In 1997, Leo and Kate made us all want to take a trans-Atlantic boat ride in steerage in Titanic, Ellen came out, Clinton (Bill, that is) was president, and I was a size 0. This was back in the day of the waif — when Kate Moss was it. So, you'd think that my — let's just call it slim — frame was alright. Right?
We all know that the supermodel-skinny picture of what a woman "should" look like is nothing more than a fallacy pushed on us unassuming consumers by the media and marketers. (OK, so that's a bit drastic. But, also kind of true.) With that in mind, you'd think being a size zero was nothing short of amazing. You'd think I'd have a closet full of clothes that fit perfectly (and shouldn't they if I was "model-sized"?), the jealous approval of my friends and a steady stream of men who were all over my bony body.
Um, not so much.
I know, I know — the first thought many of us have when we see an very slim woman is, "Well, she throws up everything she eats. If she eats at all." Eating disorders are serious, and if you suspect a friend has one you shouldn't ignore your feelings. My friends didn't. They staged a little mini intervention, confronting me about my skinniness. They saw me eating, so they knew I wasn't anorexic. They lived with me (i.e., they were my shadows 24-7), so they knew I wasn't bulimic. Even so, they were worried.
They weren't jealous. I never thought that they ever envied my teeny tiny-ness. That said, they came down on me in a major way for being so very thin. I know it was out of love and good intentions, but they body-shamed me into thinking that something really was wrong.
For the record, I did not have an eating disorder. I attribute my skinniness to my genes (my mother has always been naturally thin), smoking and that youthful high metabolism that eventually disappears with age (and kids).
Had I the scale in read a "high" number, it's doubtful that they would have been so blunt. Instead of accepting myself as-is, I avoided mirrors, dressed in clothes that were two or more sizes too big and downed chocolate thumbprint cookies by the dozen (I was on a first name basis with the local bakery staff). I felt like a freak, not a model-thin waif. I can say with 100 percent certainty that I hated my body. So, I hid under overalls and chunky sweaters. I spent my summers staying far away from the pool and quietly stepped aside when anyone brought a camera out.
Fast-forward a couple decades. Leo and Kate are still making us swoon (but in a completely nostalgic way as we watch and re-watch them on our smartphones), Ellen's being out is so not an issue, a completely different Clinton may be headed to the White House and I'm a size 12.
So, what happened?
I suppose it was a combination of having a child, quitting smoking and getting older (and I didn't believe my ninth-grade bio teacher when she told us girls that someday we'd be old and get fat — apparently in the pre-Facebook days you could actually say things like that to kids and not ignite a viral firestorm). In any case, my friends no longer give me those, "We're soooooo worried" looks, and I don't hate my body.
Does that seem strange? Aren't we supposedly programmed to daydream about being model-thin? Doesn't body-shaming mean that we made curvy girls feel uncomfortable in their size 12s?
Not necessarily. While pointing out, mocking or snarking at someone's not-so-skinny body is completely cringe-worthy to most of us, doing the same in the face (or behind the back) of a skinny girl is surprisingly socially acceptable.
Saying, "Holy shit, you got fat" to someone's face just isn't done. But, saying, "Holy shit, you're so skinny now. Do you have a medical problem or do you just not eat?" isn't a statement that many people consider hurtful. But, the thing is, that it's incredibly hurtful. Body-shaming your friend, your sister, your mother, your daughter or yourself for being thin (and I'm not talking about confronting someone who has a genuine eating disorder) might not seem like a big deal. After all, doesn't the saying go, "You can't be too rich or too thin?" But, when it was done to me, it crushed my self-esteem and made me feel like my body was a bony prison.
Now that I'm a bit over my goal weight, I don't mind what I see in the mirror (actually, I kind of like it). I'm not going to leave the house in spandex or anything like that, but I now gladly wear clothes that fit me, feel completely comfortable at the pool, and have no shame about who I am or what I look like.