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