A few weeks ago, my friend Tessa made a Facebook status that really hit home: “I will spend my whole life trying to figure out why it's not socially acceptable to point out people's obesity, but it's perfectly fine to torment people for being too skinny.”
I completely agree with her. Although people realize it is rude to call out someone who is overweight, somehow it is socially acceptable to tear down people – especially women – who are “too skinny.” I have been thin my whole life, but I never really thought about it in a negative way until I went to a friend’s house before a middle school dance. As we were getting ready together, she said to me and my other friend, who was also very skinny, “Did you know some people at school think you guys are anorexic?”
Surprisingly enough, I wasn’t terribly insulted. I knew it wasn’t true, and I knew that was all that mattered. However, I think the fact that I can still vividly remember that question is a testament to how it affected me. I know it made me more self-conscious, and since then I have always felt the need to prove that I have healthy eating habits. Especially in high school, I always made a big deal out of what I was eating. I would so often joke about how I was always eating that it eventually became a running joke among my friends. Luckily, I had a solid group of friends and a supportive family who encouraged me to have a positive body image. However, I worried about what strangers thought of me. Sometimes when I ate with acquaintances, I would go to the bathroom after I ate and I worried, “Will they think I’m trying to make myself throw up?”
Societal messages reinforce this need to prove myself. While it seems that women are scrambling to get skinny with crash diets and crazy workout routines, there is also the idea out there that “real women have curves.” Many of these ideas are a response to the fact that the media often glorifies thinness. While encouraging girls to be dangerously thin is certainly wrong, the correct response should not be demeaning naturally thin girls.
For example, you can like a Facebook page called “Curvy girls are better than skinny girls!” Likewise, articles like this one suggest that curvy women are funnier, more loveable and overall better than skinny women. Sometimes women are even told men won’t like them if they’re too skinny.
Of course acceptance of all body types important, but is a person really less attractive or even less human because she doesn’t have curves? Are thin girls imaginary? Curvy women don’t have to gain body confidence or self-esteem by degrading skinny ladies or by saying they’re “not real.” We are all equally human, and although some very thin women have genuine eating disorders, that doesn’t mean all of us do.
This overall negative attitude can lead to a negative body image among thinner people. According to Planned Parenthood’s Health and Information Services, a negative body image can lead to increased anxiety and depression, poor self-esteem, less social interaction and cessation of healthy activities that require people to show their bodies (for example, swimming, exercising and going to the doctor). Researchers at Bradley Hospital, Butler Hospital and Brown's Alpert Medical School have shown that body image is linked to physical health. According to a Science Daily article, teenage patients with negative body images were “more severely ill than other adolescent inpatients in a number of important domains.” The study’s lead author, Jennifer Dyl, Ph.D., said, “These findings underscore just how central feelings about one's appearance tend to be in the world of teenagers and how impairing these concerns can be.”
Celebrities and journalists have also noticed the double standard regarding weight. Kendall Jenner from “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” discussed her weight in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar. “I’m constantly criticized for being too skinny,” Jenner said. “I’m trying to gain weight but my body won’t let it happen. What people don’t understand is that calling someone too skinny is the same as calling someone too fat, it’s not a nice feeling.”
Similarly, a Contra Costa Times article discussed the idea, highlighting the difficulties “naturally skinny” people have even though many of them are healthy. Although there’s no need to walk on eggshells when talking to skinny ladies, the article quotes marriage and family therapist Margie Ryerson, who said that comments on a person’s weight can be hurtful.
“Even if it comes from a sense of caring, it’s not appropriate and can create distress and unhappiness for the person,” Ryerson said. “They can feel blamed and criticized.”
Overall, it’s important to remember that calling someone “too skinny” or claiming “real women have curves” can be hurtful to women who are thin. Skinny girls are insecure sometimes too, and no woman’s weight determines her beauty.