what fit looks like: part two
Last week I wrote about Lorna Jane and how, in my opinion, they reinforce the notion of a woman’s looks being her number one priority, despite being a fitness-based organisation. I had some great, balanced responses, and some people asked me why I had chosen to put the spotlight on Lorna Jane. So I decided to explore my own motives and try and determine why Lorna Jane gives me the shits so much.
People argued that the Lorna Jane message was overwhelmingly positive and in support of a healthy lifestyle, encouraging women to be active and ‘nourish’ their bodies. Some wondered why I picked on Lorna Jane when, for the most part, modern advertising uses much of the same tactics. And then some kind souls posted me videos of more or less the same women – as if showing them in action made them more “real”. But I’m not convinced. It seems Lorna Jane’s biggest fans have well and truly drunk the Kool-aid. It was convenient that a perfect example of the negative connotations that Lorna Jane brings to the concept of the fit woman occurred in my own life just last week.
I went to a doctor’s appointment for a general check up. My blood pressure was perfect, and my doctor seemed impressed when I told her the progress I had made in my running in the past 12 months. Then she asked me to weigh myself, which I had no problem doing – I wasn’t worried or concerned because I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been before. So I had to admit I was a little disconcerted when my doctor announced my weight placed me just outside the “healthy” BMI range, and that I should consider trying to get back inside that range. I contended that I’d been doing a lot of weight training and had probably developed some lean muscle in the past few months. She wasn’t interested, suggesting that despite the fact I had no issues with exercising, I might need to work on my diet. And then as I was about to leave, told me I should try and drop four kilograms before I’m back again.
In the time it took me to get back to my car, a whole slew of emotions ran through my head. First I was confused, then I was furious and then, not knowing what else to do, I called my Mum and burst into tears. You should know, I wasn’t crying because my doctor suggested I lose weight – well, I was, but thankfully I’ve finally made peace with my body in that respect. After many years, I now know my worth is not intrinsically tied to a number on a scale. For me, my weight is arbitrary – sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less, for lots of different reasons that are not worth worrying about. I was crying out of shock. Shock and disbelief that after a conversation in which we discussed my general good health and fitness, my doctor felt compelled to advise weight loss based on an out of date medical determinant of health, and what I can only assume was a judgment on how I looked.
The BMI (Body Mass Index), which is probably familiar to most of you, was developed in the 1800s as a means to determine a person’s body fat percentage based on their height and weight. Although it is still widely used today, it has long been criticised for having major shortcomings, and was only ever supposed to be used in population studies, not for individual diagnoses. The primary limitations of the BMI are that it has no way of distinguishing between fat and lean muscle mass, it cannot reflect fat distribution and it cannot determine body fat levels in people of different proportions.
I knew most of this. So my shock and disbelief stems from not being able to conceive how a medical professional ignored these flaws and gave me a “health” recommendation based on a whole lot of fuck all. I see this as highly problematic due to the fact that while I have struggled with my body image and accepting my shape and size, I have never gone through an eating disorder, or experienced anything similar. I am lucky. My conversation with my doctor was upsetting and disappointing, but ultimately I will move past it. On the other hand, for someone who could be recovering from an ED, the conversation could have been incredibly triggering.
In a nutshell, this encapsulates why I rail on Lorna Jane and their narrow, damaging idea of what we, as women, should look like. This is why I will not give money to an organisation that is in an influential position and reaches millions of young women daily, but does not see fit to let them know that their worth (or level of fitness) is not defined by how good you look in a crop top. Because according to my doctor, I need to lose weight, despite the fact that I run over 20km a week and am at the gym Monday to Friday; this based on nothing more than an archaic medical measurement and aesthetic expectations of what fit women should look like.
We live in a culture that feels it has the right to comment on women’s bodies with no regard for that woman as a person whose value is not determined by her size or weight. This is a culture that called a four-time Olympic champion ‘fat’ while she was in the midst of competing at the Olympics! It is a culture that excludes and ostracises women who do not meet beauty parameters. So no, I will not be buying any Lorna Jane products anytime soon, because I cannot support anything that cultivates the same kind of pain and suffering in young women that I myself experienced.