(Apologies if the title of this post offends you. I did it not to be offensive or mean, but to make a bigger point. I am one of those “skinny b*tches” you hear referred to in the media. My story is one you may not have heard.)
A few weeks ago at work, we were given free company T-shirts to wear to work events. Such is my luck, all the smalls were out and I was stuck with a men’s medium. When I tried it on, it looked like one of those giant night shirts, big and boxy, loose and almost to my knees. The first time I had to wear it, I tried to tuck it in creatively to hide the bulk, but I still felt self-conscious and jealous of all my co-workers who looked awesome in their appropriately fitted tees.
One of my neighbors does mending, so I took the shirt to her to see if she could bring it in so it fit better. As I explained that it was too big, she gave me a concerned look and said, “You’re too skinny anyway. What do you weigh?” I told her 125, and her reply was something to the extent of, “Soaking wet though, right? You’re far too small.” I was embarrassed and uncomfortable, and it made me feel even more self conscious and aware of my awkward body.
I kind of mumbled, “Yeah, but I’m not sure what to do. I eat plenty,” and scurried off. What she didn’t know was that I ate four pieces of cake that day. And if I told her that, she probably wouldn’t have believed me anyway.
These are the kind of exchanges that happen to me often. And I cringe every time my weight gets brought up. Any woman can attest that someone else pointing out your bodily flaws does not feel good.
I have been working on this post for months now, and I’ve been terrified to publish it for fear of sounding insensitive. But my goal with this post is twofold. 1) To share my side of the story. 2) To share my hopes that we can stop any kind of movement embracing a certain body type and instead focus on being our own versions of healthy without worrying about anyone else. I want to get to a place where we can all be accepting of each other, big or small, busty or flat, bootylicious or stick straight, or even somewhere in the middle.
I had the same 108-pound lanky body all the way from age 12 to 26. I grew a booty sometime in there, but that was literally the only place that seemed to grow. My high school classmates would call me “too skinny,” “anorexic,” “stick,” “gross” and other hurtful phrases. At lunchtime, I would get asked if I was going to throw up later. I would be asked what it’s like to be anorexic. I was told to eat something. I was the Calista Flockhart of small-town northern Indiana.
My mom made me an appointment to talk about my weight and find out if I was normal or too underweight and if I had any health risks. The doctor said I was teetering right on the edge of normal and underweight, but wasn’t too terribly concerned. He advised me to eat more protein and try nutritional shakes to gain weight. I did, and nothing happened. Out of desperation, I went out of my way to eat fatty foods like fried chicken, mounds of greasy bacon and so many Doritos and Twinkies. I gorged myself hoping it would make me gain so the teasing would stop and I’d look like the other girls in my class. Still nothing. Not a single pound. I felt helpless.
Literally, I couldn’t gain weight if I tried.
Yet even in high school, when I was at my skinniest, I also held the record for most number of push-ups when the Army came to recruit. I was very active, in tennis, cheerleading, dance and more. That didn’t help either.
As a fellow blogger Shane said in her own post about being the skinny girl, “As difficult as it is for the majority of people to lose weight and keep it off, it’s the same struggle for me to put it on.” Ditto, girlfriend.
No matter what I did, I couldn’t win. And I so badly wanted to be liked without being defined as that stick girl. To vulnerable, shy teenage Amanda, those comments were just as hurtful as being called fat or ugly. I became too worried about how others viewed me and not how I viewed myself. I was sad that people thought I was grossly thin. It wreaked havoc on my self-esteem. I was never good enough, except to my closest family and friends (a.k.a. the people who knew how much I ate).
It got easier when I started college and moved out of state. I was still small, still ate a complete crap diet and completely stopped any physical activity. I was grossly out of shape and unhealthy, but still, 108. Fewer people seemed to care, but the words from high school still haunted me.
Around age 26, my metabolism screeched to a halt and I suddenly started gaining weight. Years earlier, I had stopped weighing myself though because that 108 number never changed. But eventually the pants I had been wearing since high school started getting tighter, then suddenly couldn’t even make it past my hips.
Though I was alarmed at first, I was glad to be filling out and finally at a healthy weight. To maintain this weight and not keep gaining (because finally, I know what it’s like to not be able to eat anything anymore), I switched to a healthier diet. Of course, I also wanted to develop better eating habits I could pass on to my children and provide more well-rounded meals for me and my husband in the meantime.
Now, at age 29, and just shy of being 5’5, I weigh about 125. When I got to this weight AND was eating much better, I actually started to feel really good about myself. For the first time in a long time, or maybe ever, I felt normal. Until that neighbor’s comment, which took me right back to those hurtful words in high school.
Even now, when I am at the ideal weight for my height, even now when I make good food choices but still struggle with my junk food addiction, it’s not good enough for some people. I may not be perfect, but I try, and for the most part, I’m healthy. But I shouldn’t have to justify that to anyone.
Even innocent comments hurt
Now, for every negative skinny comment, there is also a well-meaning one that is just as hurtful. It’s the “OMG you’re so small! I wish I were as skinny as you.” Or the “You’re such a skinny Minnie!” Or the “It must be nice to eat whatever you want and not gain weight!” And even though I know the people who say those things think they’re being nice, that’s not how I take it. To me, it’s embarrassing because you are pointing out my body and comparing it to yourself or someone else. I start overanalyzing and wondering if by “so skinny” you secretly mean “too skinny” or “unhealthy” or “icky.” It makes me feel uncomfortable and self-conscious, and I never know how to reply.
I often end up putting myself down to justify why being skinny is not all sunshine and rainbows. But that does no good either. Really, any comment, regardless of intent, about my body that isn’t an actual compliment makes me feel not good enough. So please: Tell me that I look pretty or that my scarf is cute instead.
As much as you might think that I can wear anything, that’s far from the truth. Even though I’m small, I’m not proportionate. My waist is teeny, torso is long, legs are short, bust is small and hips are shapely. When shopping for swimsuit separates, I get an XS top and a medium bottom, and even then, medium bottoms still don’t hide the cellulite (yes, skinny people still have cellulite). And buying jeans? Nothing fits just right.
I was in the best shape of my life when I played tennis, but even with muscle, I still couldn’t break 110.
The grass is always greener
I feel particularly left out of today’s culture because we’re surrounded by inspirational weight loss success stories. Don’t get me wrong, those are great! I know that many people struggle with obesity and food addiction, and I applaud their efforts to live a healthier lifestyle. And in a world that relies on fast food, overly processed snacks and convenience, it’s no wonder so people many face struggles with food.
While it’s not hard to find stories of people who have lost mounds of weight, it feels like the world (and sometimes the individual) just wants to see them skinny, and they strive for an ideal body as defined by the media and society’s standards. I often wonder how many of them are doing it for the right reasons. I wonder if they have the wrong perception of what it’s like to be skinny. Thing is: Losing weight does not mean you will be happy. Even once you achieve whatever size you’re striving for, there will always be something you can pick yourself apart about. No matter the size you wear, people will always find something else to criticize you for.
The story that is left out of most of the media these days is the story of someone who struggles with weight from the other end. We’re so focused on celebrating weight loss, but it’s not always a good thing. What about the people that actually need to gain weight? The people who do have eating disorders, or maybe the people like me who are naturally small but still have issues with food? I know they’re out there, but I haven’t seen many of them.
Real medical issues
A friend of mine growing up was born with cancer PNET (primitive neuroectodermal tumor) and is missing a lung because of it. She received even more comments about her weight than I did due to the way her body looks from that. And even though she’s probably the “skinniest” lady I know, she’s a beautiful, caring, kind person. But like me, she heard many hurtful things about her size when she could do nothing about it.
Too-small women can also deal with other setbacks in life simply because of their size. Ballerinas often don’t get their periods because they work so hard and have to maintain a small body. But even regular, everyday women, have reason to worry about their futures.
After I wrote my first post about being the skinny girl, Kelly from another blog and I ended up emailing back and forth, sharing our own similar stories. She actually enlightened me to an entirely new and very real concern that she faces for being too skinny, and that’s having children. Her doctor “diagnosed” her with a rapid-fast metabolism, and she has tried everything to gain weight. Her lung even collapsed because of her size. No other reason. And now, she’s not sure if she will be able to conceive children or provide the proper nutrients for a baby, let alone carry the weight of one inside her. All for no reason other than being naturally skinny.
One thing she said to me that is better than any other way I can word it is this: “Telling a skinny person that they need to be quiet when she talks about trying to gain weight (for health reasons, such as myself) is just as rude as somebody saying, ‘Hey whale! Eat more salad!’”
For 10+ years, both Kelly and I have felt like no one else understands when all we hear is that we are too small.
The past few years, there has been a new movement of women embracing their curves. Which is great, in theory. Curvy women are beautiful, and I know that big girls got bullied just like I did. But skinny women are beautiful too, and everyone in between. Yet so many of these “movements” still focus in on one particular body type as being right.
“Zero is not a size.” “Real women have curves.” “Big is beautiful.” Does that mean that if you aren’t a size zero, you’re not a real person? Or that if you have no curves you’re not a real woman? Or that if you’re small, you’re not beautiful? I know that these campaigns mean well, but to someone who once was a size 0, it feels like they’re saying that being naturally thin is wrong and ugly. Or at least that’s how I always took it.
Big girls being ridiculed for their weight is nothing new, but their voices are rising and fat-shaming is slowly becoming less acceptable. But now, the term “skinny shaming” is coming to light, and some even call it reverse discrimination. I’m not sure what to call it, but as a skinny person, I’m glad we’re starting to have a voice. We’re a very misunderstood group, probably because we’re a small group (no pun intended).
The “other side”
I know that there are more severe health risks for overweight individuals than for underweight ones, and because so many more people struggle with obesity, we simply hear more of their stories. But when I first started drafting this post, I didn’t completely understand the other side because I had never lived it.
I felt marginalized as a skinny person because I was called stick and gross as a teen, and people thought I had an eating disorder when I didn’t. And because people still call me out on being “too skinny,” I felt attacked. The first time I ran across a post titled, The Myth of Skinny Shaming, I was infuriated and felt completely misunderstood.
Certainly being small (and in this case, I mean naturally thin, not seriously underweight) isn’t a privilege?! But then this article changed my mind. Particularly, this line: “I’ve never been asked to pay more for a seat on an airplane – because the seats were designed with my body type in mind.”
And then I got a new perspective. While some individuals will probably always comment on my body for one reason or another, it is true that mainstream society still values small over large. Small within reason, anyway. So maybe we don’t have it so bad, us skinny but healthy people. And what am I doing worrying about what other people think of me anyway? I’m an adult now and have far better things to do.
Why I’m NOT ‘All About That Bass’
That being said, there is no doubt in my mind that pop culture and the media play a HUGE role in the way naturally skinny girls are viewed. Heck, the way everyone is viewed. We are all stereotyped, aren’t we? And that leaves groups of people very misunderstood.
This summer, the breakout hit was Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass.” It was catchy, seemed light-hearted and fun. But I hated it the moment I first heard it. I couldn’t help but notice the slew of double standards and contradictory lyrics. And then when everyone was singing the song praises for being body-positive, I wanted to scream.
While the song has a few lyrics that I do genuinely think are positive, I will never get over these lines: “boys like a little more booty to hold at night,” “all the right junk in all the right places,” “I’m bringing booty back,” “Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that. No I’m just playing I know you think you’re fat.”
These lines play into the same issues I have with “Real women have curves.” Those lyrics seem to insinuate that women need to make men happy, and therefore you must have a curvy booty or else you’re not desirable. And the “no I’m just playing” line is so passive-aggressive.
For the record, not once did I ever think that I was fat. I’ve always been ultra aware of my size. Let’s not make assumptions, Meghan.
Thankfully, miss Megs did get some backlash for this song. As my bestie and reporter friend wrote in her own review in our newspaper, “I’m all for mamas teaching their daughters that their weight shouldn’t determine their self-worth, but not with the hook that boys prefer a certain body type.” Amen sistah.
In looking up more analyses of the song, I found many, but none held the same weight that this post did on Jenny Trout. And as one of the commenter stated, “Anything that uses the phrase ‘skinny bitches’ isn’t body positive in my opinion.”
Now, I should state for the record that as much as I hate All About That Bass, I should probably also hate Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda. But I don’t. Because Nicki does not even pretend that her song promotes body positivity in any way. It’s all about the big booty, that’s all, no apologies. But Meghan’s song is traipsing along as a total marketing lie, and that’s the issue I have with it.
We are all beautiful, regardless of our size
I’m not trying to sound like a lunatic on her soapbox, or an expert on body image, by any means. I may not know what it’s like to be overweight, but I know all too well what it’s like to be underweight and criticized for that. So let’s push aside all of the physical and talk about, and worry about, deeper issues. We all have meaning and every woman on this planet is beautiful regardless of how she looks from the outside. “Too fat” or “too skinny.” Celebrate you just as you are.
Finally, I know that I am more than a number on the scale or a label. No matter what my body looks like, I am defined by far more than that. I am a daughter, wife, sister-in-law, niece, aunt, co-worker, volunteer, writer, animal lover, friend, and human being. I am me, and that is good enough.