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Sunday, August 08, 2010

Skinny Girls Aren't (Always) Liars

In this week's Sunday Life magazine in the Sydney Sun Herald (touted as the "Body Issue"), there's an article written by Sarina Lewis titled The Thin Line (pg 12). Basically, the article looks at the latest research with regard to weight issues, and whether it is, in fact, possible that not all women find it easy to gain weight. Sarina asks, is there such thing as being 'naturally thin'?

You've no doubt often read, as I have done, celebrities claim in the past that they are unable to gain weight no matter what they eat. (Sarina uses Sienna Miller (pictured) and Keira Knightley as examples in her article.) These 'claims' are usually followed up by bloggers and/or magazines calling foul and questioning that those celebrities could eat hamburgers and carry out little exercise and still look the way they do. Often, this is followed by an accusation that the celebrity has either anorexia or bulimia, which is then followed by a bit of "skinny bashing", as blogger Mia Freedman of Mamamia admitted to doing herself once upon a time ago in this blog post.

In Sarina's article, she writes about a BBC documentary called Why Aren't Thin People Fat? 10 volunteers who were slim were chosen to take part in an experiment in which they attempted to consume about twice their usual daily intake of kilojoules every day for four weeks, limiting their exercise at the same time. Out of those 10 participants, two struggled to reach their target weight, despite a diet containing large amounts of high-fat and high-sugar foods, and all participants dropped back to their original weight with little or no effort after the experiment ended. 

I have to say, as a person who has struggled in the past to convince people that my weight was beyond my control, I was happy to read such an article today. I've often felt that thin women are given a hard time. There was even this article on the Sydney Morning Herald website last year that pretty much blamed thin women for overweight women's eating habits - by eating too much in front of them. Apparently thin women should set an example by not overindulging in food in front of their overweight friends. Okaaaay. Um - aren't we always worried that thin women don't, ah, eat? Besides, I'm quite sure most women who have a weight problem would be offended to think that someone believes that a thin friend's eating habits could shape their own diet? Most women I know (thin or not) have a mind of their own.  

In Sarina's article, a 46-year-old Brisbane mother of two, who still fits in to the same jeans she wore at the age of 18, says, "My friends have a go at me all the time because I eat whatever I want." The same used to happen to me, and I even had an argument with a friend once about how a 'skinny woman' feels. When I explained to my friend that, as a slim woman, being called 'skinny' is not unlike calling an overweight person 'fat' she disagreed. However, as I did back then to my friend, I can assure you it is the same. I think that's the biggest misconception about thin women out there: that we couldn't possibly have issues about our weight, and we are quite comfortable being labelled as 'skinny' and, in fact, take it as a compliment. Um, we don't.

Those of you who have read Mummy Mayhem for a while will know this is a subject close to my heart. Growing up as one of those 'skinny girls' myself, I can assure you that these women really do exist. In fact, it was Mia who posted my own story on Mamamia back in December last year. 

Here's the post for all you newbies to Mummy Mayhem:

Back in 1983, when I was a Year 8 student in high school, anorexia nervosa was starting to get a bit of media attention. By the following year, everyone knew what it was and what its effects were. Which was, of course, a good thing for those suffering it, but for the (naturally) “skinny” girls like me (a term I was not fond of in my youth, but have become slightly more comfortable with over the years) it had quite an adverse effect. Suddenly, everyone looked at us “skinny” girls as possible “anorexics” who were hiding their condition. I was teased constantly, even called “Anna” by one of the boys at school.
I found it frustrating, and although I had always felt uncomfortable about my weight (or lack thereof), all of this compounded my insecurities, and, consequently, it wasn’t unusual to find me in baggy, long sleeved shirts – even when the weather was a warm 30 degrees plus outside (to hide my thin arms, of course). 
I think people assumed that because I was thin, I couldn’t have possibly had any issues about my weight. Only overweight people had those. Constantly, I was referred to as “a stick”, even told I was “lucky”, but that did nothing at all for my confidence. I searched Dolly magazine every month, in between all those articles on how to lose weight in time for summer, for an article on how to gain it, to no avail. Then, towards the end of that year, something happened that, had I been a different girl, could have pushed me over the edge. (Thankfully, it did not.) 
One day in my Year 9 English class, I approached my teacher’s desk to ask her a question. The room was quiet with students working – a “you could have heard a pin drop” type situation. My teacher turned to me, and without even attempting to lower her voice she asked, “Jodie – are you anorexic?” Just like that. Right in front of my peers, she asked me. I don’t remember my exact response – I think I was in shock (but it would have been an emphatic “no”).
But I remember the moment it felt as though my heart stopped for a second, and I felt every pair of eyes on me. I was, to put it lightly, mortified. Never one to want my Mum to see me upset, I broke that rule that night as I cried my eyes out with her. My Mum was furious. Not being one of those mothers to constantly call the school about the treatment of their daughter, she also broke that rule and called the principal the following day. I received an apology from my teacher, and eventually, after the drama wore down, life went on.
Back then there wasn’t really a lot of parenting advice out there on how to handle such a situation. My Mum did what she could. She gave me a lot of love and all her support, and she made me banana smoothies every day to accompany my breakfast, complete with full cream milk, full fat ice-cream, a whole banana and a raw egg, in an attempt to help “fatten me up”! Whilst the smoothies, unfortunately, did nothing for my weight, my Mum’s support was paramount, and I got through those difficult years, with very few scars, I’m happy to say.
And now, years later, I find it interesting that whenever I read about “skinny” girls in articles, blogs, whatever…nothing seems to have changed. We still assume all those who are slighter in weight must have anorexia or bulimia. Yes – to me it’s quite obvious what the difference is. I still can’t understand why people assumed I was anorexic, when I compare my body shape back then to someone who actually has the condition. We are so quick to judge, and so quick to forget that people who are “underweight” or “slim” (my preferred description) can’t possibly also be struggling with their weight.
I never judge slim girls. I’m no fool – I’m quite sure that in the modelling industry especially, there must be girls with the condition, but I feel bad for celebrities who are constantly judged, but more so for the average girl or woman who is quickly labelled with an eating disorder, simply because of her natural body shape. It has followed me for years. When I went to see my Ob/Gyn for the first time after trying to get pregnant for a while, almost the first question from his lips was, “Have you lost a lot of weight recently?” (I went on to have 3 beautiful boys.) 
How about we consider the “skinny girls” for a change? There are plenty out there with body issues just as great as those that are overweight, and I’ve noticed a few comments about this subject under the comments section of your featured post. I’ve also seen your “Skinny girls are liars” blog. Although I have not read the responses..I’m sure there were some good ones!!!
And in case you’re wondering what happened with my Yr 9 teacher. Years later, in my late teens (and more accepting of my body shape) I went out one night to try a new restaurant with a group of friends, and who should turn out to be the owner? My ex-Year 9 English teacher and her husband. How’s the irony in that?! I remember her looking quite uncomfortable when she noticed me at first which, to be honest, I was quite happy about. And then I made sure I ate three courses, finishing my plate each time, and didn’t make one toilet stop (because by then, many knew about the effects of bulimia and I wasn’t about to let her start thinking I could have that too!!!).
It's a shame that all the original comments to my story have since been lost on Mamamia. It was heartwarming to find that so many people appreciated reading about "the other side of the story", and could really relate to my situation. I know, as a 14 year old, I would have loved to have read a similar story to my own, and read how many others felt the same way I did. Perhaps I wouldn't have felt so isolated in my feelings.

I have to say, after three children, and as I approach the age of 40, my metabolism is obviously not what it used to be. I do sometimes get people commenting on how 'skinny' I am - but I'm really not the same weight I used to be. I finally now do notice that when I eat high fat foods, it shows around my middle! However, as I did when I was younger, I do prefer to have a little more weight on me now. I would never want to go back to my size at the age of 14, or even 24 or 34. Ok - maybe 34 would be ok. ;) But I have no desire to be 'skinny' again.

Sarina ends her article talking about how science will continue to try and understand why it is that some people will gain weight simply by looking at food, and others will not. I'm a big believer that scales are not a necessary part of life. Some of us will 'naturally' be a size 8. Some of us will 'naturally' be a size 16. So long as we eat the right foods, exercise regularly (and I'm talking 30 minutes of walking a day - not 2 hour gym sessions five times a week), indulge in eating crap occasionally and drink plenty of water, then whatever weight we are, is the weight we are supposed to be. It is possible to be a healthy size 6, just as it's possible to be a healthy size 16. 

Let's not assume that all thin or overweight women are that size by choice. It's not always the case.


1 comment:

suburp said...

I've married a 'skinny' tall man and my step daughter is a naturally 'skinny' girl. (both don't like the word either). i am more the 'Bridget Jones on a diet' kind of girl ("i'll always be a little bit fat!") and it never occured to me before how, especially today, slim people can suffer from the looks/remarks of other people. If I would have seen my step daughter before, I would have classed her as 'anorexic, for sure' too. My husband and she (at 15) seem pretty cool about their look. But I think their jokes about 'fat' people (not too crude, but persistent) are an expression of still feeling 'out of the norm'. I never laugh.