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.