Why Women Tell “Little Weight Lies”

When I recently conducted interviews with women, ages 13-82, about whether they lie about their weight, a typical response was, "who doesn't?" A 2011 survey shows that at least 68% of women admit the number listed on their license is incorrect. "When I first got my license I weighed 130 pounds," says 41-year-old Meredith. "I kind of left it there, even though at times I have been well over that number." Lying to a friend or lover out of vanity (or shame) is one thing, but lying to the DMV?

The prevalence of fibbing to strangers highlights the fact that many women are so perturbed by the actual number on the scale they choose to fool themselves-or even their physician. I spoke to a many women who said they don't lie about their weight except at the doctor's office. Emily, 34, acknowledges, "I almost always lie at the doctor's if I know I can get away with it." The CDC reports a significant portion of women underestimate their BMI on medical surveys, which has public health policy implications. A privately commissioned study of two thousand women in Britain reports that about two-thirds of women regularly lie about their weight to the tune of nine pounds.

Also on Shine: When Not To Lie About Your Weight

Part of the reason we are so numbers conscious, is that statistics show two-thirds of American adults are classified as overweight or obese and monitoring pounds is the easiest way to track the epidemic. My 82-year-old grandmother, Carol, says women were very concerned about their figures in her youth. She remembers that physicians doled out thyroid pills to affluent teenage girls. But in her day, women were obsessed their measurements-perhaps as a result of more clothes being measured and sewed at home but also as a result of movie magazines that extolled starlets' "perfect" 34-24-34 dimensions.

We are still obsessed with celebrity weight, which is a major factor in the numbers game. You can't open an entertainment or women's magazine without learning about so-and-so's weight (whether real or fabricated by their publicist). Years ago, I read an interview with Elizabeth Hurley in some fashion magazine who was quoted as saying she feels best at 120 pounds. This number rang a bell. One hundred and twenty pounds was always my touchstone-not achievable or even desirable for my height and frame (5'5", moderately athletic) but idealized. My mother, Molly, who is 61, confessed that number was always her goal weight as well (and she's nearly 5'10"). My stepdaughter, Sarah, a college student, concurs that for her generation, "120 is still the ideal." Hurley also famously quipped to Allure magazine that she'd kill herself if she were as fat as Marilyn Monroe-which offers some perspective on her view of female curves and women's optimal BMIs.

Here is what more women have to say about their little weight lies:

"I've been know to lie about my weight, but it's unclear to me why-another person can see me, so what does it matter if I'm 110 or 160? And when I've been honest about my weight, I've lied about my height." Martha, 47

"I add on 5 or 10 pounds because it gives me a boost when people say, 'No way! You can't weigh that much.'" Sally, 21

"Being tall, I've been lying about my weight since before I even knew what 'weight' meant. I probably started at round six-years-old. When I was eight, my third grade teacher posted a height and weight chart for the whole class. I was mortified and hid in the bathroom until the dismissal bell rang. I asked my mom to call and tell her write down another number for me. Finally, I feel comfortable in my own skin." Zoe, 29

"It's a big insecurity of mine. I take off about seven pounds, mostly when talking to friends who are smaller than me." Claire, 13

"I've probably done it a hundred times! Especially when discussing my success with other 'Fat Clubbers' [Weight Watchers]. As Olive Oil said when she was asked about her shoe size: 'Oh, I take a six, but a ten feels so good!'" Kate, 38

"I usually say I'm five to seven pounds less because it makes me feel better about myself." Tammy, 20

"By 10-15 pounds on my license, both to say I'm skinnier and to have a reminder of my weight target." Kelly, 52

"I've always been fat and have developed that habit of not looking at scales. Even if I do lose weight, I'm never satisfied for there are lots of skinnier ladies around. So it's the sense of failure that makes it such a tender subject. I just don't want to be reminded." Agnes, 40

"I've occasionally lied about my weight on dating sites because men don't always know what women are 'supposed to' weigh at various heights. I weigh 155; at 5'10" that's normal, but its going to 'sound fat' to some guys." Sarah, 37

"I always lie and say my ideal weight. It motivates me. " Anne, 25

"I'm very thin, and I told my parents I was five pounds heavier so they would let do sports and not be worried about me." Emily, 15

"Yes! And now that I'm pregnant, I'm dreading all the weigh-ins I'll have to do at the obstetrician's." Sharon, 29

"Only to my husband. Yes, we've been married for ten years and he sees what I look like naked every day. But I worry that he'll find me unattractive if I 'weigh too much.'" Janine, 38

Have you ever lied about your weight? Why? Please share in the comments below.

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