being thin to make up for everything else

I read this book called Privilege about St. Paul’s, the elite prep school, and the part that really interested me was about the girls who go there and how they all have eating disorders. Well, you know, not ALL of them, but a shocking majority. They suffer from depression at a much higher rate than the boys. They also don’t get elected to leadership positions or win prizes for creativity, even though their test scores are just as high or higher than their male peers. Even though they are getting into the school at the same or higher rates.

(source)

The girls at the elite boarding school want desperately to be thin. Thinner than they already are.

I have sometimes wanted desperately to be thinner, even though I know, and I knew then, that I am not heavy. I have felt too heavy despite this.

What is it about being thin? Why do we want that? Why do the prep school girls want it badly enough to harm themselves in pursuit of it? What is it about this intensely competitive environment that triggers so many eating disorders, so much body-hatred, so much appearance fixation?

I wanted to be thin the most when I hated my face the most. The thinness was supposed to make up for my other beauty failures. I felt that I always understood Sarah Jessica Parker’s extreme thinness because of this. Her face was a target for disdain, dismissal, mean humor, even loathing. It wasn’t the face of a model or a TV star, even though she was a TV star. So of course she was intensely thin. It made sense to me. I wanted to be thinner to distract people from the rest of me.

I was sometimes painfully different, I thought, and successful femininity seemed to be about looking enough like the girls and women other people had decided were beautiful. And looking more like them meant being less like me.

I wanted to be thinner as an apology.

 

(source)

As a defense.

And because my body felt awkward. I think I thought, mostly unconsciously, that if there was less of it, it would be easier to be in it. My anorexic roommate was short in addition to being wisp-thin, and she could curl up in a chair and practically disappear. I was jealous, because my body seemed to take up too much space, no matter what. Because I wasn’t sure what to do with my hands. I’m still not. What does anyone ever do with their hands? It’s possible that this is the real reason I’m having a baby. To occupy my awkward hands.

There are so many reasons why girls and women want to be thin—but mostly when we want it, I think we can only vaguely explain. It just LOOKS better. It would feel better to be me if I were thinner.

Really, it’s winning, on some strange, highly present level. Winning, somehow, at being a girl.

And this is maybe why the prep school girls starve themselves. Because they are competing, like the boys, to be the best. Because that whole environment is about success, about standing out for being better. And for girls, cruelly, being better is too often about looking better. And looking better is too often about looking thinner. Maybe especially because weight sometimes feels more controllable than the other parts of beauty.

I want to talk to these prep school girls. Maybe we could talk all night. But that probably wouldn’t even do anything. I want instead to fix the world for them. To change the way we understand success and beauty, and to separate those concepts, to yank them apart until they’re barely able to touch. I want to tear off the shiny packaging and set the truth on a pillar in the middle of everything.

Being thin doesn’t make up for anything else—that’s the truth.

We need to make that clear to girls, so we need to be clear about it ourselves. For so many of us, being thin is like the quest for the golden city—where the streets are paved with it, gleaming, everything you see will make you rich. But it’s an illusion. It’s a waste of time. It’s dangerous. It’s a set-up for failure. A vicious trick.

(source)

Sometimes I start to forget what a big deal beauty is, which is maybe weird, because I write about it a lot. But because I write about it a lot, I’m also used to people dismissing it a lot. I also sometimes wonder if it’s just me—am I thinking about this automatically now, because I write about it? Do I notice it in places where I don’t need to? Where it doesn’t matter?

And then someone suddenly corners me to tell me that it’s important. Or that it nearly killed them. Or that it has always been there, stalking them, even though in general, everything should be OK. I read a book about a prep school where the unspoken rules for girls strictly demand body compliance. Where being thin is women’s law, and that law is wringing girls out, pressing them into exhausted quiet.

And sometimes I realize that it’s extremely important to think about and talk about beauty, precisely BECAUSE it’s so easy to dismiss. The fact that people can wave it off with one hand can render its victims invisible.

I wanted to be thinner because I wanted to be more invisible, because I wanted to be innocuous and inoffensive. I wouldn’t have put it that way at the time, but I understand it better now. There’s a safety in invisibility. It’s a catch 22—the relationship between attractiveness and disappearance. You imagine that you will come into yourself, become clearer, sharper, prettier, more able to be present, as you shed your fleshy, heavy parts. You will become more like the you you’re supposed to be by being less of you, physically. 

But you won’t.

And the prep school girls won’t win.

None of us are winning, because the contest has been rigged from the start.

*  *  *

If you are already thin but you want to be thinner, why do you think that is?

Unroast: Today I love the way I look in purple.

66 Comments »

Kate on February 15th 2013 in beauty, body, perfection

66 Responses to “being thin to make up for everything else”

  1. teegan responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 12:21 pm #

    i don’t think i ever wanted to be skinny. i wanted a cute waist. well, i wanted A waist.
    there was a girl i went to high school with. she wore baggy olive boys’ cargo shorts and tank-tops. she had decent hips and decent boobs and a belly that was neither thin nor fat but the barest bit round. it fit the rest of her body perfectly. she had a badass boyfriend and a pack of boys who loved to hang out with her. she was funny and not afraid to eat when she was hungry or wrestle or dress up & look cute or sit around watching ‘friends’ reruns with her roommate.
    that’s what i wanted. i wanted to be fearless. i wanted to be curvy instead of a blob (which is what i thought i was, though i probably weighed less than ten pounds more than she did).
    i like to think i’m a lot closer to that now. i’m not perfectly at ease with myself, obviously, but i don’t beat myself up nearly as much for eating “bad” foods, and i know that i have a body remarkably similar to that girl’s from high school.

  2. Lillian (17) responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 12:22 pm #

    I’m thin. People have joked about it, even assumed I was bulimic, because I love to eat the whole damn cake on my own! I don’t feel me being skinny makes up for my big nose or my bad skin. I feel it’s an extra something I’m unsure about. I wish I had a more curvy body or something. It’s just not the way I’m built. I’m accepting. Trying. Girls always seem jealous of my body, but to me the body of a model is kinda boring. And I never get to say that. Girls say; “You’re so lucky!” (with my high metabolism) I tell them no and why, but they don’t care. My ideal doesn’t match with the worlds, so I’m a big whiny phony, fishing for compliments. The world is a sick place: always judging, obsessing over things that shouldn’t even matter, never satisfied. It saddens me.

  3. Emily responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 12:24 pm #

    “We need to make that clear to girls, so we need to be clear about it ourselves.” That’s the battle. Our self-worth is so intricately tied to our self-image, which is so intricately tied to expectations we see set by other people. Why is it so hard to just decide simply to trust our own hearts about our self-worth?

    Starting in school everything is a competition – grades, test scores, class elections. How awesome would it be if we were taught at a young age our self-worth wasn’t at all tied to being better than others.

  4. Staci responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 12:31 pm #

    I want to be thinner constantly. Honestly, it is all I think about, besides school, my boyfriend, my mom, and my dog. And even while these other great parts of my life are in my mind, the nagging demon that craves to be thinner, and thinner, and thinner is always there. I don’t know why I want to be thinner. I have a healthy weight, and have been on the lower end of healthy in BMI and all for at least five years. I think my extreme behaviors with food intake and exercise began around then. I truly believe my eyesight is different from everyone who is not me when I view myself in a mirror. I literally see myself in a contorted manner. I feel myself as being always too big, too heavy. I know I’m not. But it doesn’t change how I feel or what I see.
    Luckily, some days I am better, and have not felt ill for months. I’m working every day to get better, even though some days I take two steps back. I believe it will be a lifelong struggle, and I really wish I could help change the media’s view of beautiful.

  5. Samantha Angela responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 12:38 pm #

    I think your spot on. Thinness is the beauty ideal in our society so if we can’t have a beautiful face or clear skin or long eyelashes or a button nose then at least we can try our very hardest to be thin. . . because if we are then we are successful. We’ve achieved something.

  6. Erin responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 12:43 pm #

    I have anorexia, so I believe I qualify as someone thin who wants to be thinner. And all I can say is THIS: “I wanted to be thinner because I wanted to be more invisible, because I wanted to be innocuous and inoffensive.”

    I could not have put it better myself. I’m very passive, quiet, and shy. I avoid conflict like the plague. And generally, no one is going to attack the tiny, child-like figure trying to do no harm.

  7. Also Kate responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 12:57 pm #

    I think it’s easy, when you’ve grown up with thinness as the best and most highly-rewarded form of beauty and therefore of perfection, to tie up all of your future hopes and current disappointments in thinness. We’re weight-and-body-shape-obsessed as a culture already, plus we have all of these weight-loss success stories to fuel that hope.

    Via news stories, blogs and shows like The Biggest Loser, we see people transform themselves from sad-and-fat to happy-and-thin and it’s so easy to believe that it will work even if you start out at a point that is objectively quite thin.

    I have to fight the idea every day that losing 5 pounds will make me happier, smarter, more likeable, and more successful. Which sounds absurd when I write it out like that, but it’s so very tempting as a slippery abstract thought dancing around my brain.

  8. Sarah S responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 1:14 pm #

    When I was in the throes of anorexia I was a skinny, raging bitch with terrible skin. Two years and twenty-five pounds later I’m a kinder, more patient woman with a healthy glow. I can tell you from painful personal experience that thinner does not equal better! I still battle the tapes that tell me I’d look prettier and stronger if I just lost five pounds; however, now I can logically recognize them as the eating disorder urging me down a slippery slope and more or less tell them to STFU. :) I never wish to go back to the hell of being “thin enough.”

  9. deanna responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    Here’s some widsom from one of the oldest women on this site: I was anorexic from ages 15 until 17 1/2. My reasons for falling into this terrible disease sound a lot like Kate’s: I hated my face, I thought I was ugly, I believed no boy would ever date me and when a young man a few years older than me said to me that no one would ever like me if I got fatter I stopped eating. I went from about 120 lbs at 5’7 down to 88 lbs. My hair fell out, my skin was dry, I couldn’t focus, I missed out on high school because I never had energy.

    Well no boys liked me thin either (this was a different time remember and what was considered beautiful was different than it is today) so I started eating again. I got back to around 120 and I felt pretty for the first time ever.

    Now that I am older and still very thin, I have some problems. I strongly believe that having had an eating disorder at a crucial age caused these problems. Even though I am underweight (but not terribly so) I have to watch what I eat because my glucose levels can climb high and I have sky high cholestorol. The doctors all tell me to go on a diet…until they review my height and weight and they shake their heads.

    So ladies…be careful with the skinny thing. I don’t think that skinny is that much prettier than curvey…but fat also isnt’ good (some very overweight women who are full of confidence seem to think they are curvey when in reality they are fat and that isn’t good for you either).

    One more thing…the pressure today to be beautiful is so much worse than it was in the 80s when I was young. Back then you had a few models and half a dozen actresses who were breathtakingly beautiful. Now you have thousands thanks to all the TV shows, movies, reality shows etc.

    I think the best way for us as women to handle this pressure is to be the best we can and to ignore it. It’s all very silly and most of these women have so much work done that they really aren’t much different than any of us.

  10. Christina McPants responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 1:36 pm #

    THIS. I am fat and have been since I was 12. I have spent my whole life wanting to be thin, wanting to be prettier, more graceful, better. I thought (and sometimes still feel) that being thin would open doors for me that are shut, would make things easier, would make me a better person. It’s probably not true. But I think it is.

  11. rowdygirl responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 1:44 pm #

    Kate,
    Once again, you are spot on. Your future daughter is blessed to have you as a mommy. The pain of being overweight, in all it’s forms, has been with me all my life (51 years) and I think about it EVERY DAY. Yes, every day. My weight, my body and how far from perfect I will ever be, are a part of my every day thinking. No matter what I say to myself, it’s always there. I lost a large amount of weight with gastric bypass in 2003, but I never got thin or anywhere close to skinny. I never will. That’s my reality and my struggle every day is to be able to live with that. I’m healthy (sorry skinny people who think it’s impossible) and I have a decent job, a good man in my life and other nice things. Most days, all those things don’t matter. I’m fat, which means I’ve failed as a person, as a woman and as a human being. At least, that’s the message out there. That’s why your writing is so important. We need to hear that all those “truths” aren’t really true. And we need to hear that we’re not all alone in the world.
    Thanks Kate.
    Tammy

  12. Victoria responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 1:45 pm #

    I’ve always been skinny and I feel like it’s almost something I need to apologize for. When my heaviest to date is the lowest for a friend, I feel like I need to excuse that. The list of reasons why (I’m not trying to do it, it’s just my body type, I’m shorter than you are) come off my tongue easily. But the fact that my jeans are a smaller size or that the scale reads a lower number than others doesn’t mean I don’t have days where I feel gross, where I don’t feel attractive. Skinny does not “make up for” the very Italian nose I have or the days that I polish off an entire 28cm pizza on my own (WITH stuffed crust thankyouverymuch) and then feel bloated and gross. Skinny is just part of who I am. Until someone points it out. Just like most parts of me. Oddly, I feel called to apologize for skinny but have owned being short. I am proud of every inch and have never apologized for my height. Our society treats height and weight in very different ways though. (One is supposedly under our control and the other a matter of genetics-and shoe choice.)

  13. Brigid responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 1:53 pm #

    Like so many other commenters, I’ve struggled with anorexia. It’s been 5 years now, and I’ve gone through so many phases of illness and health and every gradient of the scale in between that I’ve lost track. But one thing has always been constant: I want to be thinner. I want to be thinner because I want to hurt myself, because self-destruction is the only reality I know and feel I deserve, because continuing what I do (leaving me thinner) will wreck havoc on my body and mind and hopefully help kill whatever that part of me is that isn’t enough. Thinness is my measuring stick of how successful I’ve been at eradicating that part.
    I don’t know if this makes sense.
    I don’t know if this is useful.
    But it is what is.

  14. Kate responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 1:58 pm #

    @Victoria
    Indeed! I’ve also been there. I wrote this piece about the whole issue of being skinny and being judged for it: http://www.eatthedamncake.com/2012/08/26/my-skinny-friend-and-the-women-who-judge-her/

  15. Janet T responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 2:04 pm #

    I’ve always had an hourglass figure- hips and boobs- and even at my thinnest was never skinny, although my pelvic bones stuck out.
    So many of the skinny girls I see today have a completely different body type than I ever did- well ok I looked that way at 12 before puberty set in.

    “Now when I was fifteen, oh I knew it was over
    The road to enchantment was not mine to take
    ‘Cause lower calf, upper arm should be half what they are
    I was breaking the laws that the signmakers made”

    DAR WILLIAMS – YOU’RE AGING WELL

    oh Dar, you say things so well…………….

  16. deva by definition responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 2:26 pm #

    I am slender, and I get a lot of crap for it. If I want veggies with lunch I’m told I don’t need them and to eat cake (which I do, often). If I workout to be stronger and to keep my bones and heart healthy, I get told it’s unnecessary. I understand that folks are well-meaning but it stings. I get tired of the “real women” campaigns because yes, there is an ideal, and yes, it’s broadcasted everywhere and yes, it sucks, but I feel like many of the campaigns encourage thin-bashing as much as they encourage self-acceptance. Why isn’t it enough to accept ourselves and others for who we and they are and to get past shape and size?

    I don’t have an answer for that, but this is a very good post, kudos :-)

  17. maggie responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 3:15 pm #

    Great post. I think this is the reason so many of us feel the need to be thin even if we dont realize it.

    My favorite color is purple :)

  18. damla responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 3:21 pm #

    Somehow being thin is being equated with being graceful, and women are supposed to be graceful, right? What’s even worse is that you gotta be edgy, brave, and JUST THE RIGHT AMOUNT of crude and clumsy to make you cute in addition to being graceful.

    You gotta be thin but eat cheeseburgers.

  19. deanna responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 3:41 pm #

    @Deva..right on sweetie. As thin women we get bashed a lot. I was part of a group on-line and there was a post where somoene put a photo of a stick figure peeing on a thin woman. Everyone liked it! I was the only thin one there…but not for long since I got out.

    Yes I am thin and I would be able to eat everything if it weren’t for my high sugar and cholesterol levels. But I also have frizzy fine hair, a large nose, funny mouth, and fair skin that never tans. I still feel homely even though I am a size two.

    Let’s stop bashing. Few of us look like Kate Upton or the VS Models.

  20. Kate responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 4:01 pm #

    @deanna/other people commenting about this
    I hope it’s clear that this piece is not bashing thin women. This is a really interesting issue, and I’ve thought about it and written about it before (I linked to a piece about it in the comments above), but acknowledgement of the inherent danger in the urge to lose weight to “improve” other things/everything about yourself is NOT a dismissal of thin women. And of course thin women still have problems. I was very thin as a teenager, just because my body was like that, and I knew I was very thin, and I didn’t always feel awesome. No one always feels awesome. This isn’t the point. The point is the mistaken belief that you will feel awesome if you’re thinner. Obviously, untrue, as you guys are mentioning.

    The larger point, though, is that there shouldn’t be this enormous pressure on women to look a certain way, and that any certain way of looking is problematic, because NO one look can accomplish all of the things we so often hope it can.

    Just wanted to make sure this is all clear! Often, I notice that I get responses like these when I talk about thinness, and it’s important to me that we’re clear on my actual points. I am never interested in condemning or criticizing anyone’s body, and I hope that’s obvious. But in the context of this post, I also don’t want to distract too much from the very, very real problem of the pressure to be thin by focusing too much on how people can be mean to thin people, too.

  21. Sarah S responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 4:01 pm #

    @Brigid: Exactly. Be strong and know there are so many of us with you.

  22. Kate responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 4:02 pm #

    @Emily
    It would be SO awesome. I want to figure out how to do this better.

  23. San D responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 4:37 pm #

    @Christina McPants
    OK, Girl, I have been fat since age 2, when I was too fat to walk and considered the model child because I laughed a lot and didn’t move. I will always be fat. I was thin, once for a nanosecond and you know what? I was still me, the introspective, interesting artist type who wore clothes no one else wears, who thinks like no one else, and who didn’t fit any mold. I still watch what I eat and know each calorie, but sometimes you just got to eat what you got to eat. What I learned from my eternal weight fight is this: be yourself FIRST, because even if you get to be skinny, nothing magical happens. Most people who know and love me, look past my extra pounds. I know they want me to be happy and healthy and that is what I aim for. As an aside, I married into a weight conscious family who sometimes look at me with their prejudice “fat glasses”, but I always manage to get the last laugh, because as I like to say “hey, I ate the hot fudge sundae and it tasted great!”, what did you eat? “oh, too bad for you”.

  24. Erika responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 4:38 pm #

    This is beautifully put and rings very true with me. I’m figuring out my own disordered eating right now, and realizing that every time I’ve said, “If I could just be thinner…” I’m not doing myself justice. Because I think the thinner me is happier and more outgoing, and doesn’t want to hide herself. But really I’m not addressing all my awkwardness, my disconnection, and all the other things that are bothering me.

    And so many women put shove their into “if I could just be thinner…”. You’re right. There’s no way to win the contest except to say, “I don’t want to play anymore,” which is incredibly hard.

  25. Kate responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 4:50 pm #

    @Erika
    It really is incredibly hard. I had no idea how to even end this piece so I just stopped writing. I wish there was a good, simple, followable solution.

  26. Caroline responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 5:26 pm #

    I love this. This is so spot on- and pointing out something IMPORTANT, I agree.

    Being thinner makes me feel both “more dainty” AND more “masculine” (able to be taken seriously)- whereas being my “bigger self” is very voluptuous (big chest). And I assume is seen as sexualized by the world -a threat to any daintiness, a threat to being taken seriously, and a threat to fitting into the docile acceptable body type.

    THANK YOU FOR TALKING ABOUT THIS IN YOUR INQUISITIVE, OPEN AND HONEST WAY!!!!!

  27. Melinda responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 5:54 pm #

    I was underweight until I was about 25. I’ve always been very short and my weight was mostly anywhere from 90 lbs. to 120. Now I’m 156 and a size 10 at nearly 30 years old…a round, cuddly ball.

    When I was thin, I still wasn’t what society generally defines as “beautiful”. I was awkward, I had small boobs, big thighs/calves, and hair that still managed to be puffy with a relaxer in it. My multiracial background excluded me from beauty in the eyes of most people.

    Being thin didn’t mean that I was happy or comfortable in my own skin. It actually invited people to abuse and hurt me in many ways. My cousin, who was anywhere from a size 16 to a size 22, was the one that everyone called “beautiful”. We were treated very differently and we still are. I might have been thinner but I guess on some level, she was the one who received all the privilege (I know it sounds weird, but it’s true).

    So I went from being a naturally thin, healthy girl to a young woman with terrible body image and bouts of disordered eating. I felt like since no one ever called me beautiful or acknowledged me in positive ways, I could at least be as skinny as possible, and stay that way.

    It was bad to think that way, but I figured that since I couldn’t get attention for being pretty like my cousin did, I could fit the definition of “beauty” in ways that she couldn’t…being thin and light-skinned. I felt like this was the only way I could be accepted by anyone, especially since everyone made comments on my appearance and the comments were mostly unkind.

    I remember adults making the most cruel comments about me, as well as kids, and then everyone would wonder why I didn’t want to eat in front of them. When I was very thin but still managed to keep a few of my curves, this one woman said to me: “You look good now. Your legs used to be so big and ugly”. That has stayed in my mind for years. What’s funny is that she was NOT thin herself. I can’t imagine saying something like that to anyone.

    I feared being fat…not because I hated fat people or looked down on them, but because I knew that all the bullying and discrimination (mostly based on my race) would be worse if I became fat, too. I’ll be honest, I thought I was ugly and so did everybody else, but I was thankful to not be fat. It was more about not having to worry about my weight being the reason no one liked me. I feared the criticism about my body, my butt/thighs and all of the parts that people told me were “bad”. Being thin was a form of protection from that kind of pain in my mind, although it really wasn’t.

    But since I’ve gained weight, I learned that either way, people will comment on my body and what I look like. Whether a woman is thin or fat or in the middle, somebody will have their judgments about her.

    And what Kate said hit home with me…about wanting to be thin because she didn’t like her face and wanted to distract people from it. That was me, too. Everyone would always tell my cousin she had a beautiful face (this might be another conversation because fat girls are often told that they have pretty faces) and I felt left out. I wanted to be told that MY face was pretty, too. I hated my smile, my eyes, my nose, all of it. So I figured that by staying thin no one would notice how “unpretty” I was. I could make up for my perceived ugliness by being tiny and petite, having long hair and light skin. I felt a bit more accomplished that way because my cousin might have been prettier but I was thin and she wasn’t. It is a terrible way to think/feel. Sometimes I would mentally compare what we looked like, “well, people say she’s prettier than me and she has big boobs but my arms are nicer and my tummy is flat”.

    Funny enough, although I’m still unhappy with my body years later, I actually have come to like my face a little bit. It’s round and my cheekbones aren’t prominent anymore, but I think my face is almost pretty now because I’ve gained weight. So weird (and I apologize if it sounds conceited).

  28. Melinda responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 6:13 pm #

    @ Victoria…that piece Kate linked to is excellent and it touches on what you said. Please don’t feel that you should apologize for who you are and what you look like. When I was thin, I felt that way sometimes, too. I’m very short as well and when people would make nasty comments or shoot me dirty looks, it took willpower to not cry.

    This world is a strange place sometimes. On the one hand, women are praised for being slim and in control of their weight. But on the other hand, there are people who will attack you for being thin and it often stems from their own issues. There is a lot of obsession with body image and it only seems to be getting worse.

    Being a very light-skinned woman of color is something that I’ve often felt the need to apologize for, although I know that’s silly on a rational level. But growing up around mostly people of color, it was difficult because no one else looked like me and there was this sense that people resented me for looking more white than black (except for my hair). Sometimes I feel like I have to explain why I look this way so people will be more comfortable around me. It sucks.

    I guess that it kind of ties in with perceived privilege…like there’s “thin” privilege, “straight” privilege, etc.

    Some people who have never been in your shoes (or jeans) don’t know what it’s like and they assume the grass is greener.

  29. Brook responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 6:30 pm #

    Society tells us that girls/women should not take up space. In every manner that they can be they are told to be less. The main one that you might be able to have control over is your physical mass.

  30. Stephanie responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 7:07 pm #

    That last paragraph struck me, the part about being thin and yet wanting to be thinner. Because that’s me.

    I’m athletic and beautiful, but I feel like having a flat stomach is the way to win. It’s how to be successful. ESPECIALLY living here in LA, where every woman spends a lot of time on her appearance.

    I feel like being thinner would help me with my career, help me gain confidence. I would have more fun and be more carefree and run around in daisy dukes. ;-)

    And aren’t there studies that show that more attractive people do get more raises, etc.?

  31. Kande responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 7:17 pm #

    I lost weight through exercising and eating healthy. I did it through joining a run club, and I discovered I loved running, I loved the emotional high from the exercise. I lost weight but lost more dress sizes than actual weight – I ended up being able to easily fit into size six dresses (from a size twelve), but only lost maybe 10-15 lbs at most.

    When I hit my lowest weight, people kept complimenting me on my weight loss. Not so much about me looking fit, healthy, strong – but on my perceived weight loss.

    Which made me happy, and shy, and awkward, and sad and confused – because all that meant was then I started to obsess about why did I hit a plateau, and why did the compliments stop, and why was I still (according to BMI still borderline overweight (seriously, wtf?), and why do I look thin but weigh heavy, what is wrong with my body, and why is my friend who is depressed so incredibly skinny but I exercise and am not incredibly skinny, and why can’t I stop eating so I can be skinny? etc. etc. etc.

    And then I realized (1) healthy is not spelt t-h-i-n (2) People (society) is fucked up about health, as we are either obese or starving into oblivion (3) my daughters deserve a much healthier view than I am providing myself and (4) not eating does NOT make me happy or a better person – it makes me a bitch. Ergo, I shall Eat the Damn Cake, but just maintain a healthy balance overall and if it means I have to get up one extra morning to exercise to balance it out well – I am sure all the people who can’t afford to pay for classes or healthy choices for food, or who physically can’t exercise think I am pretty damn blessed that I can. They are right. So I now do too.

  32. morgaine responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 9:11 pm #

    I’d be interested in the boys’ side of things. Men are less likely to want to be thin, but more likely to want to bulk up. Steroid use is more prevalent in more competitive environments.

  33. Rapunzel responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 9:28 pm #

    I wasn’t quite prepared for this post, Kate! You said so many things that I (and so many others here) think of ourselves too. We really shouldn’t feel as alone as we sometimes do.
    Your roommate curling up in a chair reminded me of something I thought the other day. Some days I spend all day at work mindlessly listing the things I dislike about my body and things I’ll “never be able to do” because of it. One of the biggest ones is being able to curl up small, and specially being able to pull my knees up and wrap my arms around them, or rest my chin on my knees. I’ve always wanted to do that and I’ve never been able to. It seems like such a stupid thing to wish for, and I know it, but it doesn’t make me wish for it any less.

    I’ve been there, hating my body and trying everything to make it just stop being IT. I’ve never been anorexic or bulimic, but it’s painful in itself just knowing that I’ve *wished* I had the “strength” to be like that. It’s sick, I know. Every day I still struggle with not hating my body and cry too often because of it. I’m starting therapy next week though, and I’m absolutely terrified of it so wish me luck.

    We all love you, Kate.

  34. Bonnie responded on 15 Feb 2013 at 9:43 pm #

    For the longest time, I wanted to be thinner. Even though I have a tiny waist, my stomach flared out a bit from it. It wasn’t noticeable when I was wearing clothes; it was just noticeable enough for me to see it every time I got dressed. And it terrified me. For the longest time, and still sometimes occasionally, I was convinced I couldn’t be attractive because of it. That it was some blaring signal that I wasn’t good enough. And then suddenly, one day, I realized two things. One: that the people I thought were beautiful didn’t have cookie cutter bodies. They had hips and varying shapes and sizes. I found them beautiful because I knew they were sweet and kind and fun, and I knew they were stunning when they smiled. I finally realized I held myself to a very different standard than I held everyone else to. And that wasn’t fair to me. The second things I realized was that I liked hugging people more when they weren’t sticks. When they were a little soft and there was some substance to hold onto. I’m an extremely huggy person, so this realization was amazing for me. I realized that I had a slightly soft body for people to really hug. I realized that when my friends were talking to me, they weren’t talking about looks, they were talking about what was on the inside. And that is exactly how it should be.

  35. Kathryn responded on 16 Feb 2013 at 2:11 am #

    I think back to high school, and I’m amazed by how obsessed we all were with being thin…because we were already thin. By 9th grade, a number of girls who probably wore size 4 were doing Weight Watchers, and I have a distinct memory of the girl next to me in computer class breaking down in tears because she had had to buy size 0 (as opposed to 00) jeans. Sad, isn’t it?

  36. Sari responded on 16 Feb 2013 at 2:26 am #

    When I was seriously doing ballet, there was definitely an element of feeling I should be thinner. Mostly subconscious, not really acted upon.

    Of course, there was the one teacher who chastised me for eating regular yogurt instead of fat-free, because heaven forbid… I was probably around 5’0″ at that point, maybe a bit taller, and I think 89lbs? 95lbs? Whatever, I ate what I wanted, thankyouverymuch. This teacher, mind you, also told the elite dancers at the school that they should eat 300 calories a day, and, if still hungry, they could consume cotton balls soaked in green tea. The cotton would fill dancers’ stomachs, the green tea would help keep the dancers from losing all their color. I wish that was a joke.

    I almost went to boarding school for ballet and, among other things, was turned off by talking to my potential roommate and hearing her talk about weight stuff as it related to the school.

    Oddly enough, St. Paul’s was once on the docket as a possibility. While not a *dance* school, they have a pretty dedicated program there…

    Now I want to read this book!

  37. sara responded on 16 Feb 2013 at 10:35 am #

    wonderful post Kate.. this reminds me of the idea that leaders of countries and the members of the privileged classes get the poor to fight amongst each other so that they don’t have energy to fight the structure that they live in. It’s the same way with patriarchy that it is with capitalism. Get the women to compete with each other, to obsess over their self-image and they will not have the energy to fight the patriarchal structure that they live in. These cultural expectations of beauty, that vary nation by nation, get so ingrained within us. The internalized image of what is beautiful makes us hate ourselves because it’s not actually attainable.

  38. Sheryl responded on 16 Feb 2013 at 12:00 pm #

    Right now yes, I wish I was about three to five pound thinner. Enough to be more comfortable in the bridesmaid’s dress that was purchased in October and won’t be worn until September. I’m stressed that I let the saleslady badger me into ordering the smaller of two possible sizes. That dress, which is actuality is everything that a bridesmaid’s dress should be and I otherwise like, is the source of so much stress for me right now.

    Or maybe the dress is sitting there symbolizing the fact that I’m internally stressed out a little bit anyway. I like my body right now, for the most part, and I don’t want it to change. I don’t want to gain five pounds so instead I’m sitting here thinking I’d like to lose five pounds.

  39. Lindsey responded on 16 Feb 2013 at 2:18 pm #

    Once upon a time, I cared about being thin. Then I realized that my face, which I am very fond of, looked wrong. It didn’t look bad – it just looked like someone else’s face. So I gained some weight and I looked like myself again.

    A couple of years later, I had two bad breakups in less than six months, and I threw myself into my workout routine as a means of distracting myself. I never got thin, but I developed a rockin’ bod. I still had a little bit of roundness in the belly (because hi, I like pizza, especially at 2am), but THEN I got cripplingly ill and lost nine pounds in a week’s time. When I came out of my haze, I realized that I looked perfect. Somehow those nine pounds had come off in all the right places (secret to getting thin: lay in bed writhing in pain for six days! Sweat off the pounds with a 104* fever!) and I was the American Ideal. Round hips, tiny waist, big boobs. And somehow, my face still looked like my face. I was me, but perfect.

    Except, you know, not. I remember going out for a friend’s birthday a couple of days later, and I was wearing this smoking hot skintight dress that I could barely breathe in, and I was annoyed at two of my friends who were fighting and I was upset by an ex-boyfriend who I happened to run into (and, it’s worth noting, who STILL didn’t want me even though I was thinner!) and I was afraid to eat anything, ever, see above re: dress.

    I think that’s when it really hit home that there is just no such thing as perfect. That “thin enough” is only thin enough for just a moment, because you end up a) worrying that you’re not going to be that thin tomorrow or b) doing crazy things to get even thinner. “Thin enough” doesn’t magically make the guy want you or the friends stop being assholes. It doesn’t make you feel comfortable in that dress.

    My story took a happy turn, because a few months later I fell in love with a guy who likes me no matter what I look like, and I found better friends who didn’t annoy me all the time. And it turned out that my happiness had nothing to do with how thin I was or wasn’t. Sure, I think about it sometimes. I can’t not – that’s the world we live in. But there’s something really freeing about being happy without having to be thin. I want to shout to all those prep school girls that it gets better but I know that it doesn’t always, not for everyone. You become happy if you choose to focus on being happier. You are “thin enough” when “thin enough” means “happy regardless of weight.”

  40. Lindsey responded on 16 Feb 2013 at 2:20 pm #

    PS: this reminded me so much of this post: http://www.toothpastefordinner.com/index.php?date=020613

  41. Annabel Candy responded on 16 Feb 2013 at 6:41 pm #

    Great thinking Kate and congrats on the pregnancy. Don’t worry your hands will be very full soon :) I am excited for you.

    To answer your question: Because it’s cool to be thin so if I’m thin and wear cool clothes people might not notice that I am actually not cool at all.

  42. Rachel SV responded on 16 Feb 2013 at 8:24 pm #

    I am anorexic and at least 20 pounds under a “normal/healthy” weight. When I am “in” my disease, I want to be thinner, thinner, thinner, because I want to be invisible, I want to not have any needs, I want to not take up people’s attentions or energies, I want to be invisible BUT I also want to “achieve” something. I may feel like I cannot write the best dissertation, if write one at all, but I (think I) can control how much I eat, how much space I take, how much food I need, how much time I have to spend eating that food, how much money I have to spend on that food, etc. Of course, I cannot really control any of that: the disease controls me. But that is the cunning part of this thing – it makes me think I can.
    Thank you, Kate. Thanks for “listening”

  43. Hillary E. responded on 16 Feb 2013 at 10:55 pm #

    It seems like there are two extremes here: women who see themselves as always skinny or always fat. I fall into the overly skinny group- so painfully thin and tall in middle school and high school, and couldn’t gain weight. I just wanted to be able to wear shorts and not have other girls laugh at my toothpick legs. Years later, I realized from reunion comments that other girls assumed I was stuck up because I was skinny (what?!). Two babies and many years later, I have stretch marks and a tummy that will never ever grace a bikini again, but I’m much happier with my body. For me, having a baby kind of empowered me- like, “whatever, think what you want about what my body looks like, it’s strong. It does what it needs to.”

  44. Rosanne responded on 17 Feb 2013 at 12:13 pm #

    “You will become more like the you you’re supposed to be by being less of you, physically.”

    Yup, have thought that many times. Still think that every now and then. But I fight the thought when it comes up, because it is ridiculous and I know it. Instead I want to feel free of those collective thoughts on thin-ness and let the awkward parts of my body and personality shine. And I want young girls everywhere to feel it too, that would be pretty great.
    Until we get there (and even when we do): the insightful way in which you are contributing to this whole discussion is wonderful, Kate, keep on writing!

  45. Tanja responded on 17 Feb 2013 at 2:17 pm #

    It makes me sad that people think that thin = xxx (insert: “happier”, “healthier”, “better”, “prettier”, etc)

    I come from the other side, where I don’t have a disorder, or work at it, or do anything that actively tries to change my weight and shape. I am thin, always have been…but at the same time I am far from that ideal the media shows us, because of course with the slighter figure I have comes virtually no breasts to speak of and my curves aren’t in the right places etc.

    But the remarks on my weight (and it’s always on my weight I am judged, rarely on anything else) from people hurt more and more as I get older, the daggers cleverly disguised as compliments. But what hurts the most is that people think my body shape is a comment on theirs…that I am somehow subversively commenting on their bodies with mine, because it couldn’t be further from the truth.

    I honestly think our society has created a situation where we just can’t win, we will always be too fat or too thin or too normal and never just quite good enough.

  46. Lily responded on 17 Feb 2013 at 4:10 pm #

    I’ve always wanted to be thinner as an apology too – because I have no breasts to speak of (and after two kids I still don’t), they just don’t fit with the rest of me.

    Beautiful is NEVER chubby tum, big thighs, flat chest.

    I’ve been told by men and women alike that I’d be better off having a breast augmentation procedure if I want to feel good about myself but that was out of my financial capabilities so instead I have aimed to be thin by dieting, purging, starving, exercising and none of these have achieved what I desire. My internal voice is constantly reminding me of this 24/7. I hate her.

  47. Aussie Fan responded on 17 Feb 2013 at 5:00 pm #

    I had anorexia. Occasionally I revert to the behavious that would suggest I’m still prone to the eating disorder. I’ve been like this since I was 18. I’m now 44.

    I am thin.

    I’ve always been thin.

    What has always echoed in my head, even at my thinnest, is “I’m skinny and I’m still not happy”.

    I would love to have more weight on and be able to like myself. I don’t though.

  48. Carrie responded on 17 Feb 2013 at 11:23 pm #

    I love love love this. It IS incredibly important that we talk about this. That we fight the assumption that thinner is better. That we realize what we are DOING to ourselves. We are giving UP our power by believeing that!

    I always felt like if I was thinner I would be dainty and docile “like a woman was supposed to be”. Dainty mostly. Because the alternative is a VERY voluptuous body on me, that I didn’t think would allow me to be taken seriously. It made me an object and I felt out of control. I wasn’t able to be masculine and serious- OR docile and dainty. Just voluptuous and sexualized.

    But owning it is the first step. Owning and believing that a curvier body doesn’t have to be weak or objectified. And thinner doesn’t have to mean winning.

    Anyway, thank you for ALL your writing.

  49. Jenn C responded on 18 Feb 2013 at 3:29 am #

    @Stephanie
    I totally agree with you. I’m thin (and always have been), yet I still always want to be thinner. I live in a similar city, Vancouver, where the majority of women spend a lot of time working on their appearance, and working on being thin. It’s also a city with a high proportion of Asians, which just sets the bar to be small, and thin even higher. I happen to be an 2nd generation Asian girl, but I’m taller and larger than the average because of better childhood nutrition.

    @Kate
    You are so right that there is this aspect of competition about being thin. Like there is some mysterious and awesome prize if you can be the thinnest. Every time I see a woman, I automatically compare my thinness with hers–even though I know that it shouldn’t matter, and I feel a bit crazy to do so. Also, like you and some commenters, I do feel like I’m trying to “appologize” for some of my other beauty failures. I’m lucky to have relatively good skin, but I’m not curvy in the way I want to be (I have such envy for the women who get to be thin with great boobs), and somehow I irrationally think that being thinner will make up for that.

  50. L responded on 18 Feb 2013 at 12:27 pm #

    I’m 5’7”, 99lbs ( -/+ 2lbs). I’m Asian with tiny rib cage. Like my father, I’m naturally “underweight”. I too was being called “chicken legs” since middle school, people thought I was arrogant, always avoid wearing tank tops and short skirts… I feel awkward and self-concious all the time when I’m in public… I’m neurotic and insecure and I believe this is all because I’m “thin enough”.

    I’ve been following your blog because I relate to almost all your body image issues, and my body looks like Kiera Knightly on her thin day.

  51. Terri responded on 19 Feb 2013 at 8:53 am #

    This is such an interesting piece to me. For most of my life, I was the skinny one that most people envied or hated. I constantly found myself for being so thin at times I wanted to be bigger. But now that I am 24 and about 15 pounds heavier I miss the body I used to have. I feel like being that extremely thin but healthy person wearing a 0 or 00 made me special. Now I sometimes feel like I just fit in with the crowd of other thin girls.

  52. Jon N responded on 20 Feb 2013 at 10:20 pm #

    Coming from a male perspective, I think, and I’m sure someone with the insight to write this piece knows, that its never 100% about body image. That being said, I do acknowledge that a lot of self confidence can be drawn for a good self image. Personally, I was in the opposite situation growing up. I was always the skinniest, palest guy in the locker room, and I would hate how I was the one that was known for being small. However, as you describe, becoming comfortable with yourself is the key to happiness, which is what I’ve found (plus I’ve also filled in…).

    Once again, great piece; masterfully written. You’re style is wonderful because of the way it simply explains some of the deeper, harder to understand conundrums in life. Keep being awesome.

  53. Rachel Hindle responded on 25 Feb 2013 at 6:11 am #

    I wanted to point out that older women are also programmed to try to be thin, it seems there is no age barrier – does anyone love us any less for being a few inches bigger? does the world really notice or care?

  54. Linkstream: a collection of excellence | Cosmic Outlaw responded on 28 Feb 2013 at 1:38 pm #

    [...] Being thin to make up or every­thing else–from Eat the Damn Cake [...]

  55. Carousel: It’s March, Baby! | FFBlogs responded on 01 Mar 2013 at 10:28 am #

    [...] Kate wrote about being thin to make up for everything else. [...]

  56. Sarah G responded on 05 Mar 2013 at 5:32 pm #

    This is a great article.

    The quest for thinness isn’t about weight or being thin at all. I developed eating disorder behaviors around the age of 12. Although I was underweight, I had thoughts that I should be on a diet before the age of 12. I am now 28 and am recovering from the eating disorder I battled for 16 years.

    It may seem like eating disorders are about weight and food, but they’re so definitely not. There isn’t one thing they ARE about, but there is one thing they definitely aren’t. They can be about wanting to be invisible, like you said. They can be about wanting a sense of control. They can be about numbing emotions that seem too intense and too painful to deal with in any other way.

    So many people believe that if they could just reach their goal weight, life would be so much better. But then they reach it, and nothing in their life changes, same job, same relationships, same personality. Because it has nothing to do with weight. We like to push our emotions and issues onto food and weight; we say “I feel fat” when we really mean sad or rejected or angry.

    Sorry, I went off on a tangent there!
    I just discovered your site today, and I am LOVING everything I’ve read so far!

  57. Your who, protein-y snacks, and why being thin won't make up for jack-squat Life [Comma] Etc responded on 08 Mar 2013 at 7:13 am #

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  58. Marijn responded on 10 Mar 2013 at 8:17 am #

    This is brilliant. It is solely my love for google that is keeping me from setting this as my homepage, and reading it first thing tomorrow every.single.day.

  59. I Wanted To Be Thin To Make Up For Everything Else I Lacked responded on 13 Mar 2013 at 12:13 am #

    [...] originally appeared on Eat The Damn Cake. Republished here with [...]

  60. Lesley responded on 16 Mar 2013 at 1:43 am #

    I am similar to “Lillian (17)” – I am naturally thin and and have had awkward and rage-inducing issues with weight discrimination. The “real women have curves” cuts me deeply. I want to stand up on a building and shout “how dare you?! what constitutes a woman? I have a 32 inch chest and I am a woman. Someone who wears a size 24 is a woman. A butch lesbian is a woman. A transgendered woman is a woman. Womanhood is spirit, not the way our bodies look or, necessarily, even function!”

    It’s as though it makes it okay for people to rag on thin women and feel like it’s no big deal, because afterall they’re in the more desirable spot so they can take it, right? They must be on the top of the world, right? Gah.

    I spent much of my life sick not realizing I had food allergies. It took me a year of EXTREME exclusion dieting and all sorts of supplements to get things balanced out. During that time I’d get questions like “it that all you’re eating? God you’re thin enough already you don’t need to watch your weight” and I’d have to be like “I eat so much! I swear! I just can’t…eat that…because it makes me sick”. I felt like I needed to prove to people that I could eat. Explaining that I have a lightning fast metabolism and a small capacity for food or that I’m not allowed to eat certain things via doctor’s orders doesn’t seem to cut it. It made me feel crazy. Sometimes I’d be like wait, DO I have a disorder? Am I in denial? It was like, giving me a complex to feel that paranoia and need for justifying my supposedly ‘ideal’ body type.

    Now that I’m feeling healthier the bullying hasn’t stopped, often from people who are close to me which is what makes me the angriest, because they KNOW my backstory.

    When shopping for bridesmaid dresses, I got: “yeah well of course everything’ll look good on you so we don’t even need to bother having YOU try things on”. Always followed by a laugh in an attempt to somehow justify the cruelty. “Oh don’t be so sensitive, I’m just kidding…”

    It’s like it’s cool for us to hate our bodies, and bond with each other so we can talk about how much we hate our bodies, and then when someone enters the group who doesn’t hate her body she’s not allowed to complain about anything because any supposed flaw doesn’t count when weighed (sorry bad choice of word) against everyone else because she’s thin so she wins.

    It makes me feel so uncomfortable and awkward. Like, what do I say? I want to be able to be proud of my body and celebrate it, not feel like I need to downplay it and hide it. I’ve been heavier with medications, I’ve been thinner with illness. When I was heavier and sad because I didn’t feel like I looked like myself and was feeling sick I’d get nothing but encouragement and “oh you’re fine! and you’re tall! don’t be silly!” And then once I went ‘back to normal’ and actually felt healthy and happier I got “we’ve gotta fatten you up” “is that all you’re eating?” etc. it’s very bizarre.

    I have actually begun pursuing a long-time dream of modeling and depending on who I’m around I sometimes feel like I’m not allowed to be proud of it, in a way. Because that would mean I’m acknowledging that I’m thin, and that I’ve chosen a career path directly associated with thinness (even though there is SO much more to it) and that must mean I’m selfish, or conceited. How effed up is that?! Why do we do this to each other as women?! I feel as though I’m not allowed to have my feelings hurt, but also not allowed to stand up for myself. And yes, at times I do catch myself thinking if my waist was one inch smaller or if my skin was clearer or if I wasn’t sprouting a few grays on the left side of my skull that maybe I’d feel more confident and then I have to tell myself for crying out loud, no. What will make me more confident is finding more joy in my Self and burning my inner light brighter.

    For the first time in my whole life I feel like I can say that I feel beautiful. Not because I signed my name on a modeling contract, but because I’ve done so much hard work toward accepting both how I look and who I am as a person. I’ve battled for my health. I’ve worked through emotional scars. I’ve worked on discovering myself. I’ve taken my dreams in my own hands and moved forward. I wish the women who feel they need to put other women down would do more of those things for themselves and respect themselves enough to take their own journeys. It’s not just about weight. it’s about our spirit and self-love. I wish we could love ourselves and support our fellow women more. I truly feel a lot of the time that we just can’t win. I can say it now as a fashion model, someone who supposedly ‘must be lucky’ or whatever… the self-consciousness and shame about our bodies does not change until we change on the inside, size 20 or size 2.

    /end longest. comment. EVER. haha

  61. » things i love tuesday! photo (and list) edition! responded on 31 Mar 2013 at 10:44 am #

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  62. Eat the Damn Cake » it’s not all about weight responded on 04 Apr 2013 at 9:51 am #

    [...] I get it. I get that beauty and weight are wrapped around each other in our heads. I get why so many people find themselves convinced that if they can only get thinner they will be better in ev…. But there is a lot more to our cultural story about beauty, and when we talk about weight without [...]

  63. things i love tuesday! photo (and list) edition! | Kimmie Noffke responded on 25 Aug 2013 at 1:39 am #

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  64. somaeih responded on 08 Oct 2013 at 4:24 am #

    من یک دختر لاغر هستم. تمایل زیادی دارم که چاقتر بشم براهمین به دکتر تغذیه مراجعه کردم و الان در حال رژیم چاقی هستم.

  65. Eat the Damn Cake » losing my hair responded on 18 Dec 2013 at 11:01 am #

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  66. Eat the Damn Cake » what older women should look like responded on 02 Apr 2014 at 10:43 am #

    [...] I take a moment to consider,  I can’t help but notice that, of course, O’Shaughnessy is very, very thin. Thinness, the great equalizer, except that not everyone can or should be or is very thin. (I am [...]