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Size matters

9 February 2012

Based on a study of 17,364 Mexicans the “average” adult Mexican male weights 74.8 Kg and stands 1.58 m tall; the “average” woman quite a bit lighter and shorter:  68.7 kilos and 1.58 m.

For any adult age cohort you plug these figures into in a Body-Mass Index calculator (like this one here), you end up with an “overweight” person.  Using the “average” male numbers,  at 18 they’re in the 81st percentile (weighing more than 81 percent of 18 year olds in general.  If the average adult man is presumed to be 60, he’s only one percent heavier (at the 51st percentile).

Presumably, Mexico is having an obesity crisis and it’s obvious that there are a lot of overweight people,  Like in other countries where a sedentary lifestyle has replaced the daily grind  people have earned the luxury of having to work to lose weight, rather than work from dawn to dusk just to get enough caloric intake to maintain life.   Or,  to put it another way… does blogging make my butt look big?

So, is the stereotype especially bandied about by those outsiders who are considerably taller than 1.58 m (5 foot, 5 inches) and weigh less than 74.8 Kg (165 pounds) true?  Are Mexican short and stout?   There isn’t a lot of study on this, but it’s been known for years that Body-Mass Indexing has a built-in racial bias.

Body-mass indexing and our conceptions of height-weight proportion are mostly based on what is normal for northern European.  From a lecture outline on the University of Kent (Canterbury, UK) Social Ethnography website, I found these notes on body types:

Body build. Most of the variation in body build in humans can be reduced to linear build vs lateral build….

The extreme lateral stereotype would be found in some Asian and Native Americans. Eskimos, Japanese, Samoans, Apache, and many South American Indians exhibit lateral build…Laterally built people tend to have long and broad trunks, with wider chests, shoulders and hips.

Most Mexicans — those “average” Mexicans — being Native American in the DNA more than other North Americans, tend towards the lateral rather than the linear.  Certainly it was an advantage to ancestors who lived at high altitudes where more space for lungs was an advantage (and whose descendants often as not still live at the same altitude).  Which might just mean your average Mexican is… well… average.

All very interesting from a scientific standpoint (and maybe worthy of a discussion of aesthics and racism), but remember the researchers had their own biases.  Not exactly who a group you”d expect to be on the cutting edge of science, the study was conducted for tthe Cámara Nacional de la Industria del Vestido (Conaive) … the rag trade association.  Maybe in the near future, we’ll be hearing complaints from the average foreigner that he can’t find clothes that fit except in the specialty shops … all the “normal” clothes will be for short guys with  60 inch chests and those of us without an “average” build will just have to settle for what’s available in the odd racks.  Or, instead of seeing Mayans with shirts hanging down around their knees, we’ll be wearing shirts barely covering our belly-buttons, but will nicely hide any spare tires we may have acquired.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 13 February 2012 6:26 pm

    Wait! Wait! It’s those short stocky Maya who built the pyramids, which all the world KNOWS never occured to those thuggish and imperialist (o.k., it’s a redundancy) Romans. And my Maya were whizzes at math–did’ja ever try to try to add, subtract, multiply and divide Roman numerals? No, clearly not, it’s clunky as all get-out. They were stuck with a “Julian” calendar, named after a fascist, no less. The Maya were obviously not hungup on body image, right? And please consider that, if push were indeed to (Kukulman forbid), come to shove, with those trendy anorexic gringos, why my little Indian fellers would simply sit on ’em. I am crazy about your blog, but you could put a more positive spin on my tubby Mexicans. No?

    • 13 February 2012 6:45 pm

      Stocky is the right word. I thought maybe I got it across that there’s something off about those charts, and that… um… maybe its the clothing manufacturers that need to adjust, not the Mayans… who I would never think of messing with… knowing us skinny güero types don’t stand a chance 🙂

      • 13 February 2012 11:09 pm

        Whew! Thanks for that–I buy so few new threads anymore that I was in terra incognita there for a moment. I peruse your comments BECAUSE you are not Mexican, and I appreciate the perspective, which wasn’t always the case. It is a fresh look, kind of like listening to Rick Bayless on comida mexicana. I am like that, not much of a Chicano nationalist–hopefully more internationalist, I like where it takes me. Saludos.

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