First up: I am in no way denying the existence of fat-shaming and society-wide prejudices against larger men and women. I'm also not denying that 'skinny privilege' exists - I frequently shop in stores which don't seem to stock anything above a size 12 (US size 8). But being skinny isn't some magic club where everyone is nice to you and prejudice doesn't exist.
I am 20 years old, approx. 5'10" and around 60kg/ 132 pounds (haven't weighed myself in a while, but I've been 60kg for a couple of years). I have to be really vigilant about eating enough, because if I don't I can very easily become underweight. I've been incredibly skinny my whole life. This is not a dietary issue, or an eating disorder, or a fitness addiction. This is Marfan's Syndrome, a genetic disorder of the connective tissue. But most people don't know that. Most people know that I am thin.
Most people assume that I diet, that I exercise, and that I have an unhealthy body image. Many people assume I have an eating disorder. How do I know people assume this? Because they ask me. Frequently, and without pretext.
One kid in high school, whose name I never knew, would frequently come up to me and ask me if I was anorexic. He even, at one point, asked me this while we were in the line to buy lunch. The irony of this seemed lost on him.
My bullies would call me 'Bony'. My friends would call me 'Skeletor'.
No matter how many times I try and politely tell people to kindly not make jokes about my weight, they still do so. When I object, they say 'it's just because we're jealous!' Am I to take that as a compliment? Should I thank you for telling me, with a smile, that my friends resent me for something over which I have no control?
I have built up what I believe to be a defensive mechanism, which is a constant obsession with food - not in a calorie counting way, but in a 'we should get cake, all the time. I want donuts. why don't we have bacon? LOOK I LOVE FOOD'-personality trope kind of way. Unfortunately this does not seem to have stopped people from putting their hands demonstratively around my forearm and telling me I ought to eat more - no matter how many times I insist I eat plenty, no matter how much I refuse to welcome their maternal concern.
Should I be welcoming that concern? Should I shake it off as my friends just trying to look out for me?
I think my friends should trust me when I say that I take care of myself and that my weight is not an issue and, frankly, none of their business.
I've been called a 'skinny bitch' many, many times, both by friends and bullies. This happens often when I am consuming large amounts of food. Sometimes it has come from the same people who encourage me to eat more. What am I to take from that? That I should eat more, but only in private, to hide, ashamed, so others won't resent me for apparently flaunting my dubious gift of having extreme difficulty putting on weight? Efforts to lose weight are frequently applauded, encouraged by every women's magazine across the country. My efforts to prove that I am trying to do what I am told, to eat a lot, are met with the words 'skinny bitch'. Forgive me if I do not take being openly shamed as complimentary. I don't intend to make anyone 'jealous', but nor do I need to hear about that jealousy. Why would anyone think I did?
After years of hating my body, of analysing it for its desirability to men and finding it lacking in appealing curves, of believing it too sharp and knobbly and jutting, I somehow managed to develop what I believe is a very positive body image. Still, I have internalised a great many messages about my body type which I have only recently begun to acknowledge.
- My response to 'fatshion' blogs and supremely self-confident women like Beth Ditto is admiration. My response to thinspiration blogs is fear - fear for the people who follow those blogs and aspire to my body image (I have a couple of thinspiration blogs following my tumblr. When I discovered the first I felt an overwhelming wave of nausea. I felt afraid and I wanted to cry. A large part of this was driven by the fear that an impressionable young girl or women may see my body as inspiration, which, due to my genetic condition, is literally aspiring to an unhealthy, abnormal body. I don't want that for anyone.).
- I assume any woman who spends a great deal of time in the gym to lose weight (even if it is also to gain strength and muscle - unless this is the primary aim) has low self-esteem.
- I assume most beautiful, thin women are hiding their insecurity.
- I am still mildly surprised when I am found sexually desirable, because my positive body image means that I find myself incredibly attractive but cannot yet move past the concept that the majority of society desires 'curvy' women, and thus not me.
I assume these things because they are what I have been told, what 'society' has taught me to believe about thin bodies - and especially thin women. Until recently, I did not really register that campaigns for 'real' women in the media tend to exclude me. I was in denial about the fact that when I was looking at images of incredibly thin women in magazines, I was reading them as 'impossibly' thin, as unhealthy, victims of a culture which forces women to starve themselves for beauty. Somehow I could forget how people may think that when they look at me. But now, when I read those taglines, I indignantly ask, 'Am I not real?'
Men are not exempt from assumptions based on weight. Think of who is typically cast as the 'nerd' in films and television - there is the overweight nerd, the 'runt', and the gangly one. Thin men are seen as weak, weedy, less potent and aggressive than they 'should' be.
Writing this has made me depressed. It makes me sad because of the way our bodies are policed. It makes me sad because of the way different body types are pitted against each other. It makes me sad because no matter how I try, people can't - or refuse - to understand, and I can never seem to articulate myself fully enough to make them. And it makes me sad because I still can't help but feel like I'm being petty, ungrateful, because I've been told so many times that I'm so lucky to have the body I do - even though this genetic disorder has the potential to kill me - and I've seen the way overweight people are shamed for their bodies and I know I'll never have to experience that.
Just please, don't try and tell me that I don't know what it's like to experience negativity because of my shape. Don't tell me thin people are always portrayed positively. Don't tell me about 'skinny privilege' if that's all you're going to say.