Laura Vanderkam recently had a post about some fitness guru who, when she didn’t have kids, didn’t understand why moms didn’t just buck up and get fit. Now that she has kids, she says she understands better. The Huffington post blogger Lisa Belkin agrees.
Vanderkam, on the other hand, dislikes the way we say things are more difficult so some people don’t try, and she didn’t have a problem making 30-45 min of exercise every day a priority. Therefore everyone should make it a priority. (Perhaps using the morning.)
I didn’t understand why that didn’t quite sit with me until houseofpeanut chimed in and said she didn’t like the argument “I was able to do this so everyone should do it.” Right. People do have different utility functions and different budget constraints. That’s why we can have comparative advantage. Some things come easier to me or Laura Vanderkam because well, we’re in that 1% of smartness that Femomhist talked about. And for some reason, possibly nature, possibly nurture, we’re determined and brave and so on. Even though I don’t understand why some people can’t just will things to be so or buckle down, I’ve come to realize that doing that is more difficult for many people. (And yes, people also have different priorities, but what irritates people like me, and no doubt Vanderkam, is the people who constantly complain about something, indicating it is a priority, but keep not doing anything to fix it. But I’ve come to think that perhaps it really is harder for them for some reason I cannot fathom. Not everyone is type A.)
But that’s not what really bugged me about the post. What really bugged me about the post was Vanderkam’s update of her goal to get to 125 lb.
Should that bother me? Why does that bother me?
We’ve already posted a long series on how other people’s values and hobbies aren’t judging our own. I don’t really think that Vanderkam wanting to get to 125 lb is judging my lack of desire to see my ribcage. We’ve already said that neither of us cares much for exercise (though when it matters, say someone else’s life is at stake, or the doctor says it’s either exercise or give up pasta, we’re both doing pretty well), but that we don’t mind other people who enjoy exercise. We don’t have any problem with people whose hobby is to run marathons, even though that is unlikely to ever be a hobby for either of us. More power to them.
But it really irritates me when people say they have a weight goal that they want to get to, especially when that weight goal is low. (Note: 125lb is within my healthy weight range, but at the low end.) I probably wouldn’t be bothered if her stated weight goal were, “A healthy weight” or even “150 lb,” since I tend to think of that as the top of the healthy range for people of average height and I’m short so I have a hard time thinking above average. I definitely am not bothered by goals to exercise any amount of time per day and to eat healthy foods. Those are good process goals.
Additionally, she says she is like 1.5 lbs from a target weight. That’s nonsense. That’s within measurement error of a scale. It’s within normal fluctuation of a female body throughout the month. Are you really measuring 1.5 lbs? (The pregnant one of us has been changing 4lb within the course of a day!) What does 125 really mean and is focusing on that target rather than fitting into a larger range really something one wants to spend a lot of time thinking about?
Currently I live in a red state where people weighing more than 125lb is the majority. That, of course, includes me, who probably hasn’t been 125lb since I was 14 and about 4 inches shorter. I don’t think the majority is particularly vocal on the subject of weight here– perhaps on the subject of pork products, but not the subject of weight itself. We just don’t think about it that much. So I don’t think I’ve been swept up in that, looking down on skinny elitists.
No, I think the irritation comes from the time I spent in a city in which the majority of the relevant population probably is well under 125lb (again, not me, though again, I was within the healthy range) and women were constantly obsessing about their weight and their numbers and saying, “I’m soooo fat,” especially the super skinny ones. So much emphasis on appearance and so many people who do unhealthy things to get to weights that aren’t even attractive. The vocal majority and I was a member of the persecuted minority… persecuted by having to listen to ultra-skinny people obsess about their (“too high”) weight all the fricking time, everywhere. And although we’re not saying Vanderkam obsesses in such a way, she’s using the words, terms, and goals that they use, so I’m instantly reminded of that again.
Using weight as a goal isn’t healthy. There are a lot of very unhealthy ways to lose weight (when I last left the previously mentioned city, I believe the liquid cleanse was back in… or maybe it was hcg injections). There are a lot of healthy things that cause you to gain weight. Muscle weighs more than fat but takes up less space. I’d rather be lean and muscular than scrawny and malnourished, even if it meant weighing more. When people talk about weight target goals, they’re ignoring that and putting the emphasis on the outcome rather than the process. And the outcome is one that doesn’t make sense. It’s not like saying you have an outcome goal to bench a certain amount or run a certain distance– those are directly correlated with health and strength and discipline. Getting your weight down can be good or bad depending on how you do it.
And when people put that emphasis on appearance and weight, it contributes to a culture in which appearance and weight are important, nobody feels good about their weight, and some people start turning to unhealthy diets and obsessions. Talking about it like that has negative spillovers on everybody else. Seriously, it does: here’s an article. “Results are discussed in terms of the ways in which fat talk may act as an injunctive norm, reinforcing women’s body-related distress. ” One of the commenters on the Vanderkam post rightly linked this kind of talk to the patriarchy. Why do women have to be so appearance and weight-obsessed? What advantages do men gain by not having that constantly weighing on their mental load? Even if the outcome of the conversation is “Hey I’m pretty skinny and hot!” it still steals processor cycles to even think about it at all.
Of course, people have a right to talk about such things if they want. Nobody has an obligation to not cause negative spillovers on other people or to fight the patriarchy. And maybe a person knows what weight they feel healthiest at given healthy exercise, diet, and so on. (So why not focus on the process? Exercising 30-45 min/day is healthy as is eating healthy foods and listening to your hunger, and it’s important to have a healthy process that’s sustainable no matter what weight goal you’ve hit.)
But it still bugs me. And I’m glad I don’t live in that city anymore, even though I wish we had more public transportation and walkable areas. And I wish they didn’t put so much sugar in things around these parts. We could stand to focus a little more on health here, but I don’t think focusing on specific weight targets is the way to go about it.
Related: chacha discusses BMI.
What do you all think? Should we be talking about weight and BMI targets? Or should we stick to health and fitness? Or just talk about whatever we want and tune out what annoys us? Are there spillovers when we talk about these things, and is that a real problem?