Home BeautyBody Image “What’s the Point of Having High Self-Esteem If You Die Early?”

“What’s the Point of Having High Self-Esteem If You Die Early?”

by Erika Nicole Kendall

I received the following comment, and decided I wanted to respond to it in a post instead of merely replying in another post:

I’m not a black woman but I have an important comment. You should never underestimate the BMI. It’s not mumbo-jumbo the media has made it out to be. The BMI is very important because it comes from evidence-based medicine.

For example, if your BMI is over 25, you may be healthy and have high-self esteem, BUT you’re much more likely to get diabetes, hypertension, stroke, and die from a heart attack. What’s the point of having high-self esteem if you die early?

I myself lost 65 lb. My weight loss hasn’t changed my self-esteem, but my knee-pain is gone, and my blood-pressure and cholesterol levels have normalized. — The doctor

What makes this so worthy of an individualized response is that this kind of thinking, with all it’s arrogant inaccuracy, is common. What makes it so jarring to me, is the question: what’s the point of having high self-esteem if you die early?

So, let’s do what we do.

This isn’t an “important comment” at all. It’s the same nonsense and bullshit that’s always repackaged and three-packaged over and over again, and largely targeted at black women.

But I’ll get to that in a minute.

From the top: “The BMI is very important because it comes from evidence-based medicine.”

No, it doesn’t.

The BMI is merely a calculation based on your height in correlation to your weight. It is a ratio of what one’s frame is carrying in weight, and used as an estimation of one’s health. Not necessarily their health today, but their health tomorrow.

The idea is that there is a likely height-to-weight ratio that estimates just how much weight a particular frame can manage. Anything beneath that weight can imply that your organs aren’t being supported, you might be suffering an illness or you might be malnourished. Anything above that weight can imply that you have too much fat crowding your organs, you might be suffering an illness or you are “over-nourished,” so to speak.

Look at that paragraph – see all the uncertainty? “Likely,” “can imply,” “might,” “might”… c’mon.

The BMI was invented sometime between 1830 and 1850... before slaves were freed. Think about that.

The BMI’s creator never intended for it to be anything more than a mathematical index:

The BMI was introduced in the early 19th century by a Belgian named Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet. He was a mathematician, not a physician. He produced the formula to give a quick and easy way to measure the degree of obesity of the general population to assist the government in allocating resources. In other words, it is a 200-year-old hack.

Excerpted from Top 10 Reasons Why the BMI is Trash | A Black Girl’s Guide To Weight Loss

The BMI was created before the slaves were freed, before women were considered worthy of legitimate non-reproduction-centered study. Meaning, when the index was created, it only studied 7,500 white men. When the BMI was adopted by the NHI as some sort of standard bearer in the ’80s, they didn’t bother recreating the index. They didn’t even bother to make a new correlation for women, who have body fat stored in patterns differently from men and likely need more accommodating for things like breasts and hips. They simply shifted the BMI two standard deviations higher and hoped for the best.

To quote a great prophet: “Nah.”

What is infinitely more valuable to understanding the human body is the body fat percentage, because it – and the scans that calculate it – give information that genuinely affect quality of life – how much muscle a person has (if too little, person might experience extremely low quality of life as they age), how much body fat they have (if too much, medical conditions or medications or nutrition might have to be assessed), where the majority of the body fat is concentrated (if in the belly, may be diet and/or potentially liver-related; if proportionate), and some even give an estimate for how much water a person is retaining, which gives a more solid understanding of issues like blood pressure, diet, and activity levels.

Ask your doctor if they know how to work calipers. Ask if they know what a DEXA scan is, or an InBody scan. Ask, ask, ask. They simply cannot give you enough information about your body without these details. “Evidence-based medicine.”

For example, if your BMI is over 25, you may be healthy and have high-self esteem, BUT you’re much more likely to get diabetes, hypertension, stroke, and die from a heart attack.

No, you’re not likely to “die from a heart attack” just because your BMI is over 25 – you’re likely to “die from a heart attack” if you smoke, are unhealthy, eat foods high in sugars, eat an abundance of processed foods high in salt and low in potassium, if you bloat often outside of your regular menstrual cycle, if you have high blood pressure, and if you have diabetes.

It’s lazy to say all of this is linked to obesity just because the same way you healthily and safely lose weight is the same way you clear up much of these issues. Lazy and dishonest.

You can lose weight in an obscenely unhealthy fashion and still have these health maladies. Linking these issues to BMI is dishonest.

I myself lost 65 lb. My weight loss hasn’t changed my self-esteem, but my knee-pain is gone, and my blood-pressure and cholesterol levels have normalized.

Provided you did it in a healthy and safe manner, congratulations! This is great news. This also has nothing to do with anything at all, especially since you aren’t a black woman. It’s certainly true that back and knee pain can be affected by weight loss, what does that have to do with high self-esteem? My back hurts right now and my blood pressure is sky high, because I’m pregnant. Does that mean I should be shamed into low self-esteem, too?

Lastly, this is the most important part:

What’s the point of having high-self esteem if you die early?

What is the point of having high self-esteem if you die early…

…so, should I have low self-esteem because I may die early? I should wallow in self-pity and shame because the world, erroneously educated, looks at me and questions why in the world I would value myself so high?

No one has the right to question why a person’s self-esteem is so high. No one. If overweight women want to value themselves highly, guess what? That doesn’t preclude them from deciding that it’s finally time for them to tackle their weight in a healthy and safe manner. Their high self-esteem doesn’t mean they’re going to sit on the couch all day with fresh hair and nails and just chill instead of doing what it takes to improve and maintain their quality of life.

Having high self-esteem means you understand your value to the world – which, for women, absolutely should include more than their appearance and how pleasing to a man’s eye they can be – and that you acknowledge your value and hold the people around accountable for respecting it. The idea that overweight women shouldn’t have high self-esteem is how women get taken advantage of in their interpersonal relationships, at work, and in public spaces. People with low self-esteem are targets for predators – to question why they would have it essentially implies they don’t deserve it because they’re fat.

That’s gross.

Perhaps an overweight woman has high self-esteem because she is proud of the fact that, though she is 330lbs today, she was 395lbs this time last year and is making progress her way. Perhaps an overweight woman has high self-esteem because that was the last bit of advice her mother gave her before she passed away, to always value herself a little bit higher than the rest of the world thinks she should.

Or maybe black women are already expected to have low self-esteem because they aren’t white women? And, because they know that, they actively work to find ways to value themselves outside of their body?

Or maybe dude’s just an idiot, and I’m wasting my time. Who knows?

Listen. I’m going into my seventh year writing this blog. And, day by day, I realize that even as I change, and we as here change as a community, the outside world just continues to suck in and spit out the same nonsense. Overweight women deserve to have high self-esteem, they deserve to live happy lives, and they deserve to come to their own decision to lose weight if and when they want to, if and when they are ready, and if and when they have decided it is what they need.

Here’s hoping that, through writing and reading things like this, we learn that it’s okay to be who we are, make the informed decisions we need to make for ourselves, and feel comfortable putting the people who challenge our right to do exactly that…right in their place.

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11 comments

There's April 30, 2015 - 8:07 PM

Very well said! Wonderful, valid points! Thanks for being a voice!

Tamorra May 1, 2015 - 7:25 AM

YANNO…with all that’s happening in the world right now, my petty levels are high & my patience is short with White folks telling US what to do,think our how to feel. So pardon me Mrs. Kendall, but that malignant asshole “doctor” can go straight to hell in gasoline draws.

Erika Nicole Kendall May 2, 2015 - 7:11 PM

*drops two in the till*

Valeria May 1, 2015 - 7:31 AM

This post is so inspiring. I’ve been having these instances at work surrounding my appearance. One woman called out how much bread I was eating for breakfast. Another laughed at me for wearing my hair out, curls brushed. thank you for this reminder that my self worth is the only gauge I need to focus on improving at this stage of my journey! 🙂

Erika Nicole Kendall May 2, 2015 - 7:10 PM

“One woman called out how much bread I was eating for breakfast.”

See, now whether you are comfortable with how much bread you eat is something you have to work out with yourself, and yourself alone.

But one thing I *constantly* think about, is the fact that we are always so reluctant to be blunt with people who show so little tact when dealing with us.

Sometimes, a simple “I cannot imagine why you are always so focused on what I eat and why. I’d really appreciate it if you kept your comments to yourself.”

As for the hair comments, you don’t have anything to say. Ignorant people abound when it comes to big, bountiful natural black hair. And, it’s got a learning curve with lots of wins and loses, and the only person who can define a style as a win or a lose is YOU. There will never be a shortage of scumbags for this kind of thing. Feel pity for them – they want you to be like them SO badly that all they can do is laugh at their discomfort. Hell, you should laugh too. It much suck to be that wack. <3

Anneka May 1, 2015 - 12:47 PM

Here, here!!! Wonderful post.

Ging F May 7, 2015 - 7:37 AM

Loved the body fat percentage info 🙂

Courtney May 7, 2015 - 8:22 PM

Now if that wasn’t some realness served up on a platter!!!

Stephanie Spainhower May 9, 2015 - 3:06 PM

You are amazing. The way you respond to these asinine, uninformed opinions with such grace and wit is beyond me. The fact that some one still puts any kind of stock into BMI as a measure of health in this day and age is crazy, especially a “doctor.” Thanks for sharing this and speaking up!

Erika Nicole Kendall May 10, 2015 - 9:33 PM

<3

Alicia May 18, 2015 - 7:48 AM

Yessssss!!!

That is all.

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