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“You Look So Skinny” and Other Non-Compliments

“You look so skinny!”

I cringe. I tight-lipped smile at my friend, my co-worker, the random lady from church, someone’s boyfriend, a child, someone old, someone young — all of them. I know I’m supposed to offer up thanks for this supposed compliment, but I want to launch into a tirade instead. I force myself to take a long, deep breath in through my nose, out through my mouth before I speak. I stick with the answer that the masses have found most palatable in my weight loss journey.

“I feel great.”

I get it. I do. I really get it. I’ve shared my weight loss journey here on the blog; I told you how I gained the weight and how I lost it. Even if I hadn’t shared, seeing me for the first time in awhile, friends will trip over their tongues and stumble over their words trying to figure out how to acknowledge the fact that I once weighed more than I do now. For some reason, “skinny” is the word that most often falls out of their mouths. Perhaps that word choice can be blamed on a society who promotes body acceptance, but when they say that, they mean larger-body-type acceptance, not smaller-body-type acceptance. If someone happens to be thin, people throw around comments like, “Gee, I’d like to buy her a sandwich,” or even feel free to comment on her lack of curves or butt or whatever. Jessica at Faith Permeating Life has heard that she needs to “put some meat on her bones.” I try not to roll my eyes to the high heavens and explain that I’m not skinny, I’m proportionate now — for the most part. I try not to tell them that they pretty much just walked up to me and said, “Man, you used to be fat, but look at you now!” I just smile and nod and talk about how I feel, which is great. Except when you call me skinny.

Tell me that my hard work has paid off and ask me how I stay inspired when it comes to running in the extreme heat or actively falling snow. Comment on my leg muscles, because they are pretty awesome. Ask me when I developed my personal style (and then pretend not to be shocked that it happened mostly when I was overweight). Or just tell me that I look healthy. Because I am. Two years ago, I wasn’t healthy. I was physically and emotionally miserable. I hated my back, I hated my body, I hated everything about myself. Now, I feel healthy — inside and out. I feel awesome. Or if that line of conversation doesn’t work for you, and this is far-fetched, fight society’s need to comment on outward appearance and start up a conversation with me about anything else under the sun. I know it’s hard, but it’s worth it.

Skinny? Or Not.

One reason I have chosen not to share my weight number is for this very reason: the fixation on labeling and numbers and perfection. If you knew my actual weight, you wouldn’t be calling me skinny. I say that not from a fixated point, as I have no desire to lose any more weight, but from the understanding as to what our society constitutes as thin.

As much as I hated looking at my body in the mirror from 2010 to 2012, I was still me. I still had lovely and different shaped eyes, gorgeous hair, and nice curves. I was still beautiful on the outside, though it took some prodding from certain friends to stop being down on myself, on my own unique beauty, because of a number on the scale. In the midst of my back problems and weight gain, I found myself able to separate beauty from number; I felt truly beautiful long before I was able to start losing this weight, to get back to a healthier version of me. I honestly felt pretty darn smoking hot when I was 36 pounds heavier than I am today. It took work and a deeper understanding beyond what society offers us in terms of beauty, but I got there. And so can you.

Quite honestly, don’t even get me started on “strong is the new skinny” line of thinking and body-shape fixation. Caitlin at Fit and Feminist really drove it home with her post on what happens when the pursuits of “skinny” and “strong” collide. She says:

“We don’t need a new “skinny.” We don’t need a new beauty standard, nor do we need yet another physical ideal hanging over our every thought and move like a little black cloud of doom. What we need to do is change the paradigm so that we value our bodies for all of the amazing things they let us do.”

We don’t. We don’t need a new skinny. We don’t need a new strong. We don’t need a new fixation of any sort. We need to look at ourselves as individuals, evaluate our strengths and our weaknesses, and work on being the best versions of ourselves — physically, mentally, spiritually — whatever that means to you.

For me, it meant regaining control of my body — not necessarily in terms of the number on a scale but moving when I wanted, how I wanted and for how long I wanted to do so. Having been limited in that movement, not being able to walk even 1/4 mile before having to sit in pain, I am better able to understand why I turned to endurance running and the half marathon. Maybe I was making up for lost time, maybe I just wanted to keep moving for hours to prove to myself, “Yes, I can and will move.” Yes, my doctor told me to lose weight, but no, it wasn’t why I took to the road and kept on running long after I hit the weight I’m meant to be and thus stopped losing weight. I’m healthy, and I’m working on maintaining that health.

April Doherty wrote a post encouraging readers to drop the “strong is the new skinny” schtick and just be themselves. She says:

“Think about your goals. You only have one body, one life. We are only here for a short time. These goals should not be limited to solely external results; but internal. DIG DEEP! Instead of classifying your body, just accept you for you. Look in the mirror and dig deep—be comfortable with what you see. Love what you see. Who cares who is the fairest of the land because it is your mirror, so YOU are! Enjoy your life. Move a lot. Eat good food, especially the green stuff. Love even more. Your body will thank you.”

Which brings me to the end of my point, to wrap it all up and drive it home: There is nothing wrong with being thin. I have been thin. I am thin now. For awhile there and at various other points in time, I didn’t qualify, classify or resemble thin. I have friends who are thin, friends who are not thin; they’re all pretty awesome. The point here being that thin, in and of itself, is not a compliment. I am not a better person when I am thin than when I am not-so-thin. I am not less beautiful when I am not thin than when I am thin. However, instead of complimenting me or your mom or your uncle or anyone on their outward appearance or body shape, I challenge you to delve deeper. Instead of commenting directly on someone’s weight, why not ask, “So, what have you done lately? You surely look different!” Or, if you know, a comment as to the work involved may be warranted. Or, perhaps, why not leave the fixation and fascination our society has with shape and size and perfection aside and say, “Hi, Friend. I’m glad to see you.”

Because even when you comment on my weight and size and shape in a public setting, I’m still glad to see you, friend. Mostly. Unless you give me a birthday card like this. Then we’re gonna have words. All the words.

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24 replies on ““You Look So Skinny” and Other Non-Compliments”

YES. ALL OF THIS. I’ve lost weight recently too, and am still losing, for similar reasons to yours. I wanted to feel better in my body and as I moved through this world, period. I might have found clothes-shopping more frustrating 40 pounds ago, but I liked myself just fine when I was heavier! I was just as awesome then as I am now! And I know my friends and family love me no matter what I look like or weigh, but when I hear, “Look at you, skinny!” or “Wow, you’ve lost weight, you look great!” I just cringe. They don’t realize what they’re implying, I know, and I mostly just smile and change the subject. Sigh.

I have not blogged about my weight loss or talked about it online at all, really, because I feel like I’d be adding to the problem of this culture’s obsession with weight and looks. I don’t feel like you’ve done that, not at all. I feel like you’ve blogged about it in a different way and that you’re educating people about the cultural bias. For this, I salute you.

“I was just as awesome then as I am now!”

This.

Once I got past the “thin=beautiful” part (with my friends’ help), I realized that despite the pain, I “felt” beautiful. And I was still awesome!

I was hoping that I was sharing my journey and all of this in a way that didn’t contribute to the on-going problem, so I thank you for sharing that part in your comment as well. I am very careful as to how I speak of and share these things.

Years of studying linguistics and translation has taught me that the meaning of words is in people, not in the words themselves. Anytime someone comments about anything related to my appearance, I choose to believe that the adjective they use is an entirely positive one in their head, so I translate it to “fantastic.” Life is simpler if you can convince yourself to think that everybody is always telling you that you look fantastic. :-)

You know I have all kinds of thoughts on this and well yes. Just yes.

(Also, if someone compliments you by saying you look thin/skinny when we are together later this month I cannot promise that I won’t just yell “SQUIRREL!” “SHINY” or point at random things.)

OMG Jenna. I love this with all of my love.

“Comment on my leg muscles, because they are pretty awesome ” – Yeah, That is exactly what I commented on in one of your earlier posts! Your leg muscles ARE awesome. They are amazing actually. They look crazy STRONG. Love that.

Anyway, to wrap up a rambling comment, I love this post like crazy. So many people go from overweight to feeling healthy and fit and it becomes more about numbers and becoming “skinny”. It is truly inspiring for me to read that you see just how fat shaming those “compliments” really are. So yeah, I love you. Thank you.

PS: Can I link this post in a future post?

I will be honest and say that I’m in love with my legs. Lol. But I also really liked them before — minus the whole calf and boots thing.

I’m pretty happy that I haven’t fallen into the trap of the numbers game. I am enjoying being me, without pain or self-loathing. That’s awesome.

And of course, feel free to link! Quote if need be!

This is a great article (and thanks for the link to my post!)

I really love the line you have about finding your sense of style while you were overweight. Even if we are actively trying to lose weight (or losing weight as a side effect to actively making healthy food choices and moving our bodies), we can still be confident in and respect the bodies we have right now, and dressing in a way that makes us feel good is a big part of that.

It’s true. I had to buy new clothes when I gained weight while my back was injured. I figured if I was buying new clothes, I might as well figure out what my style was/is, as I had previously just been a “whatever” kind of dressing person. I feel I really “came into my own” with regard to how I dress, what fits various parts of my body, what colors suit me, what accessories I like, and so on. Even though I was mad that I was injured and overweight, I still felt pretty more often than not!

I’d wondered why you hadn’t shared the numbers, because that’s usually the first thing people do when the go on a journey like yours, right? But I get it. Completely. I’m starting my own journey, and I’m obsessed with the scale, with all the numbers, with figuring out how long it will be until this weight, etc.

If I have said anything to you in passing, forgive me. You don’t realize how much of your own junk is wrapped up in your own reactions to others sometimes.

But, I will continue to comment on your legs, because, RAWR!

Dude. Legs. Heck yeah.

This is the healthiest way I’ve ever made a change like this in my life. The not focusing on and obsessing over numbers has made all the difference.

And it’s mostly people IRL that say really weird things. I just used the super tame “you look so skinny” example to speak for them all. There have been some doozies.

Even though I do share the numbers ( and focus on them a wee bit too much) I really get where you are coming from and I love LOVE this post. Thank you for articulating what I haven’t been able to.

Personally, I don’t mind when others share their numbers. So you keep on keeping on. WOO! (Can I tell you how awesome it is to be in a good place with regards to all of this? It’s awesome.)

I’ve always thought you look lovely, but I’m glad your weight loss has helped you feel better & healthier. You don’t know it (well, now you do, I guess) but you’re helping me quite a lot through my own weight-loss journey. I didn’t gain much weight after Asher was born but I have a small frame & what I gained was enough to make me feel terrible. It’s very slow in coming off but seeing how well you have done is inspiring me to keep plugging away at it… xo

I agree- you have inspired me to get moving a bit more too! As for the “you’re so skinny” comment or “you’ve lost so much weight”, the flip side that is heavily implied is “you used to be so fat/heavy/thick/etc….”. Ugh. I love telling people they “look great!” when you can see that beauty and healthiness radiating from inside and out.

I think the new mantra should be HEALTHY! That is so different from weight or exercise or how you look. .

I need to lose weight for my overall health issues and was doing pretty good last year. I am slowly getting back on track with eating better and am now starting to focus on exercise. That has always been my Achille’s heel.

At BH I’ll just stick with “You look awesome” to everyone I see!

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