THIS is what obesity looks like?!?
THIS is what obesity looks like?
Body image and the fetisization of the decimal point
|This is what obsity looks like? Young Geoffrey takes a break on the sidelines of the pitch, summer 2013. Photo by the Phantom Photographer.|
I know it's been said many times before, at length and probably with greater eloquence, but sweet Jesus don't we make a fetish of numbers! Give some phenomenon a number with a decimal point — say, for instance, 30.2 — and we leap to embrace it as a Significant Truth, as Science, no matter how shaky its foundation nor how often that particular scale has been debunked.
I'd meant, some three or four weeks ago now, to update my personal blog with a little bragging amid a more general report on the State of Young Geoffrey's Corpus.
Y'see, I've been cycling quite a lot again, since the snow melted, and when I went out for my first soccer game in a couple of months — and a 90-minute game it was, not a mere 60! — I was really pleased to note the improvement in my fitness. I not only jogged across the field at half-time to find the bathroom (and jogged back), but was surprised when the game was over.
"That's it?" I called out, "I thought there was another 20 minutes to go!"
"You've got the energy for another 20 minutes?" one of my team-mates, a 20-something named Paul, asked me. And when I said, "Yeah, I think so," I realized I was pretty sure that I did.
It was, to put it mildly, an awesome feeling for a once-heavy smoker, and I whooped and hollered as I cycled my way home for the sheer joy of movement.
I wanted, too, to discuss the fact that the psoriatic arthritis I first mentioned a couple of years ago seems to be in remission. Concerned some enzymes in my liver were a little high (I hadn't cut back quite as much on the beer as I'd been supposed to, I admit it), my specialist told me to take a week's break from the Scary Powerful Drug he'd put me on, Methotrexate. So I did. And, when I felt no sign of pain returning, I took another week off. And another after that, and so. Six months later I still hadn't taken another dose and, when I saw said specialist for a follow-up, he shrugged and said to keep on keeping on, so long as I felt okay. "Start taking again and call for an appointment if the pain comes back. Otherwise, come back in year."
And that, more or less, would have been that. Young Geoffrey feels pretty good, he's playing soccer with 20-somethings, thank you very much, and he feels both vaguely grateful for (and maybe just a little bit smug about) his good fortune.
|Detail of photo of Taylor Townsend at U.S. Open Juniors on Sunday, September 4, 2011. Original photo by Robbie Mendelson, courtesy of Wikimedia.org.|
Unfortunately (or not) for the state of said personal blog, I came across a couple of items that combined to complicate my report. Three or four weeks later, I don't remember which came first, but I don't suppose that really matters much. One was personal, the aforementioned 30.2, a number that applies to me. The other an item I read about a young, female, African American tennis player called Taylor Townsend.
Though I am by no means a professional athlete, nor a woman, nor black, nor (if the truth be told at all) even all that young any more, Taylor and do share something in common. We are both, at least according to some standards, fat.
In fact, though my blood pressure is excellent and my resting heart rate typically clocks in at just over 50 beats a minute, I carry some extra flesh on me. If there is a 6-pack to be found on my abdomen, it is well-insulated, or perhaps, as my sweetie puts it, it is disguised as a one-pack.
To add insult to injury, the internet, via a 150 year-old measurement that is still, apparently, accorded a not insignificant diagnostic respect by laymen and medical professionals alike, has informed me that I not only jiggle a little, but that I am, in truth, obese.
Not pleasantly plump, not chubby, not carrying around "a few extra pounds", but obese. A big fatso, a lardass, a Homer J ...
And presumably, so is Taylor Townsend, who (by the way) made it to the third round at the French Open a few weeks back.
Would my knees thank me if I dropped 20 or 30 (or even 40) pounds? Presumably. At one point in my 20s I got myself down to about 145 pounds and if I still felt like the chubby kid whose clothes all came from the Husky racks, photographic evidence from that era shows I was pretty close to lean. If I'd been playing soccer and cycling 2 or 3 thousand kilometres a year, I probably would have been.
Would Taylor Townsend's knees thank her if she dropped a 10 or 20 or 30 pounds? Presumably. But would dropping that weight make a better tennis player? Maybe not: Teen Tennis Prodigy Taylor Townsend: 'My Body Is A Total Gift'.
Despite the subject's own answer, my instinct is to say yes in answer to that last question, but really, what do I know about the best "fighting weight" for a particular 18 year-old African-American woman called Taylor Townsend? Presumably knees are always calling for a lighter load to lug around, but the rest of the body is, or at least can be, a hell of a lot more complicated.
What isn't complicated, and the reason I'm going on so god damned long about this, is that far too many of us and, I believe, too many doctors and other ostensible health professionals who ought to know better, look at a person's BMI, at the number and presume it means something, all by itself. Because ... number! With decimal point!
By all means, check heart rate and blood pressure; measure body fat; maybe see if you can pinch an inch ... But don't look at a height/weight ratio and think it means something! It might, for those who have a typical European's body type and who carry an average amount of muscle tissue and have average length arms and legs. For the rest of us: for real athletes and chubby weekend warriors, for the naturally skinny and new mothers alike, it isn't even useful as a ball-park figure. It's worse than useless, in truth, because it's liable to be mis-interpreted and to create all manner of useless anxiety — or unwarranted self-confidence.
If your doctor looks at your BMI number and not at you, find another doctor.
This isn't, by the way, intended to by some fat-positive message either. To be honest, though my sweetie thinks my "roundness" is "cute" (and thank god for that!), I don't. I don't much like the figure I see in the mirror and would love to trim down some. But all the real indications are that any weight problem I have right now is aesthetic and cultural, not medical.
So, come Sunday afternoon, I (and my belly) are going to "bounce across the field" in all our enthusiastic glory after a little round soccer ball. Wish us luck!
Right. It's nearly 04:00 and I need to be at work for a 12-hour shift by 13:00 hours. Time for something really offensive to take us into that good night ... Take it away, Bruce McCulloch!
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