Researchers analysed health surveys from 67,000 residents in the American state of Massachusetts and found that gay men are slimmer than straight men and lesbians are heavier than straight women. Overall, they found that 14% of gay men in their sample were obese, compared to 26% of lesbians. Anyone who’s ever been to a gay bar could probably have told you the conclusion of this study.
I’m not disputing the numbers. Even anecdotally, you’d have to admit it’s probably about right.
So let’s address the obvious. The people who are looking to attract men are obviously more concerned with their weight than those who are trying to attract women. One might be tempted to argue that men are doing the world a service, and reducing the rate of obesity by being especially judgemental about a potential date’s weight. Plenty have argued that.
They are wrong.
BMI doesn’t make sense. Obesity is determined using Body Mass Index (BMI), which takes into account your weight and height. While BMI is a sometimes useful indicator of health, it doesn’t actually equal health. There are hundreds of factors that influence a person’s health, and slim people are not necessarily healthier even than those who are obese, despite the overwhelming assumptions to the contrary. In fact, sometimes BMI doesn’t make sense at all.
BMI, along with blood pressure, waist-to-hip ratio, lung capacity, blood sugar levels, kidney and liver function, the condition of your hair and nails, etc are all indicators of health. A good result on any of these does not mean a person is healthy, especially if others are poor.
If BMI were the only calculation ever made, the whole of the Springbok rugby team would be classed as very-overweight to obese and at high risk of cardiovascular disease. The conclusion would have been similar for a fit, heavyweight boxer when he was at his peak. There is no way a professional boxer who is 1.88 metres tall (6ft 2 ins), weighing in at 104 kilograms (228 pounds) has the same cardiovascular disease risk as a sedentary man of same height and weight – they would both have a BMI of 29.42.
Also, the difference isn’t 100% vs 0%. There’s a difference there of 12%. It’s not that all lesbians and straight men are obese, just more likely to be obese than straight women and gay men. You may also be aware that some slim people are slim for reasons other than being health nuts.
I know this because I’ve spent quite some time around women for whom laxatives are a daily must-have. I’ve known women to voluntarily throw up their dinner every night for a month in order to slim down without their partner or children noticing that they are trying to lose weight. My PT teacher told me when I was 11 that if I wanted to shift a little weight, going without solid food for a day or two was a good idea. One friend won’t quit smoking because, if she does, she’ll gain weight. I was my slimmest when I was eating one meal a day and drinking 6 nights a week.
You can go into any chemist now and purchase over-the-counter weight loss supplements whose side effects might include anal leakage and serious intestinal distress if you eat anything that is over 15% fat. What’s the point of being skinny if you have to put up with anal leakage and puke breath?
Being worried about your weight and how your partner will look at you may, in fact, control your weight, however it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll control your weight in a healthy way. Oftentimes it merely fuels our already eating-disordered culture.
There are ways to alter your BMI in a healthy way. Unfortunately there are no shortcuts. Regular activity, a healthy and balanced diet and portion control are all required. Even with all that, some people will remain “obese”. They’ll still be able to run past you up three flights of stairs, but they will be obese by a BMI scale.
So before anyone starts making us worry about how lesbian women are less healthy than straight women, let’s take a deep breath, eat some wholegrain toast and have a small pot of sugar-free, low fat yoghurt. Maybe we’ll go for a jog later.
Then we’ll look in the mirror and remind ourselves that how we look is secondary to how we feel (not the other way around), and that as long as we are eating appropriate portions of the right food and keeping active, we’re good.