Calling Me Skinny Doesn’t Flatter Me
How toxic body positivity is affecting youth, unacknowledged and undetected.
“Girls don’t simply decide to hate their bodies, we teach them to.”
We all know you’re not supposed to call people fat. But calling people skinny has been normalized and glorified. It’s as if being called lean is a privilege you should be proud of and accept gracefully.
I’ve always been of pretty average height for my age and gender, but I’ve been underweight my entire life. When I got to high school, I stayed around a steady 92 pounds. I didn’t have any eating disorders or fears of becoming fat. In fact, I wanted to gain weight. Badly. And these body image issues started well before highschool for me.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, body image issues can start as young as 3 years old. That’s insane. The last thing 3-year-olds, or any child for that matter, should be worried about is their bodies!
The things that we say, the shows they watch, the books they read, and even the body language they observe help children develop ideas about the perfect body and how their own bodies deviate from this ideal.
People loved to comment on how small I am since I can remember. Anywhere I went, friends, family, and strangers all loved talking about my size. And I was paying attention.
I started comparing my body to my peers. Everyone was right; relative to other kids my age, I was tiny.
When I was in 5th grade, girls my age were starting to wear bras. I wouldn’t need a bra until high school, but I was desperate to have boobs. I asked my mom to buy me training bras, and she did, even though we both knew I didn’t need them.
When I was in 6th grade, girls my age were starting to wear jeans from American Eagle and Hollister. They could shop in the youth and teenage sections, and I could still only fit in children’s sizes. I wouldn’t be able to comfortably fit in size 00 jeans until high school.
Everyone was wearing skinny jeans and bras, and those were the girls the boys liked. I wanted boys to lust after me, and I thought being able to fit into at least 00 jeans and a 32A bra was the key. I felt ugly and inadequate, and I was only 11.
When I was in 7th grade, a girl asked me if I was anorexic. That one comment suddenly embodied how I believed everyone around me perceived me. And this was affirmed by the constant commenting on my size and weight by my family and friends.
Adult men and women commented on my body to grieve their slim figures and make sure I was aware of mine. But this awareness did not cultivate the pride and satisfaction that everyone thought I was or would eventually feel.
I remember the day I could finally fit into 00 jeans. I was elated. I sang “Teenage Dream” to myself over and over in the mirror while I got ready to go to a high school football game, ready to win over my crush with my form-fitting jeans.
The thing was that I still didn’t feel like a woman. This feeling shaped my perceptions of myself throughout high school and college and damaged my ego, whether I realized it or not.
My legs were skinny. My thighs were non-existent. I thought my ankles were too small. I didn’t have hips. I didn’t have boobs.
Because of that, I didn’t feel like I was or could be a feminine person.
People called me skinny like it was a gift, but I felt scrawny, twiggy, and shrimpy. And I accepted that feeling. I wore boyish clothes and never wore pink because I thought I was masculine, and that’s just the way it was.
In high school, I ran with a very preppy crowd. My friends shopped at J.Crew and Lily Pulitzer. They wore C-cup bras, and they had asses any 16-year-old boy would die for. Guys were always chasing after them, and they were in and out of relationships with the school’s star athletes.
I was the trophy weirdo. I was jealous of the way they seemed to embody womanhood and femininity. I wanted that so bad but felt it just wasn’t a part of who I was or who I could be.
I started eating — a lot. I counted my calories and sought out the foods with the highest calorie contents I could find, regardless of their overall health benefit or lack thereof.
I also started working out. I was following workout regimens that promised Brazilian butts, thick thighs, and hourglass figures.
Of course, my body type and metabolism don’t permit those kinds of dramatic body changes. I could do all the right exercises and eat all the right foods, and I was never going to look like Kim Kardashian. That’s just a fact.
And I can’t tell you how many times I was shushed for complaining about my body.
Apparently, if you’re skinny, you have no right to complain about it. I would confide in people that I was insecure about my weight, only to be told to shut up and be thankful that I can eat whatever I want and not get fat.
In college, I finally deleted social media. Staring at Instagram influencers all day with their unattainable, highly edited perfection and womanly figures broke my soul. It wasn’t worth it, and it wasn’t productive.
That was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I don’t miss social media, but it’s a shame that it’s such a toxic place for so many men and women.
I have a very different relationship with my body now. I’m vegetarian. I workout 6 days a week, cycling through resistance training, HIIT training, and cardio. I love to hike, I love to box, and I never step on a scale.
I can wear skin-tight clothes and feel good about my body, and I can wear loose-fitting clothes and feel good about my body.
I love pink and yellow and blue and purple and green. I finally see and appreciate the woman I’ve always been.
I was obsessed with a number for so long. I thought if I finally reached 110 pounds, I’d be happy. But that’s a dangerous game to play.
I follow the routine that I do because it makes me feel good physically and mentally. I take breaks when my body tells me too, and indulge in my guilty pleasures whenever they come by. But I’m no longer chasing a number; I’m chasing health.
People still comment on my size and weight. Regularly. My grandparents, my in-laws, strangers on the street.
“I wish I was as skinny as you.”
“You’re so small I could just pick you up!”
“You’re smaller than my middle schooler!”
“You’ve lost weight.”
“You’ve gained weight.”
I just smile and nod. And you know what I’ve realized?
None of these comments are a reflection of me. These comments reflect their own personal desires, demons, failures, and insecurities that have absolutely nothing to do with me.
The moral of the story: we need to seriously consider the things we say to children and how we choose to complement them. When you make a point to comment on a child or teenager’s appearance, regardless of whether you think the observation is positive or negative, you’re telling them that’s what’s important. And then we end up raising children who make the same comments to their peers.
No one should ever have to feel flattered about being called skinny.
The insecurities of naturally skinny girls shouldn’t be silenced and ignored just because they’ve been given the gift of effortless slenderness and the potential for unrestrained gluttony.