“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.
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.
More Important Reading on the Topic:
- Balancing Jane: “You Look Great”: What We Promote When We Praise Weight Loss
- Samantha Escobar at The Gloss: You Look Skinny
- BeckyTamara: Why I Don’t Compliment My Friends on Weight Loss