why “you’re so skinny” is not a compliment

First of all, I’ve always thought of the word “skinny” as a bit of a misnomer. The bigger you are, the more skin you have… no?

In all seriousness, this topic is one that is personal to me and very important on a broad scale.

I’ve grown up as the kind of person who can eat as much food as I want (ice cream, gooey chocolate chip cookies, potato chips, you name it), without exercising, and not gain weight. When I go shopping for clothing, the labels I look for are “0”, “00”, and “XS”. You can imagine the kind of jealousy this has attracted. After all, we have been socialized to subscribe to the idea that being “skinny” is the best way to look — at least if you’re a woman or choose to embrace a westernized sense of femininity on a physical level.

Over the past year, I’ve had the misfortune of discovering something else about myself: when I’m sick and when I’m emotionally distressed, I lose weight. Currently, I’m fighting a cold slash flu slash virus, and I’ve lost some weight as a result. I first noticed this when I looked in the mirror and saw more defined cheek and collar bones. My initial reaction: wow, that’s some sexy bone definition, Aliya!

But the very pleasure that seeing such defined bone structure in the mirror brought to me is what made me realize that the glorification of “skinny” is problematic.

It’s not that being skinny is in and of itself a bad thing at all. However, if I take “skinny” as a compliment, I’ll be more likely to try to re-enact the behaviours I practice when sick and stressed, such as eating less — even when in good health. This type of behaviour is especially tricky because it can happen subconsciously.


This sounds a lot like a path to an unhealthy eating disorder, doesn’t it? And I have a good(/bad) feeling that some eating disorders begin when “you’re so skinny” is seen as a compliment.

Besides, we all have so much more to offer to this world and each other than our physical appearances. If you want to compliment me, tell me that my diction is superb, that you find me interesting, that you enjoy my company, or that I make you smile. Compliment me in any way besides telling me that I’m skinny.

Aside from this, what should we do about it? I, myself, am going to stop saying “thank you” when people call me skinny. Instead, I’ll cheekily tell them that “I prefer the term ‘fit'” — if I see it fitting, that is. If they inquire further, I’ll explain why. Education is key.

I believe that almost all people who give “skinny” as a compliment don’t mean it maliciously. They likely just see it as synonymous with “healthy”, “fit”, and “beautiful”, among hundreds of other words. So let’s start using these other words instead, you beautiful human beings.

6 thoughts on “why “you’re so skinny” is not a compliment

  1. This is a such a close representation of what I experience that I cannot help but step right into your shoes and adopt your new attitude in slowly changing how people compliment me. Keep me updated on how the reactions are to you correcting their compliments, I think that’d be really interesting.

    1. I’m so glad it resonates with you! I will definitely keep you updated. Here’s a start: today, I told someone that the bagels I eat have 20% of the daily value of iron we require, and she said “yes, but there are probably tons of chemicals in them too. But you’re so skinny, it doesn’t matter”. To that, I told her that my weight doesn’t justify unhealthy eating. And she took back what she said and agreed with me… yay! Please keep me updated, too!

  2. Sara says:

    I loved this read. Interesting perspective. I defiantly went through a rough phase growing up about my body image. I think the word skinny has so many different meanings to different people. I’ve never really taken offence when people called me skinny (especially growing up in the world of competitive dance), I always just took it as another way of being called petite. I look at skinny as a way to define bone structure and build, nothing about me personally. Growing up in a dance world there’s tons of girls on strict diets trying to be under the weight that they should really be and by that you begin to see their cheeks hollow and their ribs protrude out of themselves. Although that never works because dance requires one to have a healthy body that has energy to be super physically active. With that said physically it is harder to maintain balance with larger hips (not based off anything but bone structure) and there is not much you can really do about the way you are built. Let alone it doesn’t help to be malnourished either and that just destroys me to see talented people feel that that is the way to get skinny… When I see underweight people that is not skinny to me, that’s malnourishment and possibilities of anorexia. Everyone has a balance of what their body looks like when its properly nourished and it looks different on all people. In my awkward middle school year’s where I had a smaller frame and danced a great deal I also underwent a lot of bullying about my body. Looking back at it now I think one of the main reasons that happened was because the school curriculum required students to watch a documentary called “dying to be thin”. I had to watch these documentary’s countless times every year in school. This gave the impression to students that being skinny meant you were anorexic. The words get tossed around so much that there are so many different meanings to it. Being in dance and being what at the time I define as “skinny” apparently made students feel the need to write on bathroom stalls (anorexic, skeleton, dying to be thin) about my weight and gave the teacher the right to pull me out of class so that the class could talk about my body? IT WAS RIDICULOUS. Next thing I knew I was in the councilors office being questioned about my body image and my health. At the time I was really upset, as if people thought there was something seriously wrong with me when there wasn’t. I just had a small frame… I wasn’t not eating or binging in the bathrooms. There are so many stereotypes about people and the way they look its just ridiculous. Being skinny doesn’t make you unhealthy. For example I own a New York best selling recipe book called “skinny bitch in the kitch” and it has some damn yummy healthy recipes that teaches people who naturally have a high BMR and a small frame to eat better foods because they cannot keep track of there health as well because their body is just naturally skinny. Most of all skinny is not a negative thing at all in my opinion. But being sick sucks and is definitely negative. But being sick doesn’t make you skinny; it makes you sick, it makes your body malnourished and thus you begin to loose muscle and fat (not bone in most cases). Being skinny is when your body frame is different not when you start to look unhealthy. Taking another approach in a perspective of food (food metaphors are my way of thinking), a skinny latte it just means that you have skim milk instead of whole milk, it explaining what it’s made of (like a body framework or your BMR). Some people are made of small frames, thus I would say they are skinny its nothing personal its just structure. I think skinny has been a really undefined term where society thinks it means loose weight. NO IT DOESN’T. Skinny to me is healthy like the recipe book is was reading, its nourishing your body properly and eating foods that your body knows how to digest which often brings you to a healthy weight that is looked at as petite. Skinny bitch in the kitch to me is a book that shows people who are skinny (petite) to be healthy. Its misleading to think that people who are naturally are petite are healthy. Because when I was “skinny” (petite, had a smaller frame) I ate horrible food that did not nourish my body. Being skinny doesn’t mean you’re fit, anyone can be fit no matter what frame you are. But not everyone can be skinny. Now I nourish my body with good whole foods, super foods, real food and my body and my overall well-being is much different. I believe that these terms big, small, skinny, and large are getting blown out of proportion especially when people start chatting about how your structure defines your health. Structure often defines a function and your structure (skinny, large or small) defines your function often ( High BMR, or slow BMR) but if your structure is unhealthy (could be skinny and overweight, or could have a larger frame and be underweight) looking I believe your function is unhealthy and that’s where there is issues. Fit is a totally different ball game than natural structure. Fitness is a lifestyle and revolves around more things than just size. Health looks different on everyone. Word’s such as anorexia and obesity have power and meaning about health and are extremely personal. Skinny is a shape and structure, it has nothing to do with who you are it just is what you are. I am half Asian that’s what I am but its not necessarily who I am… So if you eat well I believe you are well… You are what you eat so eat well ☺ and be proud ☺ and don’t let structure limit you.

    Love you Aliya I think you are beautiful and my post is kind of a mess… somethings might not make complete sense…i need to edit it but im super tired and just want you to know that I know where you are coming from because there was some points in my life where I viewed skinny as unhealthy. But now I look at it as structure. Words look different in everyones minds! I think its interesting to see how people look at this term because there is so much contradiction and confusion I think. LOT’S OF LOVE ❤ Good topic xo

    1. Sara! Your response is longer than my blog post!
      Thanks for sharing your story here — it sounds like you’ve had to deal with a lot of complicated situations because of the way others interpret your body image. But it also sounds like you’ve thought a lot about it, and have found clarity! That’s great news. I completely agree that being skinny is not necessarily a bad thing at all, as mentioned in my post. To say “skinny” and “healthy” are the same thing can be problematic though. But a good balance with nutritious foods and exercise can never be a bad thing. Can’t wait for the fall! 🙂

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