I Don’t Have Anorexia: Or, Why We Need to Pay Attention to Thin Shaming

“Are you anorexic?”

For what feels like the millionth time, I glare at whomever has voiced this question and, for what feels like the billionth time, I answer, “no”.

No, I’m not anorexic.  I have a fast metabolism and I drink a lot of water and I walk a lot.  Not, for the record, that that’s anyone’s business.  But people still ask me, all the time.  Do I have an eating disorder?  Am I starving myself?  Etc., etc.

About two weeks ago, The Guardian came out with an article that posited “Why is skinny-shaming okay if fat-shaming isn’t?”  It resonated with me, for a couple of reasons.  And I’m definitely not the only one who feels this way: the Daily Beast also recently ran an op ed on this subject.  We as a society have slowly but surely acclimated to the idea that it isn’t acceptable to make comments about how fat a woman is-~-at least not to her face.  Sure, some middle school and high school girls maybe haven’t mastered this concept yet, and your mother-in-law maybe should have kept her mouth shut that one time, but for the most part, it’s kind of understood that you can’t just tell an overweight woman (or man) to put the fork down.

Somehow, however, society has not yet internalized the idea that skinny bodies aren’t acceptable subjects for commentary either.  Every time someone tells me that I should eat up because I’m so skinny, or jokingly asks if I have an eating disorder, I want to scream.  First, because my body is not public property and commentary on it is not welcome.  When people do this, it objectifies me and reduces me to just a body rather than a whole person occupying this body.  It would be equally unacceptable if society perpetually told men that they needed to bulk up, or made other comments about bodies.  The reality is that people feel comfortable commenting on women’s bodies more so than men’s because women’s bodies are treated as public domain.  It’s the same logic behind the remaining fat-shaming we see in our society (which we definitely still see, but in different ways than the sort of overt, said-to-someone’s-face comments we see with thin shaming), slut shaming, and the policing of pregnant women’s bodies.

Second, it makes light of serious problems like eating disorders, which a large number of people-~-especially young women, like myself-~-suffer from.  Anorexia and bulimia aren’t jokes, and when people make light of them in this way, it makes it more difficult for those struggling with eating disorders to actually recover from them.  And if they have recovered, but are still trying to reach a healthy weight, it’s a way for people to inadvertently throw their struggle back in their face, by treating it as if it weren’t that important.  This is actually not so unlike the way people dismiss sexual assault when they make rape jokes, etc.  The way we handle these subjects tells people that they won’t be taken seriously or will lose the respect of those around them if they try to talk about what they are going through.

Third, it’s already difficult for women who are thin to talk about struggles they are having with their bodies.  Never mind that being underweight can come with serious health consequences or be the result of serious health problems.  I’m not just talking about eating disorders: other problems such as depression and anxiety can result in unintentional weight loss, and serious illnesses can trigger weight loss as well.  Women who are already self-conscious about being underweight don’t need to be shamed for it, the same way they don’t need to be told that they’re “lucky they’re so skinny”.

But fourth, and this is the big one, thin shaming actually isn’t so different from fat shaming.  It’s just another way that language surrounding weight is used to police women’s bodies and women’s lives, and therein lays the real issue.  This isn’t about women’s health, it was never about women’s health.  Every woman is built differently and has her own correct weight, and that’s something for a doctor to decide.  But both thin shaming and fat shaming are mechanisms of social control that we have come to accept, at least to some degree, as completely normal within our society.  For whatever reason, we’ve come to tell women that they need to be perfectly balanced, and that they ought be called out if they aren’t meeting this ideal.

When I tripped over Jezebel’s article calling out skinny women for not defending fat women, I realized that we only see the battle over body image-~-and the battle over women’s bodies-~-from one angle.  Yes, society does make women who are heavier than the ideal feel shame for it.  Yes, the fashion industry needs to start producing more than plus size jeans and loose t-shirts for that population.  Yes, the media needs to stop presenting weight as a thing that needs to be vilified.  But on the flip side, women who fall on the other end of the spectrum need help too.  The ultimate social issues regarding the policing of women’s bodies haven’t changed and they aren’t going anywhere.  At the end of the day, it’s not just fat shaming we need to end: it’s woman-shaming.  End of story.

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~ by Randi Saunders on August 22, 2013.

One Response to “I Don’t Have Anorexia: Or, Why We Need to Pay Attention to Thin Shaming”

  1. I loved this post. And you ended it on a perfect note. I’ve been on the thin side my whole life. I have never judged anyone based on their weight. I saw first-hand all that my friends went through struggling with fad diets and exercises. I thought they were beautiful just they way they were (and boys did too). And I’ve received cruel “anorexic” remarks from those who ironically whine about being judged themselves. It is very frustrating. I think we all need to learn to meet in the middle and share our stories. We need to stop judging one another and promoting ourselves through our bodies. Being happy has everything to do with being healthy, not just fitting into some cookie-cutter ideal of beauty. The same goes for judging men, too. I think they also go through the very same struggles we do with respect to their weight. Great post!

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