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Skinny Shaming Versus Fat Shaming
Have you ever been inside a mansion, dreaming of every fine detail and piece for your own imaginary house?
You find yourself envisioning a glamorous dinner, served to you by a waiter so you’ll never have to get up again. Everything is perfect. Pristine. Orderly. Matching. This house is your dream house. No, better yet, this person’s life is your dream life.
Suddenly, the owner of the house comes stomping down her glorious spiral staircase. She seems to be quite angry and frustrated. She turns to you and says “I can’t stand this house for one more minute. It’s too big, it’s too small, it’s too black, it’s too white, it’s too noisy, it’s too quiet.”
You look at her. You try to muster up a face of empathy but you actually want to punch her. How on earth can this woman complain about her mansion – and why does she have to complain about it to me – me who has never owned any piece of property, let alone a mansion? Me with my mismatched furniture and my meager cleaning help once every other week?
I pose a serious dilemma in this scenario.
No one is immune to feelings. No one is immune to wanting more, no matter what they have. Most people seek human connection, human understanding and human empathy. We know, on some level, not to compare our pain or suffering to someone else’s, but perhaps we need to be careful with who we complain to about what.
The other day, I was out and about and I heard one woman complaining to another about her weight. The woman complaining is by every standard in a thin body. I found myself feeling triggered by this conversation — I didn’t want to engage in their conversation because I honestly don’t like giving my opinion unless I am asked. Also, I know this woman’s feelings are just a product of our world’s pervasive diet culture beliefs.
I sat down by myself and explored my thoughts and feelings.
Why would something like this trigger me? Am I jealous? Perhaps I wish I was in a smaller body.
Am I angry for other people who are in a body that society doesn’t accept?
Am I sad? Possibly, I feel immense sadness when I hear people putting themselves down. I think that has to change culturally. I am sad that diet culture has won. Diet culture has convinced all of us that no matter how small we are, we should be smaller. It’s actually really depressing. Why do we all want to be so small?
So the dilemma is two fold. To complain about the way your body looks is normal but it is also perpetuating a value that is a questionable one. Should we only complain to people who have the same dilemma as ourselves?
And do skinny people have a right to complain about their body? Wait, do they have a right to complain about anything???
I put this question about shaming and complaining out on my Instagram and I got responses that range from all different types of people.
Someone responded, “I can really understand someone who is used to being a size 4, feeling very uncomfortable in a size 10/12 body. To them, it must feel the same as me in a size 20/22 body, because I am most comfortable in a size 16/18 body.”
Good point – maybe every person is entitled to want to be the size they feel is idea?
Another follower said “I don’t think thin people complaining about their weight/bodies are spending too much time judging others’ weight/bodies. They are too wrapped up in themselves and the lie that their worth comes from their appearance. But, it is hurtful when someone says those kinds of comments around others for that exact reason. It brings out the insecurities in us.”
I think here, we have run into a bit of skinny shaming.
We can’t assume that a skinny person is self centered and believes that their worth comes from their appearance. In this case, I think we can see here that skinny people are judged too.
Another responder wrote, “just understand that it is very sad for the skinny person complaining about their weight and feeling that way. The goal is not to care how the other person views your body size.”
Another follower chimed in with “Body size shouldn’t matter. If anything, it made it much easier for me now that I see almost everybody is not ok with how they look – how sad!”
Some people feel that a skinny person complaining about their weight is being ungrateful. One responder writes, “it’s like complaining you don’t have a 10 bedroom house when you have a six bedroom house – and I only have a 3 bedroom apartment.”
Ok – I had people explain that no matter what, a feeling is valid but “expressing it to/in front of someone in a larger body is unkind. It’s like someone who usually gets A’s venting about getting a B to her friend who’s failing. “
How about a thin person’s perspective on shaming?
A responder explains, “My family are all small and thin and even then they’re always watching what they eat. It’s society. The minute they put on a small amount of weight, they start talking down about their body and how much they need to lose. Due to societal norms, we have become accustomed to needing to look a certain way and when we are not, we make sure to become that size again through dieting, excessive exercise etc. Then people comment how great we look and the cycle starts again.”
Another responder states that “As a thin person who feels icky when she gains even five pounds, I say don’t judge anyone. That said, I would never complain about my weight to anyone but a fellow neurotic thin person who gets my struggle. For some of us who were always complimented on our figure, it’s an identity crisis to worry about becoming heavy. Every pound isn’t a big deal but we catastrophize that it might be the beginning of a slippery downward slope.”
The identity crisis comment really stuck out to me. Just so you know, this is so common for people with eating disorders. Glennon Doyle, a New York Times best selling author, explains this really well. She developed bulimia at the age of 10. She felt that people were always commenting on how she was a pretty little girl and she felt like she had to do anything to protect that identity. In her case, she did that by throwing up food. But let’s be honest, we all do this on some level to protect our identity.
When we comment on the way someone looks, we create an identity for them.
When someone has a shaky foundation of confidence, they almost always adopt society’s identity of themselves because they aren’t strong enough to create their own.
Ok – so does this mean that we only feel pretty or good about ourselves when other people comment or compliment us? It’s 100% normal and expected to feel good when you get a compliment, but I think the ultimate goal is to feel good even without the compliment.
Some people feel that skinny shaming is not the same as fat shaming. Some feel that fat shaming is harmful and skinny shaming is not. Others feel that stealing is stealing just like shaming is shaming. Maybe we don’t have a right to comment on anyone’s body.
In my own office, I have seen eating disorders that have developed due to someone getting sick, losing weight, and being excessively complemented for this. This person couldn’t stop losing weight because it felt so good to be noticed. People start “innocent” diets that spiral into a full blown eating disorder.
We shouldn’t be commenting on people’s weight.
Nor should we be commenting on our own weight. We shouldn’t be idealizing a thin body and we shouldn’t judge people based on the way they look – skinny or fat.
But at the end of the day, all of these things happen frequently. You are not evil for judging or commenting. I just wanted people to be aware of how sensitive a topic this is. Although, many people believe that I am hypersensitive about this, I am most certainly not.
An eating disorder is a multifaceted disorder and is not caused by one thing, but by variables that can be controlled. I believe clinicians should bring this to the public eye.
I hope that this has given you some food for thought.
If you’d like to see more about this, visit me on Instagram at Gila.Glassberg.IntuitiveRD, check out my podcast and youtube channel and send me an email with a topic you’d like covered.
I blog on project proactive as well. Here is my most popular blog post- https://www.jproactive.com/post/gila-grief-journey.
If you are interested in making peace with food through the principles of Intuitive Eating and the practices of self care, go ahead and schedule a free call via my website. You can work with me one on one or sign up to be in one of my intuitive eating online support groups via Zoom.
Gila Glassberg is a Master's level registered dietitian and a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. As a teenager, she was faced with constant diet talk, body shaming and obsessive guilt around food. She struggled with disordered eating. This is what propelled her into the field of nutrition. She uses a non-diet, weight-neutral approach called Intuitive Eating. She helps growth oriented women break out of chronic dieting, and regain clarity into what is really important to them.
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