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I'm Afraid of Numbers

When you’re a woman of a certain size, there are treacherous things about daily life that probably go unnoticed by our smaller counterparts:  Will I fit in that chair comfortably? Do all the chairs at that table have arms? Can we get seated in a booth instead?

First, there’s a brief moment of panic, then a voice that says to calm down, and finally a sense of relief when you can get comfy without being too cozy.  You hope that no one has noticed your blood pressure rising over something as simple as the seating choice in the restaurant and that your offer to sit on the bench seat instead of in the confining seat with arms is seen by your friends as self-sacrificing instead of what it really is: completely self-serving.  

What’s becoming clear to me now is just how much these incidents create anxiety in my daily life. There is a stress and a burden of being overweight that has nothing to do with my joints or resting heart rate.

I recently re-watched an episode of my favorite TV program because of a podcast, The West Wing Weekly.  In it, they discuss acalculia, the inability to do simple arithmetic. It got me thinking about the stress of ‘will I fit, can I be comfortable there’ and I began to wonder: what do they call it when you’re actually afraid of numbers?  

Have they identified the phobia related to the apprehension I feel when I think about getting on the airplane?  I’m not afraid of flying (aviophobia) because I dislike heights or because I am unnaturally concerned about a crash.  My concern is all about the numbers associated with getting on the plane and making the trip.

What seat number have I been assigned?  Who’s been assigned the seat next to mine?  What kind of plane is being used on this trip?  Is it an MD-80 or a 747? Is this one of those new airplanes with the more generous seats or the tight ones that were built when humans seemed smaller? Are the seats 17.2” wide or 19”?  Can 2” really make that much of a difference? Have those 10 lbs I lost this summer affected the size of my hips?

Even though, thank God, I’ve never needed a seatbelt extension, I’m still afraid almost every single time I fly.  Did I mention I travel almost monthly for work and leisure? The workup and anxiety over this can’t be good for my cortisol levels, which I’m told contribute to my weight.  Thus, my fear of numbers may have become a dizzying cycle of worry and reality, greater worry and then literally, a bigger reality.

I’m afraid that the person next to me will be a victim of my size even more than I am transporting this body every day.

What do they call it when you’re so afraid of numbers that you don’t want to go shopping with your girlfriends? Regardless of what styles look good on you or how flattering that color is, there’s no quieting the voice that has you ashamed to shop in the “Woman’s” section or in the Plus-size only store.  How do you defend your double-digit dress size to the size 4 friend who gets excited about fashion?

Doesn’t she know that they don’t make the cute clothes in my size? That apparel at my weight seems to be more about utility than beauty?  How do you explain that without it being awkward or making you feel worse? You don’t! You just shop alone, and only if you absolutely have to.  And if you happen to be with her walking down the street and she wants to pop into that cute store on the corner, you feign disinterest or an important phone call, holding your breath that she doesn't notice your absence for what it is: shame.

Regardless of the fact that 'accessories have no size’ (my little friend actually said that to me but don’t be mad, she was trying to be encouraging), shopping in those places is still inaccessible for someone with my phobic neurosis.  Everywhere that features clothes and accessories has mirrors that can’t be avoided. Neither can the eyes of the salespeople, who will invariably have a look on their face that says, ‘you must be shopping for a gift. We certainly don’t carry anything for someone your size.’   I hope this doesn’t sound crude, but I imagine it’s what someone in a wheelchair faces when they try to shop at a sporting goods store. Whether the sales personnel are actually thinking something sinister or it’s just my projection that has them reluctant to offer to help me, it still makes those places feel unsafe and part of a world that’s off limits.  

As the Voice, this is especially hard:  I’m afraid of giving voice to all the numbers that haunt me.

Stay tuned...

As of 2016, the World Health Organization reported that 1.9 billion adults are overweight or obese. While that represents almost 40% of the world’s population, there is another side to this issue. Stay tuned to for a different viewpoint in the article, ‘The Science of Size’ by Lisa Carter.  Better still, sign up for updates and be notified when a new article gets posted to the site.

The science of size