thin women need to be part of the body image conversation

This is expanded from a piece I wrote for my Mirror Mirror column. 

(source)

People like to make things into battles, with two opposing sides. You know, like in the Mommy Wars where breastfeeding is sometimes misinterpreted as a battle cry and formula feeding is re-packaged as a ferocious counterattack. Oy vey.

I love how I automatically capitalize the “mommy wars” in my head, like it’s a real war, because it feels like I might be about to become a casualty.

Sometimes, in the world of conversations about body image, it seems like heavy women get pitted against thin women. There are a series of memes that have been endlessly cycling through Facebook with pictures of skinny, currently famous women alongside previous pinups with voluptuous breasts and hips. One caption reads “When did this … become hotter than THIS?” suggesting that our thin-obsessed culture has lost its way.

“EEWWW! She’s just skin and bones!” say the commenters.

Some guys proudly declare that they wouldn’t bang those scrawny girls.

“What the hell is wrong with people??” yell relieved women unthinkingly. “REAL WOMEN have curves!!”

And then thin women get understandably pissed. They are, after all, real women, too.

OK, timeout. While we’re talking about realness, let’s be real for a moment. The fat acceptance movement, though increasingly present and vocal, has a long way to go in terms of garnering mainstream support. We exist in a culture that fat-shames incessantly. We are told in millions of tiny and screamingly loud ways every day that fat is gross, horribly unhealthy, ugly, and unacceptable. Even thin girls and women often fight hard, and sometimes dangerously, to be thinner, because we have learned that thinner is always better.

 

Show me a mainstream movie with a plus-size female romantic lead. (Comedy seems more acceptable– but even comedy isn’t safe– just a couple of weeks ago, actress Melissa McCarthy was referred to as a “hippo” by film critic Rex Reed.) The one that comes to mind as I’m sitting here is this really cute movie– I can’t remember what it’s called– with Queen Latifah. And that was years ago, and a lot of the movie was about her facing off against a thin, stereotypically hot rival in an effort to win the guy. The fact that she does win is almost more of a commentary on how non-judgmental and cool he is than on her own awesomeness. Also, she’s obviously smokin’ hot in plenty of widely agreed-on ways. Also, there’s a race thing here…black women seem to sometimes be able to be publicly, acceptably big and sexy in a way that other groups of women aren’t. But I’m going to stop there because I’m out of my element and I feel awkward trying to talk about race.

My point is, I don’t think there’s a real contest here: being big and beautiful is barely even a thing yet in popular culture, even though we talk about it a lot. And even worse, being big is too often considered shameful and unacceptable, or, at the very least, an unfortunate personal failing that you should definitely be working on. Heavy women are discriminated against, treated cruelly, and made to feel terrible about themselves because of the way they look. Not true for thin women, as a group.

BUT.

When we talk about body image, thin women are a part of that conversation. They have to be. We ALL deal with beauty standards. We ALL face off against our own appearance expectations. And people’s appearances don’t always tell the whole story. Actually, they rarely do. Many of us, regardless of how much we weigh, think more than we’d like to admit about our weight. But this isn’t just about how everyone feels pressure to lose weight, no matter what. Some very thin women feel self-conscious and ashamed about their bodies and wish that they were curvier. There are very heavy anorexics and very small binge eaters and people who feel completely great about the way they look even though no one else seems to think they look good. There are supermodels who feel ugly. There are people who feel that they are forced to think about the way they look when they’d really rather not. It isn’t possible to look at someone and diagnose how they feel about their body. It’s unfair to assume that you know how they should feel.

I’ve embarrassed myself before by assuming that a friend who was talking a lot about her diet was trying to lose weight, when it turned out that she was trying really hard to gain some. This may not be the rule, but the exceptions to it are important.

It’s natural to want to simplify complicated issues, but it’s often unhelpful, and sometimes downright wrong. There is no single profile for a person who can talk about body image. Some people hear the words “body image” and think about women, and it’s definitely always women in their imaginations, who fit their idea of someone who might have an issue with the way she looks. I find myself explaining to near-strangers that yes, I can write about this topic even though my BMI keeps insisting that I am “normal,” whatever that means! (Even though my BMI told me I was normal when my ribs stuck out and every belt was three sizes too large.)

Sometimes women write to me to tell me that they agreed with everything I was saying about body image until they saw a picture of me. “You have no right to talk,” they inform me. “You’re too thin.”

I have apologized for my weight in these contexts, caught off-guard and confused and upset about offending someone. But I have also struggled with my weight, harassed myself over it. I, like so many girls and women, have quietly believed in my own ugliness, and made a thousand shameful little promises that began with “I will stop eating all of the things that taste good.” Yeah. Because that usually works. 

A very thin friend of mine was telling me the other day about how awkward her exchanges about weight with one of her closest friends are. “I am getting SO fat!” laments her heavier friend.

“You look amazing,” says my friend.

“Yeah, whatever,” her friend says dismissively. “YOU should talk. Look at how thin you are!”

(source)

But my friend battled an eating disorder for years. Sometimes she didn’t fight, actually. Eventually she did. Now she is working to eat more and healthily. She is working to gain weight. She is EXACTLY the person to talk, because her relationship with weight is complicated, painful, intense, and ongoing.

In fact, everyone who deals with body image issues has a right to talk about body image issues. Men, too (and I’ll get to this in another post soon, I’ve been wanting to talk about it more). We are all living and participating in a culture that has a lot to say about what is hot and what is not, and we’re affected by it. In different ways, certainly, but sometimes in ways that are more similar than we might imagine, when we come from such disparate backgrounds and have such varying appearances.

One of the great things about the internet and the communities it fosters is that there is plenty of room for passionate, involved subgroups. You can find support for whatever it is that you’re dealing with. You can read my blog and also start a blog about being 300 lbs and proud. You can read bloggers like The Fat Nutritionist and Dances With Fat, like I do, and also have a space to talk about the pressure you feel to be thinner, when you’re already thin, even though you might not understand why you feel this way and are embarrassed and frustrated by it. And I think it’s really important to talk with other people who are dealing with the same issues you are. But I also think we need to come together to talk about beauty and body image in a larger context. And to do that, we need to stop excluding people.

We all own pieces of these struggles or realities, but no one group owns them in total.

(of course, this made me think of a slice of pie. source)

And in my own little community where people are talking about body image, I’ve stopped apologizing for being thin. When people tell me I shouldn’t talk about body image because I “don’t weigh enough,” I respond that they’re missing the point.

I know, it’s not exactly revolutionary, but I really believe that until we can acknowledge the ways that beauty standards and expectations affect all of us, we can’t get a clear picture of what’s really going on in our culture. Until we can stop trying to tell other people’s stories for them, as in “she looks fine to me, I don’t know what she’s whining about,” or “she looks bad to me, I don’t know why she feels good about herself,” and until we can stop trying to claim body image issues exclusively and start admitting that they’re something too many of us already share, we can’t take the steps we need to give girls and women permission to feel good about how they look, right now, in their current bodies. And guess what? Those bodies look a lot of different ways. That’s the deal with bodies.

*  *  *

So? Thoughts? Movies with fat female romantic leads that I should watch?

Unroast: Today I love the way I look in pajama pants. I want to wear them all the time. ALL THE TIME.

 

62 Comments »

Kate on February 25th 2013 in beauty, body, weight

62 Responses to “thin women need to be part of the body image conversation”

  1. Sheryl responded on 25 Feb 2013 at 9:49 am #

    What strikes me when we talk about women being on a “thin” or a “fat” end of the spectrum and having a voice because of that is how it treats everyone as so static. Just because someone is one size currently doesn’t mean they always were. Given how complicated our relationships with weight can be is it really surprising that many people fluctuate, whatever direction it’s in? Where do these conversations leave space for people whose bodies have changed and have an understanding of both their previous and current states? And if someone is in the process of losing or gaining weight, is there a certain point where they go from one extreme to the other and stop being allowed to have an opinion?

  2. Kate responded on 25 Feb 2013 at 9:52 am #

    Oh my god, SUCH A GOOD POINT. Of course this is the case!! I knew I was missing something huge and basic when I wrote this, and here it is….I want to go back and add this in, but I’m going to resist the urge because you brought it up so perfectly here. Thank you.

  3. Sexism and Body Shaming, Oscars Edition responded on 25 Feb 2013 at 10:13 am #

    [...] Nobody needs to go eat a sandwich. (For more, Kate has a great post about this up today on Eat the Damn Cake.) My point is that all of these women (yes, even Kristen) are talented above and beyond their body [...]

  4. Terri responded on 25 Feb 2013 at 11:09 am #

    As a slender AFrican American woman, I have certainly felt excluded. Black woman are supposed to be extremely curvaceous, with think legs and a fat ass. I have neither. So growing up I was never “black enough” to some people. (To this day I still have no idea what that means.) It’s ridiculous no matter which way someone tries to defend it.

    On another note, one thing that strikes me as odd about your post is that you use the word “thin” and “heavy women” heavily throughout the post, but then end it using the word “fat”. I view the words “thin” and “heavy” as a neutral yet non-offensive way to refer to body size and “fat” as negative and judgmental. It seemed as though after referring to the matter in a non-confrontational matter, you suddenly switched gears and conformed to societal views when referring heavier women as fat. And it makes me wonder, if it the last question referenced “fat” to prove a point or if it was just a sub-conscience word choice despite the negative connotation associated with it.

  5. Kate responded on 25 Feb 2013 at 11:17 am #

    @Terri
    Please don’t take offense, but this comment made me laugh. You picked up on exactly the most sensitive bits of my post.

    I actually was searching for a post to link to about black women who are thin and are made to feel awkward about it. But I couldn’t find the one I was thinking of. It’s a really, really interesting topic, and I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with that. Interesting also, to me, that even so, most of the black women on TV are very thin and have light skin. We seem a little stuck there.

    And as for the word “fat”– I only used it once, on purpose, because I know it’s a word of choice among many women I cautiously, automatically refer to as “plus-size” or “heavy.” I don’t feel comfortable using it regularly, because I’m not sure if it’s offensive for me to. But I also hate tiptoeing around it, because I love when it’s used as a positive or neutral word. Also, it’s just stronger than “heavy.” Language is tricky. But I know you read me a lot, so I’d like to ask for a little credit in this particular case– you know I try to be sensitive :-)

  6. Terri responded on 25 Feb 2013 at 11:37 am #

    Kate, I’m glad my comment made you laugh. It is kind of funny when you think about it! Especially since you pointed out that most black women in Hollywood are thing. I’m wondering if the article you were thinking about was the one in the NY Times sometime last year. I remember that story caused a big uproar in the black community over body image. I can’t remember the name of if off-hand though.

    And yes, you definitely get credit. You are definitely sensitive – even when you don’t need to be. I totally get what you mean when you wrote it. :)

    As for, movies with overweight women, I can’t really think of any other than the Queen Latifah movies you mentioned. There was the heavy girl in the movie Precious, but I don’t remember her name and it wasn’t a romantic movie either.

  7. Kate responded on 25 Feb 2013 at 11:39 am #

    @Terri
    OK, glad we’re on good terms about this :-)
    And YES!! I was thinking about that article, and about the other articles that people wrote in response. I think I wrote something, too, but I can’t remember what. But that whole conversation was really fascinating. Thanks for remembering. I’m going to try to find it.

  8. CJ responded on 25 Feb 2013 at 11:54 am #

    I have been reading your words with interest and incredible respect for awhile now. This article was beautiful and definitely one that I wish all women would read and consider.

    I am anorexic and fighting hard to recover but I do not disclose this fact to… well hardly anyone! And when topics of body image, dieting, etc come up with friends, I feel very uncomfortable. I don’t feel like I am “allowed” to have an opinion, even though, as you say, I could actually have a lot to contribute precisely because of my struggles – I’ve never seen it that way until you said so.

    I absolutely think there is too much of a focus on women’s weight and a very obvious discrimination against larger body sizes. I work in health care, though, and I have seen the disdain at both ends of the spectrum. Obese patients are callously referred to (by medical staff, in rounds/meetings/etc) as lazy and indulgent; Eating disorder patients are selfish and manipulative. It’s really disheartening to hear and I’m embarassed that I’ve never spoken up, partly because I think I’ve absorbed those messages and taken them on as my own view of myself (“just eat you selfish idiot” sigh – that’s my own toxic internal dialogue).

    I am hopeful, though, that messages like yours will prevail. Thank you for your voice – I hope it will help me find and use mine.

  9. rowdygirl responded on 25 Feb 2013 at 11:59 am #

    I understand your point that we all need to be included to talk about body image. I agree with that. However, there is such a huge difference in being fat or thin, that the two sides are miles apart in my opinion. I’m giving an example, that of course is not all encompassing and not everyone feels this way, etc.

    When you’re fat, people judge the book by the cover. They see your body first, and will automatically judge you on that. It doesn’t matter if you have spoken a word, a decision can\will be made on your appearance. You’ve been tagged.

    I don’t think this happens to thin people. I could be wrong, since I’ve never been a thin person. But I don’t think it does, at least not in the same way. Someone might think “wow, that woman is skinny” or “eat something”, but in this culture that’s considered a compliment.

    Thin = good, fat= bad.

  10. Elizabeth responded on 25 Feb 2013 at 1:44 pm #

    rowdygirl: While it’s true that heavy and thin women are treated differently by society, that doesn’t mean that thin women shouldn’t be allowed to speak. Body image issues have a strong internal component, that have nothing to do with how a person looks on the outside. So yes, society does treat you differently if you’re thin, and thin women have more ‘privilege’ if you want to frame it that way, but everyone is a part of this society and we’re all in it together. Kind of like how men can be feminists, too.

    If you want a curvy movie star in romantic comedies, look no further than Mae West, one of the all-time greats:
    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0922213/

    Thanks so much for this post. It’s been something I’ve been thinking for a long time, and I’m glad to see it expressed so eloquently here.

  11. Emily responded on 25 Feb 2013 at 1:47 pm #

    When I express desires to lose weight (which I do infrequently) I am always met with similar responses–but you’re thin so whatever, and the like. And my mind has two things to say about this.

    1. I feel like that is added pressure. I only don’t need to lose weight because I’m thin. What if I gain weight? Then am I supposed to care?

    2. I feel like it is accepting that there is a thin ideal. And I’m not really thin, just normal thin. So if I were to lose weight, then obviously that would be good, its just that I don’t have to–don’t need to. I’m “thin enough” but obviously, since thinner is ultimately better, I would look better if I did lose weight.

    But when I think about it I feel whiney. How should someone handle me saying that I want to lose weight then? When I hear someone say these things I usually just ask why and comment on how I think they look (meaning, how they already look great to me). But when someone acts like you have unjustified desires reiterates their desires.

  12. Ashley responded on 25 Feb 2013 at 2:14 pm #

    I definitely think body shaming affects thin women even more than they realize. First, a woman does not have to be fat to be fat shamed or have every inch of her body scrutinized by women, or men for that matter. Women are always on target, even ones who look like Adriana Lima. People will always find a way to criticize a woman’s looks, no matter how close to “perfect” she is. There is a term going around called “skinny fat” which refers to women who are thin but rarely work out.

    There’s also the fact that body image isn’t just about weight. The term “butterface” and how a woman is considered less desirable as soon as she hits 30 (or looks 30).

    The body image war appears to be about fat vs thin a lot, but we are all under a parent category of being battled against for being women.

  13. morgaine responded on 25 Feb 2013 at 2:28 pm #

    “Someone might think ‘wow, that woman is skinny’ or ‘eat something’, but in this culture that’s considered a compliment.”

    That doesn’t mean that all individuals process it as one. It grates on a person to be constantly scrutinized, whether or not the intentions are good.

  14. morgaine responded on 25 Feb 2013 at 2:31 pm #

    Usually when people talk about objectification, they’re referring the physical elements thereof. (I take issue with that definition, which I recently wrote about [http://colormebrazen.wordpress.com/2013/02/22/a-little-pedagogy-with-your-nightcap/], but that’s a story for a different sermon.) I think the far more dangerous form of objectification, though, is making assumptions about a person based on one factor alone (body size, in this case). It’s, as Kate said, “tell[ing] other people’s stories for them”. They have become an object to suit your narrative.

  15. Gaby responded on 25 Feb 2013 at 2:58 pm #

    Great post as always! You’re right, no one is immune, everyone is practically forced to think about their bodies and image. I mean we walk around in them every day, we look in the mirror, we feel them, we feed them or don’t…and it kind of seems that everyone is fair game for critisiscm whether too skinny or too fat (btw I LOVE melissa mccarthy!)
    I hope our conversation influenced a bit here! You know I always have a lot to say, being the skinny binge eater. I don’t even like talking about it, I feel there’s something wrong with me, I’ve destroyed my ability to digest or something, or I can eat tons and tons and not gain weight, but still in the back of my mind there’s the naggy feeling that if I don’t stop I may- god forbid!- gain a ton of weight and be fat and unacceptable. I feel guilty for binge eating because it’s not normal, because I use it to stuff away my feelings, to punish my body and make it feel sick for…I don’t know…not being good/ successful/ smart/ strong enough? But then at the same time when I’m struggling with anxiety over something unrelated to food, it’s never about the food, I think to myself well, I know this works temporarily and I hate my skinniness and maybe this once it’s ok.
    Now I”m not saying I think about this all the time, I have moments where I”m generally ok and happy with myself, but there are endless possibilities and ways to berate myself or that others can berate me for my choices or appearances.
    In fact, just yesterday for the bazillionth time, an old man at the gym (as I was lifting crazy heavy weights obviously trying to body build, not burn away fat on the hamster wheel…) said you don’t need to worry about coming here! You’re already thin! The super skinny runner and I laughed about it after he left because *sarcasm* of course that’s the only good reason to exercise and take care of your ody, once you’re thin you can just stop exercise right?
    I think we ALL have to be a part of the conversation because only that’s going to get us closer to understanding why we make our bodies such a huge part of our moral selves, like you can be a good or bad person based on what you look like. I get so frustrated when people around me make jokes like “oh I’m being really good today and ordering the salad!” and then turn around and say “oh no I”m going to be so bad and eat these m&m’s, don’t tell anyone!” My response has started to be, no it’s not bad, their m&m’s, please enjoy the hell out of them!

    Anyways, as you can see I could really talk endlessly on this so give me a call if you want to hear more anytime!
    Also can’t wait to read about the male side of this! Sooo much more can be said about that too!

    <3

  16. Rachel responded on 25 Feb 2013 at 3:01 pm #

    I am a recovering anorexic weighing in at roughly 190 pounds. Thank you, so much, for the nod at the fact that eating disorders do not always show themselves by people becoming skeletally thin. My metabolism is so screwed up from the years of alternately starving myself and binge eating to keep people from hassling me about it that it is now incredibly difficult for me to A) eat like a normal person and B) lose weight regardless of diet and exercise. And yet skipping meals for days in a row in a desperate attempt to lose more weight faster, falling back into old habits and hating myself for being so weak, only gets positive attention from people who think that healthy only matters when weight is low. I don’t really know where I’m going with this, so I’ll stop now, but really, THANK YOU for just being you.

  17. Ann responded on 25 Feb 2013 at 3:49 pm #

    I love this article. I’ve always been the “heavy” kid. I didn’t dare eat a plate of fries while out with friends or God forbid have a dessert until a few years ago. I always felt I was being judged on what I ate. I work out, I eat well when I can, and I struggle everyday to look at that person in the mirror. Now that we are trying to have a child it’s worse. The doctors take one look at me and then claim to know the problem. They don’t run any tests or even look at me like I’m human. They send me home and just tell me to lose weight. Like it’s that easy. Like it’ll magically melt away if I will it. Like my dreams aren’t worth their time and effort because I allowed myself to be overweight.

    I think it’s time we focus on healthy weight for everyone. I’m tired of being seen as subhuman or weak as a fat girl. I bet the thin girls are just as tired of this as I am. It’s time to love ourselves and just attempt to be healthy regardless of what is beautiful or not.

  18. Kate responded on 25 Feb 2013 at 4:04 pm #

    @Gaby
    Our conversation really did influence this post, and I really, really appreciated your perspective!! Thank you! And thank you for pointing out how we need to talk more about why we often make our bodies the focal point of our issues, even when those issues aren’t really about our bodies.

  19. Kiannah responded on 25 Feb 2013 at 4:15 pm #

    Those memes you referenced always get me too, Kate. Oftentimes, the images of the (gorgeous) curvier women will include the likes of Marilyn Monroe, etc…which, to me, brings to mind the fact that during their era there were still weight ads–only they were for weight gain rather than loss. The issue hasn’t changed: it remains a culture that mandates women to be this way or that.

  20. Kate responded on 25 Feb 2013 at 4:16 pm #

    @Kiannah
    Good point. I’ve seen some of those ads and they always seem a little shocking, which makes you think about how much stuff has changed

  21. Jordan responded on 25 Feb 2013 at 4:26 pm #

    I enjoyed reading this post, Kate!

    I’ve always been an athlete and have consistently stayed between a muscular 140 and 150 lbs on my 5’5″ self, give or take five, for as long as I can remember. This summer, my brother (who is very image-conscious) asked if I used a certain app that he likes to find out which groceries were healthiest to buy…and I said that I didn’t use it/wasn’t worried about it, but that I was happy. His response? He looked me up and down and said, “You could stand to be less happy.” When I told my mom the story, her response was, “Sometimes the truth hurts, huh?”

    This fall, I picked up more on cardio workouts and made an effort to cut back on eating unhealthy foods after that more because I wanted to be healthier than because I was concerned about my weight, and I slimmed down a little bit as a result. I don’t have a scale in my apartment, so I don’t know what my weight actually is right now, but I’ve found myself having to ‘fight’ body image issues for the first time in my life at age 27 because my size six self was judged not skinny enough by the people I’m closest to.

    I think “healthy” is a good goal that we can all work towards, but we need to figure out a way to disconnect healthy from the size of our bodies. Not all skinny people are healthy, and not all heavy people are unhealthy. We need to get to a place where we take care of ourselves, make good choices when it comes to food and lifestyle, and be confident in our personal choices even in the face of people around us who might not always see the whole picture of our lives, our struggles, our victories. Never ever let society tell you what victory is; you’ve got to define that for yourself and stick to your guns!

  22. Rachel SV responded on 25 Feb 2013 at 8:25 pm #

    Thank you for this. Kudos! I agree with you 100%

  23. Laura responded on 25 Feb 2013 at 10:13 pm #

    Thank you, Kate! As I’ve grown aware of the problems with equating healthiness with thinness in the past couple of years, I’ve begun to strive to be a better ally for people, especially women, who our culture calls overweight. The idea that you have to at least be curvy to be a “real woman” is off-putting, though. I’ve been trying not to be trying to be thin since I was twelve, and I should have just as much right to have my body be acceptable and have that right be validated as a larger woman. To be clear, I know that as a young, white, relatively thin woman, I have it extremely easy, but as we make an effort to remove fat-shaming from our discourse, let’s try to be inclusive of ALL shapes and sizes.

  24. Laurin responded on 25 Feb 2013 at 10:44 pm #

    Hey Kate,
    I completely agree, everyone needs to be part of the body image discussion, regardless of size..

    I have one caveat to make though – while thin women do still face incredible pressure to conform to the societal pressure, they still experience a relative amount of privilege compared to fat women. This isn’t a black and white thing, either. I know that I experience relative privilege compared to women who are what they call ‘bigger fats’ – my fat, falling in relatively societally acceptable places (i.e. breasts and bottom), means I don’t really experience the same discrimination.

    at the end of the day, it’s important to remember this intersectionality- I know that I also experience privilege as a white woman, that women of colour never experience.

    And so, I’m more than happy for thin women to join the body image discussion – please do so, I’m interested in listening to your story. But please don’t derail the conversation in places that are intended to be a safe space for fat people. The whole world is at most times a place where thin people can discuss their feelings without repercussions.. there are very few places where fat people can do so.

    And if you are not fat, please don’t sit there and say, oh i feel ‘fat’ – you probably feel bloated, or heavier than you were before. (or some other negative connotation that ‘fat’ equates to in our culture). And at the end of the day, you may well be sitting next to someone who actually is fat, and in their mind, they’re hearing the negative attached to the description fat and wondering what you actually think of them. I’m not saying you aren’t free to talk about how you feel – but maybe be a bit smarter about what you’re saying – are you feeling like you don’t fit into society’s expectations? Do you feel unwell or something else?

    I guess it’s all about being sensitive to the privilege we hold and how what we say affects others.

    I hope that makes sense :) and thanks for your amazing blog, Kate, I hope you know how much we all love it!

  25. Another Kate responded on 26 Feb 2013 at 2:49 am #

    The comment above resonates with me a lot. I was very overweight as a child through my teenage years, and am more “average”-sized now. Yes, I still have issues with body image – but how I was received and treated socially as an overweight person was absolutely incomparable to the social reception I get now. I have anxiety around gaining weight…because life was so unbearable before.

    Yes, people of all shapes and sizes can be in the conversation about body image. But some people use this platform to say something like “we all have an equally difficult time with this stuff” and the truth is – we do not. We live in a society where by and large being overweight is considered ugly, it is considered “your own fault”, it is considered something you can just change if you put your mind to it. To imply that thin people have it just as rough as overweight people really minimizes and undermines the very real pain that often accompanies being perceived as overweight.

    I should say that I don’t think that this post actually undermines the difficulty of being overweight in our society – but I do think this happens a lot in body image conversations that are more inclusive.

  26. Isabel responded on 26 Feb 2013 at 4:05 am #

    This is a good article on body image.

    I have always struggled with my weight, being slightly overweight, and hating myself for it. And it doesn’t help that all my sisters are really thin, so we could never swap clothes or anything. Up until this december, I thought I was the only one in my family who had body image issues. I went shopping with my lil sis for a Christmas party outfit, and nothing fit her! She had to go to the kids department (and she’s 15), because of her petite body. She’s actually been to the doctor’s to get help gaining weight, but it’s a real struggle for her, and I’m guessing she’s having just as hard a time at it, as I had when I was 15.

  27. Caitlin responded on 26 Feb 2013 at 8:08 am #

    I’m in the same boat as Laurin – I think everyone can discuss body and weight issues, but I really appreciate it when people acknowledge their thin privilege before they start the discussion.

    A good way to look at it would be a person on welfare in the US or Canada would have a lot to discuss about being poor – but know that if you’re entering a conversation with a poor person from a third world country, you’re actually coming from a place of privilege because you have soup kitchens and homeless shelters, etc.

    I also really hate it when people who are 100 lbs less than me talk about how they need to loss weight because they look so gross – but I think we’d all benefit from just never having conversations about how we want to lose weight in general.

  28. dee responded on 26 Feb 2013 at 8:49 am #

    I am a thin, small framed woman with the same issues most women face (dimply thighs and butt and a soft, post 2 babies belly). It drives me crazy when other women don’t believe that my body is less than perfect…and it puts so much pressure on me. I would never be seen in a bathing suit (by those who know me) because they put me on such a grand pedastal…one that I could never live up to. If they would just acknowledge when I speak the truth, it would be so much easier for me. Instead, they roll their eyes and dismiss the fact that I struggle too.

  29. Lily responded on 26 Feb 2013 at 9:44 am #

    YES¡

  30. Meg responded on 26 Feb 2013 at 12:58 pm #

    I’m at a healthy weight now (careful diet, *lots* of exercise, no help from my stupid slow metabolism that I probably destroyed myself) and am often told by well-meaning friends that I need to “stop worrying all the time” about my body image because “You’re just fine.” Comments like these are not helpful.

    I was anorexic in high school. I was at a fairly normal weight in junior high (a smidge overweight, maybe 10 lbs.), and felt okay about myself for a long time. But my dad would always call me fat and tell me to stop eating. As would some of the girls in my class. I got boobs and hips before they did. And my mom refused to buy me clothes until I lost weight, probably because she felt bad about my dad always making fun of me. So I started losing weight by skipping most meals, and everyone was happy. Then I just kept losing. And I got down to a horribly unhealthy weight. I had doctors and the school gym teachers worried. My mom got worried, but didn’t push the issue. I was eating a half (always threw the second half away) of a sandwich (two slices of turkey, fat-free mayo, no cheese) during the day and one piece of bread at night. I lost 35 pounds in 3 months. I was only 5 feet tall, so it was a lot for someone who only “needed” to lose about 10. And when I had my nightly piece of bread, my dad would still look at it and say, “You’re going to gain weight if you eat that.”

    I think maybe we need to be more inclusive in the body image discussion to involve people who “look normal” (whatever that is) but whose body image issues stem from their relatives and/or acquaintances’ attitudes (in some cases, their verbal and emotional abuse), in addition to those whose issues stem from societal pressure. I don’t think these more personal reasons are any less relevant, nor particularly uncommon. Refusing to see or include them silences what I think is probably a pretty sizable segment of the “I don’t like my body, and I don’t like myself” population.

    Can’t we just all get along? :)

  31. T-Rex Runner responded on 26 Feb 2013 at 1:44 pm #

    I’m doing a series on eating disorders on my blog (www.trexrunner.com) right now, and this is so on point. As someone who is naturally thin but has body image issues to the point of delusion, it’s so frustrating to feel like I can’t be part of the body image conversation just because I don’t “look” like I should be part of it. The idea that thin women don’t have a problem with body image is ridiculous. How can we expect to make progress on changing society’s expectations of how we should look if we can’t stop fighting with each other about who has the right to have an opinion? Most people agree that “healthy” should be the goal, but if we lose sight of the fact that “healthy” looks different on everyone, then the entire conversation is wasted. Thanks for a great post!

  32. Mara responded on 26 Feb 2013 at 5:05 pm #

    Yesterday my best friend came into our first period visibly upset. While she was on the bus that morning, some asshat told her that she was fat, and that she wasn’t pretty and makeup wouldn’t help her, and that if she really wanted to be pretty she should stop eating so that she wouldn’t be fat.
    My response was to hug her and say “What?!” disbelievingly, several times, because I just can’t believe that someone would talk like that to another human being.
    I’m still so angry about it. More than anything I want to find this guy who thinks he knows what he’s talking about and tear him inside out with my words (I’m good at that sort of thing.) I want to cripple his self-esteem so badly that it limps around for the rest of his life. I want to make him cry.
    Because he was really, really wrong, in every way. Wrong to presume, wrong to say something about his presumptions, wrong to judge her up against some inane ideal woman in his mind, wrong to keep talking to her, because he must have known that he was breaking something indescribably fragile and precious.
    I don’t know how to deal with people. I’m so tired of this bullshit.

  33. Kate responded on 26 Feb 2013 at 5:08 pm #

    @Mara
    shit like this makes me want to cry and yell at the same time. I am so so sorry this happened to your friend. And you’re right about the breaking something indescribably fragile and precious (gorgeously phrased, by the way), but I think that’s why people do things like this. Because they want to break something. They want to hurt someone. It’s violent and cruel, not casual and thoughtless.

  34. Lexie responded on 26 Feb 2013 at 8:39 pm #

    I always found it interesting that we tend to think of bodies on a scale of “thin” to “fat.”

    I’ve always thought, and seen it reasonably backed up, that bodily proportions have a lot to do with how what we perceive to be beautiful and in turn, how we feel. (Tons of science stuff there, but that’s for another time.)

    You mentioned Queen Latifah who is bigger and beautifully proportioned. Christina Hendricks is another example of a bigger woman with gorgeous proportions. Both woman have stated that they feel more beautiful weighing more.

    I’ve always felt “big.” Even at my healthiest, my smallest and both, I felt big. I’m pushing 5’10″ with long limbs. My broad shoulders cut violently down to a small waist which then swings out to curvy hips. The only thing about me that is “small” are my breasts, alas. But the shoulders to waist to hips and my height balance each other.

    Even so, feeling “big” and the judgements I attach to it, I regularly get comments from men and women alike. “You’re so beautiful.” “I wish I had your legs.” “I’m jealous of your curves, I’m built like a board.”

    I feel “big.” And even in the best shape, 5’10″ and a size 10 in jeans won’t be “small.” So I hope we can all start looking at the spectrum of the human body in less of a line and more of a wading pool; one where we can freely move in whichever direction we choose, at whatever speed works, or just tread water to find a spot where we can all feel beautiful.

  35. Hillary E. responded on 27 Feb 2013 at 8:34 am #

    Yes. To everything you wrote here. I think my own most horrifying moment as of late was when my brother-in-law told me I looked great (6 months post-baby), and proclaimed, “THIS is what a woman SHOULD look like after having a baby!” I was terribly embarrassed, especially since he said it in front of my sister, who has no kids yet, and already struggles with her weight. I was especially embarrassed because I have done nothing but breastfeed and chase a busy baby around to loose the weight. I also have a BIG issue about the notion of a standard for what women should look like, baby or not… but was too paralyzed by his words to slap him down like I should have.

  36. Hudson responded on 27 Feb 2013 at 2:04 pm #

    I read this blog fairly often and rarely comment; on this post, however, I felt I must, regardless of the irritation my response will probably evoke. Here goes:

    I have been aware of my body shape since I was 8 years old. When I was in third grade, a popular girl in my gym class called me a “chunk” and laughed about it with a friend. (I was certainly “kid chubby” at the time, but not overweight by medical standards.) I was devastated (enough to remember it 20 years later) and immediately primed to pay particular attention to anything weight-related being talked about within my earshot. I discovered quite a bit during that time. I discovered that all of my dad’s sisters were on diets, one of which was so extreme that it verged on an eating disorder. I discovered that my dad had criticized my mom while they were married for eating what he considered too much. I was told by a paternal aunt that she and her sisters all had “shapely legs” while they were growing up and that I had unfortunately inherited my mom’s legs.

    It was the early nineties and dietary fat was the enemy. (Perhaps, some of you remember those Snackwell’s cookies that tasted like chocolate cardboard.) I began refusing to eat meals and, when I would get so hungry that I couldn’t stand it anymore, I would scarf down slice after slice of white bread, because, at least, it had no fat. During this time, my mom made sure that I ate enough to remain healthy, but the seed had been planted.

    Fast forward 5 years. I was at my grandfather’s house, and he was talking nonstop about his new diet to anyone who would listen. I was all ears, and ultimately he sent me back home with a book describing the diet. Within a year, I had lost a significant amount of weight, along with my period. I was taken to my physician, where I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa for the first time.

    At 16, I was taken to a psychologist kicking and screaming, because my parents found the bags hidden in my closet where I had been vomiting everything I ate. At 19, I had to leave college and be admitted to an eating disorder unit for several months. I was grossly underweight, bingeing and purging multiple times a day, and walking 20 miles every night from 11 pm to 4 am.

    I left the eating disorder unit at a “whopping” 130 lbs at 5’9 and was quickly informed by one of my dad’s sisters that I had gained too much weight in the hospital. Obviously, this was not the only reason for what happened next – I had a lot of family and personal problems that are not relevant here – but I can still hear this echoing in my mind, particularly because I have been struggling to maintain a state of physical recovery for the last 4 years and am maintaining about the same weight as above.

    Between the ages of 20 and 24, I had no life. I was in and out of eating disorder units, residential treatment facilities, and medical hospitals (for cardiac, liver, kidney, and electrolyte problems) almost constantly. When I wasn’t, I was bingeing and purging, running in the middle of the night, and frantically losing any weight I’d gained in treatment.

    I am not trying to tell a sob story here. I was very lucky to get the treatment that I got during that time, and even luckier to ultimately have the opportunity to spend 6 months in a residential facility that saved my life, and to a lesser extent, my mind.

    So, here I am, with a BMI of about 19. I am tall and thin and no one judges me, as they might if I were overweight, when I’m walking down the street. But I am 28 years old and I’ve lost about half of my life to a terror of being perceived as “fat.” Of course, this had a lot to do with other issues that were facing me. But why do you think I turned to weight loss as the solution to all my difficulties? Could it be because all my (thin) aunts were dieting, or because there were diet ads showing successful and happy and thin women in between my morning cartoons, or because I grew up with a father and grandfather who had mocked my mother because of her eating habits?

    I am not claiming that know what it’s like to be truly overweight. But I know what it’s like to hate my body beyond measure and see thinness as tantamount to salvation. When people see my thin body walking down the street, maybe they are jealous. Maybe they assume that I can eat anything I want and stay thin. Or maybe they assume I work out 4 hours a day. Gods knows what they assume. But I bet none of it even approximates the truth.

    And here is my point: Though I’m thin, I am FURIOUS about the stigma facing overweight women. I am not impervious to it. I am so angry about it that I am crying as I write this response. I am furious that “fat stigma” was so obvious to me at the ripe old age of 8 that I was literally TERRIFIED of becoming an overweight woman. I am furious that I almost killed myself along the journey that followed this “revelation.” And I am furious for every women, fat or thin, who has ever hated her body and believed that changing it was the only way to happiness, success, or “perfection.”

  37. Maia responded on 27 Feb 2013 at 2:23 pm #

    I do think that when you see pictures and rants on the internet relating to weight, they too often resort to a sort of ad hominen, all-or-nothing, “You think THIS is attractive, but actually, it’s UGLY and THIS version is more attractive instead!” or “She’s only skin and bones! She’s not a REAL women!” approach…which is obviously problematic, and, of course, upsets naturally thin girls everywhere. BUT…I’ve noticed that every time an image pops up promoting acceptance of more realistic or common body types, there is this counter-cry of purportedly thin women shouting “I’m naturally thin, I can’t help it, that’s just my metabolism!” and I get sort of frustrated because I feel like they are missing the point, that those posts aren’t about THEM– and these posts are, generally, still a good idea. Those pictures of Marilyn Monroe or the Dove models vs Victoria’s Secret models pictures, are, I think, about the pressure EVERYONE feels to be thin, they are about the majority of very thin women who got that way through eating disorders, obsession with calories, or ridiculous/ oppressive fitness regimes. And sometimes, those women shouting “I’m just naturally thin” AREN’T even actually naturally thin; they are thin because they eat salad for lunch and sacrifice their freedom to ever eat cake– not because they don’t like cake, but because they want to maintain the body shape that society deems most attractive. Just because thin women don’t all have severe eating disorders doesn’t mean that a large number of them aren’t affected- oppressed even, by damaging pressure to conform to ideals– even when they tell themselves otherwise. And when those same women excuse that cultural pressure or pretend it doesn’t exist, I think that’s a problem. I’m reminded of an article by Marilyn Frye where she talks about sexism and oppression, and points out that just because men are occasionally at a disadvantage because of gender norms (I.E. being encouraged not to cry, not being hired as nurses as often, etc) doesn’t mean they are OPPRESSED by sexism the same way women are. I think that same idea applies here. I’m not saying thin women NEVER suffer from body image issues, or from hurtful messages about being too thin. I’m just saying that, generally, in our culture, they are still the privileged class– and in this country, at this time, there isn’t really an issue of too many women feeling pressure to GAIN weight. There is an issue with too many women feeling pressure to lose weight. There is no epidemic of high-school girls gulping down snickers bars and weight-gain powder at lunch in order to fit the beauty ideal…instead, girls are either gaining unhealthy amounts of weight as a result of self-defeating diet fads, or dying of anorexia. So I think the focus of these healthy body-image promotion posts is rightly being placed on moving toward accepting women who aren’t necessarily thin, and finding that attractive TOO. These pictures praising Marilyn Monroe aren’t there to say “Being thin is bad;” they are there to say “the fact that all women feel constant pressure to be thin is bad.” As a person who used to be chubby, then developed an eating disorder and became very thin, then got over the eating disorder but stayed very thin (though I still frequently worry about my weight), I’ve thought about this issue from a number of perspectives…and I just feel like…I don’t think the people posting images of healthy women and denouncing the pictures of super-thin VS models who probably AREN’T naturally thin, who probably maintain those weights through fairly abnormal eating habits, should have to worry too much about the handful of women who are offended because they are naturally thin and have totally healthy, reasonable ideas about body image…because those women were never being targeted. And meanwhile we DO have a growing number of insecure and confused young girls who don’t understand why their bodies don’t look the same as those models, or even their “naturally” thinner classmates…

  38. rowdygirl responded on 27 Feb 2013 at 2:42 pm #

    TO : 10.Elizabeth responded on 25 Feb 2013 at 1:44 pm #

    …………………………………….
    I welcome the conversation on how to stop all this craziness, and by no means want to exclude thin women. It’s just a different experience.

    As always when it comes to these issues, it’s comforting to see that other women feel the way that I do. We all know that being thin doesn’t equate to happiness, or so they say. Again, I have no experience in that area. All I know for sure is that I’ve experienced pain in many instances due to my size, & strictly due to my size. I’ve been judged by the outside, with no other parameters used.

    I once had a co-worker tell me that even though she was afraid of getting cancer from smoking, it was worth the risk because she didn’t want to “gain a bunch of weight and get FAT”.. she said her husband told her he would leave her if she EVER gained weight. She said she had never had a weight problem, but she wasn’t willing to take the chance.
    Now… when you’re looking at a fat woman and saying something like this, what type of message do you think that sends? It said to me “I would rather die than look like you”..

  39. Jami responded on 27 Feb 2013 at 2:59 pm #

    Kate-

    I have only recently come to know the glory that is your blog but I have been binge-reading it for the past couple of weeks :) Your writing is beautiful and heartrendingly honest so I wanted to say thank you for sharing your gorgeous spirit and mind with the world… we are better for it.
    Having grown up a fat kid and teenager, I lost just over 100lbs in my early twenties and gained about 80lbs of it back in my early thirties. I’ve struggled with binge eating and severe calorie restriction at both extremes. It has taken me years of self-work and therapy to get to the point I am right now. For the first time in my life, I am developing a normal relationship with food and working hard to find some way to love myself. Obviously, this is an issue close to my heart and I’ve had experiences on both sides of the fence.
    I think this issue is so important for women because we are taught from a very early age that we are required to turn to outside sources to validate our self-worth. Although celebrities feel this pressure much more than an average person, the message that’s repeated over and over again is that EVERY woman’s appearance is public property. Leaving the house is basically an agreement to place yourself on display and await your judgement. I recently picked up a magazine at a supermarket checkout with the usual beach body criticism on the front cover. Every image was a woman’s body with the head cropped off (men were not included in this particular shame-fest) and the pictures were accompanied by captions of “Guess who got fat!” and “All skin and bones… does she have an eating disorder?”
    We are gross if we’re too fat and we are gross if we’re too thin. The body image issue is less about what’s “right” or “wrong” with your body in the court of public opinion and more about the fact that everyone BUT you has the right to pass judgement on it. In fact, it feels as though we have more rights to comment on another person’s body than we have to comment on our own. Try saying “I’m too fat” or “I’m too thin” in a group of your friends and listen to the arguments they offer. Then, try pointing out a woman on the street and saying “Her ankles are too thick to pull off that skirt.” You’ll get knowing agreement and pity for the poor girl who doesn’t know her own faults.
    There is nothing wrong with girls and women wanting to look attractive. The problems lie in 1) tying self-worth exclusively to appearance and 2) allowing everyone else’s opinion of that appearance to matter more than the individual’s. It would be much easier to decide who’s “allowed” to have body image issues if we valued an individual’s opinion of their own self-worth over that of anyone else’s.

    Keep up the brilliant and insightful work here. I always feel like I’ve had a little chocolate cake for my soul when I’m done reading your posts!

  40. bethagrace responded on 27 Feb 2013 at 8:43 pm #

    Oh my goodness. THANK YOU for writing this.

    Among other reasons, the “real women” campaigns have always driven me crazy because in building up heavier people, it requires tearing down *my* body.

    They say they stand for real women, but if that were true, the only qualification for a “real woman” would be her genitalia. As it is, they really only stand for one *kind* of woman–which is the exact same problem we had before, only reversed.

  41. Dane responded on 28 Feb 2013 at 1:00 am #

    Great post, I have nothing to add except that I recommend Pitch Perfect for a great performance by a heavier actress (Rebel Williams). It’s kind of an intentionally cheesy movie and she’s not *exactly* a romantic lead, but she does get to be flirty and sexual in ways that fat women are rarely portrayed. Also, it’s just a funny movie!

  42. Kande responded on 28 Feb 2013 at 8:12 am #

    Haven’t read through all the comments, so unsure if this comment has been said but – in my house, raising two daughters, I do not talk about “fat” vs “thin”. I talk about “healthy” vs.”unhealthy”. Because, in the end, that is really what matters isn’t it? If someone is too thin, and I DO mean thin as in lack of actual necessary body fat, they ARE unhealthy – but the word “thin” doesn’t even need to be used, the actual, factual, scientific reasons as to why they are unhealthy can be used instead. Such as is someone is anorexic so has osteoporosis … no need to address weight, but can instead reframe to address ways to fix the illness (of osteoporosis – and use food as a medicine (such as rather than take a calcium pill, prescribe drinking a glass of milk). If someone is too fat ( and yes I do mean fat, as in morbidly obese because body fat is too high causing health issues) then take out the word fat (even though I just said it) and again – address food through diet by which I don’t mean “diet” but medically prescribed regime to consume to lower body fat thereby eliminating health concerns (such as diabetes).

    Then in every person’s case – when they reach a balance where they have no health concerns that could be addressed via diet – then they are healthy and size is irrelevant. People will always vary in weight as we vary so much in body compostion – I could no more look like a svelt model ( because with my body shape being short and wide, if I got down to a low enough body fat to be considered ‘svelt’ I would look weird and be terribly unhealthy -whereas some women can look amazing at a lower body fat as have a thinner skeletal frame) than my husband could grow functional mammary glands or I could suddenly grow six inches. And there is nothing wrong with that.

    We need to stop searching for an “ideal”, start embracing natural differences, and focus on being healthy instead; and raising healthy kids who are concerned about using food as fuel for the activities that bring them health and joy …

  43. Jon N responded on 28 Feb 2013 at 7:20 pm #

    I don’t think the “fat” vs. “skinny” issue is in any way clear cut enough to be a legitimate battle, because between the black and white there are a thousand shades of gray. Weight should be taken for what it is in my opinion, a health issue. The greater issue with body image is self confidence, and that is not derived from how you look when you stare into mirror. Its instead based more upon how comfortable you are as a person.
    Body image can have a huge role to play in how we perceive ourselves, but if our self image is based entirely upon how we look instead of the things we hold dear on the inside, then no matter how healthy the body, the mind will never be at rest. It has to come from within, not from the perceptions of others.
    That being said, you bring to light an interesting debate yet again, and have once more brought an interesting and new perspective to the table.

  44. Mandy responded on 28 Feb 2013 at 10:04 pm #

    I’m so grateful for some of the things you mentioned in this article. I have always felt ok about myself and my body, I’ve had a fairly good body image of myself. But sometimes I feel like I’m not allowed to like myself and body, I’m not allowed to think I’m beautiful with all of this talk about body image. How backwards is that? I just agree with everything you said!

  45. Cinthia Ritchie responded on 01 Mar 2013 at 3:27 am #

    I love your writing, Kate, but I kind of groaned when I saw another post about weight. But talking about beauty? That’s an interesting subject.

    I live in Alaska, where most of us are more lax and more natural than those in the Lower 48 (shoot me if I ever pump my face with Botox in order to look younger). Beautiful up here is a woman dressed in boots and a heavy coat out walking her dog. Or better yet, a woman in even heavier clothes out mushing a sled dog team. Are they heavy? Thin? I dunno, their clothes hide their shape. But their faces are lovely: Strong and proud and totally unselfconscious.

    I get so, so tired of women talking about weight. What difference does it make? We are women. We are fucking beautiful, regardless of what the scale says.

  46. Ash responded on 01 Mar 2013 at 4:52 pm #

    Everyone can and should be able to talk about body image…but people who are going to be praised for how they look should be careful not to step on the toes of people who will be jeered at. Unfortunately, being preferred by society, whether or not it’s due to an eating disorder, medical problems, or just a naturally fast metabolism, is going to earn you advantages. It’s privilege whether or not you want it. I don’t mean this to be an asshole to thin people; I mean that it’s just a good thing to know why other people are responding the way they are. Whether or not you’re thin for reasons that you approve of or had any control over, there are plenty of folks who envy you because society says it’s the right thing to do. That within itself, causes tension. To some people, saying “I am thin and don’t want to be,” is like saying “I have lots of money and don’t want it” — all some folks will see is the advantage you’re getting from a third person point of view.

  47. Liz responded on 03 Mar 2013 at 12:19 am #

    This is a fantastic post. I am a normal-weight woman who, like most woman, feels guilty about every single thing I put in my mouth. I do not think it is exaggerating to say that every woman I know is constantly thinking about what she has eaten today, whether she has been “good” or “bad,” and what she “can” or “can’t” eat later.

    I once watched an interview with the gorgeous Nigella Lawson, whose cookbooks and TV shows show cooking and eating as glorious, communal and celebratory. She was talking about why she’s exempted herself from this psychic struggle over weight. She said that mother died very young (48, I believe), and she’d been thin her whole life. When her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, one of the first things she said was “this is the first time in my entire life I have eaten without worrying.” And this completely resonated with me– I think that most females would probably feel the same way, even though we might not admit it. How sad is it that the prospect of death would actually be freeing, because it would exempt us from this massive, constant, daily struggle with ourselves? We are evolutionarily programmed to seek out calorie-dense food, and we must fight it, fight it, fight it every day.

    There are times when I eat a cupcake or get an ice cream cone in the middle of the day just because, and it feels like an act of defiance. Which is just so, so sad given the massive, real problems that the majority of humans face around the world– it cheapens the very word “defiance.” I and the friends in my peer group work out obsessively– better not skip more than one day at the gym!– and are always, always talking about losing that last five to ten pounds, the ones that would take us from normal thin to “thin” thin. And it is just so pathetic in so many ways, so small. Just, enough…

  48. Izzy responded on 03 Mar 2013 at 5:42 pm #

    This is a great article, thank you so much for posting it.

    On the topic of ‘real women’ versus ‘skinny women’, I am naturally thin, and I feel that this is an awful way to think. All women are real women, regardless of their weight, or any other cosmetic value. This is such a counter-productive way of thinking, the more we divide women based on their weight, the more we lessen support for each other. Besides, as many commenters have already pointed out, the fact that a woman is thin does not mean that one can assume why, just as as one cannot make accurate assumptions about why a woman is heavy.

    Thanks for opening up discussion on this topic – it was well needed!

  49. Links Lundi | Ruby Bastille responded on 04 Mar 2013 at 8:03 am #

    [...] Thin women need to be part of the body image conversation: “We are told in millions of tiny and screamingly loud ways every day that fat is gross, horribly unhealthy, ugly, and unacceptable. Even thin girls and women often fight hard, and sometimes dangerously, to be thinner, because we have learned that thinner is always better.” [...]

  50. Susan B responded on 05 Mar 2013 at 4:37 am #

    This post had been knocking around my brain for days. I want to love it. I want to love it so much. Because I agree that everyone needs to be a part of the body image conversation. The “real woman” language needs to stop. Now. Same with “normal sized.”

    Laurin, Caitlin, and Ash all said some great things. Particularly: “Everyone can and should be able to talk about body image…but people who are going to be praised for how they look should be careful not to step on the toes of people who will be jeered at.”

    I would *love* to see thin women talk about body image, but there is something terrible that often happens when they talk about *weight.* So so so often I see posts from women saying they love their *little* belly. They’ve gained a *little* weight, but IT’S OKAY because it just made their boobs and butt a little rounder. Softer. More feminine. But they’re really really really careful to say they they may have wandered a little into the higher numbers on the scale but they’re still. pretty. What is heard is “I’m happy with my body, but only because it isn’t THAT fat.”

    I *know* that’s not the intent. But as an honest to G-d fat woman it hurts. So I welcome thin women to the conversation about how terrible the body image cops are so long as they aren’t becoming them.

  51. Plautia responded on 05 Mar 2013 at 2:29 pm #

    As a thin person (don’t hate me because of my DNA!), there is DEFINITELY reverse discrimination out there towards thin people.

    “Heavy women are discriminated against, treated cruelly, and made to feel terrible about themselves because of the way they look. Not true for thin women, as a group.”

    True, we may not get a lot of discrimination… as a group. HOWEVER, as an individual, we have the same feelings – and people “heavier” than we are can make us feel bad without realizing it.

    Over the years, I’ve had to put up with comments from FRIENDS, that, while not overtly antagonistic, are in fact, meant to slam us for being thin.

    A Lunch-time Example:

    Person 1: “When I get stressed, I eat ice cream” (said while drinking their 10th “diet” soda of the day).
    Person 2: “All I do is work out, and I never lose any weight.” (While sitting there eating french fries for the 3rd time that week).
    Person 1: “You are SO lucky – HOW do you stay so thin?”

    Yes, now I know that I am expected to make a comment. What I normally do is joke along, “Yeah, that all sucks, it’s hard!” And there they are, looking at me because I’m thin and should give them some life-changing advice to make THEM thin.

    THIS is what I really want to say: “I’m lucky. I have a high metabolism. I have been this height and weight since puberty. I don’t “work out” at a gym. However, I DO watch what I eat. I try to shake things up and eat different things in moderation. I eat “fast food” maybe once or twice a month. I drink water, or unsweetened ice tea. I run around after my kids constantly. I don’t DO ANYTHING to make me look this way. That’s just the way it is.”

    Now, I know if I were to say things like this, people would HATE ME. I don’t show off or talk down about “heavier” people.

    Not being able to be truthful about our own bodies, even with our friends, is just plain awful. People of ANY weight – try and ignore hurtful comments, move on, and focus on HOW WONDERFUL WE ALL ARE!!!

  52. Susan B responded on 06 Mar 2013 at 12:54 am #

    Plautia, I get what you’re saying. And I *completely* agree that everyone should be aware that they may be accidentally hurting someone’s feelings. And I agree that we should all focus on how wonderful we are!

    The “you’re so lucky, how do you do it” thing is awful and needs to stop. It puts thin people on a pedestal and accidentally draws a false dichotomy between “thin behaviors” and “fat behaviors.”

    But I’m really disheartened by the rest of your comment.

    In your lunchtime example you silently police your friend’s food choices (they work out, but they eat sodas and fries!). The reason your friends wouldn’t like what you want to say isn’t because you say you don’t do anything special or that it’s “just the way it is,” it’s because of the food policing and judge-y. And people don’t like that!

  53. Raging Leftie (@ragingleftie) responded on 07 Mar 2013 at 4:48 pm #

    The body image conversation is about women of course they have to be in the conversation. I agree that women should not pit themselves against each other -and men use it against us as if that should be the end of feminism right there – yes all women are silly bitches. Thin women and larger women and let’s say it – fat women (fat is not a bad word) are all on the same side – the bitchiness is just about one group feeling superior over another – but we really do all have to stick together in times like these.

  54. Cas responded on 10 Mar 2013 at 1:20 pm #

    I love this post, thank you.

    I’m currently going through some difficulties with uncontrollable weight loss. I’ve always been thin and now I’m getting even thinner. I miss my hips. I feel drained of energy all the time. I feel the way I did when I had an eating disorder in high school and it really sucks.

    I knew that when I talked about this in front of people I would instantly get the “well that is an easy problem to have” response and I was right. What I didn’t realize was that would be the end of the conversation. Nobody saw past the “thin” to the difficulties I’m legitimately having.

    Luckily I’m blessed with a partner that not only loves me no matter what I look like but also understands that it is a complicated situation (partially due to their history with body dysmorphic disorder).

    Sorry for all the unnecessary personal detail, I haven’t had a venue to talk about this and just kinda let it all out. What I’m really trying to say is “I totally get this, thanks for saying it”

  55. Lauren responded on 25 Apr 2013 at 9:25 pm #

    Awesome article! Really loving this blog.
    Another interesting point you’ve touched on is the idea that we assume certain things about people of different weights – the classic all-pervading one is that overweight people are “lazy and eat junk food all the time”. Which we understand (I hope) to be lazy pseudo-science. At the other end of the scale is average weight or slender women who people think have no body issues (like you friend who has actually suffered eating disorders). Then we have thinner women who then people decide are unhealthy, malnourished and suffering an eating disorder. Which is again, not always the case – before I hit puberty and gained boobs, I was frequently accused of being anorexic by peers because I was gangly skinny. And I’ve have friends who are heavier than me experience anorexia. MY BMI states that I am malnourished, which to me simply proves that the BMI scale is another example of pop-science which oversimplifies our weight in relation to health. Which is then a huge worry when it gets used to alienate or hurt people – like using it to decide if someone is fit enough, or when they imposed it on models and said any in the underweight area wouldn’t be allowed to work.
    This whole system treats health as if weight is the perfect symptom to diagnose problems with. Which it really isn’t – weight can be symptomatic of what you eat and how much you exercise yes, but also of a metabolism, of medical issues, genetic history etc. Health is far more complex than “you’re overweight therefore unhealthy! you’re super thin, therefore anorexic!” and society needs to understand that.
    And then there’s the final crux of the problem: even if someone’s fat because they eat too much, guess who’s business it is? Not yours. Sure if you’re a very close friend or family member, you might want to approach health topics like this with a loved one, but people you know or people in the street? Not your business. You don’t know them, you don’t know their life or situation and their looks and weight are none of your business. I think once we all understand this we might all be a bit happier with our lives.

    Sorry I’ve rambled, just had a lot of ideas :P

  56. Maia responded on 01 May 2013 at 12:44 pm #

    So, I finally turned the comment I left up above into a blog post. I definitely agree with everything said here– my post isn’t a rebuttal or anything. It’s just looking at another aspect of the issue, a thing that has frustrated me in the past, where it has felt like I couldn’t talk about body-image issues at all without upsetting or even offending the thin women I know.

    http://bellypride.blogspot.com/2013/04/thin-women-and-body-acceptance-movement.html

    I just think we need to acknowledge the disproportionate amount of hostility and judgement overweight women face…and I think thin women should absolutely be a part of the discussion as long as they don’t try to stifle the voices of others!

  57. skinny girls need love too responded on 23 Jul 2013 at 4:11 pm #

    Everything you said was interesting. But the bit about heavier women being hated I do not necessarily agree with on a world wide spectrum, maybe in the U.S.A but in the Caribbean, heavy women are glorified and praised and controversially it is the skinny girl who is picked apart day by day.

  58. C responded on 27 Jul 2013 at 1:11 am #

    Thank you for this article. I am a very skinny girl, but it was just that I have such a high metabolism and play many competitive sports. Now that I’m in high school, whenever talk of weight comes up people always say they wish they were so skinny as me. I want to tell them they don’t! There is so much prejudice against girls of my weight, as well as health problems that come with being so skinny. And even when I attempt to gain weight, I can only gain a pitiful pond per month, which could just be from height increase. And now that I am being forced into an extremely vegetable/no meat based diet, I don’t know what I’ll do.

    Anyways, this is my sob story of a skinny girl. Gaining weight is hard work when you are dedicated to an intense sport.

  59. shamingjustdontdoit responded on 31 Jul 2013 at 8:12 pm #

    I would say that we live in a food disordered society and that is reflected in the extremes that we see in the media – dangerously slim women – and throughout the culture – dangerously overweight women. I would like to see us come to terms with that. I have been skinny and fat throughout my four decades on Earth and I have been teased and shamed for both. As a female of color my ethnicity tends to favor zaftig or “thick” women and heaps scorn upon normally slim women. Hollywood and the fashion industry are selling a bill of goods, a weird fantasy where women are expected to look like Barbie dolls. Just know what it costs these woman, real women, to project these images and why. There is more than one way to beautiful and healthy and lying that obesity is curvaceousness or near-anorexia is sexy isn’t doing us any favors. I don’t participate in female fat or skinny shaming, judging or derogatory language around body weight. None of us should. What’s important is that you move, eat well and let the rest will take care of itself.

  60. Amber responded on 25 Sep 2013 at 4:46 am #

    Hmmm, let me see if I can do this without messing it up. Let me explain why there are a slew of thin women who have as much right to enter the conversation as a group of heavier women. Although, I’m not going to use the word thin, I’m going to say skinny. No one in my life has ever referred to me as thin. It’s always skinny, or gangly, or chicken legs.

    I come by it naturally, because my metabolism is dangerous to me at times, I had a digestive disorder that was physically debilitating (still is, but ending puberty finally helped) and malnourished me for many years, and I have the bone structure of an 8 year old girl, in diameter. What that meant for me growing up was that there wasn’t a single boy on the planet that wanted to have anything to do with me. I often heard that I looked like a 10 year old girl, or worse, that I looked like a little boy. For years, I hid under clothes that were 10 times the size I needed to wear. My best friend was a very heavy girl, and she had males all over her because she had the features that men liked, and I was built like a 1×4.

    When you talk about “thin privilege” and “real women”, just know that what you do is dismiss a very real demographic of women out there who have a host of serious body issues. I became a physical masochist, which was easy to hide under my gigantic clothing. I felt so ugly and unfeminine, hated my body so much for being a traitor and so childlike, that I spent a few years hurting myself externally. I was very lonely. No one wanted me, and all I saw was a sack of bones.

    I’m over it now, but I find myself occasionally saying the same thing that all of you do. Eat a sandwich! That’s not attractive! Truthfully, it’s because I see myself, and it triggers all the feelings I had of feeling ugly, of not really being a woman. So, when people say that’s not a real woman, I have to just step back and keep myself from getting angry. When women talk about thin women needing to watch what they say, don’t worry. I never talk about it. I never get past a sentence without getting the death stare, so I keep my mouth shut. However, I thought it might be helpful to you to know that skinny women have something to tell you. It’s very rare that anyone wants to hear it, though.

  61. Amber responded on 25 Sep 2013 at 4:48 am #

    One more thing to add. It’s also a different experience altogether, that when you actually get into good physical shape, as a thin person, and you feel good about yourself, that the majority of the people you know tell you that they’re worried about your health, and that you look very sick to them. Sometimes, you even hear that people are worried you have cancer. That is a serious blow to your self-esteem. When I take care of myself, people think I’m dying.

  62. W responded on 20 Feb 2014 at 2:46 pm #

    I believe you are wrong about the “heavy women being attractive” subculture not being mainstream – it has. Read magazines and you’ll see many heavier actresses being praised for their “curves.” It is indeed mainstream, perpetually pushed by the media.

    “Curves” is not interchangeable with thicker women. I am thin and very shapely. Curvaceous bodies are products of hormones and genetics, NOT weight.

    Personally, I find Christina Hendricks to be highly unattractive. Her face is plain at best and her body reminds me of a dumpy old lady. It’s exaggerated and therefore unappealing to me. To each, his/her own. There are many men who don’t find her attractive either. They say the same thing.

    As a naturally thin, petite woman (with a BMI in the healthy range, according to the Mayo Clinic website), I understand that women are scrutinized in terms of appearance. All women are. As the gender that attracts, we are scoped out by the gender that traditionally does the pursuing (men, and lesbians). We are also scrutinized by our competitors, namely other females (and sometimes gay men). This will never stop. But it does need to tone down.

    In the real world, away from the media, men do not seem to have a specific body weight preference. They will admire any woman, as long as she is not anorexic or obese (though I have noticed an age difference: older men like the thinner end, while younger ones seem to like the heavier end).

    I disagree strongly with a previous poster about how the “thin shaming” trend can be good. Clearly, she ignores the obesity epidemic in this country. Promoting the heavier body types over the thinner ones gives people license to eat poorly and become dangerously overweight. It also promotes discrimination against naturally slim women (and yes, most models are naturally thin to start with; that’s how they got into modeling in the first place). Any trend that promotes discrimination should be quashed.

    I have a daughter who is petite and I can see her maturing in a world where her body type is deemed unhealthy and unattractive, where she will struggle to accept herself and find acceptance. Where she will contemplate self-destructive behaviors along with other thin women because of society telling them they are unattractive and “not real women.”

    The only thing unhealthy in that scenario is people’s attitude towards women’s weight.