Diet & fitness

The numbers we hide: Would you reveal your weight, age or income? 

Aug. 16, 2013 at 4:08 PM ET

Mika Brzezinski, co-host of MSNBC's "Morning Joe," may have been bold enough to publicly reveal her weight this week, but most of you wouldn't do the same, a TODAY.com poll reveals. 

More than 7,500 readers voted, and about 60 percent said there's no way they'd share their weight in public. 

Brzezinski tweeted a photo of her scale, which showed her weighing in at 135.9 pounds, adding that at 118 pounds a year ago, she felt fat. In her book, "Obsessed: America’s Food Addiction—And My Own," she revealed that she had struggled with bulimia. Many have applauded her bravery for sharing her weight, but others shudder at the thought of such a public disclosure about our own numbers.  

But it's not just weight -- there's a few sets of numbers we never talk about, like age, income and our number of sexual partners. There are many reasons people might not want to share details about weight, sex partners, age, and income, but it boils down to one—a number provides something quantifiable for others to judge.

"It’s sometimes hard to judge weight [by sight]. You can look at a person and it is often hard to know [weight],” says Frank Farley, a psychology professor at Temple University. But when someone attaches a number to a person, suddenly that person is perceived as overweight. 

Video: “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzenzinski is getting buzz online after stepping on a scale and revealing her weight in a tweet as fans wonder: Should women care about that number at their feet?

And while people like to flaunt their wealth by showing off expensive purchases, they rarely divulge how much they actually make. It’s because they fear others will think they aren’t good enough if they don’t make enough or think they’re bragging if they make more than enough.

“[Salary] has to do with social status. If people believe their salary is below what it should be, they might be embarrassed. For people who have a higher than average salary, the reluctance probably has to do with not wanting to be the target of envious prejudices,” says Steve Franzoi, a psychology professor at Maquette University.

When it comes to revealing the number of sexual partners, it varies by gender.

“Historically, men’s social status increases with the number of sexual partners; with women it is the inverse,” says Franzoi.

“What that suggests is that even more important for women to not reveal [their number],” Farley adds.

So ladies might shy away from sharing any number to avoid being labeled a slut, in other words.

As society has changed, this stereotype has lessened. Both men and women might downplay the number of sex partners because a lower number might make them seem like they have more relationship potential.      

And when it comes to revealing age, it’s all about vanity. People don’t want a number to make them seem old or unattractive.

“All digits will have implications for behavior and implications for prejudices and stereotypes,” says Farley. 

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