Confessions of a Skinny Girl: How I Learned to Stop Giving a Shit About My Weight

4 03 2009

The average U.S. woman is a size 14 and weighs 162.9 pounds.  But yet finding fashionable clothing for the “average” woman is nearly impossible in an American culture that is unabashedly catered to skinny women.  The average U.S. woman most likely is forced to shop in one of the few plus-size stores offered, and the selection of fashionable items in these stores is often limited.  “It often seems that it’s easier to find and buy stylish clothes for Chihuahuas than for roughly half the country’s female population,” writes Emili Vesilind in Sunday’s LA Times article entitled “Fashion’s Invisible Woman.” 

The fashion industry, with its targeted advertising, implies that only skinny girls have the right to enjoy fashion.  Karl Lagerfield, designer for Chanel, was enraged when his line for H&M was manufactured in larger sizes as well.  “The body has to be impeccable…if it’s not, buy small sizes and less food,” said Lagerfield in an interview for Harper’s Bazaar.

Comments such as Lagerfield’s make normal-sized women feel like outliers in a population in which “plus-size” is actually the norm.  His comments also perpetuate the misconception that women who are not a size two are necessarily unhealthy and that eating less is a sure-fire way of becoming skinnier.  

What’s strange is that even as a person who is probably about the weight and dimensions of most fashion models, I too have struggled with body-image and self-esteem.  The media portrays my body-type as the cultural ideal, even though for most people it is virtually unattainable.  It is ridiculous for me of all people to feel so horrible about my weight.  I can fit into lots of great clothes, and I am never at a loss to find my size 00 pants on sale, since virtually no other human being can fit into them.  But I have continuously been criticized by my peers and family because of my appearance.    After years of being told that I “look anorexic,” that I am “too thin” or  too “flat-chested,” or that I look like a “skeleton” or “dead person,” I have finally learned to love my imperfect flat-chested skeleton of a body.

I decided to become a vegetarian around the time I started loving my body.  I had always wanted to be a vegetarian for animal rights reasons, but had never actually pursued vegetarianism for fear that this choice would just cause people to further label me as “unhealthy.”  Both before and after I became a vegetarian, I maintained and continue to maintain healthy eating habits and usually eat at least three meals a day plus snacks.  Yet I have never been able to pull myself out of the “anorexic” category of the Body Mass Index.

What is with the BMI anyway?  I cannot understand why a perfectly healthy girl can be categorized as “underweight/anorexic” or “overweight” based on a simple calculation with no knowledge of eating habits.  Eating disorders are of course a huge problem among women and men, but BMI calculations seem to falsely lump many perfectly healthy people into an improperly labeled “anorexia” category.  This misconception spreads false stereotypes about eating disorders and completely overlooks a good portion of people with disorders who have perfectly normal BMIs.  Also, using “anorexic” as an insult against skinny girls mocks the seriousness and severity of the very real disorder.

Another trend I have been noticing in some magazines is a sort of anti-skinny backlash.  While still presenting the same extremely skinny models in ads and fashion spreads, a lot of articles in popular magazines and in blogs discuss how men aren’t actually attracted to skinny women, or how being skinny is “gross,” etc.  I remember being extremely offended when an article in a popular fashion magazine claimed that “Mischa Barton-esque” women simply aren’t attractive to men.  But attractiveness is entirely subjective, isn’t it?  How can one article presume to know what all men are attracted to?  It shows a very low opinion of men to assume that men are only attracted to women based on their bodily appearance.  Articles and comments that denigrate skinny women do not foster body-positive feelings among women, and only further establish unattainable standards of female body perfection. 

If you browse the tabloids or the internet, there is quite a bit of discussion around which celebrities are “too skinny” or “too fat.”  You can even find reverse diet tips for skinny girls online and in books.  Promoting healthy eating habits is a good thing, but the emphasis on weight in the media is ridiculously out of hand.  In an environment that pressures women to obtain a body-type that is then bashed as “too-skinny” once attained, I wonder whether there are many women at all who are satisfied with their weight.

In Spain, in 2006, it was decided that models who were “too thin” would be banned from runways at fashion week.  All models over 5’7″ who weighed less than 121.25 pounds were excluded from the runway.  While the decision may have promoted “healthier-looking” models on the runway, I believe the ban sends the wrong message.  Healthy people come in all shapes and sizes.  Diversity is necessary on the runway, but ALL women should feel beautiful.  Eve Ensler, creator of The Vagina Monologues, replied to the ban by stating that while the fashion industry’s obsession with skinny is wrong, the decision in Spain exhibits the same kind of wrong-headed thinking in reverse.  Excluding anyone from modeling assumes that there is a “correct” body type to which women need to somehow measure up.

The fashion industry throws unattainable and unrealistic ideals of beauty and weight at women daily.  However, I do not believe that the way to combat the unrealistic thinness of models is to imply that all skinny women (or all “overweight” women) are necessarily unhealthy.  Remember, women who make it in the modeling world are usually thin, but this thinness may not necessarily result from their involvement in the fashion industry.  For many women, their involvement and success in the modeling world may be partially a product of their fast metabolisms and natural healthy thinness.

A healthier fashion industry would be more inclusive of ALL women, regardless of size, body proportions, or subjective physical “beauty.”  If women feel less pressure from the media to live up to standards of physical attractiveness, eating disorders might become less prevalent, and women may finally begin to love both their bodies and themselves.



One response

20 04 2009

Definately a lot of thought-food here.

I have one base rule for finding a woman’s body attractive- “is she healthy”. That’s it. If she appears to be physically healthy, I’ll probably find her physically attractive.
I’ve always had something really wierd, though- if I dislike a person’s personality, if I find them irritating, or stuck up, or whatever- I can’t find them attractive. I was recently watching “Love Actually” at a friends’ house, and one of the actresses was uncannily like someone I used to know and didn’t get on with, not just in looks but in how she sounded and acted. And I couldn’t find her attractive, because I just looked at her and saw the woman I used to know and disliked. (And it really was a creepy-close resemblence, except the actress looked five to ten years older. Otherwise I’d’ve been looking the actress up, all boggle-eyed in disbelief.)

But anyway, back onto the weight thing. First off, weight is, it’s… Well, it’s a terrible way to decide whether someone’s healthy. I weight approximately 160lbs. I’m a trans, and as a woman I barely weighed less- roughly 150lb. I’m five-nine, and I had an hour-glass figure (which is ironic, really) that was definately not overweight, and was rather appealing. As I said. Ironic.
Anyway, it was a large amount of muscle- not body-builder sized muscle, but I had enough muscle to jack up my weight a fair amount. But you couldn’t tell- I looked like I weighed a lot less.

If you take a bodybuilder and work out their BMI, they’ll be overweight, probably obese. These strong, fit people with barely an ounce of fat are apparently overweight or obese.
Slight flaw there, methinks.

What I would like to see in the media is healthy women. Women who live healthy lives, who eat a decent amount of good foods, who may be a little underweight or overweight according to the BMI but are HEALTHY. That should be the ideal all people strive for, and none other. Health.
…And let’s face it, most beauty products are to make a woman more healthy, or to highlight parts of her that show health or vitality. So we can chuck all those out as well, and focus on actual health, not just pretending.

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