If you haven’t noticed the trees budding, you can’t have missed the complete lack of snow piled up on Cleveland’s sidewalks. For girls on campus, this means we can finally replace our jackets with tank tops. Along with the much-needed sun, this also means that more of our bodies will be visible. For some, that will be read as an invitation to criticize.
I am what is conventionally considered thin, a fact that has been thrown in my face for years. When I was 10, Ashley, a blonde heavyset girl, poked my ribs through my shirt during gym and announced, “I can see your bones like a skeleton! Gross!”
Comments like Ashley’s did not stop there. When every prom dress was too big, it was “not fair.” In college, I was “so lucky” I could eat whatever I wanted (though I never did). My water bottle in class became “the water diet.” My presence at the gym was insensitive, because I was clearly “making everyone feel bad,” and I “don’t need to work out.”
You can say that we make comments in jest, though usually these remarks are humorless, even coming from beautiful, healthy girls.
I don’t think I am all that skinny. Like other young women, I’d love to lose the few pounds I’ve put on in grad school. Yet any self-deprecating comments I make about my own body are met with snarky, half-serious reprimands that I am lucky and should not complain.
I didn’t realize that I would only be permitted to discuss my body subjectively, with pity, if I was fat. And only then will my trips to the gym, my water bottle or my veggie lunch suddenly become acceptable, perhaps even met with applause. Our faulted system permits the world to comment on my body without consequences or forethought, but confiscates my right to discuss my own body.
I have always been careful about how I discuss weight with those who are unhappy with their image. Regardless of size, I always reiterate to my friends that they are beautiful. I mean it, too. My point is that there are classier ways to discuss weight than skinny-shaming. Skinny-shaming is not the solution to fat-shaming. And this is reflected on a cultural level: Since when is “skinny bitch” appropriate to belt out in a song?
Often the weight issue is female-centered and perpetuated by other females, which makes it worse. Especially when sex is thrown into the mix. I was disgusted to see a mutual friend’s post on Facebook: “Real men like curves, only dogs go for bones!” If a man prefers skinny girls, why is he suddenly a dog? If Ashley’s boyfriend likes bigger women, why does that fact alone make him a man? So much more is wrong with this quote than I can possibly cover in the scope of this article.
How sickening it is that our bodies have become—or more appropriately, have stayed—subjected items that the world can judge without consequences. How tactless that our culture has responded to fat-shaming by applying a blanket blame to everyone else. And how absurd that the scales have tipped—excuse the pun—in favor of putting down the skinny girls, celebrating their shame and ridiculing their bodies.
Your body is your personal temple. As an aspiring health professional, I hope you will treat your body and the bodies of others with respect. You cannot claim one body is better than another. We have no concept of what each person’s personal health goals are, how damaged or healthy their self-image is, how they possibly perceive their own bodies amid the bodies of others. Making a comment—even with the best intentions—is unwarranted.
Say, “You are beautiful,” and move on.
Sarah Jawhari is a student at the Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine.