“You’re lucky you’re so skinny!”
“I remember when I used to be that thin!”
“Enjoy your body now, while you’re still young!”
“What do you exercise for? You’re already so skinny!”
“You won’t have that body after you have kids!”
I’ve heard these comments, and others similar to them, all my life, mostly from my mother, aunts, co-workers, and even strangers. Middle-aged and older women seem to comment on my weight the most. When I was little, those around me constantly reinforced the problematic mindset that skinny equals desirable. My body is “good” and “cute” because I fit the accepted, skinny beauty standard. I was taught that a slim body is a body that can be enjoyed and envied. My body was defined for me before I could even claim it myself.
I know these seemingly casual remarks from older women in my family and acquaintances are meant as compliments. But here’s the problem: by putting so much positive emphasis on my weight, these people are perpetuating fatphobia and body-shaming. They are holding up skinniness as the ideal, and subtly telling me that if or when I gain weight, I will no longer be as pretty or desirable. They are conveying the idea that large, lumpy, or post-baby bodies do not carry the same value as young, skinny, toned bodies do.
My aunts reminisce about the days when they could fit into size-two pants and didn’t have rolls on their bellies from housing and protecting life. They complain about saggy breasts that have given sustenance to their children. They tell me I’m so tiny that I need some fat on my bones to keep warm.
This “skinny is praiseworthy, fat is lamentable” trend doesn’t exist in a vacuum, nor is it just my relatives being hateful. It’s centuries of the patriarchy determining female attractiveness and enforcing and worshiping unrealistic body standards. When my mom and aunts tell me to be grateful that I’m skinny, they are regurgitating generations of misogynistic rhetoric that they have internalized and now sadly believe. When my aunt exclaims, “You’re so skinny, you could blow away in this wind!” she’s pushing larger women to the margins without even realizing it.
Recently, I was at work when an older woman stepped into the elevator with me.
I mentioned how cold the courthouse was, and how my thin cardigan wasn’t enough to keep me warm. She laughed and pinched the back of my thigh. “You need to put some fat on you!” she exclaimed. I laughed it off.
Later that same week, at a small restaurant, I ordered a BLT with avocado to go. Some older women were sitting near the cash register and overheard. One looked at me, smiling, and said, “That must be how you keep that slim physique!” I laughed awkwardly and explained the sandwich wasn’t even for me.
To everyone who comments on my body and my weight, please stop. Don’t tell me how beautiful it is to be slender, and don’t tell me to eat a sandwich. When I tell you that my medication has drastically cut my appetite and caused me to lose weight, don’t jokingly ask if you can have some of my pills. Don’t intertwine my identity with my weight. I’m more than that.
And by worshipping a lack of fat, you are marginalizing and delegitimizing millions of women who are all different sizes, heights, and shapes. You are perpetuating fatphobia the way advertising, modeling, and movies do. You have taken what men obsessed with Eurocentric beauty standards and little bodies have force-fed you and you’ve come to think that part of a woman’s worth lies in her dress size.
You are perpetuating a trend that degrades women and it’s time for a change.