One summer in middle school I got a season pass to Kentucky Kingdom amusement park with my friend Kathy. This was before I eventually got too fat to ride the roller coasters and completely lost track of Kathy, who moved a lot because her dad was in the army. For all I know, she could now be married to a German chiropractor and have lil’ babies that greet her every morning with “Guten tag!” before going off to kindergarten.
At the park there was a carnival game that fascinated me. It was the “Guess My Weight” game, positioned right by the human walkway over the highway, thus granting it maximum exposure to passers-by. Standing beside the barker was a scale with a circular face as large as Godzilla’s frisbee. The object of the game was to have the barker guess your weight and if he wasn’t within 5 or 10 pounds (can’t remember which) you’d win a prize.
I never played this game. Obviously. While I could still cram my ass between the safety bars on Thunder Run, I wasn’t petite either. Public weigh-ins seemed to be reserved for the sanctity of weight watchers meetings, where you would at least be surrounded by people as fat or fatter than you. I didn’t even know how much I weighed, and I certainly didn’t want to find out in front of packs of teeny-boppers in short-shorts sucking down Diet Coke and Dippin’ Dots ice cream.
However, I was very curious to know how well the barker could guess someone’s weight. This is a skill that people think they are better at doing than they actually are. Mostly this is because it’s hard to get good feedback. You can find out how much you weigh, but finding out what other people actually weigh is difficult since they lie. If we were to estimate how many Americans were fat by what they said they weighed on their driver’s licenses, we’d have the obesity epidemic licked! So even if you do start guessing people’s weights, you can’t know if you’re right or how far off you are to make corrections in the future.
It gets harder if you only see someone on TV because you don’t necessarily have a good sense of scale. If you watch a basketball game, all the players look normal compared to each other. But if you see them walk into the crowd you suddenly realize their shoes could comfortably house a family of puppies and a foster kitten. Recently Kirstie Alley went on Oprah in a bikini and I read one person comment on another blog that she must be lying about her weight. This was because the commenter weighed more than Kirstie but they looked similar. I have no idea what Kirstie Alley really weighs since I’ve never drugged her and hauled her ass onto a scale. (I don’t live in LA, plane seating is cramped and I doubt I could get the chloroform through airport security, so it’s just not worth it.) However, when you factor in height differences, ratio of fat to muscle, and other nonsense like how much sodium they’ve had recently and when their last long trip to the bathroom was, you can’t assume that just because someone on TV looks similar to you that they will weigh the same.
My mom recently showed a picture of me to one of her co-workers who was surprised to hear I weighed about 200 pounds. Granted, it was a shot from the waist up and I carry most of my fat in my bottom half, but this reaffirmed by belief that not only are people bad at guessing someone’s weight, they don’t even know they’re bad at guessing. This woman works in a bridal store too, so she comes in contact with every size and shape of woman there is. She just doesn’t get to weigh them. Perhaps the only people who would be good at guessing weight are nurses, doctors or weight watchers leaders, the only people who do get to weigh lots of people.
People also get scared of guessing above certain scary numbers, like 200 or 300. If you have to rollover the digits into the next group of hundreds, you risk insulting the person. 199 sounds a lot better than 200, just like that $0.99 cent candy bar sound so much cheaper than the $1.00 one. I wonder if the carnival barker would make such adjustments in guessing someone’s weight to avoid being mauled by angry fat people. If he thought someone actually weighed 205, would he round down to 199? It’s also possible that the carnival scale might not have been accurate. This was a carnival game and those carnies are notoriously stingy about giving away their pink teddy bears, employing tricks to keep you from wining games.
Today I would play the “Guess My Weight” game with no shame at all. That happens when you post your weight every week on the Internet. The shame starts to evaporate like the water in your T-shirt after a good soaking on Mile High Falls. Too bad my season pass expired in 1993.