I want you all to know that this post is the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to write. Trust me, that’s saying a lot. As an aspiring fiction writer, I’ve written some things that are definitely NSFW or children. Stuff that makes seasoned writers squirm uncomfortably in their desk chairs. I want you to know that this post was way, way harder than any horror scene I’ve ever written.
Today, I’m writing about skinny shaming, and about the fact that skinny shaming is real, and it’s hurtful. I first wanted to write about skinny shaming when I joined Scoot a Doot in November of 2014. I wussed out, and wrote “The Lies They Tell Us” instead. Then I went to FitBloggin 2015 in June, and they had a discussion titled Finding the Medium Between XS & XL, Exploring the Controversy Between Fat & Skinny Shaming. In a room filled with people who had struggled with varying degrees of obesity, I stood up and said something that was received with mixed reactions. I asked them to please stop shaming the skinny people for being skinny. There was one other woman there that could identify with what I was saying, and after the lecture, several people came up to me to thank me for sharing because they hadn’t seen the body shaming issue from the other point of view. That fanned my courage to write this post, and I hope it helps folks understand what skinny shaming means and how hurtful it can be.
As a “skinny” girl, you may feel as though I’m speaking from a place of privilege. I understand how it might be perceived that way. All this time I’ve been writing for Scoot, I’ve tried to play down my body image struggles because honestly, I don’t have any. I feel like a jerk for putting that out into the universe because I don’t want it to seem like I’m lording it over anyone, or worse, complaining about the genes I’m fortunate to have. But here is the thing that sucks; I’m that girl everyone one loves to hate. I’m guilty of a cardinal genetic sin; I’m naturally thin, and it’s taboo for me to talk about it.
You might be thinking “rub it in our face, Jenn, thanks a lot.” I get that. I really, really do. Hence why I generally follow the taboo and try not to talk about my body on the blog. I try to be sensitive to the feelings and situations of folks who have the opposite experience that I do. My best friend of twenty years has struggled with obesity her whole life and I’ve seen the other side of the coin through her eyes. The thing is though, it’s about genes. And we encourage a double standard when we talk about weight.
A double standard, you say? I know it’s hard to believe or understand immediately. The reason us thin folk don’t talk about it is because we’re terrified that we’ll be perceived as complaining about being skinny, or speaking from that place of privilege, and will therefore be labeled as conceited and shallow. Complaining about being skinny would be incredibly insensitive. I want to be very clear, I’m not complaining about my body, only the double standard that accompanies it. Allow me to elaborate on what I mean by double standard.
We all acknowledge and understand that it’s not cool to shame people for being overweight. Of course that is the absolutely right way to behave, I’m definitely not suggesting anything to the contrary. But, and this is a BIG but, we shame skinny people all the time without a thought. How is that possible? I’ve listed a few examples taken from my own experiences.
I would never say to someone “Do you really think you should eat that? You have a lot of weight to lose.” Yet, people think it’s okay to tell me: “Don’t you think you should eat more? You’re soooo thin.”
It is in no way acceptable to say to someone, “You’re so fat! Do you have a gland/genetic/health problem?” Yet people have commented to me “You’re so thin! Are you anorexic/bulimic?”
I would never say to a stranger, “Oh my gosh, you’re so fat. You must eat all the time!” Yet I can’t count how many times a complete stranger has told me, “Wow! You’re so tiny! You must never eat!”
The last time someone said that to me, I was so hurt and tired of the same old snarky commentary disguised as a backhanded compliment that I did something I still feel a tiny bit bad about. I was at a greasy spoon truck stop and I ordered the chicken fried steak, eggs, hash browns, and pancakes. And I. ATE. IT. ALL. Right in front of her, the snarkey commentator. And I mmmm-mmm’ed and yummm-yummed all over that shiz. I didn’t feel one bit sorry as she watched me stuff my face with gravy covered goodness, proving that I can eat like a lumberjack when I want to.
For many years, I’ve scratched my head, trying to figure out what the impetus is for these feelings and comments. I can’t help the way I look any more than any of us can. Sure, we could all be firmer here and there, but we’re born with our body type. It may sound ridiculous, but I’m convinced my body type has kept me for forming friendships because I’m judged before I even open my mouth. I base this conclusion on comments from newly formed acquaintances that never evolved into anything more. Here’s a sampling:
“You are SO SKINNY. OMG I hate you.”
“You can fit in to that? I hate you.”
“You wear a bikini? I hate you.”
“You don’t wear Spanx?! I hate you.”
“Your wrists are SO TINY. I hate you. ”
“Your wedding gown is a size zero?! I hate you,” said the woman who altered my gown. She must have been in her sixties, and she still found room in her heart to be jealous of my then 26 year-old figure. Really.
And my favorite; “OMG, you’re so skinny. I have to hate you and we can’t be friends.” I wish I were kidding. I am not. A woman actually said that to me when we were introduced.
“I hate you” is always tacked on with a fake smile and self-depreciating hand gesture, but I know what’s really being said. In that moment, they really do hate me for my genetics; something I have NO control over, and trust me, it does color their perception of me. They prove it by ignoring me and choosing not to interact with me or talk to me. So if we can’t be friends because of something I can’t control, then does that mean I’m supposed to end my friendship with my BFF because she struggles with something she can’t control, being over weight?
The “I hate you” comment is especially mean because it basically translates to “you disgust me”. You disgust me because you have something I don’t. You disgust me because you have something I want. You disgust me because I feel shitty about myself. You disgust me because being seen with you makes me feel shittier about myself.
Do you see the huge, glaring double standard here? And speaking of double standards, bear in mind that if you magically attain a perfect figure a la Sofia Vergara, it still won’t be good enough. When it comes to weight, you’re damned either way. Sorry to dash your hopes of body acceptance. There will always be someone who will say something to tear you down.
Case in point, I have another friend who is gorgeous and in-shape and she hears it too. Other women telling her they hate her, telling her to eat more, or that she is “so perfect.” The problem is she has to work her ASS OFF to stay thin and fit. She can’t eat whatever she wants. She hasn’t always fit into a size 4. The most infuriating thing she hears is “why do you work out, you’re so thin!” It never seems to dawn on anyone that she’s thin because she works out. Not to mention, can’t she just work out to be healthy? Why does it always have to be about vanity?
The “real women have curves”, “no one wants to cuddle with a stick”, and “I’d rather be curvy than look like a little boy” memes floating around out there aren’t doing anything for anyone’s self esteem. It’s another example of bashing one side to make the other feel better. I feel horrible for young girls and women who are struggling to accept themselves and their own bodies. What kind of mixed messages are we CONSTANTLY sending? Don’t be fat, but don’t be thin! We all know the answer is to love yourself, for yourself. That’s the message we need to see more of, but try telling that to an eleven year old young lady and convincing her to truly believe it.
In a perfect world, we would all accept ourselves first, others second, and then focus on building each other up instead of tearing each other down. Being that this is a fitness blog and you are here because you have an interest in being fit and healthy, I’m willing to bet the farm you’ve been on the receiving end of similar body shaming comments and prejudices from every sector of the spectrum. I’d love to hear from you. I’d love to hear from you if you think what I’m saying is nonsense. Let’s have some dialogue to understand this behavior better. And then let’s be the change that’s needed!
Share your body shaming story with me in the comments. I really would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on all aspects of this issue!
HUGS for writing this! I can truly relate and I am so glad that you finally said something. A few of my favorites: it’s so hard for me to find tops that fit (!!) because my chest is so small but if I complain the response i get is “oh wow, size XS, what a problem!” UM actually, yes, as a 31 yr old woman I would love to have tops that compliment my (barely there) chest. And when I was pregnant and HORRIBLY sick with morning sickness until 21 weeks someone actually said to me (jokingly I guess?) “oh I bet you just did it to stay skinny” (jaw drop…I know). As if I CHOSE to be skinny, sick and pregnant at the same time.
I 100% agree with your last paragraph, the fitness community should shift and focus more on building people up than shaming other body types. Wouldn’t it be great it the “idea;” body was one in which each individual felt their best in? xoxo
Thanks Karen!! I seriously cannot believe the comment you got when pregnant. Then again, I can totally believe it. Like being thin would be more important than being healthy to you at the time (or ever, frankly). Wow. Whyyyy don’t people use their talking filters? Just not cool. I understand about tops completely. I have a hard time finding bras and jeans. It doesn’t seem to be getting nay easier. Many stores have changed their size charts, and they’ve stopped making pants my size. Yay for leggings! <3
So, here’s the thing. I understand an empathize with the examples that you give and that body shaming broadly speaking shames all bodies, not simply the ones that are fat. It’s applying a subjective, arbitrary standard of aesthetic beauty that is in flux and by default someone is left out. The conversational ticks you describe, the “I hate you” tacked on to the end of the sentence, is as much a way women communicate and police each other as it is anything else (See the following comedy sketch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzlvDV3mpZw). What is shaming but a way to police people’s behaviors and appearances to meet societal standards, right? So on a fundamental basis, maybe women need to reassess how they interact with each other and police each others’ behaviors.
The thing that I get snagged on is when you imply that the privilege you experience as a thin person is but an illusion. “As a “skinny” girl, you may feel as though I’m speaking from a place of privilege. I understand how it might be perceived that way.” It doesn’t just appear that way, it exists. It’s real, you enjoy thin privilege the same way I enjoy white privilege whether I want to admit it or not. Think about it as the difference between being ambulatory without assistance and having a wheelchair. In a fundamental way, the world was designed with your body in mind, ADA be damned. You can enjoy any ride you wanted at Universal, for example, or merely on the airplane you’ll be uncomfortable like any other airline passenger but you won’t be asked to purchase additional seats because the seats aren’t designed to accommodate you. Let’s bump it up a level: you can go to the doctor and have them suggest a treatment for ailments that doesn’t start with “lose 30 pounds and then come talk to me,” which is what a few doctors have said to me.
So, the thing is, I have never been shamed the way you are. I have lived my life being told to eat less, to lose weight, and to be uncomfortable in my body. I temporarily lose weight and know from the shift in treatment that thin me was treated better than fat me. Thin me got praise for being responsible about my health, thin me received compliments and an earnest “Never gain back that weight!” Even when I wasn’t as fat, people were shaming fat me. People think they’re being helpful, they think they’re being nice, but the reality is thin me was the same as fat me, there was no golden magic at the end of the weight loss rainbow. I personally follow a policy of not commenting on people’s weight or appearance. Their weight is none of my business and quite honestly, if I can’t find something more interesting to talk about, I’m better off saying nothing at all.
I appreciate your comments and perspective. I can’t deny that thin privilege exists. That said, I personally have no control of society’s accommodation of that privilege, such as the size of airline seats or how my doctor treats me. I didn’t ask for that privilege, I didn’t create it, and sadly, I can’t do much to change it.
I firmly believe that being thin isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be, it isn’t always a privilege. My comment about privilege was related more to peoples’ perception of what that privilege really is in daily life and how they interact with me as a result of it, not how easily I can or can’t ride rides at Disneyland. We need to agree that all body shaming needs to stop before we can take on United Airlines and Disney. (Which certainly needs to be done.)
It’s that arbitrary standard of beauty you mentioned and it’s unfair to ALL people. My goal with this post is to promote an end the body shaming. Period. It sounds like we agree on that point.
I wanted to add that I really appreciate your remarks on the contrast in treatment you’ve received depending on your weight. Thank you for sharing that, and good for you for working to be healthy, whatever that looks like for you. I’m relieved to hear that you didn’t experience skinny shaming after losing weight. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. For some people skinny shaming is a ridiculously common occurrence. I’m not trying to imply skinny shaming is worse than fat shaming, merely that it happens, and my experience has been it comes most frequently from those who want me to accept their bodies as they are.
YASS, girl!!!! I’ve been thin all my life and have gotten the anorexic comment repeatedly. Also the “I hate you”. When celebs go out there and promote the whole “real women have curves” thing it really does get to me – I WANTED the curves, but that’s just not my lot in life, you know? But I can’t say anything about it because it looks like a humble brag. So, thanks for putting this out there!
A humble brag, omg, that’s exactly what it looks like! Yes and more yes! Ugh the anorexic comment is one of the worst. Who the eff is this person commenting on my health? If you’re not a doctor, stfu. I’m glad this post speaks to you! Skinny girls unite! <3
Having never been viewed as “skinny”, (have to love those labels, don’t we?), I still have found myself in situations where I may be the”smallest” of those I was with, and still was confronted with the same hurtful comments. Nothing is more heartbreaking to me than to hear that I have no business complaining about something on my body that I don’t like. I simply don’t have that right simply because I am sometimes the smallest one in the conversation, and therefore am not “allowed” to have those kinds of feelings. In instances like that, it’s just easier to shut up and keep the frustration bottled up inside which only leads to feeling worse about myself than i already do. Sadly, not many women are comfortable in their own skin, regardless of size, but no one should have to be made to feel even worse about themself by not being allowed to voice their frustrations without the fear of being on the receiving end of disparaging comments.
THANK YOU, KIMBERLY! Yes, that is exactly a huge part of this issue; the taboo surrounding thin people discussing their weight. Not allowed is a perfect way to phrase it. I’ve felt that way so many times I can’t count them. We all just need a little more empathy. Thanks for reading and commenting. Next time you feel that way and are bottling all that negativity up, you’re not alone! <3
I absolutely relate. I have an extremely high metabolism and have been that way my whole life. Not only do I feel judged, but sometimes I try to downplay the fact that I don’t have to watch what I eat because I feel bad for people who do. I work out because I love being fit but people always assume I’m unhappy with myself and they go “but you’re so thin! Why do you work out?” Um to be strong? AND it’s so hard to gain weigh after being sick. I drop ten pounds like nothing but it takes me another 8-10 months to put it back on. Many people say, “I wish I had that problem.” But they really don’t. It’s not fun looking and being underweight when you have no control over it.
Hugs to you!!! I have experienced all of those same things, too. The feeling judged, the keeping quiet, the losing so much weight from being sick. The “skinny” grass isn’t always greener, is it? I think it’s so, soooo, sad that people automatically assume that if you work out, you much have some type of of self-image issue. Why can’t their first assumption be about health? I find that so fricking infuriating! Just remember you are far from alone! <3
Great post and spot on! I’m not skinny and never have been but can completely see how much the comments and suggestions would wear you down. I loved your comment about how we should love our own bodies first, others’ second and then work to build each other up. I couldn’t agree more!
Thanks so much! Let’s start a woman positive revolution!