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My body is bigger than my sister’s body. Sometimes much bigger, sometimes not much bigger, but always bigger. That’s the situation, not the problem.
The problem is women’s unending need to point out to me that my sister is smaller than I am. We’re both in our 40s now and this has been happening since we were in middle school. Friends, family members, acquaintances, passers-by, shop clerks, enemies.
The conversation goes like this.
Them: “Wow, that’s your sister? You sure don’t look like each other.”
Me: “We do, actually. Same face shape, nose, mouth, height.”
Ah, but it’s not height that interests them.
Them: “She really got the skinny genes, though! Wow! Lucky her!”
In the early years, the weight difference between the two of us was only about 20 or 25 pounds, making her significantly underweight and me healthy-thin. And it was more difficult to see the size difference between us because she tended to wear oversized castoffs, like my father’s sweaters from college. (It’s not that difficult to look better than someone who wears men’s clothing from the 1950s.)
Oh, but our mother knew the score, always encouraging her to eat and me not to. When we were kids, she always insisted my sister get a milkshake with her Happy Meal on our once-or-twice-yearly trips to McDonalds. Needless to say, she did not offer to get me a milkshake or a sundae.
This didn’t bother me as much as you might think, though the pain did build up over the years. Pretty recently, I asked my mother to stop beseeching my sister to eat when I was present. She complied -– I should have brought it up much sooner.
What did bother me were the body-size comparisons delivered by bystanders, which were frequent even then. Now, I have several more pounds (like 30) on top of my lowest weight and my sister has gotten thinner. The assessments have not stopped coming, even though I am better at shutting them down.
Them: “That’s your sister?”
Me: “Yes, she’s thinner, isn’t she? What movie would you like to see?”
It does surprise me when the commenter is a close friend of mine. One might expect a true friend to have a modicum more tact. Generally not, I have found. It happens just as frequently with long-time friends seeing my sister in a picture or in person for the first time.
Them: “Your sister--“
Me: “Yes, I know.”
Do they really think I don’t know?
I posted a cropped version the above picture on Facebook as a goof because my sister and I have never accidentally worn the same outfit before. My crop job (legs cut off) did not head off the comments. What ensued, as I knew it would, was a series of remarks (from women, always women) about how “different” we look -- code for, “How skinny is she?”
After so long I have learned not to take this personally –- the comments seem more primitive than anything: “This one is bigger than that one!” But they still bother me. I console myself by saying that if she weighed 200 pounds, I would be the skinny sister without losing a single pound. That seems to be how this works. The comparison is more important than the substance.
The worst case scenario for me is that the visual disparity between my sister and me plunges the observer into a recitation of her own weight struggles and how unfair it all is when someone who eats normally is officially, incontrovertibly tiny. In this pattern, she will try to bring me in as a co-conspirator who understands her pain because, after all, look at me! I’m much bigger than my sister! How terrible to be me!
I hate listening to this. I fume at their implied assumptions. I try on occasion to say I wouldn’t want to switch places with her, body-wise, which is true. But of course there is not a woman or child in America who believes this. Don’t we all know in our hearts -– even if we disagree in our minds -– that size 00 is the ideal of womanhood? That to be thin is to be virtuous? We fight against this ideal, we disagree with it, we develop eating disorders over it, but internally we know that barring the need for hospitalization there is no such thing as too thin.
We know this because other women tell us so, constantly, from girlhood to the grave, enforcing what is unnatural for most women and not necessarily even attractive.
Men tend to be our friends in this feminine arms race –- in my experience, they are almost always more forgiving and appreciative of variation in the female form than we are.
My sister, too, is my friend in this. She has never seemed particularly interested in the fact that she is thinner. She doesn’t seem to buy into the notion that smaller is better. We don't talk about it. I’m happy with that. One of the most irritating things about the comparisons is the nearly universal assumption that I think she is better than me, that we have a competition at all. We don’t. She didn’t even know this was an issue for me until she read this piece.
Here, let me say for everyone, for always: Yes, I know I’m bigger than she is. You don’t need to tell me. Do me a favor and don’t do it to anyone else’s sister, either. My sister doesn’t need to eat a sandwich, and my self-image doesn’t need to be propped up. Our differently sized bodies are fine just the way they are.