Earlier this week, I went home to spend a day and a half with my family to observe Yom Kippur (it’s a very significant Jewish holiday, but that’s not key to the story I’m trying to tell, just thought I’d offer some context and a brief educational moment). I see my parents pretty regularly—that’s one of the benefits of living in a city only an hour south of where I grew up. Because of that, my parents are pretty updated on my appearances, just by virtue of seeing me frequently enough. They’re never shocked by a new haircut (I haven’t gotten one in more than 8 months anyway, so #lol?), or surprised by how tan I am (I’m pretty sure I’m physically incapable of tanning, #lol again?). However, they do know about this column, and, as a result, my mom will comment on my physical appearance as it pertains to my weight if and when she notices something.
I woke up on Wednesday morning, put on one of my two go-to synagogue outfits (a loose-but-somehow-still-fitted sweater t-shirt dress by Lou & Grey), and went downstairs to the kitchen, where my mom was getting ready to go. She took one look at me, and almost immediately said, “Wow, you definitely lost a lot of weight. You look so skinny.” In that moment, I was over the moon. I absolutely loved that someone validated my hard work, that someone thought I looked skinny. And now, only one day later, I kind of hate that.
When I first started this process and this column, I made it very clear that I am not doing this to “get skinny.” I started doing this because my health had kind of gotten away from me, I hadn’t been to a gym in close to five months, and I needed someone (like the Internet) to hold me accountable and, in theory, prevent me from eating as much junk as I was at that point. Even without the outside validation, I could tell that it’s worked so far—my clothes fit better, I have more energy (because I’m sleeping better), my skin looks better—everything is just better.
And, obviously, since I’m working out and not eating crap all the time, losing weight is a natural result. I honestly didn’t think it was that noticeable, though. I mean, I noticed, but I have the pleasure of seeing my naked bod every day, so I’m more aware of any physical changes. I definitely felt more comfortable in the high waisted two-piece bathing suit I got from ASOS over the summer, but I thought that was because, when I wore it, I’d had a lot of wine and probably would have felt comfortable running around the White House with no pants on singing the Friends theme song. But, apparently, it is noticeable. Which is great. A noticeable change in my health and fitness was a big goal for me. That’s probably why my initial reaction to being called “skinny” was a positive one, one of pride and happiness.
But I’ve had some time (24 hours, to be exact) to reflect on that would-be compliment, and I’ve realized that being called “skinny” isn’t a compliment at all. In fact being skinny isn’t anything, really. It’s not good or bad, it just is. But the fact that we take a word like that and consider it either an amazing self-esteem booster (“Oh my god! You look so amazing and skinny!”) or one of the harshest criticisms on health and appearance out there (“She’s way too skinny, it’s scary.”) is a problem in and of itself. If we’re really going to continue to talk about women’s size and weight, we not only need to do it in a more positive way, but we need to change the language we use altogether.
Because here’s the thing: “Skinny” can actually be a pretty triggering word. I’ve known a few people with eating disorders in my time, most of whom are successfully recovering, and they will all tell you that words like “thin” and “skinny” are generally ones that are discouraged from recovery vocabulary. They further the idea that being those two things is more important than being happy and healthy. In that context, “skinny” is dangerous, not only in terms of physical health, but in terms of mental and emotional health as well.
I’m not saying that people who are naturally skinny are unhealthy in some way, and I’m certainly not saying that people who are trying to lose weight simply to have a slimmer body are doing anything wrong, especially if they’re doing it in a healthy way. But I do think that using the phrase “you’re so skinny” as a compliment or statement of praise needs to stop. Instead, you can tell someone they look healthy, happy, and beautiful. If all else fails, no one will ever walk away unhappy if you just say, “You look great!”
Thank you for telling me you think I look good. Thank you for noticing all of the hard work I’ve been putting in to change myself for the better. Thank you for recognizing my personal achievements. But don’t tell me I look skinny. We can all do better than that.