The Flip Side of What We Weigh

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.

First day of school

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.

Junior High

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.

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19 comments

  1. Genevieve

    I think it makes insecure people feel better about themselves to say things like that. This is my body and it’s the only one I have. Sometimes it’s leaner, sometimes it’s pudgy, but I’m happy with it and everyone else can think what they want.

  2. WordsFallFromMyEyes

    I agree, we absolutely come in different packages but our journeys are what’s worth commenting on, not our bodies.

    I don’t think you look exceptionally skinny. I think you look just fine, and I am very very glad you feel just fine how you are.

    🙂

    • Mind Margins

      I’m definitely not skinny like I used to be. But even if I was, it wouldn’t change anything about the way I live my life. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. theaccidentalathlete

    I love this–I think it’s a great reminder that we all struggle with our bodies and that we should cut each other some slack and at least have enough respect to not say things that will offend!

    • Mind Margins

      Thanks! Sometimes I think we forget that we don’t always need to be quite so bluntly honest, especially when it’s something as personal as the way a person looks.

  4. skippingstones

    I do find myself (I say that as though I have no control over my mouth) commenting on someone’s weight if I know they are dieting. I would never tell someone they look sickly, but I do say things like, “where are you going to take it from,” etc. if they seem to be taking it too far. I just worry about that, especially with the magazines and models and skinny actresses leading the way to unhealthy low weight. But, I shouldn’t do that; I don’t want to be rude. I guess it would be better if I just said, “I think you look great!”

    • Mind Margins

      Well, only if you really mean it. Dieting taken to the extreme is another issue, and can certainly be cause for concern. I do think there’s such a thing as being too thin, and don’t like the way it’s glorified in our society, right along with youth and beauty. When I lived in Europe people used to tell me how they hated reading American magazines because all the models were too perfect. I had never thought about it before, but I do think we seem to have a very narrow definition of beauty in the U.S.

      • skippingstones

        I do mean it, because I hate to see them go too far. But it’s still rude of me. I can still say, “You look just great right now.” That’s not intrusive or judgmental or rude…it’s just a nice reinforcement of the weight loss success.

  5. thesinglecell

    I think people don’t realize it’s impolite or downright rude to comment on thin figures because thin is “in.” it’s considered a compliment even in a backhanded way. I think others comment on thin figures because they’re jealous, and particularly comment on thin figures with cellulite because they’re making themselves feel better. A lot of people don’t realize that cellulite is less about fat and more about skin’s elasticity and the way in which the bands of natural fats run (horizontal in women, vertical in men – which is why women have more obvious cellulite). I have a ton of cellulite on my backside and the backs of my legs… and I have since I was in my early or mid-20s. Yet I’m 5’7″ and weigh about 130lbs. (A good 7 lbs of it is on my backside and I think it’s the actual weight – not in pounds, but in gravity – that has caused some of that dimpling. Trunk junk.) I’ll admit, I feel better when I see another thin, or young, woman with cellulite. But I don’t tell her that. 🙂

    • Mind Margins

      I’ve had cellulite on my thighs and backside since I was in my early 20’s as well, when I was at my lowest weight as an adult. Most women I know have it. I made a comment once to a man that I hated my thighs and he was surprised. I told him most women I know hate their thighs and he couldn’t believe it. I think we’re so hard on ourselves sometimes.

  6. yearstricken

    This is a great discussion. The media has contributed to the critical way we view our bodies and the bodies of other women. We need to focus on health and well-being, but it’s hard to enjoy the bodies we live in when everywhere we look are air-brushed pictures of surgically altered women because even the very beautiful are not beautiful enough.

    • Mind Margins

      I agree. It’s also sad that we place so much of an emphasis on outer beauty that we will go under the knife to make our faces look “younger.” Most times, we wind up looking nothing more than odd. And it is sad when “even the very beautiful are not beautiful enough.”

  7. jogoflap

    This was amazing to read. I have a very similar story, from the male perspective. I was always the skinny one. I took a lot of crap for it. I wanted to put on weight so badly, and tried everything. I lifted weights a lot, and got pretty strong, but I could never bulk up.

    When I was 50 or so (I am 53 now), we were at the beach and I mentioned to my wife that women were often staring at me. I believed it was because I am so oddly thin. I have always stood out and been self-conscious over it. My wife said no, they are staring at you because you look so good.

    That may or may not be true, but ever since then I have chosen to believe it. I strut proudly down the beach. At the same time, the advantages of being light have become very evident, as many men my age hobble along on sore knees and worry about heart attacks. I can run easily and often. It is great!

    So finally after half a century I am happy with my body. It is kind of a shame it took so long, but at least I am here.

    • Mind Margins

      Interesting to hear your story from the male side. My son is like you, tall and very thin. He’s in his late 20’s and has always taken a lot of flak from everyone about being so thin. A few years ago he tried lifting weights and drinking a lot of protein supplements, but he only bulked up a little in his arms and got bored with the weights. I always tell him he will be the lucky one in middle age when all his friends struggle with their weight and health issues. He took up running a few years ago as well, and was super fast because of his light frame, but he lost interest. I think he’ll pick it up again when he gets older.

      I didn’t really make peace with my body either until my mid 40’s, especially when I started running and realized my smaller build gave me an advantage. Now that I’m 51, it’s a great feeling to realize most of the people I run with are in their 30’s and early 40’s.

      Strut on down that beach! You earned all that admiration!

      • jogoflap

        Thanks! And your son probably will pick up running again later. Dabbling in things when you are young is great – you can go back to them when you need them. I never felt like I needed running, but I do now.

      • Mind Margins

        Same here, I feel stiff and sluggish when I don’t run or do yoga for a few days. I wish I had run when I was younger, but I can honestly say I’m in better shape now than I ever was in my 20’s or 30’s.

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