I didn't find a thread on this topic.
Does anyone have a good reference table for ideal, athletic, female percent body fat? If not, if someone just has the simple answer for my situation, I'll take that too. I'm 5'3 and 103 pounds. Thanks in advance.
Oops, just realized I completely misread your question. It's late... I believe the ideal for female athletes is between 14 and 20 percent, for fitness its between 21 and 24 percent. Much easier answer :)
There are a lot of different body fat calculations out there, including using calipers to measure the subcutaneous fat beneath the skin in various parts of your body, or measuring the circumference of various parts of your body and applying different multipliers, or electronic body fat analyzers that conduct an electrical current through your body, or underwater weighing etc. In the absence of an exercise physiology lab or a body fat analyzer (which I hear are pretty accurate), it would be best to use the skin caliper or circumference measurement calculations as a relative starting point (that is, if your goal is to reduce body fat or build lean muscle...) from which you can compare later measurements. The National Academy of Sports Medicine uses the Durnin-Womersley formula using skin-fold measurements and you can probably find a calculator online. Height and weight only tells you Body Mass Index. Good luck! Hope this helps.
Obviously the real answer is "it depends." but no one likes that answer. In general, for your average female in her twenties, below 21 is "low" (this number goes up as you get older by a little (woman in her 30s -40s, below 23 is low). "Normal" would be somewhere in the 21-30ish range. However, athletes aren't exactly normal. My athletic trainer in college used to worry when we would start to get below 16, though this really all depends on your body type, what sport you do, etc. As triathletes we could hinge on the lower or higher side and still be pretty healthy. Sounds like you are probably erring on the lower side. My college XC coach was about 5'4", 110 lbs and had 12 percent body fat. But then again, she could do an Ironman in 10 hours and thats not most of us. This isn't necessarily to say that this low body fat proportion would be ideal though-- especially considering that when you are working most efficiently, you want to be burning fat (so you obviously need to have some to burn)-- I'm rambling a bit here, and I think hannanguyen said it well about the ideal and normal ranges for female athletes.
Also, a note about measuring your body fat- know that if you are using a skin caliper or even a lot of the fancy scales out there will have up to a 5 % margin of error (seriously, that much) so don't freak out if the number does not seem right. It's probably not right. The only real accurate way to have it done is by a professional.