The definition of skinny is “very thin” and is synonymous with words like “scrawny,” “gaunt” and “undernourished.” Since when did “very thin” become a socially acceptable description of a person? Moreover, how in the world did it become a compliment?
No, this isn’t a piece geared toward mocking thin people. Rather, I want to get you to think about the words we use in relation to other human beings.
Consider this: there are many words one can use to describe someone with a small frame. Petite, lean, slender immediately come to mind. All of these words are more than fine when describing someone. Why then, does no one use these terms to compliment someone? Because they are not a compliment; they are merely descriptions of a form! It would be like saying, “Hey! Look! Your earrings are square,” and expecting the person wearing them to take that as a compliment. And yet, that’s an expectation we have with people.
I don’t mean to tell you to erase the word “skinny” from your vocabulary. It could be necessary to describe a person, like when you’re trying to illustrate the appearance of a criminal when you were a witness to a crime. Then I guess it’s necessary. Other than insulting someone or convicting a felon, though, the word really should have no use in our vocabulary.
I wrote a piece on my sickness and drastic weight loss a few years ago (see “Weight a Minute”). It’s become apparent that not only has the entire world not read it, but it seems like people haven’t gotten the memo that calling someone skinny can often be offensive and hurtful.
We obviously know that focusing on people’s size is wrong since no one uses “fat” as a compliment. In today’s day and age, we are sensitive towards using the term “fat” in any way, because, although being “fat” is as out of a person’s hands as being “skinny” we seem to understand as a society that summing up a person by excess weight around their middles can be a hit to a person’s ego and make them feel like a failure. Well, let me tell you, becoming “skinny” has been one of my biggest hits to the ego.
A few months ago, I decided that I wanted to join the gym. “Why would you join the gym? You’re already skinny.” Yes, you’re right, I am skinny. I am skinny and I hate it. I am going to the gym so I can no longer be skinny.
To me, skinny means that I’m frail and fragile. Skinny means that I’m weak. Skinny means that I can’t lift most things. Skinny means that I can’t hold my daughter for more than a few minutes. It means that I run out of steam super quickly. Skinny means that I’m still sick and my body isn’t working the way it should.
My dream is to become strong, to be rid of fatigue and be completely healthy. Every single time you tell me I’m skinny, you remind me that I’m not even close to that goal.
And I’m not the only one who feels aversion when this “compliment” is applied to me. I’ve heard countless stories from “skinny” girls about the struggles they had as a result of their thinness, as well as how the countless compliments led them to develop body image issues. Yes, develop, as in they didn’t have any body issues prior to the weight loss.
So don’t call me skinny. Skinny is not who I am. Skinny is one of the things in my life that I have no control over. Instead, call me something that I do have control over. Call me smart. Call me funny. Call me brave. But please, don’t call me skinny.
Before you remind someone that they are skin and bones, and again, I don’t think you should, ask yourself if you knew they were intentionally trying to lose weight. Could it be that their postpartum depression got the best of them? Could they be struggling with an eating disorder or a mental illness? If this is possible, don’t risk voicing your “compliments” (which again, are merely observations) as it may encourage their negative behavior now, or damage their self-image later. And even if none of these are the case, imagine how affirming it would be if you skipped “skinny” and gave a more meaningful compliment.
So to all who think they’re being nice by calling me skinny, stop. All you’re doing is hurting me.
Bari is a blogger on @barianna on instagram and is the host of The WOV Life podcast.