Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Skinny Shaming

Snack Time
My friend's pantry cupboards are less than full because most of her food is fresh and kept in the refrigerator. She serves her kids fruit, smoothies, or popcorn rather than fatty and salty prepackaged snacks from big box stores that fill the cupboards of most families. And in all fairness it was also the end of the week and she was due to go shopping. But while hosting ladies for lunch and showing off her newly remodeled kitchen one woman made a comment about the contents of the cupboards. 

"No wonder everyone is so skinny." The friend said, "You don't eat anything." 

There were six other ladies in the kitchen and the comment embarrassed my friend. It made her feel as though she wasn't taking care of her family. Both my friend and I wondered why this woman would think it was appropriate to criticize how she took care of her family, but it was use of the work "skinny" that made it sound like a criticism rather than an observation. Most of the time skinny is a desired goal, at least when applied to an individual. But when that label is attributed to a family it takes on a different meaning that makes it sound as though the family is deprived for the sake of vanity. 

Skinny used to be normal. My grandparents are dead so I don't have an example but if you were to look at the way the silent generation ate, you would see why they are not fat. They ate vegetables and had vegetable gardens, ate food not food products, and they ate less food. Eating this way today is seen as healthy in the extreme instead of normal. 

People may be skinny for a variety of reasons--they have trouble putting on weight and are naturally thin, they like the way skinny looks on them and choose to maintain low body fat, they are going through a temporary difficult period in their lives that has caused weight loss due to a reduced appetite. The skinny I am talking about is not underweight. It's unfat. But people may also be skinny because they are eating a balanced diet and getting adequate exercise or active enough throughout the day that they don't get fat. It's not magic and it's not an aberration. 

Skinny isn't shallow, it's healthy. I love the word skinny--skinny jeans, skinny latte, skinny bitch. I can't get enough. It always sounds fresh to my ears, but perhaps skinny can be a pejorative term sometimes so maybe lean is a better description. But maybe to my friend skinny sounded shallow because it was about her family. Had the friend described her family as "lean" the connotation would have been more healthy or athletic. After all this is an active family whose photo streams are dominated with pictures of kids at parks, bike rides, nature hikes, ski and snowboarding trips. Lean would sound as more like a level of fitness and less like deprivation for the sake of appearances. 

Why does a word that sounds like a compliment in so many circumstances (You look skinny in those jeans!) sound like a criticism when directed toward shopping and eating habits of the family? It's because in this case skinny sounds more like a judgement against parenting rather than an observation about how somebody looks? What about using the word "lean" to describe a family who is not chubby?

People feel justified criticizing skinny. This isn't exactly skinny shaming because nobody is pointing to a skinny person and suggesting they eat a burger. But there is a prevailing belief that people who are skinny are this way because they come by it naturally and there is no struggle involved. Whether it's struggling with the effort of a menu of healthy meals for your family or committing to the effort of cooking and preparing food and snacks instead of getting takeout and buying prepackaged foods there is a tremendous amount of discipline involved in creating healthy habits for your family. Criticism of that effort feels bad just as it would if someone critiqued a pantry for being too full of Costco ingredients.