On the audacity of skinny shaming

01:43:00


We all know about the abhorrent phenomenon that is fat shaming, and the fashion industry’s consolatory attempts to alleviate its collective conscience with things like plus size fashion. There is, however, a congruent problem that exists in a parallel universe. It’s called skinny shaming.

You detect traces of it when you’re on the receiving end of comments like: ‘You’re too skinny. You should eat more.’, ‘Oh my god you’re sooo thin. Why are you so thin?!!’ or ‘Seriously. You’re going to get swept away by the wind if you don’t start eating.’.

It weaves a hint of playful disgust in with the slightest tinge of misplaced envy. The most curious thing of all is that most of the time you'll struggle to identify damning differences between the body of the person who makes these comments, and your own.

So, whoa, hold up. Two critical errors: you’re suggesting that there’s something wrong with the way someone looks, and it also seems almost like you might be projecting your own insecurities onto your assessment of someone else's physique. Wrong, and wrong. Also, let’s all acknowledge that not everyone who is skinny is malnourished or starving, the same way an overweight person isn’t necessarily that way because they gorge themselves silly on food.

The thing about these comments is that no one bluntly points out to anyone, ever, that they’re fat. So why do we feel entitled to openly discuss someone’s weight when we think they're ‘too skinny’? And if the phrase ‘too skinny’ hints at some measure of relativity, then from what do you derive that benchmark?

More rhetorical questions - if we as women constantly demand respect and denounce objectification by the opposite sex, then why are we putting our own waistlines on a pedestal and letting it dictate our expressed self-worth? How did we come to internalise the notion that when is comes to weight, less is best? Why do some people pit their bodies against others’, like there is one solitary ideal that everyone should compete to attain?

Skinny shaming is like the humble brag. Utterly confused, and extremely abrasive in large quantities. What a person's bathroom scale reads is their business, and it has no bearing on what your bathroom scale reads. So if you perceive someone to have achieved the physical ideals you’ve conjured up in your mind better than you’ve managed to, you really should’ve checked your delusion at the door because this comparison and Alice in Wonderland-esque frame of mind isn't healthy in the least.

And so. If anyone ever wanted the humble opinion of yours truly, I’d say that I don't think the 'too thin' label fits me at all. Why skinny shaming frustrates me is that the familiarity of hearing such comments directed at me is hard to reconcile with the fact that I'm not even terribly gaunt. I say this as a caveat, and not to elicit any over-compensatory remarks of comfort or as an expression of delusion. I know my physical proportions are decent because I'm a US size two or four (depending on whether we’re talking about ASOS or Zara) and this is a fairly common dress size - my lack of empirical evidence to prove it must surely be backed up by the fact that I can never find anything in my size at end-of-season sales!

People label others as thin as if they're affixing a patronising gold star to your waistline, for successfully conforming to the macabre standards of beauty that the fashion industry has perpetuated over decades. Either that or they take it in turns to beat themselves down, like a real-life enactment of a high school locker room thinspo debate:

Girl Uno to Girl Dos: ‘You’re so thin.’
Girl Tres to Girl Uno: ‘Shut up. You look like a pole too, okay?’
Girl Quattro: ‘All of you are crazy. Look at me. I’m basically an elephant.’

In 2001, the legendary Alexander McQueen staged his Spring/Summer show in a mirrored cube modelled after an asylum. McQueen wanted to explore the relationship between body image and mental health with his VOSS show, and its finale was engineered for maximum shock factor - a large box fell open to reveal a plus-sized woman, who was naked except for a breathing mask and the company of moths and butterflies. She was journalist Michelle Olley, who wrote in her diary her reservations about being the centrepiece of the bizarre but brilliant display: 'I suspect my body shape will alarm some of them more than any horror movie special FX could drum up...I am what most of them fear most—fat.' All of it is a stroke of genius, and it really does bring into question why we’re getting our knickers in a twist over body image.

The bottom line is, in the grand scheme of things it really doesn’t matter if you’re a hippo and I’m a giraffe or if I’m so skinny I might disintegrate into ash before your eyes. If you make a size comparison with the subtle implication that it’s unacceptable for someone to be of a certain build, or make a comment with mock disgust that they're too '(insert adjective here)', well, there really are more important issues in life to warrant your concern! You know what they say about sticks and stones.

And now, back to regular programming.

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