I’ve always been slim, and from about the age of 12, tall. I know this because I look in the mirror. But if I’d never gazed at my naked body in the bathroom or scrutinized tagged photos of myself on social media, I’d have no trouble figuring out what I look like, because I'm reminded by someone at least once a week. Thanks everyone, for a second there I almost forgot I'm tall and skinny!
I'm well aware that my body is deemed -- by Western society at least -- as some sort of ideal, and to that end I'm most likely not being shamed when someone comments on my appearance. And to be perfectly honest, there have been times when I’ve felt pretty pleased with my genetic makeup. Whether we like it or not, the "skinny is better" mantra that’s constantly drilled into our heads did get to me. So sometimes I think, "Good. At least I did something right by being born with long, skinny legs."
But I don’t think that all the time. I'm quite certain there are occasions when people don’t mean to compliment me when they comment on my weight. Sometimes I think they’re legitimately concerned about my health, but in other instances I'm pretty sure they’re just kind of jealous of how I look, and want to make me feel bad about something I have little control over. Usually I just cop it politely and change the subject, but one thing that is happening more regularly and really starting to frustrate me, is how often someone takes a look at my body or my plate and tells me I should eat more.
"You don’t really eat much, do you?" people ask me. "You can do better than that," they say when I’ve left a meal half eaten. I’ve had people openly stare at me while I'm eating (both healthy and unhealthy food), and ask me about my daily dietary habits. I’ve had men tell me I’d need to eat more if I wanted to be their girlfriend, and on numerous occasions I’ve had friends or family try to coax eating disorder confessions out of me.
I don’t, and have never, had an eating disorder. Beside that one time I tried the Atkins Diet for two-and-a-half days when I was a teenager because I read Jennifer Aniston was doing it and I was obsessed with "Friends," I’ve never even been on a diet. The point is, I don’t struggle with disordered eating. In fact, I think I'm onto a pretty winning formula when it comes to consuming food -– I eat when I'm hungry and stop when I'm full. I tune into my stomach and don’t deny it what it craves, be that steamed vegetables and steak or a packet of Tim Tams.
Sometimes I’ll eat half a meal, stick it in the fridge and come back to it an hour later. Other times I won’t eat until 2 o’clock in the afternoon because I haven’t felt hungry before that. I'm not saying the way I eat is necessarily healthy, just that it works for me, and that one meal someone sees me eating is just a small part of a bigger picture.
But all of this is irrelevant. The issue here is not how much or little I eat, but why anyone thinks it’s appropriate to comment on my food intake at all. Telling a skinny person to eat more is the same as telling a fat one to eat less. Both statements are incredibly insulting and inappropriate, and as far as I'm concerned, if it’s not going into your mouth, it’s none of your business.
I'm lucky that I don’t have a problem, or illness, when it comes to food, and when confronted with probing questions or concerned looks, I just get bored or annoyed. But it worries me to imagine what you'd be stirring up if I did have an eating disorder or was really ashamed about the way I look; what sort of rabbit holes I’d fall down if people’s critiques of my eating habits really got to me psychologically. Surely this happens to people who are actually dealing with food issues, so why would anyone risk triggering a vulnerable person?
I'm sick of defending my appetite, or lack thereof, to people who are concerned, curious, disgusted or jealous. I'm over being polite when someone gets offended that I’ve dared leave food on my plate, and I'm starting to resent people who make me convince them that, yes, I am looking after myself, and just because my collarbones are prominent doesn’t mean my (imaginary) food hang-ups are.
I feel like people are trying to claim ownership over me when they make a statement about how I should be treating my own body. As an adult and an individual, I know what I’m doing and I’m perfectly fine without your help, thankyouverymuch. I can’t ever imagine discussing someone’s eating habits or body in front of them without being first asked, let alone suggesting to them they should alter what they’re doing or who they are.
The envy upsets me too. It’s not my fault I look like this. I can’t help the length of my legs or the size of my waist. I eat when and what I want to, and I know that I'm lucky to be able to do that. I also know that my weight and body type is subject to change as I get older, and maybe I’ll feel weird about that… who knows? In the meantime, rest assured I'm concentrating on what’s on my plate and not on yours. I’d love it if you could do the same.