There has been a significant paradigm shift in the way women, young and old, are thinking about their bodies. In part due to the narrative in the media, but also due to a new-found emphasis placed on strength over size. This is an important shift, and it’s catching on so rapidly that legacy methods of measuring bodies are no longer applicable.
One size doesn’t fit all
Body mass index (BMI) is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to adult men and women.
Today, BMI provides a range of numbers based the ratio of weight to height, calculated by dividing weight by height squared. Should being the operative word. Without taking muscle mass, bone density, and other important factors into consideration, how can this be an accurate measure? Moreover, how can someone who is still growing (e.g. adolescent girls) be told that their body is “average” or “obese” based on these parameters. The short answer: it can’t. Not well anyways.
In 2015, Netflix released a documentary called “The Student Body” which featured student journalist Bailey Webber who set out to disband the use of BMI as an accurate measure of health, touting the tagline “I am not a number”. What she found was that the same adults who insisted the BMI test be included in her school, were uncomfortable taking the test, and more importantly, the information the test yielded did not enable healthy change for the students it measured.
Instead, she urged her local legislature to remove the BMI test from her school, igniting a positive movement toward health and wellness and away from arbitrary, antiquated models that mostly make young people feel badly about themselves.
Here’s why that departure is important: Every body is different. There are so many factors that contribute to a person’s health and wellness that no one number on a chart can accurately capture it, which is why it’s important to track your personal progress in more performance-based ways.
Imagine, if from a young age, we tracked our ability to perform tasks rather than weighing ourselves. It could be a simple movement – like a pull up – or how quickly you can run a mile. If every year, you can do more pull ups or run a mile more quickly, then isn’t that progress more meaningful than your body mass index?
Fitness is a celebration of what your body can do
Recently, an article was shared that emphasized the message that “your body will look like what it can do.” That is, if you’re a weightlifter, your body will be a reflection of your muscles ability to perform that task. Similarly, if you’re a runner, your stature will reflect your body’s ability to do that well.
For many athletes, weighing a certain amount is key to being able to participate in their chosen sport. In this case, the number is chosen to standardize a group of similar-sized athletes and not to qualify a person’s ability to fit into a smaller pair of jeans, for example.
More often than not, these weights do not correlate positively with BMI. Take me, for example, at 5 feet tall, the BMI chart tells me I should be between 18.5 kg/m2 and 24.9 kg/m2 to fall within the average range. And yet, I sit comfortably at 27 kg/m2. How stifling that would be if I let them determine my abilities as an athlete? So I don’t. Rather, I continue to track my personal progress, which includes one-handed pull ups, an 8-minute mile, and a 225 pound deadlift, to name a few.
Body weight: Not a measure of self worth
For a true and total paradigm shift to happen, we have to start thinking about our bodies based on output and not on input. It’s helpful to see articles like this, which capture female athlete’s body type by sport to see just how versatile the human female body can be; a range of sizes each powerful in their own way.
As you grow and change, I urge you to find your own metric for personal growth, thinking instead of how your body can grow in both size and strength and not downsizing to fit a certain body image perpetuated by the media or society.
Cultivate your strength and participate in changing the narrative by celebrating that your body can do today something it could not do yesterday. Remove the word “should” from your vocabulary because the truth is no one can tell you what you should look like. Only you get to decide that. Scales be damned. The only numbers that matter are the ones that YOU assign value to.
Written By Natalie Costa, SFG Blogger
Photo Credit: Mev Yousuf