PRAISE AND DISGUST: The Problem With Being Labeled “Scary Skinny”

UGH, I’m getting all serious again. Sorry, but stomach flu just isn’t conducive to beauty writing. This will be brief!

Dec 31, 2012 at 11:00am | Leave a comment

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my body. What it looks like, how I feel in it, and how other people respond to it or “read” it.

This won’t be another sap story about skinny lady adversity, because I’ll be the first to admit, I face little daily repercussions for the way I look in comparison to fat women. I don’t have trouble finding my size at a clothing store, nor do I get glared at when I order a large meal at a restaurant. My type of body is not constantly ridiculed by the media. 

Still, there is something to be said for the blatant universal truth that comes with all facets of womanhood these days: Our bodies are constantly on display and open for discussion. 

Yesterday, I paid a visit to my doctor so that he could check up on an icky bout of stomach flu I’ve had this week. I went in there, pale as a sheet, bent over with pain, and the first thing he commented about was my body. 

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“You’ve never been anorexic, have you?” he casually asked as he checked my temperature.

“You’re not bulimic?” He added in disbelief, fingering the glands along my neck.

“Excuse me? I think I just have the stomach flu,” I said, blood rushing to my cheeks. Now don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t embarrassed by the notion of having an eating disorder; I was angry that he decided to glance at my body for two seconds and determine that something was undoubtedly wrong with it.

Moreover, he made it seem as if eating disorders come and go, and he decided that I must have one currently because of my small frame. 

I’ve had close friends and family members who have struggled with body dysmorphia, anorexia and bulimia, and I can attest that these disorders or not fleeting, casual or unimportant. They are internalized, ongoing struggles that come with hefty amounts of pain, anxiety, depression and a slew of other emotional, physical, and mental hurdles.

Yet, there he stood, scoffing and eye-rolling when I replied an angry, “No. I’ve always been this size.” 

And this wasn’t the first time this has happened either. Parents, teachers, and just about anyone has felt as if they can comment on my body size. It has ranged from, “You are clearly ill,” to the chilling, “I’m so jealous,” and all I feel is confused and somewhat violated. I’m very small, yes, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t normal for me or that I’m not perfectly healthy.

In fact, when that same doctor took a blood test a few months back, he was surprised to report that I wasn’t even anemic. I sat there smugly as he read my results. 

After a while, this type of obsession with the female body and what is “healthy” or “unhealthy” becomes emotionally draining -- and I still feel as if something is wrong with me.

It kind of reminds me of those warped tabloid beach-bod stories where they categorize the “too fat” girls and the “scary skinny” girls, circling bony hips and cellulite in equal amounts of bright red ink. Either way we look, we are doing something wrong and people are allowed to judge, dissect and lament over the sad state of our bodies. And all this concern comes waltzing in after a five-page, waif-filled fashion spread. 

Society sets up these ridiculous standards and then equally blames those who fail to meet them on either end of the spectrum. My doctor looked at my weight, looked at his handy size chart, and mentally slapped a label on my medical history. 

What makes me more upset and sad, though, is when friends start the “jealous” comments, right after I’ve been told how sick I must be. 

“You are SO SKINNY, you must not eat anything!”

You are SO lucky!”

“I wish...”

We end up pitting our bodies against each other, sculpting and editing and airbrushing the second we even look at one another. And without knowing it, we gradually lose ownership over our own bodies.

Even in a medical office, where we are told exactly the “right” way to look, we have lost the ability to claim our bodies our own. Somehow it is up to everyone else to professionally assess what I look like. 

I am not the right size for everyone. I am the right size for me. I do not face half the internal struggles that women with eating disorders face. I do not face the same amount of stigma and societal shame that fat women face. I do face a weird, complex sort of objectification, one that straddles praise and disgust. And I feel confused and angry. Sometimes, I just want to hide. 

Maybe I’ll just listen to a lot of Hole instead. 

Have any of you ever felt like this? Do you get accused of having eating disorders? Do you think it’s valuable to talk about this specific type of body shaming? I genuinely want some clarity about what I am feeling, and I know you guys are just the people to help me.