An apology to my thinner friend

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When I was really skinny, people were always telling me about it.

"You're so skinny!"

Just in case I'd forgotten.

Sometimes they said it like a compliment. As though if you peeled those words back the words underneath would say "you're so beautiful."

Sometimes they said it like they were sort of pissed off at me. Like, who did I think I was, being skinny like that?

Sometimes they said it and then they said, "You need to eat something. I'm worried." And looked all worried.

I learned that I was skinny through other girls and women constantly pointing it out. Until I was told what I looked like for the thousandth or so time, I actually hadn't given my weight any thought. And then it turned out that I was skinny. Which was probably due mostly to my metabolism and partly to the fact that my parents cooked vegetables from my mom's garden and chicken (always chicken! Unless it was, please, please no, fish. Ugh) for dinner.

It turned out that I was skinny. But more to the point, it turned out that being skinny was important. It said something meaningful about me.

And it continued to say all sorts of important and meaningful things about me, right up into college, when I could eat sugary cereal at ANY TIME, for any meal. It meant "at LEAST you're skinny" when I didn't feel pretty. And "skinny IS pretty" when I felt that everything else about me wasn't that attractive. And "you must be a runner" to the people who attributed it to discipline and activeness, neither of which are words that really describe me at all. It meant "sexy" sometimes. "Better." It meant "you'd better not get heavier." It meant "why are you better than me?" from some women. It meant "you don't deserve it" from others. It meant "why do you think you're better than me?" from even more.

And honestly, I don't think about all of that very much these days, because it's been years since I was really skinny. It's been years since someone said those words. "You're so skinny!" with the squeaky exclamation point. And for the most part, I can't say that I miss it. I've had to figure out that I might be beautiful anyway. I've had to figure out that I might not be, and that might be OK, too.

But the other day I saw a friend who I hadn't seen in a year, and she was really skinny. And I thought those words. I kept my mouth shut, though. Because I should know better.

At brunch she said, suddenly, "I know, I'm really skinny. I'm not doing it on purpose."

"Oh, god," I said, awkward. "I wasn't going to say anything. I mean, you look great. I mean, it doesn't matter."

"It's just that people are always telling me how skinny I am," she said. "And they act like I'm working at it, but I'm not. And I think they're a little angry at me."

She is thin anyway -- it's just the way her body works -- and also she just went through a tough breakup. She was starting to feel a little better when we met up. I watched her wolf down a bagel and scrambled eggs and fluffy honey biscuits with plenty of butter. She told me that she's self-conscious about her skinniness.

And I realized that I had been judging her.

In the back of my mind, if you'd listened really closely, you would have heard a voice going,

Well, damn. My arms are about twice the bulk of her arms, and I'm wearing a tank top, and she probably feels sorry for me for having my arms. I could never wear that shirt she's wearing. It would never look good on me. Everything looks so good on her. Maybe she's trying to be skinny. Well, it's working. Maybe she thinks I don't have any discipline. And I guess she's right. God. Why don't I have any discipline, ever? Did I actually eat an entire bag of chips the other day, while watching Breaking Bad on Netflix? Yes. I have become this. A person who needs to eat a bag of chips while watching TV. I am a couch potato. Chip.

And when she said that thing -- about her own body -- I felt suddenly guilty. I suddenly suspected that I was very close to becoming one of those women who take the time to care about how skinny other women are.

I had forgotten the particular weirdness of being an accidentally skinny girl.

It's so easy to think that someone else's body is a commentary on your own. When it's definitely not. When it's definitely just their body.

So, to my lovely and skinny friend, I'm sorry. The years that I spent as a skinny girl and the years that I've spent after that have taught me something. I know there's more to the story. You don't have to apologize to anyone for the way your body looks. Your body is your own, the rest of us shouldn't get a say. I don't think you have an eating disorder. I think you are beautiful now, and if you gain lots of weight later, I will think you are beautiful then, too, in a different but serious way.

And to all the skinny girls reading this -- there's more to your beauty than that one thing. I swear.

And to my arms, you looked fine in that tank top, and no one was looking at you anyway, so get over yourselves.

I think that's it.

Oh, wait. To that bagel with the scrambled eggs and sable, and those honey biscuits (I had the same thing as my friend) -- I miss you. I miss you so much. I'm thinking of you even now.

A version of this piece originally appeared on Eat the Damn Cake

37 comments

  • Thankyou for writing this article. I have always been skinny, and people always feel the need to comment and remind me. Its like because you are skinny you can never feel bad about your body.

    Commenter
    BethA
    Date and time
    November 21, 2012, 9:41AM
    • Articles like this make me really question the authors brainstorming sessions.
      Can we have something other than comparing oneself to others & complaining about being ugly/too skinyy?

      Commenter
      bee
      Location
      melbourne
      Date and time
      November 21, 2012, 9:59AM
      • Another rant / moan from someone (who once was) skinny about how hard it is to be told you're skinny / slim / petite / fine boned ... whatever. Are you sure this isn't just another "poor me, I'm so beautiful" boast? It's always very hard to read these things as anything other than an underhanded way of recognising how lucky you are.

        With a fair amount of work, I maintain myself as generally a size 12. I exercise (running, weights, biking, playing sport) usually at least 1 hour every day, as well as generally walking / taking the stairs / eating healthily etc. Lots of people I know who do this are very skinny. I remain average (actually above 25 BMI, which is apparently overweight)

        Yes, I have thought and continue to think the types of thoughts identified in this article about girls who are naturally slimmer than me. Just as I would feel envy and a level of pissed-offedness about someone who does the same thing as me at work, works just as hard as I do, but earns twice as much.

        Of course those of us who have to work to maintain a physique deemed acceptable by society are resentful of those who don't, especially when they then cry "poor me" about others recognising it.

        Commenter
        Sarah
        Date and time
        November 21, 2012, 10:22AM
        • I don't think you really got the whole point of her article, go read Kate's blog (its great reading) and you'll see that she is most definitely not doing a "poor me i'm so beautiful boast"

          The point that she's trying to make is that people do think these things unconsciously and almost reflexively and that we should try not to make everything about how someone looks.

          Commenter
          S
          Date and time
          November 21, 2012, 12:01PM
        • You've obviously never been on the receiving end of these comments. They're never just a case of "recognising it". The comment is almost always expressed as a sneered remark, like you're skinniness is an affront to everyone who has to look at you. For years, even in hot weather, I always wore long sleeves as I'd been made to feel so awful about my body by these people "recognising" my body weight. Most often the comment is actually "skinny bitch" either directed at you or at others in your presence. Then they pick through each part of your body. "Look at how skinny your arms are.. legs... etc" Even my mother in her senior years, still has hang ups about her thinness because of the cruelty of so-called friends.

          Commenter
          chick
          Date and time
          November 21, 2012, 1:03PM
        • "Of course those of us who have to work to maintain a physique deemed acceptable by society are resentful of those who don't". No, not all fat people resent those who are not fat. You are just a very jealous person. Jealousy is the only vice with no pleasure.

          Commenter
          Nutsy
          Date and time
          November 21, 2012, 1:28PM
        • Sarah, there's no 'poor me' going on. A friend (who was a completely healthy weight) once complained about how fat she was and when I said that she wasn't, she told me I wasn't allowed to have an opinion because I'm thin. Fortunately she immediately recognised how ridiculous her statement was and apologised, but those sorts of beliefs about anyone thin are pretty common, as are dismissive comments about 'stick figures' and remarks about 'one day you'll reach puberty'. Those sorts of remarks are just as unfair as mocking people for weighing 'too much'.

          Commenter
          pb
          Location
          sydney
          Date and time
          November 21, 2012, 1:43PM
        • In as much as thin women may complain about being on the receving end of comments, they are equally capable of giving them out. I was recently out for dinner with a group of women, we are all in our thirties and forties. They are all very thin, say size 6 or 8. I am the largest, being 169cm and size 14. I have taken up jogging/running and was talking about a run I had completed as personal challenge. I did not discuss my weight at any time nor that it was an objective of my new exercise regime. The response was, on mass, have you lost any weight?

          Saying to someone that they are skinny is as rude as saying to someone that they are fat. Yes, people do say stuff when they think you are fat. But when you are skinny, no one automatically thinks you are lazy.

          Commenter
          morning
          Date and time
          November 21, 2012, 6:01PM
      • My bestfriend is skinny and there have been times, particularly when she was back in her skinny jeans one month after giving birth to her second child (after doing NO EXERCISE!!), when I was unbelievably jealous of her. But she has her hang ups too. They are very different to mine but they are still there. Bottom line, we are all critical of ourselves and perhaps just need to give ourselves a break!

        Commenter
        NSG
        Date and time
        November 21, 2012, 10:33AM
        • Exactly.

          Commenter
          Alice
          Date and time
          November 21, 2012, 3:51PM

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