Skinny is not a compliment and Social Justice is exhausting

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I sent this photo to my Godsister. Her response was “Cute outfit, you look skinny 🙂 !” My rebuttal was “Thanks. It’s a façade” to which she was annoyed. It made me think about my current research…telling people they look skinny should not automatically be a compliment. Skinny is just fine, but so is my body just the way it is. Which is not, nor has it ever been skinny. #FatStudies #WomensStudies

I had an interesting exchange with my godsister yesterday.  I sent her a photo of an outfit I was wearing and she commented that she loved the outfit and that I was looking skinny.  I told her no I wasn’t, it was a facade and she said “ugh okay whatever” obviously annoyed at my inability to “take the compliment.” Here’s the thing though, why is looking skinny a compliment?

Granted, my reaction was steeped in fat-positive and fat studies material swirling around in my head that has inherently made me question so much about internalized fat bias and thin-normative comments/microaggressions that my knee-jerk reaction was perhaps a bit unfair. Rather than jump on a soapbox, I ended up just saying thank you, but I took to social media to detail the exchange.

It was harmless, right? She was just trying to be nice? It was a compliment, right?  But why was it a compliment, that is the bigger question.  If, being a black woman someone saw a photo of me and said, “Wow you look so pretty and white in that photo.” Would it still feel harmless? Would it still be nice? Would it still be a compliment?

Some will argue saying that I cannot equate fat-ness with race or gender or sexuality. That one is a choice that you can change. Remember how once upon a time that was the exact same discourse we had for the gay lesbian bi- trans (gender/sexual) community? And I get it. People feel exhausted by social justice. People feel it stifles them and makes it hard to connect because we have to be so careful with our words, our thoughts, our language. We try so hard not to offend or isolate. I sincerely think that people in general are good. We want to do good and we have good intentions.

Social justice or the point of bringing attention to social injustices is not to overwhelm you or stifle or sever us. It is to say, hey we are all different in certain ways. Be sensitive to me and my differences and allow me to be sensitive to yours.  Understand that though my physical attributes tell a cultural story that story is not the entirety of my being. Social justice says ask. Social justice says empathize. Social justice says think.  Social justice asks for intention.  Social justice champions difference, but let it be known that just because we are all different (and even our differences are different) that we all have access to the full range of human emotion, that we all have the capacity for compassion.

I hold all of that. I hold the piece of understanding the context my sister sits in: a society, a world, a time where thin is the given ideal. However, thin is not my chosen ideal.  And in that moment the two were dissonant and caused a type of friction. And that is okay.  Because social justice was the space I had to disagree and the mediums I am allowed to explain exactly why.

I love my sis and she loves me.  I understand that. And I did explain to her where I was coming from with my “inability to take the compliment.” I don’t know if she heard me but she listened. That, I think, is the beginning.  Listening to a story that is not your own as if it has value, because it does.  The work or “the work” is iterative. It is never-ending and it is dubious that we ever really live in a world that is entirely socially just.  However, that is not permission to stop the fight because 50% is more than 40 and both are better than 0.

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217 thoughts on “Skinny is not a compliment and Social Justice is exhausting

  1. Hi Jess, this is the first time I’m visited your page. However, your debate is one of many that I have regarding what people subscribe to and accept as okay (as the comfortable norm). I posted something the other day on my blog suggesting that our subscriptions to certain things should be done with a great deal of trepidation. For we must be careful not to subscribe to the “BS” of other while taking stock in the accepted “BS” we tell ourselves. The post is called “The Thinker and Prover are Often One and the Same”. Please take a look and let me know what you think at http://www.zenandtruth.org.

    I applaud your independence from the unthinking norm. As each day goes by, the old movie “The Matrix” takes on more and more meaning for me. In present society… The “Red Pill” is at the height of popularity.

  2. I believe it’s in incredibly poor taste to bring attention to anyone’s appearance, positive or negative, for several reasons.

    Firstly, the one doing the commenting is quite brazenly announcing that they are qualified to judge you. Nope, sorry. Mine is the only opinion that matters from exactly this moment until my funeral.

    Secondly, their actions assume you require feedback. Strike two. I ain’t passin’ out comment cards today or any day, thanks.

    Thirdly, it sets you up to fail because they have established one-sided rules: you are worth their attention when you look a certain way to them; deviate from that and lose their vote. Aaaaand they’re out.

    Lastly, to gaze upon a person in all their wonderful glory and only be able to acknowledge their physicality is just sad. If it’s a friend or relative, you are aware of their gifts, shine a light on those instead. Not a single person alive isn’t buoyed by having who they are appreciated rather than WHAT they are. (Again, the “what” is an inappropriate judgment.)

    If it’s a stranger and you feel compelled to comment, make it a universal love bomb like, “You are just radianting, my dear!” for ladies or “Damn, I can FEEL the power comin’ off you today!” for gentlemen.

    Always leave ’em walkin’ taller.

    1. You have so written what I felt last week! Someone who claims to be a friend, who I hadn’t seen for a while, asked me if I was pregnant. I’m definitely not, and have no desire to be. I love the clarity of thought you express here, and will try to adopt it myself in future.

      However, I would consider “You’re radiant today” along the lines of “Aren’t you pregnant?” It has a suggestion that is a touchy subject!

      1. Strange that such a wonderful word as “radiant” has fallen into disrepute among some as code for “I cannot tell you in good faith that you are beautiful right now, you bloated thing.” When people tell a bride she looks radiant, I never detect negative undertones.

        I, myself, use “radiant” as a verb, as in “He just radiates good times. He’s like human Prozac.” Or “Look at you in that awesome new car–you’re just radiating pride and oozing satisfaction. Shotgun!”

      2. Ah – radiant or blooming are used to describe someone who is pregnant around here. It’s a bit of a backhanded compliment, because while it should mean that you think they are looking super healthy, what you are probably noticing is that they are flushed, out of breath or just not actively suffering from morning sickness… I may be a cynic though! 😉

    2. I saw a friend and her daughter after more than a year had gone by and I commented to my friend how beautiful her daughter was. She immediately said, “and really smart, too”. And I felt that in my heart. I was a little chastised, but I could clearly see the truth that she was showing me. That my comment was shallow. I learned a good lesson that day.

  3. Great piece. Once when I lost weight, I found it disconcerting to get compliments on it. I felt like I got a lot more recognition for losing weight than far more significant and meaningful things that I have done. It’s a troubling aspect of our culture.

    1. The same thing happened to me, but in reverse, when I had a foot and a half of my blonde hair removed to make a pixie cut. Suddenly, certain people (mostly men) acted towards me as if they were my father and I were a naughty child who deserved admonishment. What the ef?

      In the end, it was an efficient way to cull the bad ones out of the herd, if you catch my drift.

  4. Amazing commentary. As a fat woman I face this struggle when people attempt to compliment me by saying I look like I’ve lost weight. I know that they are trying to be kind but to me it’s saying that my fat body is not typically good enough unless it’s shrinking irks me. I’m actually working on a piece about this. Love your blog can’t wait to read more 🙂

    1. and for that reason I don’t blame individuals I blame the whole of our culture for the view we have on thin and fat and the meaning that has been assigned to each.

      1. I totally agree. Though at times it’s hard to separate the individual from the culture. I love your style of writing I’d appreciate any feedback you could provide me on my piece I have posted 🙂

  5. It’s sad that weight is something that is socially acceptable for people to comment on regarding other people’s appearances. I’m thin-underweight (5′, 94 pounds) and the variety of things people (strangers, even) say to me is appalling! My own sister told me I looked unhealthy while strangers compliment me on my petite figure.

  6. Hi Jess,
    You’ve elucidated this profoundly and beautifully. More often than not, when perceiving what’s on the outside, we forget what’s on the inside and tend to form judgements based on the former. And it’s sad, it’s pressing. We need more people like yourself.
    If you don’t mind, could you kindly check out my post titled: “Vulnerability Is The Most Authentic State” and tell me what you think?
    Thank you!

  7. Right on girl! I completely agree with you on believing people are good with good intentions, and that thin may not be everyone’s ideal. People have tried to make me feel guilty when I do not accept desserts based on diet because they assume I am trying to be thin. And they think this way because we have become brainwashed to think that thin is ideal. On the opposite side, those who are thin, do not always see all the appeal to being thin. They may not think it’s ideal either (personal experience). Stay strong, beautiful, and opinionated. =] You’re outfit is adorable and looks amazing on your body. =]

    Please visit my blog. I have just started, and want to spread some words of encouragement and support as well.

    1. Thanks so much for your thoughts and response. I’ll definitely check out your blog and thank you for checking out mine. I think we don’t ask ourselves why we believe pretty has allegiance to thin, but it’s time to start.

  8. Profound. Agreed, I didn’t purchase the outfit to look ‘skinny.’ I too find this need to tell people that clothing makes them appear in a physically preferred manner a tad insulting; but speaks volumes about the current crises of body image. Thank you for the great post.

    1. The idea of body image is changing. It’s the next civil rights frontier. I can see it! One day we will be able to be beautiful human different and appreciate all the variation.

  9. The WHOLE WEIGHT THING is difficult to deal with. It’s socially acceptable to say that someone looks thin or skinny … but in the same breath no one could say that someone looks fat, chunky, overweight, bulgy, bulky, pudgy or plump with the same feelings. I have people tell me from time to time that I look “too thin” or say that I should stop working out. I don’t really work out, I’m never on a diet — I have the body I have. They think it’s OK to shove in my face that I’m “too thin” or “too skinny” … but the turnaround would’t work. How much do I have to weigh BEFORE they are happy? 130? 140? 150? 175? 200? 220? 250? 300? When will they shut the fuck up? Can’t they be happy that I’m healthy and my body simply is what it is? I couldn’t’ counter them and tell them that they looked “too overweight” or “too fat” so why should they be able to do the opposite? Can’t we really focus on HEALTHY and not skinny, not fat or whatever????????!

    1. I think the issue is that “healthy” for so many people is synonymous with thin. And so not to disregard the issues that thin people have, it is just much different for those who are considered fat.

  10. This is a great article. Skinny is not a compliment. I realized that when I started losing weight. It’s kind of a double-edged sword when you lose weight. You have your reasons for it, often health, as was the case with me. Then people bombard you with compliments when it starts showing. “Gosh, you look so great now that you’re losing weight.” Excuse me, I looked great before this too. My goal isn’t to “be skinny”, it is to be fit and healthy. I would prefer to keep some curves. Thinness has never been ideal for me. Society does tell me what I should look like, but honestly, I just want to be happy with myself, and I didn’t think I was ugly when I weighed 20 lbs more either. Great job!

    1. And I can guarantee you weren’t! It is a double edge sword. Because if it’s a goal to lose weight for whatever reason the affirmation is amazing. But it should not be an expectation that every fat person WANTS to lose weight.

  11. Jess, I couldn’t agree more to it. I’ll share my experience. All my life I’ve been told that I’m too skinny and that i need to gain weight and what not. Though my BMI is normal but that doesn’t count because I LOOK SKINNY!

    I fail to understand this constant struggle we human race strive to fit in. All our success, esteem, confidence, satisfaction and inner peace is driven by these worldly parameters which keep on changing every decade.

    So, I agree again. We need to set our own ground standards and live by them respectfully.

  12. I love your clothing choice of dots and stripes!
    I think your definition of social justice is honest and real. The acknowledgement that it is exhausting and that we must keep on trying. I like that you think people are mostly good, it is refreshing to hear!
    It’s the start of a new academic term at the community college where I teach and I’ll be sharing your post with my students. We discuss how to keep the space safe and creative by respecting other the participants’ gender/race/sexuality/beliefs/abilities. Comments about fat bias & the normalising of thinness do not usually get brought up in the discussion so it will be interesting to hear peoples’ ideas around it.

    I often see women bond by telling each other how much they cheated on their skimming club diet, or give compliments around how skinny they look, and possibly have fun finding a common enemy – maybe the thinnest woman in the room. Such interactions spur rivalry and keep adding to the BS we must be careful to buffer ourselves from – unplug from The Matrix indeed!

    I’d love to hear compliments like ‘You are beautiful: you look so like you today’.

    1. Oh my goodness your comment is so incredibly touching. Thanks for sharing my work but more importantly for facilitating conversations where people feel free to be who they are without apology.

  13. It’s an interesting point and I can’t help but agree yet disagree at the same time. “Skinny” is a strange compliment to give, I agree, but we also tell people that an outfit “suits them well” or “flatters their shape”. Surely, I understand what you mean, in that choosing our words more wisely is always better than worse, and I myself, who am rather comfortable in my fuller figure also have a nerve for social justice with which I fully concur your sentiment, however, there are days where I would find this type of compliment off-putting and other times when I would not. For example, if I have been going through a phase of unhappiness about my shape, feeling extremely bloated and unattractive, having someone tell me that something makes me look “skinny” via a text message, a medium most characteristically lacking human charm and downright limiting the options of expression, I would happily accept this as a compliment in lieu of a long winded turn of phrase that might wish to congratulate me on my newly regained confidence, in the fit of a garment that allows me to express that I am feeling beautiful in my own skin.

    I don’t even know if I am expressing what I want to say properly… I guess it boils down to, I love what you wrote and see your point, but sometimes a simple ‘thank you’ would make (even the less thoroughly considered) compliments, have the effect they are supposed to have… which is to share someone else’s happiness, fondness and admiration of you with a smile. 😀

  14. I don´t understand the facade thing. Were you wearing a corset? And if so, why? Isn´t that the opposite of owning one´s body?

  15. Thos was very well thought out. I myself am a bigger set woman. And personally being called curvy is a bigger complaint then saying i looked skinny. My husband always says that he “loves my curves” and i take pride in that. Because the way my body flows is the way i flow. And i feel like it makes me even more beautiful. So its nice reading a post that matches that idea.

  16. This happened to me at the weekend – my best mate told me I looked great (hadn’t seen him for months) and them said ‘you look really skinny’. I said thanks, but I don’t look ‘skinny’, I look *curvy* and that’s good too. Skinny is definitely used to mean that a woman looks really good, and that’s actually pretty damaging. It’s ok to look great and be heavier without resorting to a size related compliment.

  17. Wow you have some pretty good thoughts!! To be honest I never really thought of it that way….. But you’re right why should “looking skinny” be a compliment? Its actually just stating a fact….like “looking tall” or something……

  18. I used to be ‘skinny’ (result of a medical condition coupled with a naturally low BMI) and to have people tell me such was disheartening and only served to make me self conscious. There is a difference between being slim and being skinny and being skinny generally doesn’t come with the healthy glow that being slim does. I had no muscle bulk, I was weak, I got cold easily, my clothes hung off me rather than fitted me properly and this is why, personally I can’t take skinny as a compliment. Thank you for putting this into words; you said it all, really!

  19. I am so glad you were “Freshly Pressed” as this was an excellent read. You hit the nail on the head about how NOT to compliment someone. When we know the person it is so much easier to know how to say something nice to them, we know their “insides” and can say something about what matters. However, I was always taught that you should say something nice when you first meet someone or are introduced to them. Old school, yes, I know, but I am old. As such I learned that complimenting a blouse or shirts color choice, or mentioning their pretty fingernails, if they have a fancy paint job, shoes, the sound of voice or laugh or a fancy hairstyle or especially any idea they express is much better a choice than trying to compliment a figure in today’s society. It seems everyone is easily upset, offended or hurt by comments. I hate to hurt, upset or offend people.

    As for you, may I just say that the blog you are “wearing” seems to fit beautifully and it shows marvelous taste of the mind behind the scenes. Quite frankly, I think you look very “smart” in the blogs and it reflects well on you.

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words. And yes, it is difficult because people really do have good intentions, I think. We are simply products of our environment–a culture that narrowly defined “beauty” and “healthy” to be synonymous with thin.

      1. Yes, it was that way for such a long time, but fortunately, thanks to the more recent generations, like your own, the tide is changing and people (women especially) are learning that as long as they are healthy, it is all good. PLEASE keep up the good work!

  20. Growing up I was like a skeleton with skin on. Seriously. Growing up in the middle of four boys I was well used to teasing about my figure or lack there of. ‘”Skinnymalink melodeon legs big banana feet”, was a regular tease with the reminder not to walk over any gratings in the street, or I might fall through! It was good training and toughened me up for the world outside, where I was comfortable with ignoring such behaviour by so called ‘adults. Now at 67, I wear a size 12(UK), a 10(US), I think, and still people tell me I am thin.

    Hell, it could be worse, I might have been born with three boobs or half a head, so I am grateful, and realise that what people think of me is their problem and not mine.

    Nice outfit, by the way!

  21. Love your perspective and that thin is not your chosen ideal! Strong, healthy and embracing your own God-given body type instead of struggling to fit the mold of society’s paradigm.

  22. Body Image and what is wrong or right, beautiful, ugly, fat or skinny is such a big and unnecessary focus in our society today. I blame a lot of it on the media. As a female dancer and actress with a mother who had anorexia when she was 21 and never fully recovered from it and two sisters who are extremely different from myself body image has been a huge focus in my life. After years of being told I was over weight, I am now faced with people telling me I have lost too much weight, you can never win but your right it doesn’t mean we can’t stop trying. You have to be bold and believe in yourself no matter what shape or size. Love your work!

    1. We all have our own body stories. It is simply my wish that they all be honored with equal measure. Thank you for sharing part of yours with me and for your reading of part of mine.

  23. I’m interested in the fashion/beauty industry from a feminist/artist perspective… probably because as a life long skinny person by actual body type, I can say my whole life I’ve been asked if I’m eating enough. Girls and women with eating disorders have asked me if I’m one of “them” and suggested I join group. When I eat cookies, I have had people wonder if I throw ’em up. Once a larger woman placed her hands around my waist to measure me… and I was just meeting her. She did this before she shook my hand. And after that we didn’t need to shake hands. There are too many stories to count about the assaults on my appearance… from family, friends or strangers, image has been a target.
    It’s difficult for any woman living in a world consumed by image. And although societal pressure emphasizes “skinny” as a beauty standard it’s a predatory appreciation at best. I find when people tell me I’m beautiful, I can’t take the compliment at all. Somehow I don’t trust it. Or I don’t really understand what it means anymore.
    I am new to your work and I like your post. 🙂

    1. Thank you for reading and sharing some of your story. I do believe that the attention we pay to appearance particularly women’s appearance makes it extremely difficult for us simply to live and exist in our bodies however they come. If it’s not skinny it’s tan. Or toned. Or made up. Blown out. Etc. Why can we not be affirmed because we are who we are flaws and all? That’s the world I want. Not a world of similarity but of deeply valued variance.

      1. Oh, you said that beautifully: “That’s the world I want. Not a world of similarity but deeply valued variance.”
        That’s how I feel. I’m glad I found your voice. Thanks so much for replying. 🙂

    2. I am in the same boat as you, and I think many people are. Eating in public around strangers can be an issue if there are outspoken people around. If I am eating a salad, I get comments about how vain I must be to watch my diet, and how I must be starving myself. If I eat a burger, people often say something along the lines of “I wish I could eat that. You have it so easy”, and so forth. There seems to be this pervasive idea in our culture that being skinny makes life easier, for some reason. I spend a considerable amount of money on altering my wardrobe or buying the appropriate sizes, and have been told many times by salespeople that i’m “so lucky”. Not to complain, because I love myself. But sheesh, I didn’t realize that everyone was allowed to comment on my weight.

      1. Hi Chic Scholar, thanks for your comment to me. I had a woman come up to me and instead of shaking my hand when we were being introduced she immediately put her hands around my waist like she was measuring to see if her finger tips would touch. I’m not that skinny, but she had some perspective-issues.

        I don’t know the politically correct language of the day, but I always had fat friends… and I didn’t call them fat. They’d ask me if they looked fat. I would say they looked beautiful. Which they all did. Anyhow, if they wanted to diet, I supported them by walking with them or whatever, but I wasn’t gonna tell them what they needed.
        Yet they saw I had even a tiniest bit of flab anywhere on me, it was a relief and exciting for them to comment on. Like hooray!!! I too had flaws. Which no duh. So the marketing today isn’t helping the female sisterhood or celebration or unity, it’s dividing us. Megan Trainor with her all about the bass song even digs at skinny girls, I dunno if she calls them bitches or what but she minimizes it like, naw, I’m not against skinny girls when she’s interviewed about it.
        But whatever… I am not really complaining about being beautiful. It has been brutal but surviving the cruelty and sexual harassment and rapes is also empowering. That beauty. That’s being objectified and not seen as a human being.
        Sorry if that’s too heavy for casual comment sections. I am okay and so don’t mean to just drop that on you like a bomb.
        Women’s beauty-health issues are complicated.
        Thanks again for sharing with me.

  24. Good for you! I’m in the process of teaching myself that skinny isn’t the most important thing in life, and I think it’s really important for society in general to realize that too. Too often “skinny” is meant as a compliment, or a goal, when in reality your size shouldn’t even matter! Using skinny as a compliment encourages dieting and the need to be thin, and there is enough body-shaming already without this!

  25. I totally love this! There’s nothing wrong with “skinny” but so many are obsessed with it. Love the skin you’re in rather you’re a fabulous thick chic or a sassy skinny one. We are all beautiful just the way we are.

  26. I love this post. First time that I’ve come across your blog, and I’m glad I did.
    And I agree 100% with this! I hate how people give a compliment on appearance and once I deny it, they get fussy over it and training to argue their way into being right. I once was thin, not entirely “skinny” as I had a bit of a belly pooch. I’ve always been a heavy self-critique-er. And it’s driven me to where my opinion seems to defy what society calls fat and skinny. I’ve by now overcome that, and I embrace the fact that I’m now pretty big (third trimester pregnant) and I love my stretch marks.
    I apologize if this came off on the wrong subject, though I was talking along the lines of how society has turned into what it is now.

    1. No way! It is relevant. Body love is body love. Because we have standards of beauty for pregnant women too which I find to be particularly disgusting. Bringing a life into this world is the most AMAZING thing and to be worried about weight gain bloating stretch marks sagging breasts? It’s not the point. Congratulations on your pending bundle. You’re beautiful simply because you exist. And you’re carrying a miracle. That’s beauty.

  27. I hate that society thinks it is okay to comment on weight. It’s just a body type, and sometimes there’s not much you can do to change it. There is so much more to a person than their looks. Thank you for writing this.

  28. When I read your caption I thought that I had to read this post for sure because I definitely agree with it. In the Caribbean (where I’m from) it’s actually frowned upon to be skinny which sort of has the reverse effect of putting pressure on women who are predisposed to being underweight. That said I think that ALL body types are beautiful and fit should be the new sexy no matter what our size. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

    1. You know oddly enough in Jamaica where I thought my body would be, not celebrated but accepted at the very least, I encountered the most judgment and questioning. But he’s I agree with you every body is beautiful

      1. Absolutely. I think that is part of the issue. That healthy has become synonymous with “thin” with little room for variation. That unhealthy and frankly unrealistic view of health has people racing for skinny.

  29. People commenting here might be interested in Stanley Hoffmann’s overlooked novel “Solomon’s Temple”. It is an excellent depiction of a fat person’s journey to thin, and the social responses the journey engenders. A good read and a subject many of us can learn something about to our own benefit and personal growth.

    1. I think i personally would be much more interested in a journey to self-acceptance and unconditional love. And that can be found at any size. Not to say that the aforementioned book does not contain that, I’ve never read it.

  30. This is the first time I have seen your blog and I like your story. I don’t think I would want anybody to tell me I look skinny, especially when I am not trying to get skinny. I am still working on getting healthier and I still apprieciate my curves(IAmACurvyGurl.wordpress.com). I would like to read more of your blogs and maybe get better understanding of other Curvy Women and even some laughs. And I think you look good in your photo!

  31. You are absolutely right!
    Thanks for sharing this, and hopefully more of us women are able accept our bodies for what they are and not what society perceives as ‘beautiful’.

    Also (based on some of the comments I’ve read here)….just because a woman is thicker doesn’t mean they are not healthy. Skinny vs ‘healthy’ should really have nothing to do with one another. Some women are thick and still healthier than most, some women are extra thin and still healthy. So on and so forth….

    Wish more ppl could really just accept that our bodies are so extraordinarily diverse…and beautiful!

    ❤ thank you for the wonderful reminder!

  32. Very good question considering your average man doesn’t like overly skinny women. Its more of a female created reality than one based on a male controlled society.

      1. Well women contribute to male standards of masculinity no? I think the problem is there is a disconnect between what is portrayed in media and what is actually attractive to both sexes.

      2. I disagree there. Physical appearance and standards of beauty are much more stringent for women than men. That is not to negate that men definitely have their own set of standards that are perpetuated by the media as well, but one could argue that the people in charge of the media (and therefore setting the standards of what is deemed acceptable right and attractive) are often men. Specifically white men. So it is most certainly a feminist issue.

    1. Oh noes! Please don’t let women know who I am. Honestly this whole blogging thing is a fun social experiment, and women’s issues is one of those areas where debate or opposing views aren’t welcome it just turns into a circle jerk of back patting and sycophantic salivating.

  33. First time coming across your blog I have to say this is so accurate as a not skinny not fat girl I’m constantly being told I look skinny in certain things my response is not skinny I’m healthy and happy and so are you love the outfit great style

  34. I see where you’re coming from. I think it’s a personal thing. I take skinny and thin as a compliment, partially because I’m so short that if I gain even a bit of extra weight, it’s super noticeable. I think it’s just a matter of who you are. 🙂

  35. Hi Jess!:) nice post, relate much.. maybe the reason why i cant take a compliment is that you get so confused if its a compliment or they’re trying to be funny…another thing that i don’t get is that they think that you cant do things just because you’re fat, or you don’t look like them, they think you cant dance, and when you do, they would laugh at you and i was like.. ” We did the same dance steps, didn’t we”? they think you’re weak, they think they’re sexier, smarter, you know, things like that.

    1. I think some of these things are definitely true sometimes. Especially in the media. Fat women are not often portrayed as sexy. In fact it’s almost a shameful secret if a man likes a woman “of size”. It only perpetuates this idea that certain bodies are wrong and in need of fixing.

      1. hmm i agree, but i think being sexy is not about having the right proportion, its how or what you feel inside, when i was younger, when someone calls me fat, i get affected that easily, but now, hahaha i really dont give a shit what they think about me, if someone or some girl thinks shes better than me because she thin, I will just smile and say.. oh honey, Well see:) heheheh
        ohh and if a man feels ashamed that hes with a woman of size, then he doesn’t deserve to be called a MAN. hes just a DICK. hehe sorry about the !@#!#@$ word. 🙂

  36. Hi Jess..
    I’m sorta new to the world of blogging…n i recently came across your page…I love your style of writing…n how strongly u feel about this issue.
    I have always been a little on the chubby side and i tend to get insecure about it…way more than i would like to…I really hope I can imbibe some of your confidence!!

    1. Haha imbibe away!!! It took me a lot of years before j decided that my happiness was not going to be determined by anyone or anything outside my own self. It’s been the single most liberating thing in my life.

  37. I loved your piece…so much was said, so much was compressed in these few words…. we constantly keep putting people in some frames, some social brackets so that we can define them or find the ease of addressing them. Most of these classifications (compliments too) are harmless and mean well yet somewhere deep inside they leave some crack, some pain, some hurt or some thoughts.
    this whole thing about body shaming beats me…fat, thin, white, straight hair, dark skin etc etc. the emphasis should be on health, sensitivity to others, empathy but in hope we live that our little bit might strike a cord somewhere.
    Thank you for this, once again.

  38. Right on! I’m so sick of skinny!!! Think of all the mind energy women (and men) could utilize in productive ways if we were not such a body conscious society. People spend weigh too much time at the gym. Go for a walk with a friend and be done with it!

  39. Great post…. but on thought on the” watching our words” in order not to offend. True tolerance,understanding,compassion, and the end of bigotry only comes when our thoughts change….. not our words. Politically correct speak is not evidence of changes in social culture it simply means people who hate you because of your weight,skin color, or nationality keep it private or share it only with like minded people and we all become experts at misrepresenting ourselves. Furture more if you seem tolerant on the outside then no one will try to fix the real problem on the inside…… ( just a thought) Personally I would rather know who a person really is…. bigot or otherwise. But this comment is not intended to take away from this outstanding post! Thanks for a great look at the issues.

    1. I totally agree with you. However consciousness precedes language. And I think the idea is that when we become more aware of the hatred or insensitivity embedded in certain words phrases or idioms we then take care not to use them. It is not that NOT saying them changes the heart. The hope is that when you change the heart the tongue follows.

  40. First time visiting your blog and most defnitely appreciated it. Your blog made me think and I love it. You hit the head on the nail explaining how sometimes social justice does feel stifling. And you are right that it is not a eggshell dance in conversation, but a human connection with others. It really brought me back to loving humanity and remembering how to express that love.
    And as for the word skinny, and complimenting someone on being thin. You are right that it does not need to be our focus. That once a person has “achieved” becoming a more “appealing” person we should compliment them. Focusing on a persons true accomplishments is so much more genuine, appreciated, and important. I will say though, that when my mom loses weight I love to tell her how good she looks. And I know she loves to hear it. I don’t think it is because she has adjusted to society and is more aesthetically pleasing. I think it is because for the last three months she just worked her a** off in committing to an idea that she had and has successfully accomplished it. That, in my eyes, is always worthy of a compliment. But maybe next time instead of saying “You look so good” I will say “You did so well”. Thank you for the post.

    1. What a cool reframe “You did so well” and losing weight is work so I bet she would love to hear that AND “You look so good.” I do not think complimenting weight lost is automatically wrong or insensitive. I simply think more often than not people assume that saying someone looks thin(ner) is automatically a good thing. And it’s not necessarily.

      1. I agree. I just hear myself saying it so many times to people who have lost weight and realized that maybe I shouldn’t care so much how thin they look but how well they’re doing.

  41. The anorexic beauty standard is so dated. It’s taken me 40 some years to understand that what Calvin Klein thinks is beautiful is just his opinion, and I don’t even think he prefers women sexually. Youth can be wasted on young women (mostly Caucasian) dying to be thin when sex appeal and beauty is anything butt (misspelling intended). What feels good and looks good (to society) diverge. Thank goodness beauty is in the eye of the beholder and what defines beauty changes with the times. Thick is not an insult-Skinny is not a compliment. Great article. C’mon Digital Natives-show the advertising establishment who’s boss!

  42. Hi sincerely jess, i noticed you deleted all my comments to wilson? so if you need to do that could you please remove all of my comments? I mean no offense to your work or how you need to curb control conversation if that’s what ‘s happening. sometimes the wordpress glitches so maybe its that… doesn’t matter. But if you need to protect wilson, your not helping women at all. He’s harmful to women. He’s lying when he says he’s having a real discussion. He uses what he gleans against women. Including how to compliment and or throw back expressions. He’s spin. So you don’t have to trust me. That’s ok. Do your own research, or not, but please remove me from your site if you aren’t going to allow my full expression. Best of luck in your work. And Thank you.

  43. “Social justice champions difference, but let it be known that just because we are all different (and even our differences are different) that we all have access to the full range of human emotion, that we all have the capacity for compassion.”

    Bravo, Jess. What a timely (for me) and heart-full post. Thank you for sharing your truth, and The truth, in such a moving way.

    With blessings,
    Dani

  44. Great article! Fat Acceptance is very important. I am glad to hear that you are so body positive. People usually mean well when they tell us that we look thin, but it just unintentionally reinforces the belief that skinny is good and fat is bad.

  45. I appreciate that you identify social justice as the space we all have to be different- to celebrate that, to discuss it, and to disagree about it. Good writing!

  46. My fellow blogger and I were just discussing this issue the other day. We have reached the point in our lives where we value fitness and the ability to say “Hey, I ran 2 more miles without puking this week! High five!” – rather than fitting into those jeans we bough five years ago in a state of denial. What’s upsetting is that this process took years and years and it goes without saying that we both still have those days from time to time when the mirror is not your buddy. It would have been great to read this sort of material when we were 16, maybe the transition would have been smoother.

  47. Skinny is beautiful to those who have that preference just as fat is beautiful to others. The fact that overweight is unhealthy and may overweight of fat people wish to be thin makes the words, “You look skinny” a compliment. If someone told me I looked skinny, I know automatically, they mean I look lots smaller than the last time they saw me. Seriously, in this context, smaller can mean skinny. I think there is too much put on social justice and politically correct. It’s just being over sensitive and making people walk on eggshells. We need to get over ourselves with that.

    1. Thanks for this. I wonder, since trying to change ones body seems to be some form of acquiescence to social pressure rather than the simple desire to have the body one wants, if we should a be content to accept the mind we have and stop reading books and such. Does “That was pretty smart.” really mean “You’re not as stupid as you were last time we talked?”
      Thanks again for a good post.

  48. Thank you. I had a episode a few days ago that left me bereft of words to explain why I was upset. And your words have inspired me. What left be feeling alone and betrayed was their lack of desire to even listen. The assumption that I should be the one to listen because everyone else felt uncomfortable. But they did not give me the opportunity to explain why I was upset.
    So, thank you.

  49. I love this post, just stumbled across it on ‘freshly pressed’ and I’m glad I did. There are ideals out there but they are not for all of us, as we all think, feel and react differently. Good on you for explaining to your godsister and moving on.

  50. I agree very much with your point here. Being skinny is neither good or bad, it just is. Being healthy should be the ideal for every woman, not to be skinny. I am a slim woman, and I never know how to react to comments of “you’re so skinny”. Um, thanks? I am healthy, and my size is naturally on the smaller side. That’s fine, and I am happy with myself. However, I find that I am always being asked to justify my size to people. “Why are you so skinny? Don’t you ever eat anything? Here, have three more sandwiches. And some chips. Eat these chips. I am going to make it my personal responsibility to make you eat, because clearly you don’t.” God forbid we all be healthy and look different! Compliments on someone’s appearance are well-intentioned, but let’s focus on promoting health and happiness to other women, rather than size. I would rather hear “You look so healthy/pretty/happy/awake today” than “you look so skinny”.

  51. I came across this post at the time when I realised I have gained weight. And frankly, i have always had weight issues. I believe that physical characteristics should not be given so much of importance. Love the fact that you embrace your body. Everyone should! Thanks for the inspiration 🙂

  52. There’s a lot of research that suggests body size is not a choice, whether due to genetics or habits or circumstances, etc. Intentional efforts to lose weight ultimately backfire. And the thin ideal promoted by the media is only attainable using Photoshop.

  53. I’m so happy that someone else feels the exact same way I do. What you are doing is great, you are truly inspiring.

  54. I too have encountered a comment much like your godsister gave you. My reaction what a bit like yours. I asked my coworker, “what do you mean skinny?” Her answer was pertaining to the uniform we have to wear at work and it was her first time seeing outside of work. Although her comment was innocent and meant no harm, that “compliment stuck with me for a few days. Being with my body type is much like your own and me also being an African American woman, this post has truly touched my heart. Thank you for thinking outside of the norm and sharing your experiences.

    1. Thanks for sharing. I think many encounter comments like these that we just typically do not stop to question. But it’s time to really start asking tough questions

      1. You are right. We all should start asking those hard questions. Thinking from the norm is not a bad thing like people make it out to be. I feel that it is time for be to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

  55. If a GUY is called skinny, it might not be a compliment because it could also suggest he’s not muscular enough, and therefore under-masculine.

  56. I truly love your post and where you are going with your thought process. As someone who works hard to be “thin for society” it is exhausting and almost counter productive as far as feeling beautiful. I do not think we should abuse our bodies on either side of the spectrum, but instead realize that there is a happy medium somewhere in between.

  57. I think this is great. Skinny is not always a compliment, more often it is an excuse to pass judgement on someone elses body. Since the start of this year I have lost nearly 10kg (almost 25 pounds). I was not big to begin with, and this weight loss was not intentional. When people say things like “God, you’re so skinny!” Or “You’ve lost so much weight! You look great!” I don’t hear a compliment. I am reminded of being so ill that I couldn’t keep food down for weeks. Of having no car for months and walking to work, to college, to the store and carrying groceries home. Of only being able to afford one meal a day. It’s a reminder that my job is exhausting and I rarely have time for proper meals. I hear “you have conformed to the societal pressure to be thin, and we are pleased.” If I had gained weight, would it still be ok to comment on it? To ask me about, then judge my my eating habits? To verbally deconstruct every part of my body both to my face and behind my back?

    The kicker is, I also shrank 2 cup sizes and feel less attractive and less feminine than when I was “average”.

    I’m sorry I wandered a tad off topic, but this is something I’m so passionate about. You’re sister commented on your outfit, which is what you had asked for, but then also on your body, implying that you would want it to look any way other than what it is. (and why would you?!? 😉 ) My boyfriend recently commented that my boobs looked big in a picture. I was a little upset. I’m sure it was meant to be a compliment, but they’re smaller than they used to be, the picture is an illusion, I can’t bring them back and with one comment, my head is spinning with insecurities.

    Thank you for this though. It’s good to know I’m not the only one who is frustrated with the way we talk about bodies, particularly womens.

  58. I’m curious… what SHOULD your sister have said? Anything she said would be from her perspective and judgemental in some sort of fashion. Even “You look nice today” can be taken wrong. (Trust me… as a guy I know that can go VERY wrong, even when the intent is positive!)
    I know we all want to be respected and appreciated for being in our own space. However, at a certain point we need to balance that against unrealistic expectations of those outside of our experience don’t we? Even our family and best friends aren’t inside our head (Oh sweet Jesus I hope not) like we are 24/7.
    So I guess we just have to make allowances and appreciate what we can add to each other’s lives? Kind of like giving a gift. It’s the thought that counts, right?
    If that makes sense?

    1. The compliment wasn’t the issue. It’s the fact that “skinny” was automatically assumed to be a compliment. It was bigger than our exchange. And not drawing attention to that invalidates my and so many other people’s feelings that who were are and how we look (not being skinny” is just fine with us.

  59. I agree with you so much, we should learn to accept people, I wrote a post recently about my thoughts on losing weight, if you have time I think it’s something that would interest you. Your posts are so truthful thank you!

  60. I think the best way to avoid unacceptable compliments is to focus on the compliments themselves. If every one is examined thoroughly for imperfections, vetted and qualified before saying “Thank you, what a nice thing to say.” or something like that, pretty soon people will just get tired of working their asses off trying to be nice to you. Why is that? Because it’s not fair to them and they deserve a bit of justice too. Good post, I enjoyed reading it.

  61. Its great to see people challenging social norms that revolve around warped perceptions of beauty and what it means for a woman to be beautiful and have worth. The Because She Campaign (http://becauseshe2014.wordpress.com/) firmly believes that women should feel valued for their character and not their appearance. We also believe that women’s bodies are incredible no matter what shape or size, and that women should gain confidence from knowing that their looks are not what defines them as a person.

    1. That sounds wonderful. I will be thefirst to admit that my looks matter to me, but they are not the only thing. Being valued as a whole person, not despite my looks yet not solely because of them, is always my aim.

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