Everything comes in different shapes and sizes. Heck, they even make mini, regular, and monster size candy bars. Different size containers for French fries, soda pop, nachos. They make small cars (that go fast), for single rich men or billionaires. They make medium size or regular cars for us drivers who occasionally have passengers or a trunk full of groceries to haul around. And then there are giant cars, vans, and trucks, for mothers of quadruplets, a start up rock and roll band, and country boys who are attracted to mud.
The point is, the differences in sizes is never ending, and I could go on and on. Human beings are no exception. We start off as miniature humans, and work our way up until we’re the full grown versions of ourselves, then shrink down to miniature humans again, just with more knowledge and wrinkles.
Somewhere in between this growing process, we fluctuate, always changing our sizes. And with this fluctuation, comes a change in weight, vocal cords, facial hair, shoe size, etc etc. But the one that usually causes the most wrinkles, especially in women, is weight.
Stressing about the digits on the scale starts young for the average female, which is bullshit (I will be using the term “bullshit” “horseshit” and “baloney” quite frequently today).
For me, by the age of eight, the doctor had a frown on his face when I stepped off the scale for my yearly checkout. “Well Madeleine,” he said, pointing to the graph on the screen with the end of his pen. “This line shows the average height to weight ratio for girls your age.” I nodded, staring at the colorful lines. “And this line represents your height to weight ratio.”
My line was not next to the other girls’. I shot my mom a confused look. Why wasn’t my line like the others? It was baloney. He turned to my mother and continued, “We should work on a more well-balanced diet. And more activities during the day, get the blood moving a little, okay? I’m sure this doesn’t mean anything serious, and her ratio will even itself out in the next couple years.”
By the age of twelve, my line was still dramatically different. And my shirts were noticeably tighter than the other girls. And my confidence was lower too.
“I don’t understand. I eat healthy. I play sports.” I told the doctor, who now had graying hair, but the same disapproving look.
“That’s not what the numbers show.”
From that moment on, I hated the numbers. I hated the graph. I hated the scale, and I hated the way my stomach stuck out further than my classmates.
Looking at this line on a graph was the first time I hated my body.
Two years went by, and after a hate-spurred rampage mixed with puberty and hormones, I lost the weight. I played as much softball, tennis, volleyball, and basketball as the school would allow, and I avoided sugar and salty snacks, but still snuck the occasional Twinkie in.
The yearly checkup came around, and I couldn’t wait to see the graph.
“Well Madeleine,” he said, pointing to the graph with the end of his pen. “We certainly have a dramatic difference in the lines now.” I eagerly looked at the screen, my heart sinking. My line still wasn’t next to the other girls’. What was this evil sorcery horseshit?
“You are underweight for your age.”
My mom held back a gasp, and I turned white as I looked at the graph.
I just couldn’t seem to get it right. I didn’t know what they wanted from me. I was either too fat, or too skinny. Why couldn’t I just be what I felt was right?
Three years have passed since the “your daughter is now underweight according to the graph” bullshit, and two days ago, I went into the doctors. Mind you, I do not go to the same male-with-now-gray-hair physician as when I was eight. I go to a more, modern-female doctor, as recommended for most teenage girls.
I prepared myself to be asked to step on the scale, and I winced, knowing that the number wasn’t going to help my case at all. See, recently, after several health books, magazines, and nutrition documentaries, I have been carefully watching what I put into my body. Processed foods, sugary foods, foods high in saturated fat and sodium, the list is surprisingly long as to what we have deemed a “normal” diet. In the past couple of months, after cutting out a few of these alternatives, I have felt stronger. I have more energy. I can focus clearly. My brain is quick, sharp, and knows how to interpret graphs. And I have also became relatively smaller around the waist.
But the minute I stepped off, I avoided looking at the number: I knew it was low, but I also knew that I had never been in a more healthy state in my life. And when I say low, I am not talking “the weight of a starving child” or “a rather large dog”. I am still well in the average weight range for what I need to be for a growing teenage girl, and I have discovered this on my own, without the help of the colorful and cheery lines.
“We have a problem.” Concern flooded the doctor’s giant eyes, as she turned the computer around. In those few seconds, I was no longer a fit, healthy, seventeen year old who had finally come to accept and love her body. I was back to an insecure eight year old, desperate to have a flat stomach and small thighs.
I couldn’t take it, I couldn’t handle another graph, I couldn’t see how “not average” my line was this time. My head fell into my hands, and I cried, the very ugly kind. Between gasps, sniffles of snot, and deep breaths, the woman casually explained that she had “hospitalized girls for this condition” and “maybe this was deeper, and I needed to talk to someone, a physiatrist or a nutritionist”.
If I would have had the breath, I think this is the very moment I would have uttered the word “no” out loud for the first time. I would have told the doctors no, that I was healthy. No, that I was perfectly happy. And that no matter what food I ate, no matter how many miles I ran, I will never, ever match up with the average line.
Today, I write this to you, dear reader: You do not have to be in sync with the other lines. Please, don’t ever ever let anyone convince you otherwise, not even someone with a PhD. The graphs are a load of crap. You are so much more than a dot, or a line, or a bar. As both an overweight, insecure eight year old, and a fit, trim seventeen year old, I want you to love your body.
Every time someone starts out with “Your line doesn’t match up…” tell them where they should put that damned line, and go eat a donut. Or a salad. It’s your choice, in the end, because the numbers will never define you.