Absolving “Skinny Guilt”

Internet, my name is Laura, and I suffer from skinny guilt.

I am just one of those people who was born with an insane metabolism.  I’ve been skinny for my entire life, and I’ve never had to go to the gym to keep it that way.  I have never weighed more than 125 pounds.   I have watched my friends struggle with their weight and feeling good about themselves and finding clothes that fit and look good, and I’ve tried guiltily to be supportive, knowing – or more accurately, interpreting from TV and magazines – that I was born with the publicly-preferred body type, and I didn’t have to do a thing to keep in that way.

Because I am skinny and others are not, and because society says everyone should be skinny, and because I get to be a lazy bum while others fight to lose every pound, I feel guilty over the body type I was given.

And that’s not okay.  No one should have to feel guilt over that.  That’s just silly.  That’s like feeling guilty over having blue eyes instead of brown, or straight hair instead of curly.  But I get reminders almost daily that my body type is something I should be a little ashamed of, because it’s the one everyone is supposed to covet.

These are comments I get on a fairly regular basis, usually from older coworkers:

“Well, you’re so slim, you could pull it off!”

“Wear those jeans while you have the figure for it!”

“You’re SO tiny – I wish I could be that size again.”

I know they mean well, but it makes me feel like a mannequin, a shape to be used to flaunt the latest styles.  I am a person.  I hate shopping for pants just as much as you do.  And I’m definitely not going to wear something just because it’ll look good on my figure – I may have been a belly-dancer in college, but I’m not comfortable flaunting my shape on a daily basis, especially when I feel guilty about it!  And let’s not even get into the weirdness of having my body evaluated at work instead of, y’know, my work.

One of my friends worked at a high-end clothing chain for a couple years.  She texted me once to say that a girl had just been trying on pants, and she was so skinny that the size double-0 pants were falling off of her.  At first I thought that was a little scary – after all, if someone is that skinny, they’re obviously unhealthy, right? – but then I remembered that my recently-purchased size 0 dress pants turned out to be just a bit too big, requiring me to wear a belt.  Those size 00s might, at the time, have been right for me.  (I’m a size 2 or 4 now.) I also thought of one of my high school friends who is six feet tall and supermodel-thin.  If you looked at her you might assume she had unhealthy eating habits – but she’s a very health-conscious vegan.  What right did I have to assume the girl in my friend’s store was unhealthy?  All I know about her is that she probably has a really hard time finding pants that fit.

And then I felt that familiar guilty twinge because only one or two pant sizes separated me from this girl we were assuming was anorexic.  But I’m not anorexic.  In fact, I eat a lot, and I’m usually still hungry.  But then how do I stay skinny?  It’s definitely not my fluctuating workout schedule.  It’s just me, my metabolism.  What about that girl?  Does she also have a ridiculous metabolism?  Is she unhappy about her size?  Does she have trouble finding pants that fit, and does she wish she had a different body type?

The assumption is that of course she’s happy with her size.  Obviously everyone lucky enough to fit in clothes smaller than a size 4 has everything going for her and feels great about herself all the time.  I know I never have low self-esteem over my appearance.  We should both just be grateful that we’re not fatties.  That girl may not fit into standard-size pants, but she’s the right shape for society, right?  She should be grateful she’s too skinny for size 00 pants, right?

Maybe. Not necessarily.

I don’t know that girl or her eating habits or her metabolic rate, or how she feels about pants-shopping, and it’s none of my business.  Her size and shape is her size and shape, just like mine and just like yours.  A number on a piece of clothing has nothing to do with how healthy you are – but we already knew that, didn’t we?  It’s a “What Not To Wear” mantra.

Nobody, whether they conform to modern standards of beauty or not, should be made to feel guilty about their appearance.  That goes for all of us.  What we can allow ourselves to feel is dissatisfaction.  No matter how hard we work at developing positive self-esteem, there will probably always be days where we’re unhappy about something in our appearance and want to change it.  That’s okay, as long as we’re going about pursuing change safely and for the right reasons.  But guilt?  Guilt is a nasty toxic emotion that drags every other emotion down into a black hole of awfulness.  It kills productivity, it breeds hopelessness, and it leads to distrust and self-loathing and bitterness.  Feeling dissatisfied can motivate you; feeling guilty over your body type is unhealthy and potentially destructive.

So here’s deal, my gentle snowflakes.  No more guilt.  We are all fantastically stylish, witty, intelligent, beautiful, talented women.  I’ll work on taking those coworker comments as compliments, and when I make an assumption about a woman because of her body type, I’ll check that assumption and find the root of it.  It’s no one’s business what size I wear, and it’s not my business to apply those judgments to anyone else.  How about you?

(originally posted on Average Fantastic December 6, 2010)

2 thoughts on “Absolving “Skinny Guilt”

  1. I appreciate you for writing this. As someone who has exactly zero insight to the skinny world, except for the sporadic complaints of Mia, it is a helpful reminder.

    I am constantly motivated to do my effing damndest to defend the rights of all women to love their bodies, and the guilt you're giving up is part of that. There is no maximum or minimum size of a body for that body to be worthy of love.

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