“You’re so fit!” The actual words sounded like a compliment, but the tone said otherwise. As a slender woman it seems like there’s a constant barrage of comments about my physique. “C’mon, have a cookie, it’s not going to kill you.” If I decide to take one the comment is reversed, “I wish I could eat like that and stay so thin.”

It seems like the comments catch me coming and going. No matter what I do, I’m scrutinized, as if having a jean size in the single digits is suspicious behavior in and of itself. 

My response usually comes in the form of a joke. “Yeah, I run to manage my stress, which means I’m pretty much Forrest Gump.” or, “Chasing my kids is my exercise, so I’ve been working out 14 hours a day since 1999.” It’s an effort to defuse the situation because I’ve found it’s a no-win scenario. If at all possible, after joking about myself, I change the subject.

These are not isolated incidents. These comments happen to me regularly, and now the same happens to my daughter. The comments are made with an edge in the voice. People seem to feel free to evaluate my eating habits and lifestyle, seemingly just because I’m slender. It makes me wonder how or why it’s so common to be snarky to the skinny girl.

I have borne two children, and experienced more health problems than average for a woman my age. I know as well as anyone that the factors that impact a woman’s size and shape vary from day to day, year to year, and of course, woman to woman. I have had dire illnesses which have caused my weight to plummet to unhealthy lows, and thyroid problems which added weight to my frame despite my efforts to remove it. My journey is complex and challenging in its own way, just like any other woman’s.

We all want to be seen as worthy and valuable in the skin we’re in. As a simple rule of thumb, no woman should be subjected to commentary about her size, shape or eating habits, especially in public, no matter what her weight is. Considering that chronic illness, anxiety, and eating disorders can all contribute to a very trim appearance, even an innocent remark could encroach upon sensitive topics in woman’s life, making her feel conspicuous and self-conscious.

Regardless of size, a woman’s appearance should be considered the sum total of innumerable factors, many of which are difficult to control or beyond control. Even if, by chance, a woman effortlessly maintains her ideal weight, it is safe to assume that she is not exempt from heartaches and struggles in some area of life. 

All of this to say that skinny women need grace too. Treat the woman in front of you, whether she happens to choose the cookie today or not and no matter her size, as you would want to be treated. Doing so empowers not only her, but you and everyone around you. Building up another woman is an act of solidarity and strength, and it is not dependent on outward appearance. There is nothing more lovely than a woman who can find and mention the beauty of another. We all need more of that.

Alethea Mshar

Alethea Mshar is a mother of four children; an adult child who passed away of a drug overdose, one typical daughter and two sons who have Down syndrome, one of whom has autism spectrum disorder and complex medical needs. She has written "What Can I Do To Help", a guide to stepping into the gap when someone you know has a child diagnosed with cancer, which is available on Amazon, and is publishing a memoir titled, "Hope Deferred". She can be found on Twitter as leemshar, and blogs for The Mighty HuffPost as Alethea Mshar, as well as her own blog, Ben's Writing Running Mom on https://benswritingrunningmom.wordpress.com/. She is also on Facebook as Alethea Mshar, The Writing, Running Mom.