From Our Readers The Not-So-Thin Line Between Skinny and Healthy From Our Readers

Christine Vilasi demonstrating her pushup skills

I’ve recently spent a lot of time thinking about body image. Yes, I’m female and yes, we often are the punchline of many “does this dress make me look fat?” jokes for thinking about this far too much. What I can’t stop thinking about lately is that I’ve never had any of my male friends sit down with me and open the conversation by saying they need to start working out, or that lately they feel fat. Not one. And that’s a great thing. Congratulations, dudes. You’ve got me beat in the self-confidence and self-assurance departments.

Maybe you think I’m ridiculous for hyping this stereotypical divide when it comes to body image issues. To clarify, I’m not denying that many men, if not all men, have at least some insecurities about their bodies and they way they look. I’m fully aware of that. I also do not mean to make the claim that men do not fall victim to the pressure to look fit and I certainly know that guys have no special powers making them more likely to lead healthier lifestyles than women. The thing that bugs me is this: I have talked to my guy friends about things they want to improve about themselves physically, but it’s curious to me that the conversation always begins with my complaints about not working out enough or eating like I’m solely supporting the fast food and packaged snack markets. They rarely open the gate to the garden where their insecurities grow, whereas I find myself opening the floodgates and asking others if they have any Miracle Grow to spare.

Look at Tumblr, for example. If you type “healthy”, “diet”, “exercise” or the worst of them all, “thinspiration” into the tags search, I challenge you to find one picture of a male in the first eighty or so results. I think the difference here is the pressure we create within the female community to be skinny as opposed to healthy.

Sure, maybe more females have Tumblrs, but enough more than guys to create such a gross bias in the fitness realm of the posts. I think that guys pressure each other much more to be healthy than skinny, which to me is a really positive difference. Guys try to lift together and eat more protein to gain muscle, from what I’ve witnessed in my guy friends. They don’t criticize each other for eating in general or the way they look in a certain outfit. The worst part is that I’m guilty of saying that a girl “shouldn’t be eating that” or “that much” or “shouldn’t be wearing that”. I’ve spent far too much time on Tumblr looking at photos of skinny, photoshopped celebrities and emaciated hipsters, envying the way they look instead of actually changing my lifestyle. We pressure each other to be skinny instead of healthy, both in the virtual and real world. I’ve seen so many of my close friends eat an unhealthy and restrictive diet just to get skinny and the worst part is that they get results. In the end, however, they end up looking sick, while guys who get in shape look strong, fit and healthy.

I think it’s time for us to bro down, ladies. I’d love to search the tag “healthy” or “diet” on Tumblr and actually see more pictures of healthy girls and tips on how to eat and live healthy, rather than so many antique color filtered shots of models who are too skinny to wear anything but their Ray-Bans. From now on, I’m pressuring myself to actually get off my ass and move weight, rather than pressuring myself to avoid my kitchen. Although the whole “pressure to be skinny” thing among girls drama is a played out thing to harp on, I feel we need to stop placing the bulk of the blame on the media and the opposite sex and start changing how we treat ourselves and each other. How can we expect our society to treat us with respect that we don’t even show each other?

You can read more from Crissy Milazzo on her  blog and Tumblr

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  1. I agree, I don’t want to be skinny for a boy, I want to be healthy for myself.

  2. I had’n heard about “thinspiration” till now. I googled it and found a blog of a girl full of pictures of girls way too skinny to be healthy… it’s absolutely insane, absurd.
    Btw, really great post!!! Thankyou and congrats!

    Anonymous | 9/29/2011 04:09 pm
  3. This is a great post. I do think we, as women, need to find inspiration among each other, and not tear each other down. We need support for our healthy lifestyles, and we need to create a community of healthy, fit, women…and not a legion of women nitpicking each other. This is great!

  4. I also want to say this: I see some comments where it’s like, “Oh, well this is what GUYS like to see on girls.”

    Here’s a novel idea: How about we do this for ourselves, instead of worrying about what men wish us to look like?

  5. My main social circle is male, because I train at a Kung Fu school. I have to say, those men there worry just as much, if not more, about their body image / how they look, as the women do. Of course, that’s just my experience and it’s obviously colored by the fact that I’m in a very select circle of friends.

    Fortunately, for most of the people I train with, both male and female, it does come down to health and performance. I’m not saying we don’t occasionally fret about how we look, but the main concerns are, “How does my Kung Fu look?” and “I want to be able to do this until I’m 100.”

    I was about 20 pounds overweight during late childhood until about when I got into college. Then, once again in my early 30s, because my metabolism slowed down and my way of eating caught up with me.

    The solution was a simple one: Eat less, eat better, move more. THAT’S IT. There’s no secret. No mystery, no pill, no diet, no special moves. Eat less, eat better, move more. It’s served me for about seven years now. Of course I still have weeks when I can sit down and devour two pints of Cherry Garcia and three slices of pizza. The solution to that is: get over it, and don’t do it again next week. No regrets! I love food. I’m a vegetarian and have been for twelve years, but I will always be a food lover. I look forward to delicious things, and I haven’t had to give up anything that I’ve loved – or if I have, it’s been really easy to replace them with an alternative. So when I have that week where I suck down a pint of Cherry Garcia while watching a movie, I enjoy every last bite, every last melted drop. I don’t punish myself afterwards. The following week, I just go back to “eat less, eat better, move more” and Bob’s your uncle.

    Wow, this turned into quite a long reply; I didn’t mean for it to do that. The point I was trying to make is that my experience is colored by the people I train with, where health usually reigns supreme. But that sometimes, the men in that social circle are just as insecure and worried over their body fat percentage and how they look, as the women are. And occasionally moreso.

  6. You do realize that the male body and the female body are different right? The equivalent of men wanting to be “skinny” is men bulking up, which is what you described as them being healthy? I think that what you’re saying about females and body image is completely valid, girls tend to take weight loss and exercise to an unnecessary extreme, but I think you should leave out the comparison to guys. They think differently, their bodies are different, and they loose weight and exercise differently.

  7. Just so everyone knows, Christine Pepe Vilasi is the friend of mine who inspired this article by being a kick-ass yogi, weight liftin’ rockstar who can do this pushups you see in the photo above (all photo credit goes to Ms. Pepe herself).

  8. …and you have to remember …confidence is sexy :)

  9. great post. healthiness, not skinniness, is sexy. there are girls who destroy themselves and each other with their words and lifestyles by playing a never-ending comparison game in pursuit of an impossible ideal. love yourself and love others (or maybe “respect”), and we might find that physical healthiness often follows in the wake of relational healthiness. beneath all those over-the-top efforts to look good, love – acceptance and embrace for who we are how we are – is what we’re all looking for isn’t it? Thanks for the post, Crissy.

  10. In response to Miranda: I don’t think there is anything more attractive than a girl who is toned and actually has muscle as opposed to meager women without any meat on their bones. Seriously. I know that muscle weighs more than fat and thats why these women and afraid to lift weights and gain muscle because they don’t want to be “heavy” because unfortunately that word is closely related to the word “fat”. I’m 20 years old, an exercise science major, and I’ve been teased and everything for working out too much, because just like you I think having muscle is empowering and it’s so much healthier than fad dieting or not eating. Believe me when I say that you are totally on the right track with your body (guys much prefer toned arms, legs, and abs than seeing bones through your skin). The reason why girl think muscle is gross is because they don’t understand that there is a difference between big muscles and just being toned. With the right food and exercise you could be ripped and still not have huge muscles.
    So don’t let that scare you away from the weights section in the gym. From now on any girl who tells you that lifting or just wanting muscle is gross you can (on the inside) laugh in their face , keep your chin up, and remember the truth – you’re benefitting so much more than they are by working out.
    Ps- your body will thank you when you’re much older too!

    • Thanks Christine, you’re all sorts of lovely! I certainly do try to ignore shitty comments like that, and I totally understand the difference between skinny and toned, I just wish the rest of the world would! I do a lot of strengthening yoga (4-5 times a week) and ride my bike on weekends, it’s a he’ll of a lot cheaper than the gym. Plus, isn’t it much more empowering to experience yourself going further, holding a difficult pose for longer and lifting your own weight on less limbs all while still eating delicious food than to eat crap, smoke or not really eat and all and be a coat hanger? It is for me!

  11. I have a weight loss blog on Tumblr (poundbypound2.tumblr.com), and I was also astounded at the amount of pro-ana/thinspiration/etc. on other weight loss blogs. I’m a legit person trying to lose weight – I need to lose a total of 125 to reach a reasonable goal of 150 – in the healthiest manner possible, and I constantly get new followers who already weigh 130 and want to get down to something like 100 or even 90. It’s crazy! I follow back every healthy blog that follows me, but I never follow back the thinspiration blogs. Protruding hip bones and thigh gaps do not inspire me. Health and fitness inspire me. There are a lot of lovely people on Tumblr trying to lose weight in a healthy manner, though, I promise! Like the person before me said, search “fitblr” or “fitspiration.”

  12. Try searching “fitblr” instead of some of the other terms you were mentioning- there is a super strong healthy lifestyle focused group of (mostly ladies but not all) on tumblr. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of pro-ED or “thinspiration” blogs as well, but you’ve just got to know where to look for what you want!

  13. In response to Miranda, that’s exactly how I felt when I wrote this! So many women I know stress the importance of being skinny, while it felt apparent to me that my male friends were always encouraging me to stop complaining about myself and trying to achieve an ideal that is only really ideal in the opinions of some people. Instead, they talk about being healthy and strong, which I find more universal than being skinny, or having a six pack, or having an hourglass shape. No matter what the ideal is to me or anyone else, pressuring ourselves and each other to achieve these extremes doesn’t do anyone good, nor does calling anything unnatural or gross. I think the cruelty amongst women in particular stems from the skinny and thin versus curvy and full figured debate, and while both can be beautiful and healthy, neither ends of the spectrum tend to serve as “healthy” end goals for anyone who falls in the middle. Instead, I’m trying to understand how a more overarching goal of being generally healthier could make these subjective ideals seem more like attributes I can celebrate instead of ones I feel bad or envious about not having myself.

  14. I definitely feel you on that. I ended with asking how we can expect respect from society we don’t show each other, and I realized afterward that we really all should expect respect from each other in general, not just because of the way we see ourselves or each other, regardless of gender or subjective factors like fitness. In the end, I feel like the realistic and fulfilling goal isn’t to look like Brad Pitt or Halle Berry, but to view yourself with an attitude of respect based off of the fact that you are living a healthy lifestyle. So, it might be less about how we conceptualize body image and more about being kind to ourselves in both ways (mentally and physically). Which for me might mean working out, but for someone else it could be deciding to put less stress on fitness.

  15. I’m 24 and I’m studying nutrition at Uni, over half way thru my course, and I’ve always struggled with the way I look and envied other girls for being skinnier than me despite eating crap all the time. I love to exercise, and find it empowering to gain muscle, especially my arms, but those same girls who are skinny without trying tell me that ‘muscles on girls are gross’ and I find it very upsetting. Why do women have to be down on other women so much?! Luckily, through my course, I’ve gained an understanding of the body and now realise that the importance of exercising is so much more than having the ‘perfect bikini body’. While I may have a bit off chunk on my belly and thighs, I know that my bones are less likely to develop osteoporosis, my lungs can breath in more air and there are less toxins floating around my body than those skinny girls (who look unhealthy for a reason!), because I eat well and move more. But it’s a long process to feel this way and a bit easier everyday.

  16. I’m 34. I’m a male. I try to look fit. I eat healthy as much as I can. I drink nothing but water during the day. I run. I work out. I have a trainer. Still, I am very unhappy with the way I look most of the time. It really sucks. I want to look good, but I just can’t seem to get there. Someone did recently say that people like him and I will never achieve every male’s dream of looking like Brad Pitt in Fight Club, because we enjoy good beer too much. This is true, but I wish there was a way I could enjoy a great beer and still look awesome. However, I believe that when it comes down to it, it’s the body or the beer. Woe is me.

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