Why BMI Is a Crock, in Pictures

So, the "Guess The Rotund's Height and Weight" game gave me an idea. (Oh, and hey, if you want to see a scatter graph of the results, there's one here now.) I talk a lot about how BMI is bullshit, but we all know talk is cheap. Photos of people who actually fall into each category, however? Say a lot.

Thus, I have created the Illustrated BMI Categories Project, to demonstrate just what "normal" and "overweight" and "morbidly obese" really look like. I'll continue to add photos until people stop sending them -- if you'd like to participate, please send a (worksafe) photo along with your true height and weight to katesblog at gmail dot com. I may not use all the ones I get, but I appreciate the courage of anyone willing to send one. (Oh, and I'm also creating a general Shapely Prose Readers photostream, so let me know if you want to be in that.)

Check out a few of the entries below the fold.

These are the first 5 brave souls who agreed to participate in this project -- all friends of mine, so it's not like I had to go looking very far or bust out the professional athletes to provide good examples of why BMI is a crock.


My friend Mindy is naturally very thin (as you'll see in the "normal" picture below). But even she fell victim to the pressure to be thinner. For a while, she was depressed, overeating, and not exercising. She ended up at 5'8" and 145 lbs., BMI of 22 -- well within the "normal" range. (That's what happens when a naturally thin person acts like a stereotype of a fat person, y'all. BMI of freakin' 22.) Changing her eating and exercise habits for her health would have been a good idea for her at that point (although, ahem, her doctor wouldn't have known that, since most doctors would never think to hassle someone with a BMI of 22 about her eating and exercise habits).

But back then, Mindy wasn't really thinking about her health, frankly. What she was thinking was, I am too fat. So she went on a diet.

She ended up here:

5'8", 114 lbs., BMI 17.4.

Please note that although Mindy's thinking and behavior were somewhat disordered (like, uh, practically every western woman's), she was not anorectic. She was just on a regular old diet, like millions and millions of regular women.

Please also note that according to the National Eating Disorders Association, the average top fashion model's BMI is 16.3. Mindy would have had to lose another 7 pounds to fit in with them.

The good news is, looking at that very photo made Mindy realize she'd gone too far. She knocked off the dieting, gained a whopping 11 lbs., and is now also our poster girl for the "normal" category.


Here's Mindy again at 5'8", 125 lbs., BMI 19:

That, my friends, is "normal."

Now, don't get me wrong -- for Mindy, it IS normal. She's healthy and beautiful at that weight, and it would be hard for her to get very much fatter if she wanted to. She's got beanpole genes going back a long way. But this is the category we are all supposed to aspire to. And how many naturally thin people do you know who are that thin?

Well, you're saying, Mindy's close to the bottom of the "normal" category. Surely, no one's suggesting I have to be that thin to be healthy?

So let's look at the bottom of the "overweight" category.


That's my friend Laurie. 5'0", 130 lbs., BMI 25.4. Laurie would benefit from losing weight, if BMI standards are to be believed.

Laurie wears a size 4.



Here's Joy, whom you might remember from her Fat Rant:

Joy is not only "obese," but well into the obese category, at 5'8" and 224 lbs., with a BMI of 34.1. I asked her to be my first illustration of this category for two reasons.

1) Boobies!
2) Because there's a line in the obese category between a "high" risk of associated disease and a "very high" risk. Joy is under it.

Fillyjonk, one of my co-bloggers at Shapely Prose, is over it.

Fillyjonk is 5'7" and 225 lbs., BMI 35.2. One inch shorter than Joy and one pound heavier.

But she's gonna die sooner, evidently. Because of teh fat.

Extremely/Morbidly Obese

Take a minute to picture what you think "morbidly obese" looks like. Are you seeing one of the headless fatties used to illustrate every freakin' article on the "obesity crisis"? Are you seeing someone sitting on the couch stuffing her face? Are you seeing someone housebound, barely mobile?

Or are you seeing someone who looks like Sheana?

Sheana's 5'7" and 280 lbs., BMI 43.8. So don't get too attached to her. She could drop dead of a heart attack at any minute.

That's the reality of BMI, y'all. If you have trouble believing that people in the "overweight" category actually have the lowest mortality rate of all, check out the "overweight" people in this project. If you tsk-tsk at all the delusional fatties when you read that studies show a high percentage of "obese" people describe themselves as merely "overweight," check out the "obese" people. If you think it's impossible to be truly fat and truly happy, check out the "morbidly obese" people.

And remember this the next time you read an article on the "obesity crisis."

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus