• Tue, Sep 4 2012

When Is It Okay To Say Someone Looks Too Thin? (Katie Couric Just Said It About Kate Middleton)

Is Kate Middleton too thin? Katie Couric thinks so.

Middleton at a swanky event in July

Back in the wild unruly days of the internet, it was perfectly appropriate to say things like, “so and so looks anorexic” or “X celebrity has put on weight.” Those were dark and shitty days, when teenage boys dominated comment threads and bikini photos of supermodels were scrutinized for cellulite–cries of “Eat a sandwich!” were heaped on women who, days before, were lambasted for their thighs. The acceptability of this line has weakened over time and nowadays most legitimate women’s sites know better than to bodysnark. Or, at least, in one direction.

Which presents a problem… when photos of an extremely thin model or actress surface, how can lady-resources collect those sweet, sweet pageviews without outright declaring, “She looks too thin”? Hence, concern trolling, whereby bloggers and commenters offer patronizing observations in the name of health (as opposed to aesthetics). Criticism of a woman’s appearance is thus couched in phrases like, “I don’t think she’s eating enough,” or “She looks sick.”

Which brings us to Katie Couric, who kind of just concern-trolled Kate Middleton, during a test-taping for her new show:

“It would be really interesting to interview Kate Middleton because I think she has comported herself so well since she has been thrust in the limelight. I think she needs to eat more because she’s so thin.”

Middleton’s dwindling weight (is using that phrase concern trolling?) has been a popular topic online, ever since her alleged “wedding diet.” But Couric’s comments got us wondering: when is it okay to say someone appears too thin? Setting aside the fact that the phrase “too thin” is problematic in its own right (compared to what? people have different body types), is it ever okay to draw a line in the sand and declare, this has gotten actually unhealthy? Then, of course, everyone’s version of “too thin” (or “too fat” or “too muscle-y”) is a little different.

So, what we can say for sure is yes, Kate Middleton has lost a lot of weight since becoming the Duchess of Cambridge. But, is she too thin? Too thin compared to the average woman? Or too thin compared to her old self? Can we really make a claim like that without becoming intimately acquainted with her diet? Or minimizing naturally thin women? And even if we do, declaring her too thin doesn’t help her anyway, it just contributes to the already-deafening scrutiny of her body.

We’re inclined to say “How about we never comment on a woman’s weight, ever” but here’s a recent example to consider. The fashion industry promotes extreme thinness and plenty of people feel its stranglehold on thinness-as-physical-ideal is unhealthy to the scores of young women reading fashion magazines. But, is it okay to single out Karlie Kloss when an unflattering angle catches her jutting hipbones and produces an image that might not be consistent with Italian Vogue EIC Franca Sozzani‘s crusade against thinspo? It seems relevant there to say so because, if not, what is Sozzani’s crusade for?

So, what’s a ladymag to do?

(Photo via Wenn)

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  • Katie

    I have been wrestling with this dilemma myself for a while. I have naturally thin friends who are upset by language like that but… then look at the images that appear in fashion magazines? We’re kidding ourselves if we believe those are all healthy, naturally-thin girls who don’t self-harm to maintain such an extreme weight.

  • Gaia

    I want to say the answer is “Don’t be mean,” but I’ve seen so much concern-trolling done in that paternalistic “I’m worried about her health” way.

  • L

    frankly, it’s your body and you can do with it whatever you wish and it’s not anyone else’s business to judge it…especially someone who’s going to be making comments on national television.

  • Sugar

    I think no one should ever say anything because it makes you an asshole. It’s like saying to an atheist “I’ll be praying for you”… it’s like “Oh, thanks, fuck off”.

    But maybe I’m biased because I got called “coke whore” in high school because I was 5’7” and 105 pounds. My response was “At least I can afford cocaine”. ( I didn’t do any drugs),and it’s also a big reason why I switched to online classes.

    Unless you are a bubbie, don’t say anything, because it really doesn’t concern you.

    Only when we stop talking about what is acceptable to our own delicate little peepers will people stop hurting themselves for so called beauty. I mean, saying someone is too thin is still setting a beauty standard. and it still makes you a dick.

  • Lastango

    Just look at that photo… she’s stunning, and glowing with health! When someone finds fault with the way Ms. Middleton looks, I wonder if it’s jealousy.

  • Sam

    I think being incredibly busy and perpetually in the public eye would make anybody anxious enough to not eat quite as much–not necessarily on purpose, but just because you know that if you take a big bite of a hamburger, it will probably end up haunting you for like, a year. I don’t think it’s very nice to say “she needs to eat more.” I wish the response was, instead, “people should really stop focusing on other people’s bodies.”

  • scallywag

    Katie’s either going out of her way to cause distraction and call attention to things that a veteran like her needn’t bother about or would be too clever not to find herself getting mired in.

    Then again this is her own show and she is getting paid $40 million a year so perhaps producers are hoping that Katie makes a bit of noise here and there, never mind the current faux pas she has created for herself…

    http://scallywagandvagabond.com/2012/09/katie-couric-slams-kate-middleton-for-being-too-thin-even-if-she-is-her-dream-guest-for-her-new-show/

  • Kj

    Generally, I would agree that saying someone is “too thin” is body snarking analogous to saying someone is “too fat,” etc…

    However, there’s a part of me that likes hearing it said and almost thinks it needs to be said, because there is still that cultural idea that you “can’t be too rich or too thin…”

    …yes, yes, you can. Maybe it’s not our business when celebrities are too thin, but the idea that thinner is better *no matter what* needs to go.

  • Sarah

    As someone who’s always been on the scrawny side, I think it’s okay to say someone’s too thin only if you’d tell someone on the opposite end of the spectrum that they’re too fat. I get skinny-shamed almost every day in one form or another, often in the pseudo-concerned paternalistic manner, and often by people who are overweight. It can be difficult to bite one’s tongue in such a situation.

    Thin people have body issues just like heavy people have ‘em. Continuing to comment on a person’s weight just perpetuates the fixation on it, making said person and the public all the more obsessed over it.

  • Jenniwren

    I tend to think that while pointing out how thin someone is is definitely being a dick and is absolutely concern-trolling, it’s not really the direct equivalent of calling someone fat. Our society has a hatred and a phobia of fat that it just doesn’t have of thinness- the connotations of being called too thin are just not the same as being called too fat.

    HOWEVER. It is still the height of rudeness and being-a-dickery to criticize a woman’s physique, let alone in such a public way. As long as we continue to allow this, women will continue to be treated as eye-candy and judged by their looks while their abilities and talents go ignored. In addition to that, it’s been pretty firmly established that you can’t really judge a person’s health, and certainly not their dietary habits, via their physical appearance alone. If you’re a very close friend or a family member and you know they’re harming their health through these choices, you might be able to point it out gently and appropriately. But this is something a stranger cannot and should not do.

    As to Franca Sozzani’s campaign, the fashion media industry needs a comprehensive overhaul, not a strategically applied band-aid. Excluding the naturally slim, even the naturally extremely thin, isn’t good enough- we need to see the introduction of body shapes and sizes from every level of the spectrum. Photoshopping is a reflection of the industry’s intolerance for anything natural- a natural aesthetic has to be the aim, not a slightly-less unrealistic one.

  • alexandra

    1. they are a blood relation
    2. they are a friend to whom you are so close that when people ask “are you sisters?” you laugh and say “no, cousins,” even though it isn’t true.

    finito.