‘Wow aren’t your arms skinny?’, ‘How skinny are you?’ I hear it on a daily basis from people I’ve never met before and from people I’d consider my friends. Exclamations on my weight because at 5’7 and slightly underweight, I look little. People think it’s acceptable to approach me in public and draw attention to the fact that I am in fact underweight. They’ll wrap a hand around my wrist to see if they can touch their fingers together and look on in amazement or horror as they manage it; treating me like a freak that should be put into a show.
It’s not okay.
If they approached somebody overweight and wrapped their hands around their arms and exclaimed in amazement about how ‘large’, how ‘chunky’ or how ‘fat’ they were it would be treated differently. People accept that this isn’t appropriate, they understand that pointing out that somebody is overweight is unacceptable and down right rude. But people do it the other way around. Never mind the fact that somebody may have been trying for months to gain weight, never mind the fact that they may see their weight as being a serious flaw or that by pointing it out you’re drawing other people’s attention to their insecurities. Being on the extremes of weight is hard for both sides, but the issues of being underweight are forgotten in the false ideal of being ‘skinny’.
Just think. The word ‘skinny’ itself has so many negative connotations. Used instead of ‘slim’ or ‘thin’; it brings to mind the idea of grotesquely underweight, of being emaciated and skeletal. However, people see it as a compliment when they say it. Some people even say it longingly, as if they truly want to be that skinny.
But… you want to be skinny right? That’s what everybody says. Being underweight can cause a weakened immune system. Your body can’t fight off the infections and viruses, you’re more likely to catch colds and flus, you’re more likely to feel generally unwell. On top of that, why not add anaemia? It’s another common problem in people underweight. It makes you sleepy, it causes hair loss, you feel weak and shaky. We’re not allowed to admit to that though. If somebody underweight were to express feelings of dislike of being thin we get scoffed at because we are lucky to be like this. We are lucky to be ‘skinny’, lucky to be how we are because it could be worse, we could be fat. Skinny is a privilege apparently. There are even blogs about just how privileged we are. If somebody overweight admits to disliking their body though, the instant reaction is one of sympathy.
Why is it okay to ‘skinny shame’ when ‘fat shaming’ is such a crime? Because society dictates that being underweight is attractive and an ideal and being overweight is unattractive and to be avoided. People are constantly told that it is wrong to be overweight and pushed towards being ‘skinny’, obsessed with the elusive size 0 and thigh gaps, people see somebody who is underweight and instantly assume that they wish to be that way despite the health risks and their own personal insecurities. Forgetting the personal struggles of the individuals, they fall into the mentality that skinny is good, fat is bad.
It’s possible that they truly believe they’re not harming the person they ‘call out’ or that they simply don’t understand. It’s probably because they think it’s a compliment though, that they see somebody underweight, somebody as the media’s ‘ideal’ and they think back to things like Kate Moss and her harmful ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’ comment and all compassion goes out of the way and is replaced by envy or anger or disgust.
Most commonly the attitude towards people underweight is ‘just eat more’ as if they haven’t tried. As if the thought of merely consuming more hadn’t occurred to us – the most obvious solution. It isn’t that easy for a lot of people – myself included. This summer I was on a high protein diet with prescribed protein shakes from the doctor. However, I saw very little results and the shakes caused sickness and prevented me from eating properly. Other people struggle with similar issues, others are so affected by this damaging attitude that they can develop eating disorders.
The moral is to think before you speak. To filter your reactions and understand that the ideal for one person isn’t for another. That calling somebody out on their weight or body in general is wrong but so too is calling people out on personality traits or their tastes. Understand that what is a goal or acceptable for one person is not the same for another person and might actually be something the other person is insecure about. Society will often legitimise one issue and ignore an issue related, it’s down to us as individuals to develop a further understanding of how this can effect individuals.
And, regardless of what Kate Moss says, skinny doesn’t feel too good, and cheesecake tastes fucking amazing.