The Unfortunate Universals

fat shaming skinny shaming

There is a lot of fat fear floating around in the world right now. A LOT. That fear generates bullying, prejudice, policing, and judgment from sources both expected and unexpected, and it is a fear that is both socially sanctioned and systemically encouraged. Since I don’t believe that weight is the sole factor in determining health, and since I believe that the health of others is none of my business, I write and speak out frequently about the issues surrounding fat fear and hatred.

It was recently brought to my attention that I don’t spend much time examining the other side of the coin. Fat girls get teased, told they need to go on diets, inundated with hurtful comments about their shape and size. Skinny girls also get teased, told they’ve got eating disorders, inundated with hurtful comments about their shape and size. The world loves to criticize big bodies, and the eagerness to do so seems to be very much on the rise. But the world can be pretty keen to wag fingers at little bodies, too. Think about how many “she needs a sandwich” comments you’ve heard in the past few weeks. Contemplate how dismissive the “real women have curves” rhetoric could feel to someone who lacks those curves. Consider how quickly people jump to judgment upon seeing a prominent collarbone or set of slender arms. Women who are naturally thin can become targets for brutal body snarking, as The Waves described in her guest post on what it’s like to be a model. And while certain thin bodies receive social privileges, there is often an undercurrent of anger and judgment even as those privileges are doled out.

Since attacks of this sort are felt differently by each individual target, discussions of who’s got it worse aren’t especially helpful. Especially since body policing reaches well beyond matters of size and shape. If you’re butch, if you’re tattooed or pierced, if you’re trans, if you’re old, if you use a wheelchair, if you wear short skirts, if you’re muscular, if you’re absolutely anything besides a carbon copy of Jennifer Aniston, you may become a target for commentary, unsolicited advice, and criticism. Actually, even if you ARE a carbon copy of Jennifer Aniston, you’re likely to get some snipes. Body, figure, grooming, and style policing have somehow become unfortunate universals for women.

And I keep searching for ways to change the conversation, change minds, change thought patterns. I keep struggling to transform judgment into gentle and open curiosity. It is the things that make us different that make us amazing, and that can be experienced with care and love instead of fear and loathing. I want people to assume less and accept more, to realize that another human being’s exterior is just one small piece of that human being’s unique puzzle. We jump to judgment so quickly and feel so righteous in our censure. But what do we know about the people we see? So very, very little.

Image courtesy hypertwig.

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  • Aimee C

    I’m 35, and I STILL have to hear something about my height everyday. Most people in the office call me “Stretch,” and while it may not seem like a big deal, it’s a daily reminder that I am taller than most people. I don’t think they’d must appreciate (nor could I get away with) calling someone in the office “Tubbie.”

  • Vildy

    I’m a long time appreciative reader of your blog even though I don’t have any body issues. I don’t feel any negatives about other people’s bodies, either.
    Fat is beautiful, thin is beautiful, young, old…. I’m wondering if that is the connection/solution: if the people being so judgmental and mocking felt secure about their *own* bodies, I’ll bet they wouldn’t be perceiving others’ that way!

    • Jennifer

      This is so true! I am very insecure about my own body, and I have to constantly remind myself to STOP judging other women! Their bodies are not my business! Thanks for the well-put reminder.

  • You raise some excellent points here. It’s easy to be very one-sided when trying to promote body acceptance without intending to be. I’m a high school teacher and can attest that regardless of one’s appearance the body/image sniping can be brutal. Unfortunately when teasing is brought to the attention of an adult I feel like they often take the teasing of bigger students more seriously than the smaller/thinner ones in regards to body image. It makes an excellent case for why all students need body image/self confidence education.

  • LK

    Thank you for writing this. I am one of those skinny girls . People assume high school was great for me. It was a horror. I was picked on by heavier girls among other body types being told I had eating disorders since I was naturally thin. It is important to realize that no body type actually has it easier than another. We all have our issues.

    And I hate that “Real women have curves” phrase.

    • Ditto all this. Add to it other girls telling me I could wear kids clothes (I couldn’t) holding up toddler stuff, etc. I’ve gotten a lot of flack from other people, but I mostly just dealt with it. I had no way to escape and still have people occasionally say super hurtful things about my young looks or skinny frame.

      I don’t even know where to begin fixing it, but I do know that anything that shames another person or group to “empower” is not going to work.

    • Agreed, 100%. I am a fat woman. Size 18/20 US. And I hate the “Real women have curves” slogan. We’re all real women. Period!

  • Viktoria

    This is so important to stop. I´m pretty average, in my 25 years as an adult I have been between 60 and 70 kgs (which is on neither side of a healthy BMI), and I have been told I´m too thin and too fat at every weight. And I have been told this by family, friends, and strangers. If a “normal” woman gets this, I can only imagine what it´s like for thin or large women, or people who are off the “norm” in any way, whatever that norm is.

    What is more important: I have thoughtlessly spread comments like this myself – not directly to anyone, but certainly behind their backs. I don´t like to confess to it, I consider myself a good person, but commenting on bodies have become so normal to us, that we just don´t notice ourselves doing it. I urge everyone to be honest about this. I think the only way to stop it is to stop pointing at the other guy doing it and stop doing it ourselves here and now. It doesn´t matter if it´s Jennifer Aniston you´re talking about. It´s the behaviour that sucks, and pointing at strangers in magazines makes it no less damaging.

  • “struggling to transform judgment into gentle and open curiosity”.

    Yes! Thank you for this. It was exactly my mission in putting together the photobook “How Much Do You Weigh?”.
    It seems a little counterintuitive, to aim at the judgment with simple, baldfaced openness about the number that is our weight – but it’s been a transformative project.
    And it’s been startling that the dialogue that has opened up in it’s wake shoes just how vulnerable and self-conscious we ALL are about the particular shape of our own bodies.

    • Erin – thank you for commenting here! Not only for sharing your thoughts, but because someone told me about your book MONTHS ago. I didn’t write down the title, but I’d always been intrigued by the concept and I’ve been searching for it ever since. I’ll be uploading it onto my iPad tonight!

  • Brilliant post, very insightful. I cannot get over the number of times I’m told by people, who are overweight, might I add, that I am too skinny. I’m naturally very slim and even though these people have seen my mum, who is of the same build, they still cannot get the concept into their heads!

  • elin

    Until I hit about 32 I was always skinny. Even then, I gained weight for a while and then lost it. People would comment on the fact that I was skinny as a kid and it drove my mother crazy. She would say, ‘you are slender – not skinny.’ She was also always skinny as a kid – skinnier than I – and she hated to see me get any flak about it. I did have people tell me that I must have an eating disorder and that lasted through out grade school through high school. All of this is to say that I appreciate the comment you made that my weight is none of your business. Why do we care?? Why do we think it’s our business?

    I will say that when I see someone who appears to be dangerously underweight or overweight it saddens me for them. Because I feel that we are responsible for making bodies such a topic of our discussion that we create shame and hatred that lead to terrible spirals for unhealthy weights.

  • Sarah

    I am a little embarrassed to admit this…but I hate eating food in front of other people. I am plus-size and have been,more or less, since puberty. I am “big-boned,” as women in my family say. I have large hands and feet, and even at my most “healthy,” I could only get down to about 145 pounds. I still remember being in 8th grade and being told by a beautiful skinny Indian girl that watching me eat made her sick because I was so fat. To this day I hate eating with or around other people. I know it’s irrational but nearly 20 years after that comment, I am still worried that people will see me eat and think I am disgusting. If I’m fat, what right to I have to eat in public? And why would I want to invite judgement and comments and criticism, voiced or not, about what I choose to put in my mouth? I am not obese and I consider myself fairly healthy, I exercise regularly and I like my body. But I just can’t get that girl’s comment out of my head, 20 years after the fact.

    I like to think of myself as supportive of other women. I hate body-snarking and I try not to participate. Some of my girlfriends have body-bashing sessions and I flat-out refuse to contribute. I would argue until I am blue in the face that any woman, no matter her size, deserves to wear a sleeveless shirt or a bikini and feel beautiful. I would get up on a soapbox about the right of women to wear shorts regardless of the size of their thighs. And I truly believe that too. But I would rather die than wear a bikini in public. If you held a gun to my head, I might wear shorts but I would hate every second of it, at least every time I looked down and saw my thighs. I only go sleeveless when it’s 105 degrees out, and even then, I don’t feel great about my arms. I don’t practice what I preach at all.

    I won’t say that I’ve given up on myself ever reaching a happy state with my body, but I will say that even if I can’t practice what I preach, I continue to preach it in the hopes that maybe my nieces will grow up to practice it one day. I hear my 9-year-old niece talk about other little girls being fat or gross and already worrying about her perfect little girl body, and it makes me very, very sad. This 9-year-old already knows that her body is her currency. She already believes that what people see when they look at her matters more than what she sees when she looks in the mirror. It breaks my heart.

    • Sal

      Sarah, I am so sorry to hear that your experience 20 years ago still haunts you, and that you have a tough time eating in public. I think some of the cruelest remarks are made without thinking, and they can really linger. (I’ve got a few of my own that still crop up decades later.)

      But you’re a total star for sharing this with us. And, for the record, I don’t think that body love and acceptance is an all-or-nothing deal. Some days you can fight back, some days you can’t. Some tough choices can be made, some must be passed. And just by knowing, intellectually, that body policing is wrong, you’re taking huge strides.

    • Complainathon

      Oh Sarah, you speak for every girl who grew up chubby. You certainly speak for me. I went YEARS without nibbling a canape at a party. Decades. Because I was afraid people would … I don’t know what. Talk about me behind my back? What was I afraid of?

      I’m not obese. Just curvy. And yet it took me so long to realise most strangers couldn’t care less about me. I’m just another person in a crowd. The odds of people noticing me at all are so low. Why should they care if I eat a crab puff?

      I’ve just come back from a 3-mile walk and now I’m off to yoga. I’m an active, healthy size 16 woman. I have nothing to apologise for. And neither do you, Sarah. Eat that crab puff. And I promise you the Earth will keep revolving.

    • tina

      That “beautiful” Indian girl sounds ugly to me.

    • Thanks Sarah for posting your comment, I hate that someone could be so cruel to you. I also hate that people even pay attention to what other people eat because it’s really no one’s business! I’ve been underweight my entire life and people feel very free to make comments about food to thin people, specifically “it’s good to see you eat, you need it” type comments. For a long time in my life, I always felt like I had to make an enthusiastic show of eating any fried or sugary food that came my way, whether or not it was something I actually desired to eat, so people wouldn’t say I was anorexic. I’ve had doctors, teachers, friends (always women interestingly enough) who didn’t believe me when I told them I did NOT have an eating disorder. One teacher was absolutely lovely in the way she brought up her concern, so that I felt respected and cared for and she did believe me, but another teacher and a doctor actually rolled their eyes and said “whatever.” Their disbelief actually made me wonder if I was deluding myself and more than once I’ve searched out questionnaires on eating disorders to confirm that I did not somehow have one or that one did not sneak up on me. So I actually know quite a bit about anorexia now and it frightens me that people could actually suspect me of having an extremely serious mental illness, simply because I’m genetically thin. At the same time, I KNOW that it’s not nearly as hard to be “too thin” as it is to be “too fat.” Again, since I’m thin, all sorts of people (oddly, usually men) think I must be terrified of fat people and feel free to say horrible things in my presence under the assumption that I’m in full agreement. I’ve never had an opportunity denied me because of being thin and I have to say that the uncomfortable instances I mentioned and some of my weird feelings about public eating are isolated and I’m not confronted with daily comments or insinuations about my weight. But I do wish we all could be spared this baggage!

  • I’ve gotten crappy, unwelcome, and otherwise unsolicited comments on account of my short stature, tattoos, colored hair, various hairstyles I’ve had, small foot size. People are an unending font of assholery. This is who I am, and if people don’t like me or feel the need to comment/criticism, that’s their problem. In the end, all it does is reflect poorly on them.

    • LinB

      “An unending font of assholery.” That is such a wonderfully descriptive phrase!

  • I have been a long time reader of your blog but a rare commentor; this is something that I have been thinking about though so I thought I might add to the conversation.

    I am a 21 year old Muslim woman who wears the hijab (headscarf) and covers fully (sorta like only showing feet, hands and face) but I grew up in Australia – and it was all completely my choice. The reason I chose to cover though was because of modesty and not wanting to be judged based on looks, but on who I am as a person (part of the reason women are encouraged to cover). I find it interesting that even though I am pretty much fully covered, I still get people commenting on my body… and on my choice of clothing. In fact, I would say the choice to cover has in fact somehow given people the indication that my body is free for anyone to make any comment on — because it has become “political” rather than “personal…” which I intended.

    That’s the first thing. The second thing I find is tht when I travel back to Sudan (where I was born)…even tho I am fully covered and the culture is totally different, the ideologies that are perpetuated in the media (western and eastern) are just as active! Grandmas who tell me I’ll never find a husband cos I am too tall, or I shouldn’t eat so much in case I get big etc etc etc… and it is definitely seen as a non-taboo subject; your body is for everyone’s judgement.

    It is interesting. I think in Australia, it is easier for me to change the topic, to make the conversation more “body positive” because the people are a little more ready for it…but sometimes within the community, those cultural expectations (esp with older ladies) are harder to shift.

    • Sal

      Yassmin, thank you for sharing your story. Do you think that the stream of commentary about your figure/height is due to recent cultural shifts? Or has it always been this way for Muslim women who wear the hijab?

      And, to your other point, do you feel that the politicization of your choice to wear hijab interferes with your own personal desire to do so for modesty and judgment-related reasons? Is it harder than you expected?

      Hope you don’t mind me asking these questions. It’s just that your experiences bring up all sorts of fascinating and related issues. Feel free to pass on answering, of course!

  • because it has become “political” rather than “personal…” which I intended > I meant to say “where I intended it only as a personal choice”

  • LinB

    No matter how insistent are the mean boys on the playground who shout, “Hey, lady, come over here for a minute” so that they can laugh at you for being too old/fat/thin/tall/short/ugly/oddly dressed, you don’t have to go. You don’t have to stop and listen to them, you don’t have to acknowledge their existence. You don’t have to be polite to rude people. You don’t have to feel badly about yourself for shielding yourself from pain. Thus endeth the lesson.

  • I’m a skinny girl. And I’m not especially curvy (think, small side of a B cup) and yeah, it hurts. I don’t get much in the random, eat a sandwich comments, but I have heard a lot of the whole, oh men don’t like women without curves, who wants that? I’ve taken it too much to heart probably — because I find myself often thinking it’s true. I haven’t really dated much, so I find myself thinking that must be the case.

    It’s weird because we have this idea that we’re supposed to be enlightened, to move past that. To not care about being attractive. But, you know? I’m human. And part of being human is being a social being and a sexual one. It’s incredibly hurtful to hear comments that imply you can’t be that, and it doesn’t matter the ‘reasons’ given, too thin or too fat or whatever. I wish we were more able to recognize that attraction is a very diverse thing and there are men and women who find all sorts of different body types attractive.

  • I’ve been on the receiving end of body criticism – some well-meaning, some snarky. I lost about five pounds while training for a half-marathon and a friend told me she was afraid I’d developed an eating disorder. Once at an audition for a TV commercial, a casting director suggested I lose ten or so pounds because I was chunky. “Not in real life,” she explained, “just for television.”

    Every instance of body scrutiny has left me feeling uncomfortable. Even compliments related to my height and/or weight make me uneasy because it’s mostly just genetics doing their random thing. It don’t control it, so I feel weird taking credit for it.

    Yet, despite how those comments have made me feel, I’ve been guilty of casting the same judgements on other women. I’ve made assumptions about people’s health, lifestyle and personality based soley on how they look. And worse still? When I’ve made comments, they’ve often been behind the person’s back which is shameful behaviour on my part.

    That’s why I resolved a couple of years ago, to just stop. I still have reflexive moments of internal judgement but I try as much as possible to check myself and own those icky thoughts as my prejudice, rather than the other person’s flaw. If I think someone looks nice or they’re wearing something I admire, I’ll tell them. I won’t ever comment on a person’s weight unless they explicitly ask me (which they never do).

    The place I’ve landed now is that people are free to look, feel and treat their bodies anyway they want. Unless they ask me what I think, it’s never appropriate for me to say anything because it really isn’t any of my business.

    Thanks for bringing this up, Sally. Great discussion!

  • Heather in Oregon

    I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum- very thin and unable to gain weight in my teens and twenties and overweight and having difficulties bringing my weight down in my late twenties through to now (early thirties). I’ve gotten comments and criticism for both. I spent my teens and twenties wishing I had breasts and hips and that my ribs didn’t show and my late twenties wishing that my breasts were smaller and that I didn’t have a belly and thighs. I’ve succumbed to unhealthy eating habits while both thin and fat and now focus on trying to eat well and get exercise and be whatever size that brings me to.

    And… I’ve made comments about other people’s bodies. Not to their faces but certainly to myself or others. I have looked at women and thought “god she’s so thin, she must be sick or starving herself”. And I’ve thought ” I can’t believe she let herself get to that size”. And I know that it’s wrong and I’m ashamed whenever I find myself judging people that way. I guess this just goes to show how much work we need to do in order to not internalize these things. I do find that the more accepting I am of my own body, the less I tend to judge others’ bodies and find a wide variety of body types attractive. I also tend to have little to no judgment about people’s bodies when I know them and I think there must be something about the distance of strangers that makes it seem more acceptable. It isn’t acceptable of course because even if we don’t voice those judgments aloud we still aren’t internalizing the importance of body acceptance across all body types.

  • Emily

    I am so glad you brought this issue up. I have always been tall and thin and this is just how my whole family is. I definitely do have curves for the record, not that this is a requirement to being a real woman. (I love the feminist slogan “real women have vaginas.”) I don’t think people know how hurtful it is to say that I have an eating disorder or tell me to eat a burger, especially since I am a vegetarian. I am a very health conscious person and honestly I eat a LOT. I would never do this, but I’ve always consider telling people who comment on my figure that I don’t go around telling people who are “overweight” how they are in desperate need of a salad or that they have a problem with food. I am also tired of sales people telling me I need a certain size. I look skinny but I am not an extra small, don’t make assumptions about my size, please.
    And you know what? I love my body! I hope that doesn’t come off as bragging about my size, I am jut happy with it and I feel very grateful to be a healthy person!

    • Katharine

      And yet, even that feminist slogan, Emily, could be considered divisive, and sounds as though it comes from the anti-transwoman radfem side. Is there really any universally common trait that anyone can point to as belonging to “real women”?

      • LinB

        Two X chromosomes are not even a guarantee.

      • Hazel

        Real women identify as women. That’s about all I can think of.

        • Mistie

          I like “real women identify as women.”

      • Emily

        Well, you got me there. I guess “real women have vaginas” is certainly an improvement over “curves,” something that is so specific. I agree, more likely “real women identify as women” would be best, but I was focusing on the weight/height aspect of being a woman in my comment.

  • Have you noticed that these body comments are directed at women, rather than men? I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been greeted by a family member and received “compliments” on my body or weight. I would never say such a thing to a man.

    To me, it’s pure and simple misogyny. It’s another way that (even well-intentioned) men exercise ownership of us. It won’t end until we learn to stay “stop” loud and clear.

    I think that we women need to stop obsessing over our bodies too. It’s all so silly.

    • Kenzie

      That’s a dangerous assumption. I have a very close male friend who has for a long time suffered from eating disorders, and no one actually believes him because “guys don’t have those issues”, and that makes it okay to poke fun at his weight.

      These issues may be far more prevalent in women but EVERYONE regardless of gender deserves the chance to love and accept themselves. Ladies may be the focus of this blog, but I would still shy away from making statements that these issues ONLY affect women.

    • Litenarata

      My father makes comments to one of my brother’s face about his weight, and my grandmother also made a comment once about a brother who was getting “bigger”.

      It’s not just directed at women.

  • Stephani

    People who feel the most insecure can be the most cruel to others who exhibit the same things they most fear about their own bodies–or any other aspect of themselves, really.
    I’m short, I’m overweight, I have big boobs, and I’m blond. I’ve been this way the vast majority of my life, regardless of my dress size, and judgement has flown at me from every direction for each of these reasons, sometimes from the very people one would expect to have the most interest in protecting my feelings (family, close friends).
    Several years ago, thank goodness, I came to the conclusion that comments about my height, weight, breast size, and whether or not being blond automatically makes me an imbecile are not worth paying attention to, considering the damaged people they most often come from. I’m a very accepting person–except when I’m being judged by a moron who can’t see beyond the end of their own nose. Family, friends–they have some small right to bring my failings to my attention, although the more focus is placed on my physical attributes, the less weight they have.
    Complete strangers–absolutely not. I won’t accept abuse from strangers as if my right to exist is entirely contingent upon their approval. No one has the right to judge me based on my appearance. And if they go ahead and do it, to my face no less, I feel no qualms about judging them to be pathetic, flaming assholes who need to stomp on others just to make themselves feel a little better. I can be just as brutal.
    And I recognize the hypocrisy in this. But I won’t apologize for defending myself in this way, from anyone (stranger or loved one). I don’t judge others negatively based on their appearance; we all have issues and insecurities, whether we’re fat or thin, tall or short, etc. But I will judge them based on their behavior, especially once they’ve proven by that behavior that they don’t deserve my consideration or attention.

  • R.S.

    I was always thin, but athletic (a lifelong runner with 7 marathons under my belt). Then, about a year ago, I started losing a lot of weight (going from 107 lbs to less than 85). People assumed I had an eating disorder, and I was the subject of several “interventions” by friends and colleagues. I was also a target of a lot of those “you should eat three of four cupcakes!” comments at an office birthday celebration, etc.) I eventually gained about 10 lbs back, but I lost all of my muscle tone and my fitness, which was very hard for my self-esteem. I was recently diagnosed with Graves disease, so that explained why I lost all of that weight, among other symptoms. I’ll be treated for it in couple of weeks and should be fine.

    Here’s the catch. The treatment destroys your thyroid gland, so I will inevitably gain some weight following treatment. I look forward to completing the treatment so that I can have my energy and fitness back, but I’m also kind of scared about the weight gain. I know I need to gain some weight, but I ‘m hoping to gain back muscle, not fat. I’m also scared about gaining it back so quickly, and having people notice, “Hey, she got fat all of a sudden”. Having been a very skinny person, I knew how freely people would comment about my weight to my face, so I can only imagine what they say behind my back. It pains me to think how my weight will continue to be a topic of conversation as I go through the process of Graves treatment.

    Has anyone else been through this?

    • L

      I have Graves disease too. I lost only about 10 lbs during the untreated phase and then when I got treated (I take anti thryoid medicine) I promptly gained the 10 lbs back. I’ve been struggling to lose it ever since. It’s getting easier because part of the Graves was also big appetite and high metabolism so I just ate a lot more than I can now, but its been over a year so I am getting used to the new normal. I havent yet had my thyroid irradiated — those people do seem to gain weight and have a really hard time losing it — but if I don’t go into remission I will have to do it.
      It is interesting, though — the whole body image thing. If I didnt care so much about my body image what difference would 10 lbs make? I am otherwise healthy, in fact, healtheir now that my thryroid has stabilized. But I am a size larger than I was before and I do not like it. Also I was undiagnosed I think for 4 years and all my clothes are in the other size and I don’t want to have to get new ones.
      Good luck to you. Lots of people have thryoid issues and are normal weight (not too fat; not too thin) and I am hopeful that both of us can be there too.

    • Lynn

      Not with Graves, but with an immune deficiency disorder. I lost 15% of my weight within a few weeks, and my weight still has not stabilized because we cannot find the right combination of medicine and diet. People (strangers, friends, family) are constantly commenting about my what I eat or don’t eat and the weight changes. I think it is particularly difficult when you are sick and have no control. I am still in the middle of this and have no answers yet, but know you are not alone in the struggle and worry.

    • JenFin

      My sister has Graves, diagnosed about a year ago. Like L she takes medication but hasn’t had the irradiation. She didn’t have the sudden weight loss you did, just tons of energy and a super high metabolism her whole life, meaning she was always pretty thin. Since being treated she’s definitely gained some weight – I’d guess in the 10 to 15 pound range although I don’t know for sure – and she’s been really struggling with her body image, particularly since, as L mentioned, she’s now healthier than when she was thinner.

      Good luck – I hope you end up feeling much better.

  • Laura

    This post hit very close to home, Sal, and it really brought light to recent issues I’ve been struggling through.

    I’ve always had a bit of a pear shape. As I’ve grown up, it’s become more prominent. I’m fairly slender, but my butt is big, or rather, big according to other people who think it’s their business to tell me so. It’s mainly my extended family. They claim their comments are simply good natured and joking, but they have always completely made me feel otherwise. Whenever I get together with this particular group of family members, they always make those same disparaging comments, over and over and over. So, at a recent reunion, I asked them why my butt (or booty, as they call it) being big was such a “problem”. They had no answer for me.

    But it hasn’t been within the past couple of years that I’ve been the recipient of such remarks, it’s been throughout my entire teenage years. I’ve always been told that my butt is big, and it’s almost like they think I should be ashamed of it. I don’t think they fully understand the impact their words had on a young girl just beginning to grow. I used to not care about how I look, but within the past few years, I’ve become incredibly self conscious about my appearance and I constantly worry about how my butt looks in whatever clothing I decide to wear, so as to avoid such comments.

    As I said before, this post brought to light recent issues that I’ve been struggling through. Now that I’m an adult, I try not to let remarks like this bother me, but it’s an ongoing battle.

  • Karen

    I hear the comments about being short and looking young all the time, from random people. I’m 22 and look about 16-18, which some people apparently find wrong and feel the need to comment on. Strangely, these comments seem to come from men more often than women, which I think is a comment on our culture’s obsession with youthful looks in women. Recently a man trying to flirt with me first asked me if I was over 18, and looked excited when I said that I was.

    I also get the body policing comments for being thin and athletic, and these come more often from women. Sometimes these are “you need to eat more” comments from random people, but other times they’re snipes about how active I am/how I can eat anything without gaining weight from my roommates. It’s frustrating. My body is happiest if I’m active and eating well, with the occasional indulgence, and that’s what guided me to my current lifestyle and current weight, and that isn’t anyone else’s business. I think that part of it is trying to feel better about one’s own lifestyle/weight by snarking about someone else’s who might fit our culture’s beauty mold better (that’s not to say that any of these women have bad lifestyles or weights, or that they shouldn’t be happy or aren’t happy with them. It all comes back to snarking as a tool to keep oneself from feeling inferior).

  • Aziraphale

    You know, when I read articles such as this, I understand that there is judgment out there, but my own personal experience has never borne it out. I cannot think of one single example — in my adult life — of a person making a negative comment about my body or face. Ever. Occasionally someone will offer a compliment, but even then it’s usually about my clothes or shoes, and not a direct comment on a physical attribute. In my experience, people are generally polite.

    It’s not that my body doesn’t deviate from the average, either. For one thing, I’m very short. I can remember the odd bit of teasing about it as a child — things like being called a “shrimp” or a “midget”, but nothing that hurt my feelings. (I guess I wasn’t particularly worried about being small). And I’ve got other flaws a-plenty — there’s certainly something there for people to openly criticize, if they were so inclined. But it seems that they are not. Maybe it’s because I live in Canada. They say we’re known for politeness over here. The only thing is, I experienced no less politeness in San Francisco, and I lived there for four years. You know that classic bit of pregnancy rudeness that everyone warns you about: how perfect strangers will come up and try to touch your pregnant belly? Well, that never happened to me, not once, and I was living in SF while pregnant. Everybody was perfectly lovely. (I had some good rebuffs ready, too. And I never got to use them, darn it).

    But I agree that people DO judge. I can think of a few examples of being dissed, but never to my face. For example, there were some snarky comments behind my back, at university, from some fellow students (female, of course) who were perfectly friendly to my face. And now that I’m watching my kids go through school, I see it is definitely a problem there. One of my friends has a nine-year-old son who gets harassed for being fat, and she has put a lot of thought into how she’s going to help him handle the comments. My own daughter asked me, at age SIX, if she was pretty. WHAT?!! It turned out that in grade one, other kids were already making assessments of each others’ physical attributes.

  • when i was growing up, and until my early 20s, my body was so thin, with no curves at all. i used to get teased about how small i was. i remember as a teenager, reading a letter heather matazzaro wrote to jane magazine where she talked about forcing skinny women to eat a sandwich and it felt terrible. i didn’t choose my body shape!

    despite being very thin, since i was quite young i fixated on my not-flat stomach. i didn’t understand how i could be thin everywhere else then have a little jelly roll on my belly. although it’s probable that i was receiving privileges based on my body, i also spent most of my time hating it. breasts too small (nonexistent). jelly roll, instead of 6-pack abs (despite doing hundreds of sit ups per night). people making fun of me for being small and assuming i never ate enough (even though i have never had issues with food).

    now i am older, and my curvy body is a very different shape. it can be hard to accept, too–i spent so much of my life as a stick-straight girl with no curves and now i have boobs and butt and thighs and hips! it’s hard to adjust to, but i am working on it, giving it lots of love and trying my best to not let other people’s perceptions affect me.

  • Gisele

    I spent a lot of my life feeling like being flat-chested meant I was somehow letting down those who looked at me–let alone sexual partners who might want to touch what wasn’t there. If I didn’t wear a padded bra, I wasn’t supplying something that others had a right to expect.

    The most helpful thing I’ve found for all of my body-image issues is to find ways of bringing my focus to the *usefulness* of my body parts. Breasts are for nursing and feeling good! Feet, big or small, are for tapping to good music! Teeth, yellow or white, are for chewing tasty food! And then to enjoy clothing this angular, useful body of mine. (Thanks for the inspiration, Sally!)

    The other good thing is to de-normalize the “body policing” that goes on, and I love discussions like this one that help to remind us to be brave and outspoken when people start judging bodies. “Her body isn’t our business” + redirection (“hey, have you heard the new song by…”) works wonders.

  • Kenzie

    I’ve been fortunate enough to rarely receive negative attention for my body. It’s not perfect, but I am exceptionally average in every dimension for a 19 year old girl, and I’m attractively proportioned.

    Like all other young girls, I spent a lot of time fixating on flaws, until finally this year and especially this summer I hit this golden point of self acceptance and just decided that, flaws or not, I was happy with myself. And I began to broadcast that, dress like that, and generally walk taller with more confidence.

    But it kind of backfired. I got positive attention, but as someone who has always surrounded herself with male friends, it was all sexual. Even though it was meant as a compliment, it inexplicably started making me feel bad about myself. I’ve found myself wanting to crawl back to my jeans, glasses, oversized sweatshirts and unbrushed hair and then maybe my friends will be impressed by the research I’m doing this summer or the play I wrote and starred in instead of just how I look in a bikini. and now when I look in the mirror I start seeing the flaws again, and I’m not sure why.

    I don’t know if this is quite on topic. But I’ve seen surprisingly little on this side of body image and it has started to become a really prevalent issue n my life.

    • Ouch. Yes, I had that for a long time. I can’t say that I was fixated on flaws but I did grow up with a brother who told me I was ugly and stupid. So never really believed I was either (despite actually being quite easy on the eye and an honours degree from university). The hiding in your clothes and being a dag is actually fairly common – if you go through the archives, Sally did that as well. With me, one of the indicators for depression being in charge again is falling back into full-on dag.

      One of the difficulties is that even when I was “in hiding”, I was still vulnerable to unwanted sexual advances. Still seen as prey (yes, there’s a background story there).

      It’s both simple and complex. The easy answer is continue to be strong in yourself and realise that this is about empowering yourself despite how other people react. On the other hand, this can be incredibly hard.

      It’s taken me years, a diagnosis of depression and successful treatment, supportive friends, therapy and a couple of great partners (the last one of whom is now the beloved spouse) to turn that around. That actually sounds a lot more organised than it was 🙂

      I don’t manage it all the time, but most of the time I do. So what am I saying? Hiding isn’t going to change things – ultimately I think it prolongs your vulnerability and gives your power to others. You may need to call your friends out on their behaviour. If they can’t change it, you may have to look at why they are your friends – and if they are worth staying with. Find yourself someone to talk to who you trust – a qualified therapist, someone older who can be your friend/mentor and help you figure this one out in a way that works for you.

      Good luck!

  • VaMarcy

    Just from another perspective–my son is 30 yrs old, 6’5′, and has struggled all his life to keep weight on. Trust me, it’s as hard on men as it is on women–the guys may not talk about it as much out loud, that’s all. It makes me furious that we’ve all swallowed the kool aid about some ideal body image–there is no such thing! Resist–wherever you are–the impulse to compare or judge, and extend grace to others like you ought to to yourself. *gets off the soapbox*

  • Cee

    Thanks for this post Sally: it looks like it’s already producing some really interesting discussion. I find it fascinating that even reading the comments so far, women with completely different body types or weight distributions have experienced negativity about the way they look.

    However, I do think we should remember that there is differences between fat-shaming and skinny-shaming*. Fat-shaming seems to be more institutional. Having read a lot of HAES blogs, I think I’m struck by this most. Asking ourselves questions is important. Can a skinny person find people who look like them in on the tv, in films and in advertising? Is this person used as the butt of jokes because of the way they look? Will a skinny person be likely to be passed over for promotion because of their body shape? Will they have to make a concerted effort to find clothes that fit them and celebrate their body shape? Will their sizes only be stocked in a handful of shops in their area, if that? Will they have to plan where they go and what they do based on their body shape: ie. are the seats large enough? Will the health care they receive be affected by judgements made about their body shape?

    It seems to me that the exact experience of fat vs. skinny women is very different, and something we need to think carefully about when making comparisons. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that the insecurities and negatives felt by women of all shapes, sizes, gender presentations and ages can be put on a scale. I’m not saying that we get to dismiss anyone’s experiences, or that they aren’t very badly affected by body negativity. Just reading this post shows us that there is no shape, no presentation, no height and no weight that exempts you from this insidious body hatred.

    I think your desire to change the conversation is a great one. In just 30 comments (at the time of posting) women of all appearances have shared their experiences, and I think that’s great. So, again, thanks for posting this.

    *I know ‘fat’ and ‘skinny’ are still contested terms, and incredibly subjective. I hope you don’t mind me using them here for the sake of brevity.

    • Marie

      Fascinating discussion! In response to these questions:
      “Will they have to make a concerted effort to find clothes that fit them and celebrate their body shape? Will their sizes only be stocked in a handful of shops in their area, if that?”
      I’m a healthy size 4-6 and often struggle to find my size in stock, not because the store doesn’t carry it, but because small sizes are understocked and seem to sell out quickly. After the beginning of the season it gets difficult. Also, the size “small” in many department stores is too big for me, and sometimes I just don’t know where to shop for tops that fit and aren’t made for teenagers.

      I hesitate to even write this because I don’t like to complain. I imagine plus sized women have much more difficulty overall. However, it’s a frustration I often face. I think ALL women probably have their own unique set of hurdles when it comes to shopping! 🙂

      • Karen

        Agreed! I’m a size 0-2 in most stores, and it’s near impossible to find adult clothes that fit a thin/small frame. Finding them on a budget? Impossible. I think that women of all shapes and sizes have to make a concerted effort to find clothes that fit and flatter them- it effects smaller women and larger women, although smaller women face less judgment from society about the sizes they need, and probably face far fewer problems overall from society.

      • Yes! I agree with everything Cee said except for that one point. I have been restricted to shopping online because stores do not carry my size and half the time I still have to return 00 clothing because it’s too large or the cut is for someone curvier than I. Obviously this is a pretty minor point compared to the rest of the stuff Cee listed however, and I appreciate her insights into the thin/fat disparity.

        • Cee

          I think you’ve all raised a good point and I’m sorry if I diminished that issue. I hadn’t really thought that point through because I’ve noticed over the last few years, more and more shops in the UK stock a size 4 (which I think is a US size 0). I don’t know if this is the case in the US, but even so, this isn’t every shop, and this isn’t every item of clothing.

          • I think vanity sizing has a lot to do with it too. I remember I used to be a 2 in many stores, but somehow, despite not changing my actual measurements, I’m now usually at best a 0 and most stores will not even carry my size, which is a 00 (it is completely ridiculous to me that ZERO sizes even exist, let alone 00). At stores like H&M though, I am still a 2 and sometimes even a 4, but the quality of the things I’ve gotten there have warped so peculiarly after washing that it’s no longer an option for me to shop there.

        • LinB

          Those of us in the middle range “suffer” when shopping for clothing because we ARE in the middle of the Bell curve, size-wise. There are so many of us that the “good stuff” goes fast. Often there are not any dresses/pants/blouses left on the rack in my size, because all the other size 12-14-16 buyers got there first. Therefore, I sew almost everything I wear — except for shoes. Buying shoes can be frustrating, too — the average size sells out first, leaving nothing on the shelves that fits my feet. (I have not had the best of luck buying shoes on-line — I really, really, really need to try shoes on first.)

  • Vildy

    The remarks about the Indian girl reminded me. Many years ago, as a freshman in college, we had a Sikh resident assistant grad student. In talking about nudity, for some reason, she offered that in her culture she was taught that the human body is very ugly and therefore it is best to cover it up. She wore ethnic dress and was indeed all covered up.

  • Marsha Calhoun

    Again, to repeat Grandma: Personal comments are inappropriate unless solicited. We used to teach that to our children, and we need to do it again. Compliments are usually excepted, but must be offered judiciously (“You have lovely eyes” is acceptable in some circumstance, not in others; “You look very nice today” is probably more universally okay). Complimenting the choices that people make regarding clothing, piercing, tattoos, etc., is usually okay because they make these choices with the thought of how others will react (and no, I don’t buy the “I tattooed this huge bloody skull on my forehead for me, and me alone” statement – if it was for you alone, it would be under your arm, not out where it must inevitably be seen by others; that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tattoo yourself however you see fit, you just can’t complain when others observe and react to what you have presented). Back to Grandma: “If you have nothing nice to say about somebody’s looks, then keep silent unless specifically asked, and then be diplomatically truthful.”

    We’d all rather be pretty than ugly; there is no fairy tale that begins, “Once upon a time, there was a homely princess . . . . ” It is natural, in all societies, for children to wonder if they are attractive, especially since outward attractiveness is considered critical to social success in life – how do you express your wonderful character/personality if you don’t get that first date? But we don’t have the right to set anyone else straight on how she should look, whether it is a chosen option (color of her nail polish) or an unchosen characteristic (big boobs). “Personal remarks are impolite” – when in doubt, let that be our guide. Rant over, and thank you for listening.

    • Aziraphale

      I’m listening. I agree with every word. You expressed yourself very well. 🙂

      • LinB

        An updated fairy tale, “Cinder Edna,” was written with little girls in mind, but it is one of my favorite stories. It should be available in your local public library, in the elementary school age fiction. I think my favorite part is when she took a city bus to the prince’s ball — she had to leave before midnight so she wouldn’t miss her ride home.

  • Reina D.

    Hi Ms. Sally,

    Thanks for the post, it’s something every girl needs to realize right now.
    Personally, I think this issue of body deals with every aspect, not just body fame.

    It was only yesterday that I went to the movies with some friends, and one girl said, “hey did you lose weight?”

    I smiled, but that wasn’t what made me cringe inside. It was what came after that. She later said “I should lose some too…” while glancing at her thin frame. And another person said “No you don’t! If anything, you need at least a couple of twinkies!”

    While I recognized this said in jest, it made me sad. It made me wonder, because I was not as skinny as this young girl, but I recall being noted as “anorexic” by boys and girls alike.

    The thing is, I started experiencing this after I went to college (not all the time, just sometimes). In high school, I didn’t like myself much during the first two years, so I hid myself in jeans and T-shirts. But I was okay with that. Later on, I started losing like crazy, and I couldn’t explain why!!! But I just joined two athletic teams my last two years of high school, so I know they made a difference. The thing is, I felt better about that! Even now, I feel comfortable with my frame, although I battle body insecurities now and then.

    I’m mixed, so sometimes it goes further than my body frame. I’m petite for my age, and strangers squint at my face while trying to guess my ethnicity. When it’s my hair, others automatically assume I chemically alter it (I don’t), or ask why I don’t let it be natural, when it is.

    But it saddens me about this beauty standard. Even when I make a joke about a body image, I remind myself how it’s not cool to say anything negative. I never believed anyone had a bad body. Sure, we all change shapes at different times, but we’re still ourselves. I just try to focus on feeling good and energetic, because that’s the magic of beauty.

  • Hmm, let’s see if I can come up with an exhaustive list of all the people who’ve made inappropriate comments about how hideous my body is! Relatives, other kids (I’m glad grabbing my wrist and shrieking about the size is something only the stupidest grown-ups do now), girls in the locker rooms in middle school, a high school teacher, my best friend’s dad, a strange man in the grocery store, the TSA agent charged with patting me down (!!), other college students, my boyfriend’s relatives, a dentist (no wait, two dentists–what the hell, dentists?), and a gynecologist. The really damaging thing about skinny-shaming is that it usually comes in the form of “ARE YOU ANOREXIC OR SOMETHING.” So it’s not that they’re just telling you that you’re hideous and unlovable–they’re also saying “hey, I think you’re mentally ill.” Both your body AND your brain aren’t up to snuff!

    As a teenager I was kind of obsessed with finding SOMEONE who looked like me in the media, but somehow everyone was either six inches taller (so of course I’m hideous, I’m thin but I’m not an AMAZON) or, somehow, small and skinny like me but not AS skinny–they’d still have beautiful shapely legs and not a jabby bone in sight. I understood that thin was desirable in our culture, but I didn’t see myself in the airbrushed starlets and practically everyone I knew in real life was telling me that I was scrawny and gross, so I figured I must be the wrong KIND of thin.

    However, the rate of personal harassment has slowed down a lot now that I’m an adult, which I don’t think is true for a lot of people who get fat-shamed. Like every other woman, I’m still dealing with narrow media representations everywhere I go and a lot of jerks on the internet squealing about how I’m not a Real Woman, but I AM prepared to admit that I DO have it easier than bigger ladies. The thing is, if all that creepiness above is what “easier” looks like, what the hell kind of needless suffering is this society inflicting on everyone else?

    Ugh.

  • So, as I read the comments, I realized, yes – I received plenty of these comments throughout my teen years and into my mid-late 20s. I am almost 6′ tall, and was a size 2-4 (now I’m a 6 – happily married!!). I remember a friend’s boyfriend saying, “wow – you’re a real string bean!” and then apologizing (I guess he meant “you’re flat!”) in middle school. I was so proud of the long lean lines of my body, because I was a dancer that this was a compliment, not a snark. Likewise, I’ve always been proud of my height, so I tend to interpret any comments I receive as praise. The “It’s good to see you eat” comments are ALWAYS weird, because they only ever seem to come from men who are my father’s age – and are said as if this is some strange form of compliment/line/overture. Again, I was an athlete AND I’m a very talented cook. I love food so much, I even grow my own. I’ve always had a healthy appetite and I’ve always enjoyed food. So, when other people single it out as if it were a rare occurrence, I almost feel like I should reintroduce myself (“hello, I’m Sarah and I LOVE food and drink. I don’t believe we’ve met!’). I think you could almost do a separate post on food, body size, and sexuality. Really. There is some WEIRD stuff there.

    The only body-snarking that has stuck, that HURT? When my high school boyfriend told me I couldn’t wear heels, because I was too tall. I’m slouching in every photo of us together, trying to be shorter than him, to be smaller than him, to please him. I’ve since learned better. I will never make myself small for someone again; anyone who asks this of you lacks character and certainly doesn’t really love you at all. The other one? Hearing my mother badmouth her own body. We have the same body. Okay, I’m five inches taller. But we wear the same size. In my teens, when puberty FINALLY hit (see above: athlete!), I remember freaking out as my hips and thighs grew larger. My mother had spent so many years denouncing her pear shape that I loathed my body. It took me probably 5-6 years after leaving home to finally lose that voice in my head.

  • I’m quite heavily tattooed, but most of them are hidden by clothing. This was a conscious decision based on two things – I get to decide who sees them and sunlight is bad for ink. Result – 25 year old tattoos that still look fresh and sharp. I don’t have to run the gamut of “why did you spoil your skin” or being seen as a trollop (a particular type of older man at work). Fortunately, attitudes have moved on a LOT since those days, and that’s really something to celebrate.

    And the old truism – the difference between tattooed people and cleanskins is that tattooed people don’t care if you aren’t tattooed.

    I’ve never ceased boggling at people who think they have the right to dictate what someone else does with their body….

    • Jo

      SO understand what you said. I have tattoos on both of my sides, and on my back …. all hidden by my clothing — and it always amazes me when I hear someone say something that puts down someone who has a visible tattoo (or implies they’re trash). I remember once a guy trying to be all smooth at a bar, telling me how nice it was that I wasn’t like “all those other people” in the bar who had tattoos —- and I promptly stepped back, so he could see, in the light, that my half shirt clearly showed my ink. Priceless.

  • Litenarata

    My body is often “policed” because I wear sunscreen and do not go tanning, so I’m naturally still close to my regular sunless skin tone. People think it’s okay to make snarky comments about “ghostly” legs or “glowing in the dark” or say things like “my eyes, the glare is blinding me!”

    It’s worse once they find out I’m half Mexican, because then I’m the wrong color instead of just an unpleasant color.

  • LP

    I try to shut it down where it’s appropriate to stop one person talking about another’s body in any direction other than positive and non-sexualized… mostly this meets with silence. For instance, someone recently showed me a picture of a childhood friend of mine taken from her FB page and told me how incredibly fat she is/was and asked if I would ever put a picture “like that” on FB. The woman is pregnant, in a swimsuit, and reveling in the moment. I replied that I don’t have FB but that, yes, I would – I think if I was pregnant I’d be stoked and would want to put up a happy joyful picture like that. I basically made it not a body conversation but a happy conversation. And… that ended the conversation! Heh. I suspect people just don’t know what to do when you don’t join in, because body talk is now, unfortunately, the normal course of conversation; people simply expect you’ll join in snark, jealousy, lust, disgust, and everything in between. I’m just insecure enough to wonder what they think and say about MY body when I’m not in the room…

  • Lola

    It’s the things that make us different that make us amzaing…….. I absolutely LOVE this quote and will be requoting this everywhere I possibly can. Thank you for opening such an incredible discussion and being a balanced and whole voice.

  • Jo

    As a child, I was aware of my mother making occasional comments about how other people looked (and sometimes, about how I looked), and as a result, I’ve always been sensitive (perhaps a bit defense, too, at times) about that. I always believed that what was important about people was what you couldn’t see — that if someone’s a good person, that it doesn’t matter what they look like. I do challenge my mom now, if she makes a remark, and I can tell she’s surprised …. but maybe it makes her think about it a little more than she used to (I hope).

    I have spent most of my life disliking how I look, and feeling self-conscious about how I look …. and I guess because of this, I do tend to not judge other women on how they look, because I feel like …. well, if I don’t like how I look, probably other women find fault with themselves, too. We can all be so hard on ourselves — we don’t need to do it to each other, too.

    While I don’t comment much here, Sally, I really do appreciate your site (and I read every post).

  • I once worked in an office where the other women routinely critiqued my petite figure, giving me nicknames like “Minus One,” and frequently commenting on the size of my clothes. It was not in good fun. I wondered if they ever noticed that I didn’t call them anything but their given names, and if I mentioned what they were wearing, it was to give a compliment. I would never have dreamed of commenting about anyone’s clothing size.

    I think we’re so bombarded by images of perfection in the media that we’re rendered hyper-critical of ourselves and each other, from the time we are small girls. I think it’s harder to look at someone and seek the positives, when everywhere we turn is a very narrow definition of beauty. It’s up to us to recognize that – and recognize each other’s individual beauty as well.

  • A.

    i remember vividly the first time a comment was made to me about how small i am. i was in pre-school and probably no older than 4. i don’t remember much about pre-school, but this moment sticks out in my mind as the first time i realized i was being judged for my body. i was sitting at a table in my pre-school class when an older girl grabbed at my wrist and circled it with her fingers and told me i was anorexic because she could touch her thumb and finger together. i don’t know how i even knew what the word meant, but i did, and i remember being extremely upset by the girl’s statement. i have never had an eating disorder, thankfully, and certainly was not an anorexic tot.

    i’m still thin, with stick-like wrists and tiny fingers and an itty-bitty butt, 20+ years later. with the exception of my mom, who has a hypo-thyroid condition, thinness runs along both sides of my family. my maternal grandma was petite and thin until the day she passed, and my father’s side of the family is also mostly thin men and women. i don’t eat too many sweets, and i’m a vegetarian. those two dietary choices are often pinpointed as reasons for why i’m so thin, but never in a positive way. it comes out as an accusation, as if i’m defying other women by not eating meat and sugary snacks, or perhaps i’m judging their decisions to eat those things. i’m left to smile awkwardly or make the decision to tell them the real reasons why i don’t eat them (which are mostly health-related, and my health is not something i want to go around discussing with the whole world).

    i have a hard time finding work pants that fit me without needing a ton of alterations because i’ve found that i’m out-sized in many of the brands that make quality work clothes. the waists are almost always too large, and the thighs are no less than ginormous on me. my inseam is too long for petite clothes, though i’m technically short enough to wear them. i’ve all but given up on wearing pants to work, unless they’re denim. if i lament this problem to my friends, many of them won’t listen because i’m “lucky” to be so small. it frustrates me to no end that as a thin woman, i am not allowed to have body woes and issues buying clothes that i feel good in. my shopping experiences must be perfect because i have the perfect body and to think otherwise is an affront to women that are larger than me. and if i ever dare to say something like “hey, i am allowed to have hateful shopping experiences, even if they are different hateful experiences than what you have when you shop for clothes”, heaven-forbid i get taken seriously. it’s painful to feel mocked and ridiculed and all but be told right-out that you don’t have membership to the exclusive women’s body complaints club because your waist is too small. the comments that i’ve gotten from other women, women that i have considered to be friends and confidants, are some of the most vicious comments i’ve ever had thrown in my direction.

    no man or woman should feel like they are being judged because of their outward appearance. every single person that i have ever known has at least one complaint about how they are built. it isn’t always an “i feel ugly because i have big thighs” kind of complaint, either. sometimes it’s a complaint that they can’t buy cute shoes because they never come in wide sizes or that they can’t wear yellow because it makes them look jaundiced. sometimes the complaints are accepted without comments from other people because it’s widely accepted that a person can’t help it if they have wide feet or a yellowed complexion. my wish is that it would also become widely accepted that sometimes a person can’t help it if they have a big butt or no hips or thin wrists or love handles that won’t go away. i don’t want to feel guilty for being in the body that my genetics gave me, and neither should anyone else.

    • I completely understand! I almost always wear jeans myself for this very reason and have completely given up on pants for the most part. I’m not sure if you are smaller than me, but I did manage to find dress pants at Banana Republic – you can order 00 only online and that worked for me. They have different cuts for different types of shapes, which was great because I’m pencil shaped. JCrew has been a total miss on the pants front, I don’t even try anymore. I would also recommend you check out Alterations Needed, because she has many of these sizing issues as well and is petite to boot, which makes it all even harder. I’m of average height, but I’ve found some of the tips on the site to be very helpful for thin women in general. Good luck and don’t let it get you down! People are just projecting their own insecurities onto you, it’s very hard for most people to understand you are dealing with a legitimate concern and not back-door bragging.

  • Sal, popping back in to say: I think it’s only on your blog that the comments section always makes me want to reach out and hug every woman. And offer to tailor everyone’s clothes. You’re doing something really right here! =)

    • Sal

      I love it! Thanks for letting me know, Sarah. I feel the same way.

  • It is almost typical that I read this the morning after I read that whole mess about Kate Upton and that pro-skinny website. (http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-5493/Kate-Upton-Im-Not-Going-to-Starve-to-Be-Thin.html) It may be my perspective, but it seems to me like the body policing and shaming is spiralling out of control lately and it disgusts me. I’ve always been a heavy girl and I got the comments. I won’t bore you with a whole replay of my youth (it’s in the welcome post on my blog if you are interested) but it pretty much defined me and made me severely self-conscious and insecure. I got comments that were meant in a friendly way, and comments that were meant to hurt, but they both pretty much made me feel the same way. It sucks. It sucks very much that people can’t leave others alone, that there’s this general consensus that we are allowed to shame people with bodies different than what is considered ‘normal’ and ‘healthy’ into thinking they aren’t and that they should do something to change that.
    I recently took the plunge and switched my life around, started eating healthy and actively working towards losing weight and working on my health, but it was on my own terms, and not because I was pushed by anyone. It was sort of liberating to realise that I could live my life without listening to the comments of others. It’s a struggle, still, and it’s hard to not discuss this episode of my life too much with my mother since I know her reaction will be same as how it’s always been and there’s a good chance it’ll make me feel like crap again, but most of the time, I feel better for it by just thinking about how I want to feel about this, and not what others will think.

  • Debbie

    This is such a great post, and the comments are so interesting and thought provoking. I could talk at length about my feelings and experiences but enough to say that I have experienced my fair share of body policing – such as a colleague making disgruntled comments about my body size (petite in height and weight) and eating patterns (you need to eat more etc), and then in the same breath lampooning another woman (not present) for having a ‘huge backside’. Leaves ya speechless! Maybe there is something in all this about the way people feel about themselves, combined with a lack of awareness and self-reflection about those feelings, further combined with societal ‘norms’ and expectations. And a lack of love and kindness and acceptance and understanding, for self and others.

    I really want to say how great it is that you have created a space in which to air issues like this, and that you do it in such an intelligent way. I love that you are on a quest to ‘change the conversation, change minds, change thought patterns’. Totes amaze!

    • Sal

      Thank you, Debbie! I feel very lucky to be a part of this community myself.

  • Anna D.

    This is a really interesting and valuable conversation. I’ll add one thing – rationally, I know and understand that very thin women suffer from body policing; heck, everyone does; the assumption that women’s bodies are for public consumption/comment haunts ALL women. I know that. And yet as someone who’s struggled with being overweight, I can get so viscerally envious of thin women that it can be really hard to accept that it’s really painful to get called skinny. Again, I know, rationally, that it is, but my gut kind of refuses to accept it.

    Reading conversations like this, I try really hard not to comment on other people’s bodies (I like to think I would never do it to their face, because, hello, RUDE, but I also try to catch/stop myself doing it in my head). But sometimes my insecurities are such that I find it really hard to be charitable to those who, at least in my view, come much closer to the “ideal” body than I do. (But I’m working on it.)

  • April

    I have been policed for the size of my butt, for apparently looking pregnant (even though I never have been), and for my very pale skin. These comments have haunted me for years. The only effective way I’ve learned to deflect the pregnant comment is to be honest and tell the other person they’re mistaken. I’ve also told someone I had a “health condition” and that perhaps he would be better off keeping their comments to himself in the future. I just pray that my painful experience prevented someone else’s down the road.

    I am so tired of the idea that any of us are “supposed to” look like anything or anyone in particular. It’s impossible and exhausting.

  • shebolt

    I’ve always been thin and athletic, and I’ve never really gotten too many negative comments about my body. I’m not so thin that I get the “you should eat a burger” comments.

    I really get irritated when people say “you’re so lucky you’re thin.” It’s not luck. I workout like crazy and am very careful about what I eat. I could very easily gain weight if I was sedentary and ate whatever I wanted. I don’t like having all of my hard work trivialized like that. But I bite my tongue, because those kind of comments aren’t as much about me as they are about the commenter.

    I’ve also learned to stop judging others by their weight. I used to be bad about that, but then I realized that women are so hard on one another. We criticize each other for being too thin, too fat, too tall, too short, too beautiful, too ugly, and so on. When I started paying attention, I noticed it everywhere. It seems like we can’t win, because no matter what we look like we are being criticized.

  • Sara

    Sal – thank you for posting this. I pride myself on being all for equality and confident in whatever a person has/is, but body image is still a sore spot for me at times. I’ve always been on the heavy side of average (I’ve fluctuated between a size 12-16 since high school) and am now nearly 30, happily married, in a rewarding and successful career, yet I still worry about my body nearly every day. I excercise regularly, eat healthy food, and am healthy all around, just a bit curvy.

    My mom has horrible body issues, and would relate any problem I had when I was a child to my weight (just as she does, still today, for herself). I hated going shopping with her because she would tell me to lose weight while I was young and that she regretted not losing weight before she had children. It got to the point that when I was in high school and boys would ask me out, I would wonder what they wanted. I really thought they couldn’t be interested in me because I was heavy/strange looking/weird.

    I envied those women (girls at the time) who were thin and could eat and do whatever they wanted. I was sure that a thin woman had absolutely everything she ever wanted, and I just hated my body. Of course I’ve realized that isn’t true; my best friend is 5’7″ and struggles to maintain a size 1 (she cannot gain weight – she excercises regularly and eats healthy, regular sized meals) and my husband has a 31″ waist at 6’0″ – they’ve also had struggles.

    Body image is just so ingrained in our society; even on days when I feel so confident and so strong in what I look like, I still hear and see others talking about body image. It’s endlessly frustrating when I slip and let myself get down about my body.

    My point is, everyone has their own struggles and everyone has to learn to accept their struggles to figure out how to conquer them. It’s really unfortunate that something so truely trivial and meaningless in most day to day interactions causes such heartache to so many. I plan to teach my children to love and support people, including themselves.