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Infernal Question —

April 25, 2012

There are two simple questions that you should never, ever ask a woman: how old are you and how much do you weight?

I learned these twin taboos as a child and have treated them with a gravity reserved for the social guidelines of  appropriate funeral behavior.

But as a guy, I can frankly say I’ve never understood their importance.

Who cares how old I am? It’s just a number signifying how many years I’ve been lucky enough to exist (Sunday I’ll turn 33. Whoopideedoo!)

How cares how much I weight? It’s just a number signifying how much mass I possess. (I hover around 265. Somebody call Bob Harper!)

To me, neither number seemed to justify the sort of Fort Knox-level security with which many women guard those numbers.

Today, I understand our culture a bit better and can see where the shame and embarrassment comes from: everywhere.

From the “age-defying” makeup to the “fat-busting” diets, we’re assured that our bodies are entirely under our control and if we’re just willing to invest the time, money and attention on the “problem” then we too can be the kind of timeless, weightless beauties that grace countless magazines.

And in our weight-based health culture, how much one weighs is not only an indicator of overall health, but a status symbol and morality gauge all in one. Of course, it doesn’t really matter what the number is because the eternal assumption is that it could always be better.

So in an attempt to dull the sting of the weight taboo, Erin Nieto follow her on Facebook and Tumblr) has published a simple, poignant collection of photographs and personal stories titled “How Much Do You Weigh?”

Last week on Medical Marzipan, Erin shares the inspiration for the book and gives a few more glimpses into the contents, including the stories of the women who were photographed, recently added to the second edition.

This unique coffee take book has a simple premise: photographs of casually dressed women of various sizes and shapes on the right side of the page and their weight listed on the left side.

Unlike Adipositivity or Leonard Nimoy’s Full Body Project, “How Much Do You Weigh?” doesn’t focus on the beauty of the nude, fat body. Instead, the women in HMDYW are dressed just as you might see them in public, shamelessly flaunting their lbs, in what becomes a powerful message dissociating weight with shame.

By posing proudly with their weights, these women reassure others that this number says nothing about their worth, their beauty, their health. Like most taboos, when exposed to light, the number loses its power to shame. By sharing their weight in a public forum, these women have not lost a bit of their beauty or worth. It’s just there, a series of digits signifying little more than individuals mass.

As an icebreaker, “How Much Do You Weigh?” is great way to get family and friends talking about the issues of weight and shame without the risk of alienating  someone with the boldness of a Full Body Project — some just can’t handle the raw sensuality of a proud, and nude, fat body.

Instead, consider this book a stepping stone to Fat Acceptance, stimulating conversation without jarring the dedicated dieter who may find photos of rolls unsettling and frank discussions of fat health too “extreme.” Instead, set HMDYW out on your coffee table and let your guests tiptoe into the waters at their own pace, while being reassured by the dignity and confidence of the women within.

Like flies to honey, the dedicated dieter will be drawn in by the frank question, and shocked by the candid answers. This unsettled feeling opens the door for them to ask why they are so afraid of this question.

And tomorrow, from midnight to midnight, Erin is offering her book for free on Kindle. Of course, the paperback version ($14.99), which Erin sent to me as a review copy, is what I would recommend as a conversation starter. It’s much harder to get people talking about the books trapped in your Kindle.

So, check it out for free on Kindle, but be sure to get a copy of the book to set a little Fat Trap in your living room for the next time you want to get your guests reading, thinking and talking about how unnecessary it is to fear the numbers of our life.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. vesta44 permalink
    April 25, 2012 11:48 am

    This is an awesome book and one that every fat-phobe should be required to look through. Most people can’t tell by looking at another person what that person weighs, and the pictures in this book drive that fact home. For me, these pictures also show that you can be healthy, confidant, and beautiful at any size, which is something we all need to know and remember. I’ll be picking this book up for my computer (I have the Kindle app on my computer that allows me to read Kindle books – I don’t have a Kindle, yet).

  2. bronwenofhindscroft permalink
    April 25, 2012 12:09 pm

    I just bought the book, on your recommendation. Since I don’t have an ereader at all.

    Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m a luddite. But books are meant to be on paper, darn it! (Hey, you kids, get offa my lawn!!)

    • The Real Cie permalink
      April 26, 2012 4:15 pm

      That’s what I say. Except if I can get an e-textbook, I usually take it because they’re so much cheaper. But as for books for pleasure, I want a real book!

  3. The Real Cie permalink
    April 26, 2012 4:14 pm

    I never got the “a lady doesn’t tell her age” crap either. I guess I’m not a lady. I’m 47. Why should I care if anyone knows that?
    I’m sensitive about the weight thing because there’s such a stigma surrounding it. Someone better have a damn good legitimate reason for asking if they don’t want to encounter some serious dark vibes from me.

  4. Fab@54 permalink
    April 27, 2012 12:58 pm

    Age? Doesn’t bother me in the least to tell my age (55 – 56 in August). It never bothered me no matter how old I was at the time,
    But Weight? Wow, I’m not even sure why – athough I’m thinking it through now – but saying the actual numbers, or even writing them down, nearly causes me to break out in a sweat. Most of the time I lie and shave off at least 25 lbs or so if I absolutely MUST reveal my weight without getting on a scale. (It’s true, scales rarely lie)
    I think because there have been so many occassions in my life when someone tried to guess (or assess) my weight, and, although I knew for a fact they thought I was “Huuuuge”…. they always guessed at least 30 lbs * less * than my actual weight.
    I would be inwardly mortified, thinking wow, if they only knew that I WISH I weighed that much today…. Outwardly, I’d brush them off with an astounded look – like, [gasp] WHAT??
    Not even my husband has ever been told how much I weigh, not in 37 yrs. I wonder why the numbers ‘scare’ me so much. Maybe because I have it on my OWN head where the gasp-factor numbers are… like 200, 250, 300, etc. Numbers that have been ingrained in me so deeply, it would take years of therapy to change my mind about them.
    Hmmm, like I said I’m going to think on this a bit.

  5. vesta44 permalink
    April 27, 2012 1:29 pm

    I’ve never been bothered about telling my age, no one ever guesses it correctly anyway – they usually think I’m at least 10 years younger than I really am (sometimes that can be an insult….lol). As for my weight, even at my lightest, no one ever guessed that correctly either. I went to Expo 74 in Spokane WA, and stopped at one of those Guess Your Age/Birthday/Weight stands to see what would happen. I had the guy guess my weight, I knew there was no way he would even come close – he had to guess my weight within 20 lbs. At the time, I was 5′ 9″, weighed 175 lbs, and wore a size 14. He guessed my weight at 145 lbs. When I told him what I weighed, he made me get on the scales to prove it. He told me that was the first time he’d ever been that far off on guessing a woman’s weight in all the years he’d been running that joint. I was wearing jeans that day, and when I went by his stand a couple of days later, I was wearing shorts. He stopped me, and told me it was no wonder he hadn’t been able to guess my weight correctly – my legs had so muscle on them, that of course I was heavier than he originally thought. He asked me if I lifted weights or anything like that. I had to tell him no, that I just roller skated about 20 hours a week (you’d be amazed at the muscle you can build roller skating). Even now, when I tell people how much I weigh, they don’t believe me. They usually think I weigh at least 100 to 150 lbs less than what I actually weigh. There is such a cognitive dissonance about weight and what it looks like on people that I don’t mind telling people what I weigh anymore, just for the look of shock on their faces when they hear the number and look at me – I can see them thinking that it’s impossible that I weigh that much, I should be practically immobile and bed-bound or maybe just a blob of quivering flesh, and the fact that I’m not stuns them.

  6. April 27, 2012 2:45 pm

    I once had my mother say to me, with absolute disgust, ‘Look at how big you are. How much do you weigh – eleven stone, I bet?’ That’s 154lb – and at the time, I was actually just over 180, which, for obvious reasons, I wasn’t about to divulge. But people have almost always estimated me as being 20lb or more lighter than my actual weight.

    I haven’t weighed myself, or been weighed, in over a decade now. I think I’m still about 180, but if anyone asks my weight, I say honestly that I don’t know. It’s quite amusing to see the looks on their faces – a woman not knowing her weight is such an anomaly in our culture. The kind of people who’d ask my weight are, I’ve found, the kind of people who’d judge me on it. (My current doctor’s surgery hasn’t either weighed me or asked my weight in over a decade. I wonder if this is because, given past experience, I don’t look heavy enough to have a BMI of precisely 30 – which, if true, says a lot about how doctors are thinking.)

    Oh, and I’m 43 and couldn’t give two hoots who knows it.

  7. April 29, 2012 4:20 am

    I totally feel this article has some issues, like male privilege, for one. (In many cases no one gives two hey hellos about a male body’s weight, for women its different oftentimes)

    The biggest issue I think is the question of why are we put in the position of being the ones who have to be patient with people who are uncomfortable with rolls and folds, with fatness?

    Its the same bs I encounter with racist white folks. I, as the persyn who is oppressed by them and a system that privileges their bodies at my expense, am expected to teach them and hand hold them through their hatred and phobia. Its not something I am willing to do at this point.

    • April 29, 2012 10:26 pm

      Hi Taviante,
      Welcome to Fierce Fatties.

      First off, I’ve written before on the subject of the double standard of weight for women and men:

      She asked me if I identified as a fat man, which I do in a basic sense. I don’t really identify as strongly with my fat, though, because as a man, I don’t really “feel” the effect of my weight in society, since, as Miriam Heddy explains, the threshold for acceptable fat in men is much higher than in women).

      Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that I think the fact that a woman’s weight and age are taboo are both nonsense. Men aren’t made to feel insecure about their age either.

      And secondly, I’m not putting anyone in the position of being patient. I’m not telling people how to be activists. I’m just saying that for people who want to reach those who are uncomfortable with fat rolls, and I know plenty of people, like myself, who are willing to work with those who are disgusted by fat bodies. But that’s how I see activism, as an education process. If you don’t see it that way, I have no problem with you doing the activism you think is necessary. We need people using every possible approach to changing the culture of fat hatred. I would never discourage anyone from taking action to spread Fat Acceptance, unless it were of a violent or oppressive manner.

      Nobody is demanding that you be an educator, but I will continue to offer resources to those who do want to be educators.


  8. Nancy permalink
    February 17, 2013 11:57 am

    I had read a number of blogs years ago about fat acceptance. At the time I was 285 and slowly killing myself from high blood pressure, borderline diabetes, sleep apnea and so on. If not for those issues, I did not think there was anything wrong with my body. I met a young man (very athletic build) and when we talked about this issue, he said, “You are very successful, and your body has nothing to do with that..but you are not well, you are committing suicide one bite at a time, and your children deserve a healthy mother.” Those words hit home and I took control and managed to lose enough to get a normal blood pressure, normal blood sugar and no sleep apnea. Am I skinny? Not at all, my BMI is still much higher than “normal”.. but my other stats say that I am healthy and that is all that matters. (I have maintained this healthier weight for 5 years now.)

    Blogs and sites like these are so very important because there is such a stigma about being larger, and I agree very few people have any idea about the numbers. It is NOT the number on the scale that matters, it is your health, and make no mistake about it, there are MANY large people out there who are healthy by all the other ways that we measure health.

    Keep up the encouraging work, I feel it is life affirming, and I applaud the comments being shared here! Reading them makes me think long and hard about the stress I put on myself to get down to the “normal” BMI.

    As for age..never bothered me a bit.. I am 56 and can do all the stuff I did 30 years ago.. a little slower, but doing it just the same..except now with a bit more wisdom that comes from life experience.


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