Body Shaming: Shaming someone for their body type. Fat Shaming: The act of shaming someone who is overweight. Skinny Shaming: The act of shaming someone who is naturally skinny.
Body Positivity: Accepting your (healthy) body as it is and attempting to make others feel comfortable in their own skin.
Reading these definitions makes me wonder why we can’t just be body positive? When did we start shaming people for their body? Is it learned as a child? Is it a product of today’s society? What about the media? In reality, it’s probably a mix of these and more. However, I’m not writing this to dissect human behavior, but rather to shine a light on the very real issue of skinny shaming.
I’ve been on both sides of the body shaming coin. At my heaviest, in 2007, I weighed 182 lbs and stood at 5’3”, putting me at a 32.2 on the Body Mass Index scale* and medically classified as obese. Now, at my lightest, I weigh 115 lbs and stand at a whopping 5’4” (I had a late growth in my adulthood), putting me at a 19.7 on the BMI scale – medically classified as normal.
Since I’ve been on both sides of the body shaming coin – why am I focusing on skinny shaming? Because fat shaming is the most visible, and most talked about, form of body shaming. Skinny shaming, however, is often left in the dark. When I first heard the term “skinny shaming” I laughed out loud and thought, “Yeah right! Being naturally skinny would be amazing!” I didn’t understand how anyone could ever say anything bad about being naturally, healthfully skinny.
Then the tables turned. I went off birth control after 10 years in April 2014, weighing in at 162 lbs, standing at 5’3” and a 28.7 BMI, which put me in the medically overweight range. In the year following, as my body adjusted to my natural hormones, I found myself sitting naturally at 115 lbs. I didn’t change my diet, I didn’t change my exercise; this change came about completely naturally. I had always dreamed of having a fast metabolism, and now I finally had one. In short, I finally had the natural, healthy body I’d always dreamed of. I was beyond happy in my newfound skin… Then the comments began.
“Damn skinny bitch.”“Why don’t you eat more?”“Is everything okay? You’re really skinny.”“Are you eating?”“What you need is a cheeseburger!”“Sure – it’s easy to find clothes when you’re just a twig.”“Wow! Look how skinny your wrists are! You should eat more.”
The list really goes on and on. After a while I started to wonder if maybe I was too skinny. My wonderful husband assured me I wasn’t – and I felt healthier than I had ever been in my life. Sadly, none of that mattered to those who made these remarks. After a few months I finally said, “Screw what people say – I’ve spent my entire life trying to be comfortable with my body and now that I finally am, I won’t let anyone take it away.”
My purpose is to shed light on the very real and detrimental act of skinny shaming and to dispel myths like “thin privilege.” The very idea of thin privilege is, in and of itself, skinny shaming, and I hadn’t heard of the concept at all until I came across an article on Bustle – "Why Fat Shaming And Thin Shaming Are Different." I came across the following paragraph:
“When it comes to thin shaming, the sufferers usually walk away with their thin privilege intact. They’ll step aside from an insult and into a society and media that celebrate their body. Although that doesn’t mean the insult doesn’t hurt, it does mean the insult doesn’t usually stick in the same way. When a fat person gets fat shamed, the shame often sticks, reverberating through childhood abuses, families’ weight commentary, and a constant attack on fat bodies by the general public. We have to look within ourselves to recover from it, because there is no such thing as fat privilege.”
I then found "22 Examples of Thin Privilege" on Everyday Feminism. I’ve chosen to address the top six I hear – as a skinny person – most often:
1. “You’re not assumed to be unhealthy just became of your size.” Yes, you are. “Unhealthy,” as in underweight. People automatically assume you have an eating disorder when you’re naturally thin.
2. “When you’re at the grocery store, people don’t comment on the food selection in your cart in the name of “trying to be helpful.” Oh yes they do! Instead of “You don’t need that” or “Maybe you should get the light one,” it becomes, “Of course you’re skinny – look how healthy you eat.” (As if it’s a bad thing to be eating healthy…) or “The steaks are over there – you should go grab a few.”
3. “You don’t receive suggestions from your friends and family to join Weight Watchers or any other weight-loss program.” You’re right – we don’t. Instead we get suggestions on how to gain weight, exercises to “bulk up” or “put some meat on those bones.”
4. “You can eat what you want, when you want, in public and not have others judge you for it or make assumptions about your eating habits.” I have a harder time eating in front of people being thin than I ever did being overweight. If we’re not too hungry and grab a snack-sized meal, we’re assumed to be anorexic. If we have a hollow leg that day and eat everything in front of us, we’re met with the remark “Look! She’s finally eating,” exclaimed loud enough for everyone to hear and often making sure everyone at the table knows we’ve eaten a larger portion than usual. (Which, in turn, leads people to question if you’re bulimic if you happen to head to the bathroom anytime in the next hour after a large meal.)
5. “Your body type isn’t sexually fetishized.” Let’s be honest here – as women – every body type is sexually fetishized. This is lateral oppression. We are all in the same fight, stop putting divides up and work together.
6. “You can choose to not be preoccupied with your size and shape because you have other priorities, and you won’t be judged.” If this were true, skinny shaming wouldn’t exist and I would not be writing this article.
Please – let’s stop the body shaming and move forward into body positivity. If all this energy we put into body shaming were put towards body positivity, just imagine the possibilities. So here’s to happy, healthy bodies and loving the skin we’re in.
*Disclaimer: I don’t always support the use of the BMI scale as it doesn’t account for those with above average muscle mass. However, it is a good measure of health for the “average” person.