being skinny can be unhealthy too.
    Well done for all your efforts to get healthy, it's clearly working and hopefully will inspire other people too.

    1. Thank you! One of the things I've had to learn along the way is how to say NO. To the clerk at the drive-thru, yes, but mostly to myself. I won't carry the bag of chips (or crisps!) to the couch, I'll put a handful in a bowl and put the bag away. Why? because I'll keep eating if the bag is in front of me, but once I finish what's in the bowl, hey, whadya know?! I'm all set.
      I was telling someone yesterday who read this that I know a handful of women who make such a point of being thin to look good in their bathing suit, they completely overlook the fact that they aren't capable of swimming a dozen laps. When did we get so concerned about being able to lie motionless on a towel and look "hot" that we forgot to even have fun and play in the water?

  2. Well said, as always. I was there once. When going upstairs was a struggle and my clothes kept getting bigger and bigger. It's not always easy in this world of fast food and prepackaged meals, but just starting small and keep it up is the important thing. The problem with most diets is they don't allow any flexibility. So you don't learn the healthier eating/physical activity required to keep it off. Diet ends, the pounds come back.

    1. Thank you! yes, and the fact that there isn't a magic cure. I had a friend who kept asking everyone how to best lose weight. We told her, "eat less, move more." She didn't like that answer, so she kept asking the same question...sigh

  3. I love how you're making a stand on this. Yes, curvy is definitely a way to rename a condition that isn't healthy. It's cool to see your conclusions along with your own experiences in this. Well done, Rebecca!