A scrawny pre-teen walks into her family party, and her well-intentioned aunt forces a plate full of food into her hands and says, “Look at you! You are skin and bones. Eat something!” At the mall, her friends regularly tell her that she is “SO skinny” as if to compliment her on an achievement. At school, the junior high girls look at her with disdain as if her thinness is a personal attack on them. How dare she be so thin?
The thing about this young girl is that she doesn’t mean to worry anyone. She hasn’t accomplished a great feat, and she certainly is not intending to offend. She is a normal pre-teenager who lives a healthy life and is growing into her own person. She was born skinny and always has been. Before her aunt’s worry and her peers’ comments and looks, she hadn’t even thought about her weight. She was just herself.
Now, she is the “skinny” girl. It becomes her identity and her obsession.
The example above of this girl’s story is one we hear all too often. At a pivotal time in life when young adults are discovering who they are, they are told that weight carries meaning. The positive and negative feedback reinforces the idea that people pay attention to size. This belief is then reaffirmed by the media. Celebrities are judged for being too heavy or too thin. When discussing Victoria’s Secret models, skinny is used as a synonym for beautiful. Furthermore, we cannot flip through a magazine, watch a television show, or browse the internet without reading a story that includes commentary about someone’s weight. We are taught at a young age to look at someone, see a number on a scale, and make an assessment. Why though? Who does this benefit? The answer is no one. Besides, we are not omniscient. We do not know everyone’s story or why they are thin. Therefore, we should forget size, concentrate on an individual’s healthy lifestyle, and only bring up weight if it’s a true concern.
We are all guilty at some point in our lives of focusing too much on weight, whether our own or someone else’s. We need to realize, however, that our judgment, positive or negative, has an impact on how an individual views him/herself and the world. We should not reinforce that weight is meaningful, either proclaiming someone as an ideal god/goddess whose standard we MUST live up to or shaming someone due to size. While we are taught to think this way, it doesn’t mean we can’t change how we interact with ourselves and each other around the topic of weight.
We need to recognize that our words, not weight, carry meaning.
There may come a time in your life when you do have to sit a friend down and discuss his or her unhealthy eating and over-zealous attempts to remain underweight, although I truly hope not. Until then, let’s stop our judgment. Instead, support each other to live healthfully and happily, regardless of size.
By: Kate Nowlan