The ballad of a thin man
An Oxford professor has found that the BMI index means tall people think themselves fatter than they are. But what of the tall man who thinks he’s perfect?
Are you sure your ok? Have you been eating properly? You look a bit…erm, how to say, skinny. These are regular intrusions into my private life that I receive from concerned colleagues and friends.
The thing is, at almost two metres tall and approximately 80kg in weight, I am what I like to refer to as slim. Well, not only slim, but tall, slim and handsome. Other people like to call me a beanpole, lanky streak of piss or, particularly when I am abroad in a place where the English Premier League is broadcast, Crouchy.
After years of receiving these comments I still hadn’t developed a thick skin and had begun to get very prickly about the whole thing. This was until a routine medical assessment at one of my previous employers turned into a feet on the sofa, hands on temple, full-on confessional and blubbing session. I had to ask the nurse. Was I really too thin?
The reassuring lady held my hand and took me on a path of enlightenment, when she introduced three little letters into my life. B.M.I. These three little beauties stand for Body Mass Index, which is a way of measuring if your weight falls into the normal range for your height. How had I got to my early thirties and not heard of this? The nurse wasn’t able to answer that question, but she was able to take my measurement. I gasped as I saw her finger hover over the underweight section. Was all the criticism I received actually true? Before, thankfully, she landed her pinkie slap bang middle in the normal section. That is all I needed to see. I was ordinary. Hallelujah!
This is why a recent bit of research from an Oxford professor has knocked me sideways. BMI has always been calculated as weight divided by height squared. But Professor Nick Trefethen is not happy with this. In a letter to The Economist, published January 5, he writes: "It was invented in the 1840s, before calculators, when a formula had to be very simple to be usable. [This has meant] millions of short people think they are thinner than they are, and millions of tall people think they are fatter."
I certainly don’t need to be told that I think I am fatter than what I am. I was happy with the way things were. I wanted that sense of smugness when people questioned me. After receiving the good news from the nurse, for once in my life, I was happy with my appearance. It gave me a new found confidence to deal with the mockers.
When I was at my cricket team’s monthly curry night some players were discussing the athletic frames of our teammates. ‘Sturdy’, ‘rotund’, ‘big-boned’ and ‘amply proportioned’ were a few names used to describe some of the team. When I felt their gaze fall upon me, rather predictably someone piped up with, “Ere, you’re too thin to be with us, you need more meat on those bones.” I already had my reply prepared for this Dick Van Dyke wannabe, “Actually,” I said “I am neither too thin or, god forbid, too fat. I am in fact perfect.”
Loud guffaws greeted my claim, as the table resembled a bunch of swine being given their dinner. “Perfect? Who told you?” Now was my chance to hit them with science. Somehow I had embellished the nurse’s ‘normal’ and enhanced it to ‘perfect’ but that wasn’t going to stop me. “My BMI is perfect,” I replied. The pigs grunted in union and banged their elementary utensils on the table as I rammed home my point, elongating the word “Per-fect”. A victory for me, the table silenced, until they eyed up their next victim in the name of banter.
So I will ignore you Mr Oxford professor, if you don’t mind. I don’t need my self-esteem damaged. I eat my required amount of calories every day, enjoy plenty of beer and good living but never really put on any weight. Anyway, even if you are right, I don’t even mind being defined as being underweight. It is those concerned people who try to transfer their own weight worries onto me that should be getting all the criticism.