The first time I saw a BMI chart, I was dressed in a fitted white shirt with our school emblem on my pocket that read ‘Lead Kindly Light’, a khaki skirt barely grazing my knees and a criss-cross ribbon tie that was surprisingly cosy despite the bad rep that ties get.
We were sitting on orange chairs waiting for our annual health check-up included in the overpriced scheme of our school. My legs dangled from the chair, playing with the frayed edges of my id card when they called a name.
I looked around the tiny school clinic. A few of my classmates, who I knew for sure weren’t Christys and a bunch of other kids who didn’t bother stared blankly.
‘Christy Joshy! Roll number 5!’
Me? She was calling me? My name is not Christy!
I marched towards her and the nurse gave me a half-smile.
‘Excuse me, my name is Christina’, I offered with a smile as I extended my hands to take the pink file she is holding.
‘Don’t open’, she said handing the file to me.
Well, let’s just say she ignited my childish curiosity. I grabbed the file from her, ran back to my seat and flipped it open immediately.
Now, let me tell you a little something about medical files in school. They are like those diaries from when you were thirteen years old. Embarrassing details, especially photographs from childhood fill the pages. There is a list of all the weird allergies you have had and the number of times you have tried to skip classes with an ‘Aunty, aunty my stomach hurts’ or ‘Sister, my head hurts’.
But there was a specifically satisfying page in there.
By then, most of my classmates had gotten hold of their own files too and they were sharing embarrassing medical history with each other.
But I was only interested in that page. My barely thriving math skills kicked in as I told myself.
‘Okay, so weight is plotted on the y-axis and height is plotted on the x-axis.’
My eyes zeroed in on the various lines of the chart. Most of it was an incomprehensible mess, littered with multiple coloured lines and squiggly handwriting, but there were two lines that caught my attention.
One indicated the normal BMI.
The other one, my overweight BMI.
That was also the first time I felt so betrayed by something that was meant to measure my health.
The next time I saw my BMI chart it was in the same clinic, but there were different nurses and I was different too. I had a chart of my own at home, where I had obsessively weighed myself and stood against the wall on my tiptoes to measure my height, rounding off decimals and adding numbers.
When I saw my weight on the weighing scale, I would make excuses to make myself feel better.
I tried and tried and tried to maintain my BMI, I tried to maintain it at a 24.9. But I never could.
This time, the nurses were ruthless. They laid down all of our BMI charts together and compared us. They called out our heights and weights loudly as they measured them. They were ruthless but not as ruthless as I was to myself.
So, dear BMI chart,
I knew that you were supposed to help me be healthy. I am sorry I used you to be unhealthy. I am sorry I turned to the numbers on the x and y-axis to define my self-worth. I am sorry I looked in the mirror and saw all the places where I was messed up. When they said, I shouldn’t be the numbers on the scale or the size of jeans I wear or the calories of the food I eat I found a new way to judge myself, using the numbers starting from 18 to 30. I thought I could love you and magically make myself a thinner, more confident version of myself. But it doesn’t work like that, does it?
So here is the deal. I can grow to accept you. One day I will look at you, eye to eye, and if I feel like not tearing you apart, or scratching away the numbers on you, then, maybe, I might have learnt to love you and myself.
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