You make me feel bad about it.
And by “you” I mean the old lady who always asks if I’m eating, my friends who think “skinny people don’t know the struggle, because they can fit into anything,” the guys that never dated me because I wasn’t thick enough, the beautiful dress that makes me look like a 13-year-old boy instead of an almost 30-year-old woman, and an “either-or” society that can’t accept BOTH thick and thin as beautiful, so it must degrade one to applaud the other.
You all make me feel bad.
I will start with this statement, I don’t know what it feels like to be thick in a model-crazed society. But as we adjust to the celebration of curves (and for me, it was actually way before this era), I can identify with the core emotions of dissatisfaction, disappointment, and low image-esteem, which accompany hours of pep talks in the mirror before heading out to tackle the day.
I know this is not “the oppression Olympics” as one of my mentors phrased in a different setting, “and no one wins a gold medal for being the most oppressed, suppressed, or repressed.”
However, I have valid emotional and psychological reactions to magazine covers that pronounce “This is beauty” in front of an array of very curvaceous women. I beg the inanimate photo, can my body be beautiful too?”
“Can my body be beautiful too?”
I’ve never really had low self-esteem. I’ve always liked the person I am. But appreciating the package that this comes wrapped in has been a struggle for years. I call this image-esteem. I wrote about it a couple years ago, and I’m choosing to do some therapeutic writing about it now. Here are some of the esteem-challenging experiences that come with being a skinny size 2…
First of all, “petite” is cute, and “thick” is sexy.
As a woman, I don’t want to be looked at as cute. Puppies are cute, babies are cute, I am not. I want to be stared at longingly like Darius does Nina. I want a guy to look at me and do the Morris Chestnut lip-lick. (But don’t be a dirty sleaze. There’s a fine line between corner store creep and The Best Man). I want a partner who whispers somewhat indecent comments in my ear that are actually colorful compliments of my femininity. I want to be seen as a woman. A fine, beautiful, desirable, sexy woman.
But being a skinny size 2 has sentenced me to just being “cute.”
Then there is the guilt of being skinny in the presence of those who believe they’re too big and/or I’m too small. “No, I’m not anorexic, and cooking is one of my first loves.” “I don’t workout to lose weight, I actually gain weight when I exercise.” “I was overweight until 5th grade…” I do this so others don’t feel bad for being bigger than me. I apologize for my life experience in order to justify yours.
And don’t get me started on shopping. (Ugh).
It may seem that shopping skinny would be the least of my issues, but that too jabs tirelessly at my image-esteem. I remember being on South Beach with some girlfriends about 10 years ago. I fell in love with the vibrant floral hues and long wispy fabrics of the maxi wrap dresses in a boutique window. So I picked out a few faves, and I went to town in the dressing room while my friends did the same. Each time I came out, my curvier friends looked FABULOUS! The free-flowing dresses complimented their varying body types so well. However, when I walked out, I looked “schlumpy” and dumpy, like a young girl playing dress up in her mom’s closet. After about five solid misses, the shop owner boldly told me I was too small for anything in her store, and I should stop trying things on. All I heard was,
“You’re too skinny to wear beautiful women’s clothing.”
I cried that night, and none of my friends understood why. (Actually, they told me I was overreacting). Each of them walked out of that store with something that made them look and feel stunning. I, on the other hand, haven’t worn a wrap dress since. In fact, over the years, I’ve come to appreciate a good return policy; so I can just try on clothes alone in the comfort of my own home.
Being one of the smallest among my girlfriends, you’d think being with my male friends would at least give me a brief reprieve from the body comparison and deflected body-shaming between females. Well…not so much. Personality-wise, I have always had a “knack” for blending in with the guys.
So oftentimes they’ll forget I was in the room, and conversations would take an honest turn.
“Bruh, did you see so-and-so with her fat behind?!” is a censored version of what I would typically overhear. Amidst these conversations, my mind would wander and wonder, “What do these women have that I don’t? I’m intelligent. I’m fun. I’m funny. I’m…” I would proceed to compliment everything about me, except any element having to do with my body. It got even worse when one of the guys did begin to realize I, a lady, was in the room, but only because he wanted to know what the deal was with my fine linesister with the big boobs and butt… Womp.
I’m a pretty strong person, but all of this gets at you after a while. I’m just as human and sensitive as you are.
Your skinny jokes hurt.
Your small bootie comments hurt. Your small breast comments hurt. Your “you still look like a high school student” comments hurt. Your self-shaming comments about your size that also include displaced flattery that jabs at my own size hurt. (Mainly because no one wants a compliment tied in with someone else’s self-deprecation. Come on). Being overlooked by men hurts. And consulting with any reflective surface (windows, car mirrors, you name it) a thousand times a day, wondering if my butt looks big in “this” and why did my boobs literally just disappear when I turned sideways hurts.
Even as I type, tears well up in my eyes, because I can only imagine what teenage young women must be going through in this brutally honest and photo-driven social media age. If these issues touched me before social media was unleashed into our lives, and it still bothers me as a woman who is more mature and at least loves the core of who she is…
Then God help the young women in secondary school and college who have low self-esteem inflamed by access to every picture on the Internet that tells them they must be bigger (or smaller) to be beautiful.
Because everybody can’t be a size 2, just like everybody can’t be a 34 DD (today’s average bra size).
As a health practitioner and an advocate for wellness, I recognize and applaud that health comes in every size. But as a woman and a mentor to many other young women, I’m begging society, girlfriends, future boyfriends, old ladies, and shop owners on South Beach to recognize that beautiful bodiescome in every size too.