Standing in a Nordstrom fitting room last week wearing a thousand-dollar black jumper, I wanted to feel good about my reflection. This was tough for several reasons: All I saw on my body was the equivalent of my expenses for one entire month traveling Europe and I knew I would never, ever spend so much money on something no matter how nice it looked and mainly because the personal stylist said, “I hate you for fitting into a size zero.”
Then my friend followed up with similar sentiments. “Yea, I hate you.”
I’ve tried to hear these things as compliments, people assure me they’re compliments, but it’s hard to interpret the word “hate” kindly.
Last year, Abercrombie and Fitch CEO Mark Jeffries spewed out that awful nonsense about not selling clothing larger than a size ten. (I’m sorry, but he must be a witch if he can still get people to walk into a place that is 50% air, 50% terrible cologne.) To the rescue came lovable Ellen Degeneres with a humorous, “There is a size zero, which I don’t understand. Zero is nothing.” The watching world rejoiced and the video went viral. Me? I felt the mild sting of the attacks on my size I’ve been getting my entire life.
The first assault on my weight I can remember came in fifth-grade gym class. I had beaten the most popular girl in our grade fair and square at a round of tennis. Unfortunately, our gym teacher hadn’t been watching our match closely and when it came down to the final point in my favor, Mrs. Hamm missed it. When she came over to record our score, Jade proudly told her that she had won. Stunned, I explained to the gym teacher that I had won. Because neither of us could agree the match was null and void. Being pretty severely challenged athletically, I was upset to have my win taken from me (it was one of, like, three in all of ever). It only got worse in the locker room.
I quietly turned to Jade and said, “You lied.”
Her response has stuck with me two decades later.
“Well, at least I’m not anorexic.”
She had hissed it in a way that was only audible to me. My scrawny, lanky frame hid behind my locker. I was incredibly skinny with poke-out ribs and bony knees and elbows, but not for lack of eating. It was simply the way I was built.
My skin thickened to these things throughout the years. When I was in a convenience store two years ago grabbing some ramen noodles a middle-aged man turned to me as I was bent over deciding between chicken and beef and muttered, “Oh good, you do eat.” I did the easiest thing I could and I ignored him. Strangers are always a bit easier. It has been family and friends that I have the hardest time with. At eighteen, when I finally put on a little bit of weight, my uncle turned to me at a wedding and said, “Thank God you finally put some meat on you!”
Because people see me as thin, and because thin is in, so to speak, I’m not allowed to have body issues.
But most frequent of all continue to be the comments from friends. If I dare to say I feel like I’ve gained weight since entering my late twenties, I’m met with eye rolls and, “Oh, shut up. Like you have any fat on you.” Because people see me as thin, and because thin is in, so to speak, I’m not allowed to have body issues. I’m not allowed to wonder whether a shirt or dress hugs me wrong. I’m also, apparently, non-existent in my size zero clothing if the popularity of Ellen’s video suggests anything.
The thing is, I’m very much here. I eat, too, and not like a rabbit, but more like a bear.
What bothers me the most about all of this is that people think it’s okay to openly discuss my body because I am skinny. The comments can fly because I’m a size zero. Is this based on an assumption that I have high self-esteem? Because it’s not soaring. Am I supposed to keep my mouth shut because I’m what some people consider the ideal size? Am I supposed to feel bad that I am skinny? Because, unless someone is pointing it out in a negative light, I usually don’t. I eat well, I exercise, and, most days, I like what reflects back to me in the mirror after a shower. I do not appreciate my body being talked about negatively in open arenas, like I’d guess every other human wouldn’t. I’m not skinny to piss anyone off and I don’t go around poking jabs at anyone else’s body because I know how crappy that feels.
I’ve heard and read similar arguments to the one I am making and the response is usually, “Yea, but, it’s not the same as what a heavy person hears/feels/experiences.” Maybe the words are different, but I assure you that having your body associated with words like hate and shut up feels pretty damn bad no matter what end of the spectrum you fall on. How is it any different to shun me for being a size zero than it is to shun people who are size 14 and up? Why would we take something like the Abercrombie & Fitch campaign against plus sizes and turn it into a campaign against small sizes?
Ellen also commented, “Beauty isn’t between a size zero and a size eight. It is not a number at all. It is not physical.” And she’s right. It isn’t about a number. She shouldn’t have made such a negative comment about a particular number at the beginning of her bit if that’s the point she is trying to driving home. We should be leaving the numbers out of it, whether it’s a size zero or a size twenty.
We should be leaving the numbers out of it, whether it’s a size zero or a size twenty.
It’s a shame to me that in what appears to be a much-needed movement towards a healthier, more muscular and fuller body shape being portrayed in the media we are shunning a whole other weight demographic. Again. I think the goal should be for everyone to be at a weight that is healthy and happy for them and we should all heed Thumper’s mother’s wisdom when it comes to whatever someone else is working with:
“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”