“So — how much do you weigh?” the older man asked the younger one.
“One forty-nine,” the younger one said.
“God, you’re fat,” the older guy said.
My daughter and I listened to this exchange, appalled. For one thing, it happened at dinner. Dinner! Nobody asks a question like that at dinner. For another thing, these guys are related to us, the older one being my husband/her father, the younger one my son/her brother. After all these years, we know them quite well. We still don’t understand them.
“A woman would never ask another woman a question like that,” I huffed to my daughter. “How rude can you get?”
“I know,” she said.
“Plus,” I added, “you’d never get a straight answer out of a woman about her weight. She’d always adjust it a little.” I should know. I am one of the founders of the rounding-down method of weight calculation, which I perfected during two pregnancies.
A couple of days later, to further emphasize the differences between the sexes when it comes to food and weight, I had to listen to a long critical exegesis of another woman’s eating habits. “I’ve gained seven pounds,” she announced, even though I hadn’t asked or noticed and didn’t particularly care. “I’ve been eating candy day and night.” She went on to deliver a running commentary about who-was-eating-what-and-why. I contemplated going into a coma.
You can look at this a couple of ways. One is that women are polite and discreet about weight, even if they’re almost always thinking about it. And men, in their occasional oafish displays, are not. Women hint and sneak around and obsess. Men call one another lard-ass.
Women and their weight. What a fraught area, complete with self-blame, shame, misery, temporary victory, more misery. We were “good” or “bad,” depending on our dietary or exercise habits, depending on the numbers on our scales. What a waste, I often think, looking back on a lifetime of this endless absorption with numbers — pounds, calories, BMIs. We all joke about it, but the laughs are pained and self-conscious. Our scales let us know what we’re worth. Out of all the qualities we value about ourselves — intelligence, charm, compassion, ambition, wit — why does this one measure carry such significance? It’s depressing as hell.
It kills me to admit it. But we’d all be better off if we acted like men, unself-conscious and brazen and crude, unencumbered by this ridiculous shame.
So, what do you weigh? I’ll ask the next time we have lunch together. You can go first, lard ass. This time, I promise, I won’t round down.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)