I’m going to pause here and acknowledge that this sounds like an epic humble-brag, it’s not.
I’ve always been small. To be clear, that’s small, not skinny. I have small hands, small feat, a small voice, and for most of my adult life I’ve been lucky enough to not have to think too much about weight. My years as a pudgy kid/teen were alleviated at around 18 when my body decided to finally submit to adulthood.
In the recent years another change I’ve noticed is that whenever I get tired, or stressed, or am experiencing a notably unpleasant emotional time in my life I lose weight. This is partially due to anxiety making the idea a 12-inch sub unappealing, but it seems more that when my head feels bad my body freaks out. During break-ups and stressful work periods my body seems to go into overdrive and expel calories like it’s going out of business.
I’m going to pause here and acknowledge that this sounds like an epic humble-brag. You know when people say things like, “Oh it’s impossible for me to by bathers because I’m so top heavy”? I totally understand that for girls reading this who struggle with body issues it might seem like a small issue (no pun intended), and I do understand that there are far worse fates than your jeans not fittings.
The problem is when you lose weight suddenly and unnaturally you don’t wake up looking like Chloe Sevigny overnight. I’m still a normal girl who when I’m at my normal weight has awkward body parts. These become no less awkward when my weight dips. If you work out or eat right or make positive life choices you will look and feel great. When your metabolism goes crazy because of stress you will not. My legs don’t change much, nor does my face. I’m less cheekbones and bambi legs and more ribs, hip bones, and sternum. It’s not a great look.
But the physical change is a tiny part of the issue. The real problem is people’s reaction to a suddenly skinny girl. The looks are embarrassing and so are the comments. To make things more awkward I work in a mainly male office. My weight drops are met with well meaning comments and a lot of people leaving snacks on my desk. Again, it sounds nice but it couldn’t be more embarrassing.
Anyone who has been in a similar situation would know you spend a huge amount of time in an office cultivating a persona. When people always expect women to be the ones to break, or cry, or freak out they never do. I don’t snap at people, slam doors, or yell at my boss. I pride myself on being unshakable, professional, and capable. I like that every negative stereotype about hysteria that is played out at work isn’t mine. And I can feel proud it’s because I’m a strong woman. Then I suddenly drop 6 kg and everyone immediately assumes I have an eating disorder. The options to combat this are awkward: ignore it, justify it or explain it. This means I have to shout the, “I’m a huge eater” catch cry of the perpetual dieter, not talk to my friends, or admit that the pressure they put on me in the job is literally eating me alive.
Oh and back to the small thing, I look like a 12-year-old at the best of times, so suddenly looking like a 9-year-old isn’t exactly a professional advantage.
Everywhere you look people are talking about losing weight, it feels like “talking fat” is one of the most common team building exercise between women. But despite our obsession with being thin, we have almost no dialog to “talk skinny”. Weight is divided into gaining it bad, losing it good. If you go outside of those things people aren’t sure what to say.
If I had a friend put on weight and I went up and grabbed their belly with surprise I would be (quite rightly) ashamed of my action. But for some reason if someone yanks at my loosening jeans it’s funny and I’m meant to be good humoured about the jibe. All rules about talking nicely about each other go when someone is thin. Hey I know how it feels, I used to think saying a girl was too thin was like saying she was too smart or too pretty—it wasn’t a real thing. But as I get older and I find myself on the other side of the conversation. I see it for what it is, a very slippery weapon we use against each other.
To call someone fat is awful and cruel. If you’ve ever heard (or maybe been a part) of a conversation where someone is being mocked you know they’re not only calling the person fat, they’re calling them lazy and weak willed. The same goes for the skinny thing. My best friends don’t call me skinny, maybe they recognise it’s not something I’m doing on purpose, or at least see if it was that’s not the best way to approach the topic. People call me thin to embarrass me, to shame me, to give the impression I am weak and they are strong. It can be a hard line to see sometimes but here is a trick: if anyone is legitimately concerned for you, they will bring it up when you’re alone. Anyone doing it in public is just showing off your soft spots to the world.
We should look at the way we use our words, as well as our stereotypes. Weight changes are almost always the most telling sign something is up (or down) with someone. Our bodies might be on display, but they’re not public property. They’re the only thing you, or I, or the girl in the loose jeans will ever own. So maybe think twice before making a comment. And if you don’t know how to “talk skinny” then consider shutting up.