Sunday, July 3, 2011


What does being fat mean? What I've discovered from learning more about measuring percentage of body fat is that whether someone is fat or not has nothing to do with the scale, or with how people appear. Perceptions of being fat are cultural, and in our culture we idealize those wispy ballerina types, all muscle and bone, with only the smallest ounce of fat supporting our boobs.

But the reality is that those skinny chicks are just as unhealthy as someone with a percentage of body fat of 35%. Too little fat is as big a problem as too much body fat. Whoever said a woman who is 5'10" should weigh 118 pounds is a psychopath. Unfortunately, we all tend to think that way on a deep, collective-unconscious level.

A woman who appears "fat" as she's walking down the street in a size 14 dress may be more fit than I in my size 6. She may weigh 155 pounds, but only have a percentage of body fat around 22%, which is excellent. That makes her strong and healthy, even though we may roll our eyes at her when she orders a mocha and a cookie at Starbucks. I appear healthy, but my higher percentage of body fat makes me more susceptible to health problems like osteoporosis and diabetes. The reason is because I don't have enough muscle on my bones, and muscle keeps our endocrine systems working properly and our bones from deteriorating.

How we look or what the scale says are not good indicators of health. Dress size doesn't matter, percentage of body fat does. Women who are healthy and strong need to stop beating themselves up for not fitting into a size 8. Throw out your Vogue! Go find out your percentage of body fat and work with that instead. You may be surprised how lean you actually are.

When I picture myself at 50, I see a strong, muscular woman who likes to run in the evening after a long day of teaching. I do not see a weak, weary woman who struggles to load a wheelchair in a mini-van, which is me now. 50 isn't that far off, so I need to focus on strength training to meet my goal.

But at the same time, I need to be careful not to obsess about this. Once an anorexic, always an anorexic, and I've caught myself a few times ignoring hunger pains because I didn't want the calories. It's a slippery slope for me, so I need to focus on exercise and not counting calories. Although I have cut waaaaay down on sugar and upped my veggie intake, which seems like a good idea for everyone.

Here's something else I've been thinking about: Jennifer Lopez is considered fat. Can you believe that? The woman is GORGEOUS, but because she's got a big butt, the media labels her "overweight." People make jokes about her ass. I'll bet she's about 25% body fat, another excellent number, and could probably kick all of those paparazzi asses without breaking a sweat.

Need more proof that percentage of body fat is more important than scale weight? Check out this short article that explains how it works and what it means.

Understanding Your Body Fat Percentage


Mad Mags said...


I'll jump in on this because it is a subject I find especially important, personal.

I grew up a poor kid -- never had any weight problems other than the occasional undernourished variety.

I hit teen years and suddenly with intense cultural inculcation concurrent with starting to use old style heavy duty/high estrogen birth control pills I gained weight. When I asked the doctor what was up he asked if my boyfriend was skinny ??!!!

My boyfriend was thin, so the doctor dismissed my concerns with a glib, "Well, thin guys like a girl with some meat on her bones." He proceeded to prescribe Dexedrin, the prescription of which my mother, who was dealing with addictions, promptly took advantage.

And thus began a long life journey exploring body image and health.

Fast forward a few years, past odd “cleanses” and “fasts”, a plethora of diets until I, thankfully, came across two important reads.

1. The Psychologists Eat Anything Diet (
2. Fit or Fat by Covert Bailey (

Toss in several years of therapy and I was able to disentangle my own expectations, natural body type and actual well-being from all the nonsensical bombardment from advertising, fashion, women’s magazines, peer pressure etc.

I haven’t weighed myself in over 25 years. Even at a doctor’s office I tell them to not tell me and I don’t look. But I LOVE fat percentage tests.

What matters is what one is made of NOT what size one is.

Muscle weighs more than fat so the fitter one gets one can weigh more. For a numbers addict that can be downright devastating.

My words of wisdom.
Exercise regularly -- very regularly AND vigorously, at least three times a week. Make it a combination of aerobics and weight bearing. Stretching is good but one has to have muscle mass so don’t skimp on the weight bearing.

Eat what you want though do NOT eat trans-fats or high fructose corn syrup or any “diet” products (aspartame is evil). Go for organic or at the very least unprocessed. Vegetables are our friends. Eat plenty of ‘em.

Ignore external size/ height charts or recommended weight categories. They mean nothing.

Terena said...

Thank you so much for posting this, Maggie. Excellent advice, and the resources look great

x-ray iris said...

Great posts, and good advice. Thanks.