So clearly– there has been a lot going on around here lately. Not on this blog (obviously) but like, you know, real life.
We got engaged (and maybe I planned the whole wedding in a month because I was so excited), we went to Toronto (which made me even saltier about living here another year), and I started my online classes (okay class, singular… I dropped a 100 level tech literacy class because I just DON’T do well with easy yet pointless classes. It’s a serious problem. Meanwhile, I’m in a 400 level Sociology of Religion class that somehow had no prerequisites but probably should and to be honest I’m pretty content with the level of stress it’s been causing me. I’m having to crank out at least a 5 page paper per week, so it’s right up my alley, as going into an exhaustively boring amount of detail about obscure concepts is one of my greatest gifts– HELLO Philosophy and Art History major!!)
Right, so let’s get down to the real point now (can you see how it’s easy for me to fill 5 pages??) Something has been weighting heavily on my mind for– well, 24 years… but more specifically since I’ve been engaged, and it is grating hard against my fiery, feminist core. I’ve noticed it in annoying abundance since the topic of being a bride has entered my life, and it could not have been more glaringly obvious as it was when I was dress shopping. I DO think I need to preface this by saying that my intention is not complain about my– well, frankly, my privilege. This isn’t a case of discrediting the struggles of one group by pointing out that other, more privileged groups also have struggles. This is a collective struggle for all of us, especially women, and I am here to call us out on it because it’s destructive and it’s unhealthy.
So here we go…
Praising women for being skinny isn’t helping anyone. So stop it. Just. Stop.
I’ve heard it my whole life, and believe it or not, I am annoyed.
“But Mariah, you’re so lucky to have such a good figure without even trying!”
Let’s get one thing straight here. I am not lucky. It was not by some divine sense of grace that I entered into this state of being, nor was it by any form of accomplishments on my part. This is just the way my body looks. If that upsets you, makes you feel jealous, envious, or feel the need to say something like, “I’d kill to have a body like yours.”, that’s what this whole thing is about. I might be a shameless narcissist when it comes to most things, but making other people envious of my looks is literally the last thing I would ever want to do. The fact that other women drive themselves into a state of mental and physical unhealthiness trying to achieve what I have does not make me lucky, it makes the culture that perpetuates this desire insane.
This is what annoys me most about the whole thing. These statements are not just one off comments or harmless observations, and they are sure as hell not compliments. This is important. Despite your best intentions to make it so… praising a woman for being skinny IS NOT A COMPLIMENT. To anyone. Not to her. Not to you. Not to your daughters who, by the way, are listening to this perpetual conversation and are very impressionable. Not to anyone. Not to mention… they make me uncomfortable AF. (I had a customer come into my store one time after going to the gym and she told me that by the time she was “done” she was going to be as skinny as me and I literally wanted to drown myself in the non-fat milk I was steaming for her skinny mocha– which is another thing that bothers me. But. I digress…)
Here is what is so destructive about comments like these…
There is literally no way of knowing how someone else feels about their body. Someone who is skinny can hate themselves. This may come as a surprise to people, but it is a very true fact and it happens more often than we care to admit. When someone doesn’t feel like they are thin enough, praising them for being thin probably doesn’t send a message of, “You’re good enough.” it says, “You’re good enough right now because you’re thin. We think you look good because you’re thin. We are obviously paying enough attention to your weight to notice that you’re thin, which also means that we will notice if you gain weight and you better not gain weight or those compliments will stop.”
Of course… we don’t talk about it when someone gains weight. Because it’s rude. Because the conversation of our culture is that thin is good and fat is bad and the person gaining weight must feel bad about themselves so we shouldn’t do anything to upset them further.* Another reason we don’t talk about it is because it is very likely that the person who has gained weight knows that they’ve gained weight, and anyone mentioning it would be pretty pointless.
Wouldn’t it logically follow that there isn’t much of a point of pointing out to skinny people that they are skinny?
Well, here are two problems with that. The first is that humans rarely err towards a logical way of thinking, and the second is that– this is not just a conversation of simply stating the fact that someone is skinny. Whether it is by tone, context, or words, what everyone is saying is that it’s good to be skinny. Which is another logical black hole.
It isn’t any better to be skinny than it is to be anything else. In fact, it’s almost just as likely that someone who is skinny is unhealthy as it is that an overweight person is unhealthy. My early teens were by far some of my least healthy years, weight wise. I wasn’t especially UN-healthy, I just developed really late and I stayed tiny until I was probably 17, and even then I stayed a couple pounds below the “normal” weight until I was 22. I still fail to see what part of being under the scientifically recommended weight is good, but I still heard the praise all the time.
And here is the REAL gripe of the ENTIRE conversation.
Why is the focus more on looks than it is on health?
I could pull my hair out thinking about it enough. There are very few things that bother me more. I’m sure we could sit and talk all day about why this is the case, but despite the fact that I just asked that question, it’s not something I actually intend to answer. My point is to dispel the perpetual belief that skinny is superior, and point out the sneaky ways you are probably perpetuating it without realizing what you are really doing.
Any time you encourage someone to wear something they’re not comfortable in because “they have the figure for it” (enter wedding dress shopping and a huge eye roll at the fit and flare dress that was surely invented by Satan or someone who doesn’t think brides should be allowed to dance at their own receptions or be comfortable in general)
Any time you compare your body to someone else in a way that makes clear their body is superior to yours
Any time you have no reservations calling someone skinny and then struggle to find the most tactful word to describe someone who is not
Any time you tell yourself and others that it’s time to “go on a diet” or start “working on your summer body” **
–what you are really saying is that being skinny is the best thing that you can be. Skinny women are lucky. Skinny women are healthy and happy. Women who aren’t skinny have “work” to do. You are telling yourself that you aren’t good enough… and a slightly more subtle nuance… you’re also telling skinny women they aren’t good enough. Or at least that the only reason they are good enough is because of their weight. You are letting everyone know that you are looking at them. That you notice every change their body goes through. That they have something to be self-conscious about, whether it be the case or not. That they look good because they are skinny so they would look bad if they weren’t. That you think you look bad because you’re not skinny so you probably think they’d look bad if they weren’t skinny as well.
This is what we are saying to our friends, our sisters, our daughters, ourselves.
Just think about that one a little bit more…
We are telling our friends, sisters, and DAUGHTERS, that they aren’t enough. Without ever having to utter anything close to those words. We’ve somehow found a way to contort this statement into something that sounds like a compliment which makes it seem like an okay thing to say to someone.
If you take away anything from this– let it be that.
Skinny praising is an impervious form of fat shaming and it’s not an okay thing to say to anyone. Including yourself.
*in my best Dwight Schrute voice… FALSE! Remember my little bit about being underweight as a teenager? I currently weigh MORE than I EVER have weighed in my life and I have never felt better. I only ever find out my weight at doctors appointments, which are few and far between, but at a recent appointment I found out that I have gained 8 pounds and– here’s the real kicker– I was happy about it. Granted, I was somewhat confused as to where exactly this eight pounds of what I assume to be muscle is hiding out. That however, brings up an additional point: people carry weight differently. Also, weight is an indicator of almost nothing. You’d never know that I gained weight. I don’t look any different than I’ve always looked. I feel different though. I’m stronger, I have more energy, I am a generally happier person and THAT is the real prize we should be shooting for!
**I find it important to draw a distinction between complimenting someone who is just naturally thin, and encouraging someone who has made a huge lifestyle change and is conquering obesity through diet and lifestyle. That is an accomplishment. It is much different than loosing 5 pounds on a juice diet to look more like a swimsuit model for Spring Break. One is healthy. One is not. Because again– it is health that is truly most important right???