Last week I wrote a post in my running blog about how other runners judge each other and what constitutes a “real” runner. In reference to my post, a friend told me about a comment one of her friends made when they were wearing their bathing suits. This “friend” felt it was okay to make a comment about her being both “skinny” and having “so much” cellulite on her thighs. My friend is a tall, gorgeous mother of three who is faster than a lot of the men I run with. She just laughed and said nobody’s perfect.
This made me wonder: why do some people think it’s okay to make comments about a woman’s weight if the woman is thin?
I’m one of those women who have never had to worry much about their weight. I run, still seem to have a fairly high metabolism, and can generally eat what I want within reason. I’ve never been anorexic or bulimic, and until I had my first child it was always a struggle to put on weight. When women ask how I stay so slim, I tell them I run a lot, that I’ve always been on the thin side, and that it must be genetic. They almost always make a comment about how lucky I am.
There is a flip side to all of this, however.
When I was little girl I was an extremely picky eater. I turned my nose up at all sorts of “yucky” foods. I loved meat, but hated hamburgers. I didn’t even like chocolate milk or chocolate ice cream (still don’t). I was allergic to milk when I was born (breastfeeding was actually frowned upon), and was fed goat’s milk instead. Maybe that’s where it all started.
I can’t remember a time when other kids didn’t make fun of me, especially in elementary school. Toothpick, Skinny, String Bean, and Olive Oyl were the most frequent names I heard, and Turnip was said a lot because of my last name. Adults didn’t make fun of me, but they made comments nevertheless. My grandmother made it her mission to fatten me up with chicken and dumplings and half and half. I don’t remember being necessarily bothered by the name calling, unless someone was being purposely mean. I guess I got used to it after awhile. I remember calling one of my friends Tomato Potato all through grade school, and he hated it, so I was just as bad as the others.
I spent most of my time outside, riding my bike, roller skating, hitting a tennis ball against the house, playing badminton with my sister, and running around the backyard setting up pretend Olympic competitions. Whatever calories I took in were quickly consumed by physical activity.
I had a hard time finding pants that fit, even in slim sizes at Sears, and my mom always had to bunch up the material at the waist and sew it together. Sometimes I just used a big safety pin on the sides. My junior high school drill team outfit had to be sent back twice because the person doing the alterations didn’t believe my measurements were correct. Even my top hat had to be made smaller.
In high school I was painfully aware that I was a late bloomer, but I had a circle of friends who were kind of geeky and accepting of my thinness. I was jealous of the other girls and their womanly curves. It wasn’t until I had my first child that I finally filled out a little and acquired some of those curves, especially hips. A chocolate chip cookie binge one Christmas vacation at 30 was my first realization that I couldn’t eat cookie after cookie without consequences.
Even though I’m not short, I’m small boned, and a few extra pounds on a small frame really show. There have been times I’ve changed my diet to eat healthier, but I’ve never had to diet for longer than a few days to lose a couple of unwanted pounds. The older I get, the more I do have to watch what I eat, however, and I have a wicked sweet tooth. I live for carbs.
When I started running six years ago I did lose a little weight at first, but mostly I toned up. I ate more to accommodate for the lost calories, but I also ate healthier. When a teacher colleague saw me for the first time in a year after I began running, she told me I was “too thin” and that I looked “unhealthy.” In my opinion she was overweight, but I didn’t tell her that. I told her I was running a lot, ate like a horse, and was healthy.
I was amazed that she didn’t think twice about sharing what she thought, but also knew she would never tell someone they were too heavy, no matter how “unhealthy” they looked to her. Her lack of tact didn’t really bother me, but it did make me wonder why she thought it was acceptable to be so blunt with someone about their weight.
It’s almost as if it’s okay to call someone skinny and make comments about it because, well, they’re skinny and that’s what’s accepted–even envied–in our society.
My daughter was once brought to tears by a high school teacher who asked if she was anorexic–right in the middle of a lesson. She’s shorter and smaller than me, and has always had a hearty appetite. He felt horrible when he made her cry, but why did his concern outweigh the embarrassment it caused?
I love watching The Biggest Loser, despite all the drama. I love the moment when the light bulb comes on in each of the contestants’ heads and they break through the wall that’s been holding them back, the moment when they give up all their excuses, let go of all the pain and hurt and things from the past that are holding them back, and allow themselves to be healthier, stronger, and happier. When you do something you’ve never thought possible, then the true person you are is able to emerge. Seeing that transformation in others is always inspiring to me.
Even though I’ve never had to lose a lot of weight to experience that moment, I think I know what it feels like through running. After I ran my first half marathon, which is something I never thought I could do, I was euphoric for days afterwards. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done up to that point, and for the first time in my life I knew that anything was possible. I knew that I had the strength to do anything I set my mind to.
I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to eat very little, exercise regularly, and still not lose weight. I have friends who eat like little birds, and they struggle week after week to lose weight. Some have struggled with weight loss their entire lives. Some have been made fun of and treated disrespectfully in ways I’ve never had to deal with.
Whatever package we come in, the journey remains the same for all of us. It’s easy to say be happy in your own skin, but not so easy to pull off, especially when others can be quick to point out things you already know about the way you look.
Let’s all start looking a little deeper.