When I was 19 years old, I took a year off of school and worked the graveyard shift at a diner. One night, around 3 a.m., I discovered mayonnaise while eating an order of mid-shift fries. It was news to me: Mayonnaise was — and always will be — DELICIOUS. Thousand Island? Even better. I refer to this year of my life as the Year of Mayonnaise. Naturally, this year of consuming mayonnaise with reckless abandon — and often pairing it with cheese fries — was not my leanest year, but it was a lovely year. Until, that is, when one day, when I just so happened to be wearing an empire-waisted top, I was serving a group of very tipsy women during happy hour and one of the bunch pointed to my stomach and slurred, sincerely, “When are you due?”
I am now 26 years old and there is no seven-year-old child in my life — and to be clear, there was no baby in my life (or in my body) then, either.
I took her comment as a clear cue that empire-waisted clothing is probably not something I should wear until there is a baby growing inside of me. But I also — after staring at her like I would stare at someone who’d just said, “Can you pass me the cat milk for my coffee?” — wondered to myself, Why on earth would you ever comment on a stranger’s body in that way? Say I were expecting a kid — you, a stranger, do not know the circumstances. After all, not every pregnancy is an easy, happy, gush-to-strangers-about-it situation.
I bring this story up because this thought — why would you comment on someone’s body in that way? — is the same thought I had when my friend alerted me to the fact that someone she barely knows had recently rushed up to her and screeched, “You look so SKINNY! TELL ME: WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”
My friend, confused about when she had ever been the opposite of skinny, didn’t have any secrets to share. She wasn’t actively doing anything. Her only answer: Stress … ? She’s since received this same “So skinny!” comment, from people she kind of, sort of knows, a number of times. Each time, I wonder to myself, Ugh, whyyyy, people, whyyy?
Now, don’t get me wrong: I, too, am totally guilty of dropping a “Look at you, skinny!” to friends here and there throughout my lifetime. But I started trying to be conscious of not doing this after one of my good friends, who’d been treated for an eating disorder, clued me into the fact that screeching these words to someone who’s struggling with food could be just the validation they need to skip their next meal.
It’s like the pregnancy assumption: You don’t know their circumstances.
And, on top of the 45 seconds of awkwardness an unsolicited comment about one’s body brings, another thing that makes the wow-so-skinny comments dangerous are the thoughts that bubble up after someone, thinking they are complimenting you, implies that the way you look now is better or worse than the way you looked before. It’s like saying, “You look so good today!” You think it’s a compliment, while the person who was just hit with it walks away wondering, Hold up: Do I usually look like a slob? Then, there’s the the issue of associating “skinny” with “better,” which is something I could go on for days about. Since I don’t have time to do that, I’ll just say: It’s something we all need to work on changing.
And the last point I’ll make is that — unless someone has divulged information on their weight-loss journey to you and you know, without a doubt, they’d appreciate support — a damn near stranger’s weight loss is none of your business, and their body is not yours to weigh in on. Plain and simple. So, I have an idea: The next time you feel yourself beginning to scream “SKINNY!” at someone, think about it: Do you know, without question, that your comment on their weight will be appreciated and helping more than it’s hurting? If not, let’s all just keep our mouths shut.
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