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!