In all my 19 years of living, not once have I ever reached 100 pounds. In fact, I’ve never even broken 95. At five feet four inches, I stand at an average height for a girl. My body mass index has never come close to normal; I’m always classified as underweight. There’s a skirt in my closet sized at double zero petite. It’s an indisputable fact — I’m skinny, thin, slim, slender, petite.
But I am not emaciated, not malnourished, not anorexic, not bulimic. And yet, it has been assumed by many just by looking at me once or twice that I must have some kind of eating disorder. There exists a sort of stigma against naturally skinny people such as myself. The fad of fat shaming is generally more publicized than skinny shaming, but both of them have the ability to hurt equally — and neither of them are O.K.
This disapproval of thinness is at best distasteful, but at worst, completely hypocritical. The media movement nowadays involves a critical rejection of the “abnormally skinny” girl physique in favor of a gorgeous, curvy woman like Marilyn Monroe. In a mass condemnation of stick-thin bodies, people declare that this is the picture of beauty worth striving for. Sometimes, they’ll even compare a photo of a busty woman side-by-side with a thin woman and conclude that the former is sexier than the latter. A voluptuous female, some would say, is a real woman.
Wait a second. What am I, then? A fake woman? Just a girl? Will I never get to be a real woman unless I somehow gain curves? These are questions I asked myself growing up, knobby-kneed and flat-chested, knowing that I was never going to be anything like the hourglass-shaped Kate Upton or the bodacious Beyoncé. I have been and will always be petite — I am well aware that nothing about my build is going to change all of a sudden. And throughout my life, I’ve gone through sporadic periods where I was insecure about my size, believing that my figure was boyish and unfeminine.
Hardly anybody ever tells you how hard it is for a person my size to find clothes that fit. The fashion industry may appear to glorify thin physiques, but let me tell you from experience, it does not do so when it comes to producing clothes for everyday women. Finding jeans that I could wear without a belt was considered a feat and nearly every dress I wore to a high school dance had to be altered to fit properly. To put it simply, I felt abnormal.
By no means do I think that the plight of those perceived as underweight is more severe than that of those seen as overweight. Yet, why is skinny shaming never given a second thought? People have no problem coming up to me and exclaiming, “Wow! You are so skinny!” but nobody would say the opposite equivalent to a curvier girl. Truthfully, I don’t think anybody could. There are not many words meant to describe those that are heavier and most of the words that do exist — even the word “heavier” — seem to have a negative connotation. And therefore, people avoid them.
But somehow, pointing out my small size is ok, as if because I’m smaller as opposed to larger, there’s no way I feel and insecure about my size. And that’s simply not true. Anybody — big or small, old or young, male or female — can feel insecure about their size and their appearance, especially in a society constantly warring over the definition of beauty.
While that fact may seem obvious in some instances, people who comment on my size often completely overlook it.
Recently, a man asked me how much I weighed, just because he’d been “curious” for a while. This feeling of being judged and pigeonholed as unhealthily skinny left me feeling less like a woman, as if my post-adolescent body still needed more time to properly develop. I felt like some sort of a freak of nature, wondering if everybody else who looked at me was just as amazed that my tiny frame could exist at all.
It may seem, from the experiences and feelings I’ve shared so far that I wish I could stop being defined by my weight altogether. But to me, it’s simply not that black and white. I think there’s an obvious distinction between someone pointing out my size with respect as opposed to without it.
A past boyfriend of mine used to make remarks about my small physique all the time, so much so that I eventually earned the nickname “Little One.” The difference between him and the man who asked for my weight out of curiosity was the endearment and personal consideration that he put into his comments.
I eat less than the average person my age during a meal (I’m small, so therefore, I have a small stomach) and often, people call me out on it, berating me for not eating enough. My boyfriend, though, had observed my eating habits over a long enough period of time to know how I functioned. One portion size doesn’t fit all and I knew that the amount I was eating was the right amount needed for my body to feel full, healthy and energetic. He accepted my body type for what it was and never pestered me to gobble up all of my food in one sitting. He understood.
Growing up has taught me to be less sensitive to critiques and exclamations about my weight. I’ll be honest. At times, I’m even numb to it. But once in a while, if someone points out that I look anorexic or that my legs are just so skinny, it will nag on me sooner or later. Maybe it won’t bother me at first, but then I’ll look in the mirror and notice the gap between my boots and my calves or the way a big sweater sort of swallows my tiny frame and wonder if maybe I look do too skinny.
But rather than worrying about changing the way I look, I work on figuring out how to make the best of it. Finding outfits that suit my small shape (even if that occasionally means diving into the kids’ section at Macy’s) and staying healthy are things that I spend my time on now. There are ups and downs to all sorts of different body types and we should all learn to accept the best, and seemingly the worst, parts of ourselves.
My body is my own and nobody else’s. It makes me who I am and I’ve learned to be confident about it. It’s true; I’ll never have a figure like Kim Kardashian’s. But that doesn’t mean I’m any less of a woman and so I’m proud to be the “Little One.”