Opinion – ‘Skinny Shaming’

A week or so ago I happened upon this article on the Guardian website, written by recovering anorexic Emma Woolf. In it she says of people’s reactions to her book, The Ministry of Thin:

The plus-size sisterhood can be frightening. Among the messages I received (only from women, and mostly anonymous) I was called a skinny bitch, a body fascist, and a fat-nazi. I was informed that men “love something to grab on to”, and that “curves” are sexier than skeletons.

And yet my book contains not a single word of criticism about larger-sized people. I employed the word “fat” in a literal sense, not as a term of abuse.”

While I find it odd that in an article about ‘skinny shaming’ she writes almost exclusively about obese people being the culprits, I  have been on the receiving end of some ‘skinny shaming’ in my time and it’s not great. I know I might make some enemies here, but I am naturally small – I’m only 5’2” and have a fairly small frame, especially around my back. So I’m never going to look like Marilyn Monroe or Christina Hendricks, as much as society might decide one week that that is the kind of figure we should all have.

Photos like this:


seem to always do the rounds on Facebook at various times and sometimes I feel the need to weigh in, because whether you’re saying ‘women should all look like super models’ or you’re saying ‘women should all look like Marilyn Monroe’, these are equally unattainable goals for most women. I’m not even going to get started on the fact that the women in the bottom half have those figures partly from always wearing corsets. Speaking of Marilyn, though, I came across this classic photo that gets trotted out during these kinds of debate:

Image Source

The article says that the image “is guilty of 3 crimes:

  1. Gross crimes against originality;
  2. 2. A curiously moronic belief that presence of ‘curves’ is exponentially linked to an increase in size (FYI: ‘curves’ does not mean fat – not all small women look like pre-pubescent boys and not all big women have bodacious bosoms and tiny waists. Stop kidding yourselves.);
  3. Betraying the very politics it claims to represent by not just elevating one kind of beauty ideal over another, but continuing to treat ideals as things that matter.

It’s not that they [images of ‘Real Women’] celebrate diversity or that they’re as stale, boring and tired as the kind of limited narrative that suggests only thin women deserve love or praise. It’s that they remind women that the most important thing a woman can be is desirable; that she needs to view herself as desirable, and have that view reinforced by a condescending message of inspiration about how her averageness is actually much more attractive than whatever beauty ideal happens to be fashionable at the time. At its heart, it is an infantilising, juvenile obsession that still pits women against each other and distracts us from participating in a life free of the pressure that comes from worrying about the stock market value of our looks.”

People seem to agree with this ‘Real Woman’ thing, though, because people I know (from relatives to colleagues) comment on my weight, or the fact that I look thin – I don’t know if that means they think I look thinner than I did the last time they saw me, or just thin. It also doesn’t stop people making a big fuss if I have a second helping of dinner – the implication, of course, being that I don’t eat and that’s how I’m so thin. I don’t want to belittle the pain of having an eating disorder at all, but I don’t have one (thank god). I’m just happy being the size I am and I don’t put in any effort into staying this size. But when I register at a doctor they seem to like nothing better, after measuring my height and weight, than telling me I’m a little underweight. And this is according to BMI, which we all know is total bollocks. Once I said to the doctor who was registering me ‘this is my natural size, I can’t help it’ and she said ‘Oh I’m the same’ – so maybe you wanna give me a break?!

I know I might be opening myself up to the kinds of ‘you should count yourself lucky’ attacks, but sometimes I’d like not to be judged on being small and thin in a negative way – why are women still so judged on their appearance? Some of us are never going to be a curvy, size 16, some of us are tall, some are short, some are athletic, some have big boobs, some small, and it’s all fine. Attacking people for being thin is just as bad as attacking them for being fat. If you look at the language used against thin people, like Woolf says, it’s pretty negative and harsh-sounding – ‘skinny’ is my least favourite (said at school ‘oh, you’re so skinny’ in a jealous/ nasty way – and this was Primary school). Even a pattern website that teaches how to alter patterns if you’re short (when did ‘petite’ become the acceptable word for short – I don’t have a problem with being called short. You have tall sections, why not short ones?) is called Skinny Bitch, Curvy Chick – oh, so if I were curvy I’d be a chick (which still isn’t great), but since I’m slim I have to be a ‘bitch’. I can’t help agreeing with another of the comments on the Guardian article that “both fat-shaming and skinny-shaming are disgusting, and often examples of misogyny” (ShadowOak)

10 Replies to “Opinion – ‘Skinny Shaming’”

  1. There should be a ‘win’ button, instead of a like one. And if I’m ever guilty of calling you ‘skinny’, please call me out for it.

    For me, this is a very timely post. I’ve been arguing with someone recently because they keep talking about diets in front of the Small One. I am trying to teach her that she’s fine as long as she’s happy and healthy, but it’s hard when some knobby cow keeps implying your child is chunky*. You might also find it interesting that Primark t-shirts in size 2-3 years are skin tight for girls but lose and billowy for boys – telling women how they should look starts young. It’s very firghtening and I don’t honestly know how I’m going to raise a child who is confident and content enough in her own skin to avoid a. her being a victim of her size – whether small or large and b. judging others based on their body shape alone.

    Beauty has fashions too – my Nan was told constantly that she was too thin while she was growing up. When she finally put on weight, that wasn’t a la mode any more and she felt fat. It is SO important that we make a shift to helping people feel good about themselves, rather than letting external influences dictate how we feel in our own skin.

    I hope that made sense. I should so go and sleep now. I just really wanted to add my two cents.


    *The girl is not chunky, not even close. She just eats full meals instead of afore mentioned child who grazes constantly on breadsticks.


    1. Wow, I can’t believe the obsessions with women’s weight starts when they’re still toddlers. That’s truly shocking, and shame on the person telling you Small One needs to go on a diet. She needs to f**k off, frankly!

      You’re right that the shape we’re ‘meant’ tp be changes with fashion and decade, so I feel like that just shows it really is total bollocks and we should all ignore it and just accept each other for our natural, healthy, happy sizes – whether that be small or large, tall or short big boobs, small boobs etc.

      p.s. I don’t think you’ve ever called me skinny – you’re one of the least judgemental people I know and I can’t imagine you ever saying it xx


  2. I so agree with this. I think for some reason people feel like it’s acceptable to comment on your weight if you’re on the thinner side, and they don’t understand that it’s hurtful. I’ve had people accuse me of having an eating disorder (I don’t) in front of large groups of people, had a stranger scream “Skinny bitch!” at me from a moving car, and been told that I look like a boy on multiple occasions– each time by a coworker. My relatives always commented on how much and what food I ate, and were even worse with my sister– she was always either “too skinny” or “watch out– might want to skip dessert today!”. I guess it’s a naive hope, but I really wish that we could change the conversation entirely and spend less time worrying about (and commenting on!) weight and shapes and more time worrying about developing character traits like kindness and generosity.


    1. OMG, I can’t believe you’ve had abuse shouted at you from stangers in the street, that’s terrible! I agree that people seem to think it’s okay to comment on your weight if you’re slim where they wouldn’t if you were large – that’s socially unacceptable. The food thing bothers me because it always implies that you’re thin because you’re deliberately dieting and watching what you eat to look like that, when, certainly for me, that’s just my natural size!

      I agree we should change the conversation!


  3. I suppose I am shocked that in the 21st Century we are even having to discuss this. I’ve been thin – 6 and 1/2 stone at a height of 5’7” – and fat too. I’m now 10 stone, which is just slightly over what my BMI recommends, but I am happier with my body than I have ever been. What I hate is the way I know other people look at me. Women are seen as objects, and because we are objectified it is seen as acceptible to criticise. But if you have ever seen one of those horrid internet articles that shows the before and after pictures of celebs that have been touched up, you know that nobody is perfect, and that the images stuffed down our throats constantly are actually monstrous manipulations.

    I find it deeply distressing that women like you are judged (by other women) as being a threat because you are a particular shape. I find our society’s attitude to body image profoundly disturbed, and as frankiesoup says the sexualisation of children starts almost at birth these days. What the hell are we doing? Why can’t we look at one another and find beauty there regardless of the shape it takes? Nature’s greatest delight lies in its variety, but humans are reared to homgenize in order to fit into the clan, and this has been taken to such an extreme that it is now actually killing us.

    I’m sorry you are the target of such shaming. I am sorry the world looks at you, and all of us, and judges our character and mind from our physical attributes. I am ashamed of the fact that women are usually the worst culprits for this. And I am ashamed that I probably do it as much as anybody, even if it is unconscious. But awareness is the first step. Talking about it as you do it the way to combat it. Bringing up our children as best we can to see people in a different way is a start. Let us hope that by raising awareness we can change the tide.


    1. It’s such a weird double standard that models and actresses (and other celebrities) are airbrushed to look thinner and perfect and flawless and yet, they (and we mere mortals) are so quickly shamed if we tip over into ‘too thin’. On the cover of one of the magazines like heat or something, there are pictures of women ‘thin and frail and on the edge’ – because being just that one pound thinner than is acceptable means you’re ill (physically or mentally), and therefore that you need help.

      I think I’ve probably been guilty of judging other women in the past for being thin or fat or whatever (though I would never say anything out loud). But since I’ve started sewing, and being more interested in the image I project through the clothes I make, I’ve found I’m people watching more to see what people are wearing and whether I like the fabric or design of a particular piece of clothing, or their whole outfit. Though I’m not sure it’s better to view this whole thing through fashion as that industry must be one of the worst culprits for the messed up attitude we in the west have to body image!


  4. Having just had a baby, it is almost worse. I am about half a stone heavier than before I got pregnancy and I honestly don’t care. However, the majority of the mums who had babies at the same time as me are already on diets, between 3 and 5 months post partum. I think it’s sad that as a society, we don’t allow new mothers time and the opportunity to embrace their new shape.


    1. That’s very true – I know people who’ve practically starved themselves post-birth in an effort to ‘get back in shape’. That’s when you need good nutrition the most, recovering from having your body leeched of all vitamins for 9 months! It took me two years to fit the same size as I did pre-pregnancy and that was through no particular effort on my part. A so-called friend asked me at one point when I would be going on a diet and he got one hell of an ear-full.


  5. I absolutely love this post and totally 100% agree. I am almost always hesitant to complain about being shamed for my thin, small size, because there is usually a very nasty backlash from people saying how “lucky” you are to be thin, or commenting on health and eating disorders. I totally agree that people seem to have no qualms about commenting on lower weight-ranges, and are seemingly oblivious as to how hurtful and rude it is.
    I’ve had my mum regularly accuse me of having an eating disorder, since adolescence, and saying things like “oh it’s okay, it’s fat free” no matter how many times I make is clear that I am not concerned about my weight and don’t want fat-free, I prefer full-fat everything. Every time I see her I often end-up justifying and defending myself when really, it’s no one else’s business.
    I was a little bit curvy in my school years because I was on the pill, but I had trouble with it and had to stop taking it. I’m only 5’4″, ~45kg, and I often wish I could go back to having some curves and being 50kg+, just to stop people making me feel bad about my weight; so that I could stop being so self-conscious. I’ve always eaten plenty of both junk and healthy foods, with no thought about my size or what food might cause weight changes. But recently, for the first time in my life, I bought a set of scales and became determined to try to gain weight, with no success.
    I feel like the only importance weight should have is if it’s at unhealthily high or low levels, it should have nothing to do with our attractiveness.


    1. I agree that’s it’s so annoying that people assume you’re dieting if you happen to be naturally small! My mum spent almost her whole adult life (until a few years ago) trying to put on enough weight to get up to 8 stone (50.8 kg) and never managed it. And yet she has commented on my having second helpings of dinner, or looking thin. I think scales are the way to madness and it’s better to look at your measurements and how you’re clothes fit to see if you’re getting to a size you’re happier at. I hope you manage to put on a few kilos, though I’m sure you’re gorgeous as you are 🙂 xx


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