I dislike quantitative measurements. In recent months, I’ve lost 33 pounds. I feel great—better than I’ve felt in years. When I went to see my doctor for a check-up after the weight loss, he said, “How wonderful! Now if you can just lose 10 more.” He ruined my moment of victory because he was going strictly by the numbers. According to various charts and measures for BMIs, I need to lose 10 more pounds to be right in the middle of the healthy zone for a woman of my age and height. Maybe so, but that doesn’t take into account bone structure, weight distribution, the ratio of muscle versus fat, or that fact that I dropped 3 clothing sizes and look and feel better than I did a few months ago. And the reason I wanted to lose weight in the first place was because my blood pressure was way high. Now those are numbers that do matter, and I take them very seriously. My blood pressure is now normal.
Speaking of numbers, I’ve been dreading one for a year now. Next month I turn 50. Since the day I turned 49, I’ve been saying, “Next year I’ll be 50.” I’ve never dreaded a birthday before. Nobody minds being in their twenties. Turning 30 felt like becoming an adult for the first time. When you’re in your forties you begin to be taken seriously by most people. But 50? Well, 50 just seems like a defining age, if you go strictly by the numbers. Fifty feels like the beginning of old age—not that 50 is old, but it feels like the beginning of becoming old. If you go by the numbers, that is.
Think for a minute about IQ and SAT scores. We all know people with high IQs that have little to no common sense. And we all know smart, overachieving, successful students who have bombed their SATs. What is being measured, exactly, with those particular numbers?
Why do we put so much emphasis on numbers? Sometimes it matters, as in the case of blood pressure, but with regard to age, weight, and clothing size, why do we—women especially—guard these numbers with our lives? I’m tired of hiding behind numbers. Here are mine-
Age: Almost 50!
Height: 5′ 5 ½”
Weight: 152 (Before my recent weight loss I weighted 185)
Clothing size: 6 (Ha! More about this in a minute); I wore a 12 before I lost weight
Clothing manufacturers obviously know that women do not like numbers, or rather they do not like relatively “large” numbers. When I was 25, I weighed 120 pounds, and the smallest size I could wear was a 6. And now I wear a 6 at 152 pounds? Well, that ain’t your mama’s size 6! No wonder there are women wearing size 0 and 2—that’s probably what used to be a size 4 or 6. Crazy! And if you’re tall, well there’s no way you’re going to squeeze into one of those tiny sizes simply because of the inches taken up by your height! I don’t know what’s more pathetic—the fact that clothing manufacturers are pandering to women’s insecurities about size or that women are buying into it. And that includes me. Don’t think for a moment that I wasn’t thrilled to buy a size 6. But the size of your clothing is pretty meaningless when you think about it. Why should it be a badge of honor or dishonor?
Not that I have to relate everything to libraries, but that’s why I dislike using circulation statistics as a measure to determine funding. How are circulation statistics a good measure of how many people are using the library’s resources? Circulation statistics don’t measure computer usage at the library, or program attendance, or usage of online resources, or the value of the library to the community. Check-outs are not everything. And libraries have to waste time finding ways to creatively increase their circulation statistics. It’s just a number.
I prefer qualitative measurements. Is my BMI as good as it could be? No, but I feel strong and healthy and have tons of energy. Is 50 a big number? Well, yeah, but despite having the hips of an 80-year-old, I feel young and like I have a lot to contribute. Does it matter if you wear a size 2 or a size 16 if you are healthy and fit and confident and treat your body well? Does it matter if someone knows you weigh a lot more (or less) than you look? Does knowing the number change the reality of the person? And with libraries, perhaps there are fewer check-outs but are the libraries resources being used? Is the library full of people? Are programs being attended? Does the library as place still matter in the community?
Numbers have their place. But using them to define some sort of ideal or as a measurement of success is misplaced. I have decided to embrace 50. To do otherwise would be to suggest that youthfulness can be defined only by the numbers or that growing older is something to be lamented. It is a privilege and a stroke of good fortune to grow older. Having the opportunity to go on living another year—spending time with loved ones—is not something to be taken lightly or for granted. I think about those who have died young and how much of life they missed and how they would be incredulous that anybody could bemoan another birthday.
If I am to be defined by any numbers, then I hope those reflect the number of times I have been kind, hugged my kids, said “I love you” or counted my blessings. I can and will live by those numbers.