“Too thin” Melissa Milne—author of The Naughty Diet—helps her followers cure their body issues, one hater at a time. (Photo: Burnett Milne)
You and I haven’t met, but if we are ever introduced one day, here are some of the conclusions about me that you’ll jump to before our handshake even ends:
I’m a control freak.
I hate myself.
I’m not very bright.
I suffer from an eating disorder.
Oh, and…you’d better ease up on the handshake, or you might break me!
You’ll embrace one or more of these assumptions because the very first thing you’ll notice about me—before my green eyes, my South African accent, my smile, or my hopefully gracious greeting—is my body shape.
See, I’m skinny. Too skinny, apparently.
Before you roll your eyes and tell me how lucky I am to have this “problem,” heh-heh, hear me out: I’m one of an increasingly wide array of women who are judged for being too lean — from Taylor Swift to Kendall Jenner, Angelina Jolie and Bethenny Frankel, who recently made headlines for posting an Instagram of herself wearing her 4 year old daughter’s PJs—she’s been fighting off accusations of anorexia ever since. And earlier this year, Giuliana Rancic was slim-shamed online for supposedly using a surrogate because she didn’t want to gain pregnancy weight. The truth: She was grappling with breast cancer and taking medication that prevented her from carrying a child.
From left: Taylor, Kendall, Giuliana — just a few of the celebs who have been derided for their weight. (Photos: Getty Images)
Taking shots at a woman for being “too skinny” is the last safe bastion for haters. People who struggle with obesity still battle stereotyping, but it’s no longer socially acceptable to make harsh, judgmental comments about a person’s heft. We’ve outgrown the idea that a woman’s being “too heavy” is entirely her fault—or even that a few extra pounds isn’t something that many men, and women, can admire.
But being too thin? Oh, that’s definitely my fault. And there’s not a whisper of social disapproval about mentioning it, either to my face, or behind my back. Not only is it socially acceptable to say hurtful things; most people who do don’t even register that their comments might have a negative impact. (“Look at you! You’re so skinny!”) Body image expert Heather Quinlan, C.S.W., explains that “shamers may think nothing of their hurtful comments — maybe because society sometimes teaches that you can never be too rich or too thin.” How could anyone feel badly about calling me “too thin”? But it’s an insult in the form of a compliment, what Quinlan calls “an underlying resentment toward people who appear to be effortlessly thin.” That’s me; The Skinny Bitch.
Making negative assumptions based on a person’s weight is never healthy. Overweight or thin, it sends the same damaging message: Your body does not conform. And body image is a sensitive subject for nearly every woman who does not look like Adriana Lima naked. According to DoSomething.org, approximately 91 percent of women are unhappy with their bodies. Being thin doesn’t make me any different.
Growing up, and even into my late teens, I never thought about being too slender. But as I’ve progressed through my 20s, my self-consciousness has grown. The fact is, putting on weight—healthy weight, that is—just isn’t easy. Like my mother, sister, grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-great grandmother, I am genetically slim. Like green eyes and high cholesterol, slim runs in my family.
And naturally thin women suffer the same food guilt, ugly days, fat days or “I hate my thighs” moments. I’m as insecure about my stick-thin arms as the next woman is about her thick arms. When we shame any female body, we shame the collective female body. Body positivity only flourishes in the absence of body-shaming—no matter what form. Suggesting the salad to the heavy-set girl hurts her, no matter how well-intentioned the remark; bombarding me with snide asides, back-handed compliments, unsolicited concern and advice, the skinny sarcasm, bad jokes, negative body speculations, unfair accusations, unwelcomed weight policing and annoying food-pushing has the same effect.
Recently, I posted a photo to Facebook that elicited a great example of how clueless most of us are to these feelings. First, a male friend commented with what he thought was a compliment:
“You put on a little weight! looks lovely ” Ouch!
A female friend of a friend quickly chimed in:
“Hey, whoever said you’ve put on weight is crazy — you’re a rail!” Ouch again!
Two comments, both intended to be compliments, both landing their arrows right at the heart of my body issues.
If I seem overly sensitive, that’s because I am!
See, I don’t really worry about my weight until someone else decides to. That’s when I feel obliged to explain that: Yes, I eat. No, I don’t live in the gym. Yes, I am healthy. No, I’m not a health freak! Yes, I do love food. No, I don’t take drugs. Yes, I am small but it’s a matter of genetics and metabolism. No, I do not throw up. Yes, I had breakfast! No, I don’t eat just salads. Yes, I am happy. Yes, really happy. No, I’m not overdoing it. Yes, I have always been this size. No, No, No… Yes, yes, yes!
These days, I’m really most ashamed for feeling ashamed. I’ve wasted too many good years feeling slim-shamed — of letting my body image be negatively impacted by others’ negativity. I’ve donned shoulder-pads and horizontal stripes. Given up running, forced down muscle-bulking protein shakes (revolting) and even lied about my weight — adding at least five pounds, if you’re rude enough to ask.
Related: It Took Me 59 Years To Love My Body
So what motivates slim-shaming? Is it ignorance, envy, thoughtlessness, malice, real concern, tough love, or bitter resentment? Perhaps it’s a benign misunderstanding of body type: naturally thin? Regardless of the reasons and influences at play, I now know that this sometimes “too thin” — for some —body of mine is who I am.
An “Anaconda” ass ain’t my DNA. No matter your size, reaching total body acceptance requires all that “self love work.”
And body-shaming sure sets a woman back.
IF YOU BEAT YOURSELF UP ABOUT YOUR BODY, click here to read my exclusive excerpt How to Stop Your Body Shame for Good from The Naughty Diet.
Melissa Milne is author of The Naughty Diet (2016, Perseus Books), an anti-diet eating movement designed to improve our relationship with food by balancing the nutrition we need with the naughty foods we want, and the pleasure we crave. JOIN HER NAUGHTY DIET MOVEMENT NOW on Facebook and Twitter!