I recently had dinner with two besties. As we caught up with each other’s lives, my one friend tells me the story of a woman at work who has been trying to lose weight without much success. They held an Easter Egg Hunt at work for everyone and, of course, inside the eggs was candy. My friend, in her efforts to stay healthy, didn’t indulge, while her co-worker did. And who got reprimanded? I wish I could say no one did, because a person should feel free to eat or not eat candy, but that’s not how the world works lately. No, my friend, who chose to not eat candy, had to hear grief about her choice.
I will fully admit that I am a mid-twenty-something who has done the classic Regina George, “I really wanna lose three pounds.” I’m pretty sure most of us have done this even while knowing that it’s obnoxious of us. But we say that because 1) we feel obligated to feel bad about our bodies. If we feel good about our bodies, we’re snobs and bitches, and we’d rather feel fat than snobby or bitchy, and 2) if we say what we’re really thinking, no one is going to believe us anyway.
When a person starts working out, they tone up, lose weight, and may even look better. And you know what happens then? They’re punished for it. Remember when Lea Michelle dropped weight after the first season of Glee? Honestly, you’d think she had slaughtered a billion cows and then refused to eat any of them, because clearly, her only reason for losing the weight was because she thought she was fat. That was the whole world’s assumption. “She’s too skinny!” people shouted across Tumblr. “She looked fine, what is she doing to herself, what kind of message is she sending to the children WE SHOULD BURN HER AT THE STEAK.” Steak, stake, see what I did? Never mind.
When a picture of a thin girl comes on Tumblr, she’s either creepily turned into an ideal being, or thrown under the bus. There’s no middle, “Oh, she’s pretty,” because if you are to have a shred of self-worth and slight feminism, you must hate the skinny girls and rather die than look like that. That wasn’t hyperbole, by the way. I saw an image of a very attractive, skinny girl with the caption, “I would rather kill myself than be so [expletive] skinny. Whore.”
Well you know what, ladies and gentlemen? These women have stories. And sometimes they are not stories you are meant to know.
Maybe that “skinny whore” is a girl trying to redefine her beauty as she struggles with anorexia. Maybe that girl who’s suddenly toned up and dropped a few pounds is working out with new vigor because of a health issue that’s risen. Maybe they all just enjoy it.
We’re not supposed to judge plus-sized women because that is wrong, and I am in full agreement with that. So how did that judgment morph into the judgment of small girls? I’m genuinely curious: what’s the ideal weight? At what point is a person going to say, “You look really good,” and be totally fine if looking good means overweight or skinny? When is the skinny-shaming going to stop?
Back in February I joined a gym and I love the way I’m feeling, but I always end up feeling guilty afterwards, as if I am betraying the current mindset of women. Why should I feel guilty for working out? I’m a small girl whose mother has cancer and father has diabetes. You know the best way to avoid following their footsteps all the way to the hospital? Exercise. But when I do it or talk about it, I feel judged. I have a workout application on my phone that encourages me to have a friend who can be my “sponsor,” someone who I can share my successes with as I work on bettering my body. It pained me how long it took for me to think of someone I could trust, because the first friends who came to mind I was afraid would get annoyed or judge me, as if everyone thinks I’m doing it for some superficial, Hollywood, anti-feminist reason for which I should feel ashamed.
No. The world should feel ashamed. The world should feel ashamed for not considering for one second that I, along with every person at the gym, could have a good reason beyond the superficiality of appearance. I understand your drive: you want boys and girls of all sizes, all types, to feel normal and welcome and beautiful, and I can get behind that. The problem is that in trying to embrace everyone (namely, the overweight), we’ve openly hated the other extreme. Why punish those trying to do something good for our bodies? Or for doing something required by our doctor? Or doing something for enjoyment!
I know there are boys and girls out there with problems. I have friends who have struggled with eating disorders. I also feel inclined to mention that their disorders did not stem from trouble with, or fear of, weight. It manifests for all sorts of reasons, and anyone who would sit there and tell either of my friends, “OMG, but you’re like, so skinny!” deserves a few choice words, starting with, “You are the shallow one.” Stop making it about weight and start making it about health.
I want to feel good. I want to be able to run a mile again. I want to be able to lift a bag of groceries without my shoulder popping in pain. I want to be able to go on a walk with my boyfriend and not huff and puff after twenty minutes. The bonus will be I will tighten up, things will look and hang better, and I can wear that super-fabulous dress from Modcloth that DOESN’T FIT ME ANYMORE, THE NERVE. And I will be so fantastic and you won’t judge me for it because now you understand that I have a story. And so do others. And you probably do, too.
Can we let it go now, ladies? Can we just let each other make healthy decisions without the raised eyebrows and points and mock-concern? You’ll know when you need to be concerned, and maybe there will come a time when you do need to sit down with your over-zealous friend and discuss her health choices, although I truly hope not. But until then, trust that most of us are making healthy choices for the right reasons, and your support will help us get there quickly and happily.