“You are too skinny.”
I was 10 years old and sitting on a seesaw with a friend at day camp. We were going up and down and just talking about whatever 10-year-olds talk about. Somehow we started to talk about our weight. And that was what she said to me – that I am too skinny – for no reason. She just blurted it out.
I felt the tears forming in my eyes, but I didn’t want to cry. I had heard this before. I knew I was a skinny kid. I didn’t try to be. As a matter of fact, I hated it. It was just the way my body was. I was so hurt hearing these words from my friend that I retaliated by saying, “Well, you are too fat.”
As her end of the seesaw went down, she jumped off, and I came flying down. We both ended up crying. I don’t remember what happened after that and, believe it or not, we are still friends today. But that moment has stood out in my mind even after all of these years.
I am sure that some will think I was a mean girl. How could I possibly call my friend fat? That is a horrible thing to say. Yes, I agree it is. But to me, it was just as horrible when she called me skinny. She wasn’t saying it as a compliment; she was mean-spirited.
Being skinny shamed happened to me often, even before the day on the seesaw. My mother used to tell me that they were “just jealous” and maybe they were. But that didn’t make it hurt any less.
I am now 50 years old, and today I do appreciate my fast metabolism. But it took a long time for that to happen. I am not going to say that being a thin kid was all bad. Of course, it had its positives. I never had to diet. As a teenager, I would sit at my kitchen table with an entire Entenmann’s chocolate marshmallow cake and a fork and just eat without worry. My poor sister who did not have my metabolism had to watch this.
But I wasn’t just thin – I was skinny. There is a difference. The bones in my hips stuck out. That made me different, and no adolescent girl likes to be different. People would whisper about me when I walked by them. I was asked numerous times if I had anorexia or bulimia, and I got a lot of those “too skinny” comments just like that day on the seesaw.
Many times this came from adults as well as kids. It wasn’t much different for me as a teenager. My best friend in high school was very attractive and while the boys called her “hot,” they called me “bones,” which made me all the more insecure about my body. Some girls would wear giant sweatshirts to cover up how much they weighed. I wore them to cover up how little I weighed.
When I got older, it did get better. My metabolism slowed down a little, and I was no longer super skinny. I had more confidence and learned to appreciate my body. Years later I got married, and oddly enough my husband was also once a super skinny kid. His mom once told me a story about how when he was seven years old an acquaintance of hers said, loud enough for him to hear, that he was “so skinny it’s disgusting.” He cried. We both had our scars from skinny shaming.
Two skinny parents are bound to have skinny kids, and we did. Both of our daughters are more than thin, although I don’t think either one of them is as skinny as I was. Even so, they do get some comments similar to the ones that I heard as a kid. They have been asked about eating disorders and have gotten the “too skinny” remarks.
When they tell me these things, I feel a little pang of hurt, for them as well as for the younger me. I hear myself telling them how these people are “just jealous,” the way my mom reassured me. I also remind them that they are beautiful and should have confidence in themselves. From what I can tell they do, and thankfully neither one of them feels compelled to wear giant sweatshirts all the time the way I did. However, I also know the damage has already been done. The question remains how much and how well they will be able to overcome it.
Skinny shaming is as cruel as fat shaming, despite the stigma society places on the latter. We all have different bodies, whether short, tall, fat, or skinny. And no one, not even skinny girls, should be made to feel bad about theirs. Ever. Though the object of our shame may vary, one thing will forever remain the same – the pain.