Over the years I cannot tell you how many times body image has come up in my various discussions with friends, family and peers or conversations that I’ve overheard. Whether it’s a snide “Has she gained weight?” or “I look so fat in this,” lately I have found it nearly impossible to escape the body-focused talk.
In the past I wasn’t as aware of it. It just seemed to be an ordinary, albeit seemingly unhealthy, thing to focus on. However, about a year and a half ago, one of my best friends was diagnosed with anorexia and another one was diagnosed with exercise bulimia, and after seeing eating disorders firsthand, body talk suddenly took on a whole new life and meaning.
When my friend was told she looked “skinnier and prettier,” it only reinforced her unhealthy thinking that she needed to be skinnier and skinnier because she used to be and currently still looked so “fat.”
Ever since dealing with this, my body talk radar has been on high alert. Back then I wanted to try to shield my friends from triggering words, to protect them in the meager ways I could, even though they were mentally unwell.
Even now, at least a couple of times a week I hear “Ugh I wish I could wear your skinny ripped jeans, but I’m too fat,” in the cafeteria, or “Wow, you look great, have you lost weight?” on the quad, or “I wish I had her body” at the mall. Whether or not we consciously realize it, body-talk permeates conversation everywhere, and especially among high school girls, I’ve noticed.
While I personally actively try to refrain from body-oriented talk, more than a few times other girls have come up to me and complimented me on being “skinny” or my supposed “thigh gap.” I’ve never been sure how to respond.
Should I consider it a compliment? The fact that people reading this might interpret my writing this as a humble brag just proves my point further. I don’t think that being “skinny” is a compliment. Nor is it an insult. To me, it’s merely fact — it’s the way I’ve always been built and the way the women in my family look.
Why is there such a focus on the way girls’ bodies looks? Is it because in Los Angeles, we are surrounded by celebrities and models whose job it is to be a size 00 and perfectly proportioned. Is it because now being called “skinny” is considered a compliment of the best sort? Or is it related to the rise in social media usage where a search for “thinspo” or “thinspiration” (a.k.a. inspiration to be thin) can bring up hundreds of images on various social media apps?
A current pop song called “All About That Bass” by Megan Trainor has earned compliments for acknowledging that a more curvy body type is not only acceptable, but even desirable because “boys they like a little more booty to hold at night.”
While this at least opens up a body-positive discussion, with lines like “every inch of you is perfect,” I take issue with the aforementioned line about boys appreciating more “booty” and thusly the fact that the reason Trainor praises a more curvy body is because boys like it.
I think you should learn to love your bodies because of all that they are capable of— from running miles during sports practice to walking up the never-ending stairs from Chalmers to the library and not because someone else finds it to be attractive or compliments you.
You should be confident in your body because you are beautiful the way you are, not because someone else likes your butt (or another physical feature.)
Girls (and boys), it’s time to learn to love your body just the way it is but also to remember that it by no means defines you. Being “skinny” does not make you better than anyone else, and being “fat” doesn’t make you worse than anyone else.
The way you are built is just the way you are built. It means nothing more and nothing less. And you should never need to apologize for the way your body looks. You have a body, you are not a body. You are so much more than that.