Stop Demonizing “Skinny”
Thin women do not glide through life unscathed by impossible beauty standards any more than they slide under a door like an envelope. Although women who don’t see themselves as thin often lob this unsolicited metaphor at “skinny bitches”.
No one is more critical of thin women than women who do not see themselves as thin. Too many women think that labeling skinny as an “impossible” beauty standard is as justified as shaming the “fake” women who “attain” the apparently unattainable. And that it rights the wrongs caused by fat-shaming. Like old-school comedians, they think “punching up” isn’t bad manners. Because we’re so lucky to be thin! We’ve never struggled against a single insecurity, endured any ridicule, self-doubt, rejection or clothes that don’t fit, right? Life is but a dream.
Just as not-thin women think thin women are magically and wholly exempted from society’s beauty standards for women, they simultaneously think they are exempted from adhering to a basic rule — never talk to a woman about her weight. Yes — this includes women whose weight you might envy.
And why might women turn against each other? Because they feel threatened by perceived competition. And they resent the advantages they assume thin women all uniformly have. They think thin is all that men want. And they forget just how many things we humans judge and criticize each other for — weight is not the only fodder for ridicule.
However, I have yet to hear one man describe his dream woman by dress size. Or weight. Those are numbers that women obsess over — not men.
I have not been friends with many men who filter anything they say. Our friend groups tend to be no-nonsense enclaves where few topics are off-limits and dirty laundry is aired like the weather or sports scores. Yet in the twenty-some years that I’ve enjoyed uncensored conversations about what matters most to us I have yet to meet a man who even knows women’s dress sizes, let alone mated accordingly. Hourglass, yes. Hip-to-waist ratio, yes. Bust/waist/hip measurements, yes. Cup size, yes. They are attracted to women they find beautiful, not the number on a label in a dress they just want to take off.
But men are not the enemy. This is not Lysistrata. Even if they were, uniting, not dividing is the most effective way to fight.
Yet women unhesitatingly criticize thin women, whether they know them or not, by weight, dress size and even shoe size — three things I have never heard a man from the filthiest gutter pervert to the most old-fashioned gentleman praise or ridicule. Men are just as varied as women are but I haven’t heard a single man say, “I prefer a size 2.” But if you happen to be a size 2 it is unlikely that a woman who wears double-digits, even a size 10, will let that fact go without a snarky comment.
But not even a thigh-gap or a single-digit dress size exempts thin women from chasing the beauty dragon. We still have to be pretty. We still have to be curvy. And we don’t need “curvy” women telling us we’re not real.
“All Beyonce and JLo have done is add to the laundry list of attributes women must have to qualify as beautiful.” — Tina Fey
It’s not just thin and you’re in. Perhaps skinny is a prerequisite but it is by no means a finish line. As Tina Fey describes in Bossy Pants: “there is a laundry list of physical attributes women must have to qualify as beautiful”.
We also have to have long, thick shiny hair. Preferably blonde. Extra points for natural blondes. Clear smooth skin. Full lips. Some men even specify the distinguished DSL. Wide eyes. Preferably blue or green though some men prefer deep brown or honey-colored. Small thin nose. High cheekbones. Long neck, no double-chin. Large firm round breasts. Tiny waist and flat stomach. Hourglass hips. Heart-shaped round ass. Shapely legs. Small feet.
Despite the expectations we blame men and society as a whole for, no one has been more vocally critical, more judgemental, more inappropriate about my skinny body than other women. Perhaps men have kept similar criticisms to themselves but it has been the catty women, teenagers to elderly, that apparently find it appropriate to mock, scoff and question my size and shape (or lack thereof) since I was pre-pubescent. I only learned what “anorexic” meant because I was asked if I was so often. I had to ask an adult what it meant. It didn’t stop until I was 30 and gained 20 pounds of side-effect weight from depression medication. When I lost the weight I gained back the right to be questioned and criticized by strangers and acquaintances.
“Out of my way, … bitch,” a very heavyset coworker of mine told me as we approached each other in a narrow hallway. We didn’t know each other well but she worked one department over from me and I always enjoyed the Jeopardy calendar she kept on her desk. We developed a daily routine of guessing together. It was nice. But our mutual love of trivia did not constitute the kind of intimacy that might make that comment ok let alone funny.
“I’m sorry, what?” I wasn’t completely sure I’d heard her right.
“I said, ‘out of my way, BITCH,’” she repeated with emphasis and enunciation I didn’t need in my native language.
Honestly, I don’t remember if words came out of my mouth or if she reacted to whatever look my face made.
“You know, like skinny bitch?”
I did not know. I was still confused.
“The cookbook?” She explained with a slightly more helpful undertone. “It’s called Skinny Bitch.”
I hadn’t heard of it at the time. Sure, I own it now (it’s a great cookbook) but that doesn’t mean it was professionally appropriate in the workplace or decent in any setting. Had I just finished reading Fat Bastard Barbeque it wouldn’t occur to me to call the next larger person I saw a name that is categorically rude, especially in the workplace where HR looms as large as Big Brother.
So. To the women who think demonizing skinny is the solution to the myriad beauty standards imposed on women, just stop. Turning on each other fractures the whole while it harms real women. Yes. Real. Thin women are real women too. We’re not bionic. We’re not mannequins. We’re not figments of some chauvinist’s imagination. We’re just people. And we don’t need to apologize for how walking through our own lives in our own bodies makes you feel. So don’t overcorrect with a pendulum-swing too far.
“Don’t you want a real woman?” My ex’s mom asked him at a table full of people while we had lunch at a Chinese restaurant. She had spun the lazy susan toward me and I declined the meat, as vegetarians do, without a word and scooped more fried rice on my plate.
“You should get a woman with meat on her bones. How can a woman have any meat on her bones if she won’t eat meat?” She continued while I sat there stunned. No one said a word to this woman, petite herself, shorter than I am.
“Whatever happened to that redhead? I liked her.” My ex did not say a word to his Vietnamese mother who hated me for being white, (never mind that all three of her husbands have been white.) She referred to me as “the fucking Catholic whore.” And despite the fact that I was probably the same weight just stretched vertically a few inches, she did not consider me “real”.
But all women are real women. A short white skinny Catholic vegetarian is just as much a real woman as a tall Black trans woman. “Curves” are not the sole qualifier. And neither is being born with a vagina or ovaries. So to those who’d like to continue co-opting the term “real women” and hoard it for some women while ridiculing others I will simply ask you to fuck right off with the hypocrisy.
You don’t get a pass on basic etiquette because you assume that anyone else has it easy in life. And don’t soft-pedal your “harmless” observations with “must be nice” passive aggression. It gets a lot less “nice” the more we have to politely absorb catty comments.
The only appropriate observation to make about someone else’s appearance is “you look great.” You can be specific about the outfit, “That color brings out your eyes” or “I love that dress with those shoes.”
Steer clear of blame-shifting “compliments” like “I wish I could fit into that dress/those jeans/a skirt that short.” Do not make someone else’s appearance or attire about you. Do not mask your jealousy or disdain as “concern” for her health and whether or not she’s eating enough. Whether they’re going to work, going out, working out or whatever else their day has brought them, check your motives before you share your unsolicited commentary. If you are genuinely concerned about her diet or her health ask yourself if you are close enough that it’s your place to say anything. If you are close, do some soul-searching about how best to approach a complex issue like addiction or eating disorders before you have a private conversation with her.
Otherwise, when you see a thin woman walking toward you, try assuming something radical — that you are not an expert and that you know nothing about her, her body, her health or her life. Instead, try saying something wildly unexpected like “Hi” or “How are you?”
Even thin women deserve your kindness, no matter how much you might resent the life you think she’s lived.