The bravery of weight gain, the wonder of weight measurement

(08 May 2018) – The Guardian often has good thought-provoking articles. It’s an English newspaper with a strong on-line presence and well worth the time it takes to bookmark it in your browser. What always happens to me sometimes is that the thought it provoked isn’t always the one they evoked.

There was an example this morning. An article by Zoe Williams is about the actor Charlize Theron. She gained a lot of weight for her role as a pregnant woman in the movie Tully. Williams thinks some of the critical reaction to this is, to put it delicately, misguided. Theron is being called “brave” for this weight gain.

You can read the article for yourselves. A lot of people who are able to become pregnant put on weight in the process. It’s normal and doesn’t have anything to do with bravery. Courage might be walking on a North York sidewalk while pregnant, but Theron didn’t do that. Or staying calm when complete strangers comment on your size: “Oh, Mary seems a nice person, and her children are so sweet. What a pity she couldn’t lose the weight and get her figure back.”

There’s one thing about Theron. She didn’t take the easy way out. She didn’t wear prosthetics and makeup like Gary Oldman did to play Winston Churchill. What she did do was put on weight, film the movie, then lose the weight. Calling that bravery is a slap in the faces of all the women who put on weight, had the baby, and kept the weight.

Be that as it may, all of this is not what provoked me into these thoughts. What caught my attention was the use of three different measurements to quantify the weight gain. The article’s header says Theron “gained 50lb to play a heavily pregnant mother of three.” The first sentence says she “gained more than 22kg (3st 7lb) in weight to make the new film.”

That transported me back in time to an idyllic schoolboy childhood in England. I sat eagerly at a desk in St. Cuthbert’s School in Englefield Green while Sister Enda taught me reading and arithmetic. The reading was easy enough and the arithmetic held the key to building the British Empire. English and Scottish bankers were able to own the world because they used a system of measurement that no one else could understand. We sat rapt as the Marist nuns taught it to us.

The rest of the world was like Gary Oldman, seeking the easy answers of the metric system. Dollars and cents, meters and kilograms. Anyone can learn that. We were like Charlize Theron, bravely weighed down by a measurement system rooted in the distance between King Henry’s nose and his fingertip.

We counted money in pounds, shillings and pence. We weighed things in stones, pounds and ounces. We measured distances in miles, yards, feet and inches. Then, just to keep it all as clear as mud, they’d throw in the occasional guinea, hundredweight and furlong. A hundredweight, in case you are wondering, is 112 pounds, or precisely 8 stones. A furlong is 40 rods, or one-eighth of a mile. A guinea is 21 shillings.

There were twelve pennies in a shilling and twenty shillings in a pound. Sixteen ounces in a pound and fourteen pounds in a stone. Twelve inches in a foot and three feet in a yard. When adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing you had to know whether to carry the one after 3, 12, 14, 16 or 20. Never after 10 like those lazy buggers on the other side of the channel. You had to learn to do a lot of this in your head, or you’d never know if you were getting the correct change in the shops.

It’s little wonder that the country that invented such a convoluted system of accounting would go on to swindle most of the world out of its wealth.

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1 Comment

  1. Not sure how many knots my mind sped along at through your article but I do agree with your comment that the Guardian frequently goes fathoms deeper into stories than more main stream media. On a personal level I do miss the 100 yard dash and the mile. Probably now should do some study into that whole 26.2 mile marathon thing. I know the original guy is said to have dropped dead after reporting a victory. I suspect “the marathon” will remain simply “the marathon” rather than becoming the 42,164.8128 meter race.

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