Nearly every woman I know judges herself by her number. I’m talking how much she weighs, whether her BMI number is acceptable, which dress size or pant size she wears and how many pounds she’s lost or how many she’s gained.
I have heard this from every woman I know. I hear it from my family, friends, coworkers and social media acquaintances. Age doesn’t seem to exempt anyone from it. I’ve heard it from my 70-something grandmother down to my teenage cousin.
Magazine headlines scream how to shape up for swimsuit season, melt those extra pounds left over from the holidays, get rid of the baby weight, shrink a dress size to fit into the perfect wedding dress or drop those pesky pounds caused by hormonal changes, a slowing metabolism or a new medication.
Then there’s the counter-culture of embracing one’s imperfections to the opposite extreme. One picture a friend of mine pinned on Pinterest showed a nude, very voluptuous woman covering herself with a sign that read something like, “If a size 2 is considered beautiful, then my size 22 should be glorious.” It’s a take-me-as-I-am extreme that ignores the real problems of judging yourself by a number.
Women are talking about numbers and there’s too big and too small. I know I’m guilty of thinking the same way. But how do you find the happy medium between embracing your flaws while still being honest with yourself?
None of these numbers reflect actual health or how you physically or mentally feel.
So rather than focusing on a number, focus on finding health.
“Healthy doesn’t mean a number,” said Kristine Brubaker, a dietician at Banner Heart Hospital in Mesa. “You don’t have to be a size 6 or a size 2 to be healthy; you can be a size 10 and be healthy.”
Those numbers don’t always reflect health, Brubaker said. Ideal body weight, for example, sometimes isn’t accurate for everyone.
“If you’re taller, you’re not going to fit into a size 2,” she said.
Then there’s also the “skinny fat” conundrum, where someone looks healthy but isn’t. While healthy-looking on the outside, she may have high cholesterol or high blood pressure.
Now, I’m not suggesting we all need to turn into vegan, organic-eating exercise freaks. I am nowhere near that extreme and I, personally, love chocolate-covered pretzels too much.
Part of the equation of health is eating in moderation combined with daily exercise.
If you try to work in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean meats, you’re off to a good start, Brubaker recommends.
“Try having a fish or vegetarian meal once a week,” Brubaker suggested.
While fresh produce can be expensive, an easy way to get less expensive produce is by shopping at a farmers markets or buying frozen vegetables, she said.
“Exercise doesn’t have to be grueling, in fact we don’t want it to be,” Brubaker said. “If it’s too hard, you’re not going to want to go back to it.”
Instead, she recommends a few simple adjustments, such as taking the stairs at work, parking farther away at the grocery store and getting about 10 minutes of exercise three times each day.
When it comes to the old adage, “no pain, no gain,” that’s not always the best way to exercise. “You can’t set unrealistic goals,” Brubaker said.
Start out slow and work your way up, one goal at a time.
Perhaps part of that unrealistic expectation comes from what we see in glossy magazines.
“You still need some fat on your bones,” she said. “Some fat is normal.”
Even the most beautiful movie stars have cellulite. When I see those perfect bodies and perfect faces, I try to remember that they aren’t really what the ideal or real is. They are airbrushed and it is their job to look good for a camera.
When it comes to the lives of American women, there are a number of other things that pull us in a million directions. Usually, family, friends, hobbies and work take a priority in life. I’m still learning to find balance among all of the balls I juggle.
I’m trying to find what is healthy for me. I don’t make it to the gym every week, but I try to walk as much as I can. I know I’m not the healthiest eater by any stretch of the imagination, but I try to get nutrients into every meal I eat. Usually, I try to work on making what makes me feel good. Because when I feel energized and happy, I don’t have time to worry about my numbers.
If we focus on our health, maybe we’ll stop thinking of ourselves and others by a number. Maybe then we won’t need numbers to quantify ourselves as beautiful.
And if you do need a number to judge yourself by, ask yourself: What is my cholesterol at? How many minutes of exercise have I gotten today? How many servings of whole grains have I had? On a scale from one to 10, how do I feel about myself?
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