I was stunned. How is a person supposed to respond to something like that? I smiled weakly and muttered something about good genes and walked away. Rather than feeling flattered, I felt completely deflated.
If I had to do it over again, I’d probably do the exact same thing. I’m not good at face to face confrontation. But since I’ve been thinking about it for the last THREE YEARS, I should probably say something. And boy, do I have lots to say.
Because guys? “You are so skinny. I hate you,” is NOT a compliment. We can be better than that.
First of all, “skinny” means nothing. I know people of all shapes and sizes who are all levels of healthy and unhealthy. Tiny people who don’t take care of their bodies. Large people who have strength and stamina that I can only dream of. All bodies are different. If I tried to be as “skinny” as some of my friends, I’d be tremendously disproportionate (I’m six feet tall and they are not!) and definitely unhealthy. And if other friends tried to be as “skinny” as me, they’d be fighting an impossible battle with their genes and would definitely be unhealthy.
My being “skinny” is not the best goal. Healthy? Strong? Capable? Whole? Absolutely! But being skinny doesn’t mean a thing.
Because guess what: our bodies do not determine our worth.
Nor should the adjectives we use to describe our bodies make us feel more or less worthy.
I am tall. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? It depends. If you asked thirteen-year-old me, being tall is theee worst. Thirty-something-year-old me realizes it just is. I’m tall. There is no intrinsic value assigned to it; it’s just a word to describe my body.
It breaks my heart to hear women and girls call themselves “fat” in a tone of voice that make it synonymous with “evil” or “worthless.” It breaks my heart to hear their friends protest, “No! You’re so skinny!” as if that means, “No! You are marvelous!” As if “fat” is the worst thing a person could be. As if “skinny” is the only kind of person worth being.
News flash, y’all: Fat people are marvelous. Thin people are marvelous. In-between people are marvelous. All human beings have the potential to be pretty dang rad, no matter what their bodies look like. And quite frankly, we often have a lot more control over our capacity to be rad than we do over what size pants we wear.
Are you kind? Are you a hard-worker? Are you generous? Are you the kind of person who makes other people feel loved and appreciated? Are you bold and brave and willing to stand up for those who need to be defended? Are you trying to be a better person than you were yesterday? Then it doesn’t matter what size or shape you are! There are things you can do and gifts you can share that nobody else can.
You are worthy, right now, in the body you have.
We should never make assumptions about someone’s body. Never. Not about what it looks like. Not about any changes it has gone through. Our judgments, comparisons, and criticisms almost always come from a place of ignorance.
You see, my friend wasn’t wrong. I was quite thin. Within a few months of giving birth, I weighed less than I had in the more than ten years since graduating high school. Not because I was exercising and eating well and working really hard to lose my baby weight, though. Honestly, I wasn’t thinking about baby weight at all.
I was too busy dealing with yet undiagnosed postpartum depression and anxiety.
Within a few months of giving birth, I lost nearly fifty pounds simply because I wasn’t eating enough. My depression killed my appetite and I was exclusively breastfeeding a large, hungry baby. The math is simple: I lost weight because my calorie output vastly exceeded my calorie input. It’s a wonder I was able to breastfeed as long as I did, because many women would have lost their milk supply if they ate as little as I did.
I really struggled with my body image during that time. All the external voices told me that losing weight was a good thing. My clothes were so loose I had to buy smaller sizes than I had worn since puberty. How exciting! I was more beautiful, more worthy because I was getting so thin!
The depression fed into that. “Nobody liked you until you lost all this weight. Maybe you should lose more, because you’re obviously still a loser. You’re a terrible mom and a terrible wife, but at least if you’re skinny you’ll be pretty.”
Deep down I knew that all of this was wrong. Depression lies. My worth is not based on my body. I wasn’t a loser or a bad mom/wife; I was just sick. I knew that. But it was really hard to believe it.
So when this person said, “You’re so skinny! I hate you!” what I heard was, “You’ll never be good enough and nobody loves you!” Those words crushed me. It has taken a long time for me to heal from those wounds.
My point is, you just never know. You never know what burdens people are carrying. Weight loss is not always a good thing. Weight gain is not always a bad thing. New clothes, a change in hairstyle, more or less makeup than usual…unless someone chooses to tell you why their body is the way it is, it’s just none of your business. And you really don’t need to comment on it.
There is no need to qualify a compliment.
Then there’s the problematic, “I hate you.”
When you offer someone a compliment, even a misguided or meaningless one, and follow it up with a statement like that, you completely undo any kindness. The sweetest words followed by “I hate you,” become downright cruel. You built someone up just to knock them flat on their back. Nobody needs that.
Tearing yourself down doesn’t make a compliment better, it just makes it about yourself. Comparisons imply or create unkind feelings. Adding “I hate you!” to a compliment just reinforces the false idea that women are always in competition with each other. That one woman’s success is something to be criticized rather than celebrated.
THAT ATTITUDE IS SERIOUSLY MESSED UP.
Do you know how much more we can accomplish when we work together? Do you know how much better this world would be if people rejoiced in one another’s triumphs instead of tearing each other down?
Other people’s awesomeness doesn’t diminish your capacity to be awesome.
Stop acting like it does. Don’t hate people because they have talents you don’t, or opportunities you want, or characteristics you’ve always wished for. Try being happy for them instead! And then go be grateful for the talents and opportunities and characteristics you DO have…because, like I said before, you are worthy just as you are!
I know now–and I knew then–that this person had good intentions. She wanted to pay me a compliment. Her execution was awful, no doubt, but I don’t hold it against her. Even if her words said otherwise, she didn’t really hate me, and she just wanted me to know I looked nice. I’ve learned over the years that I am far less offended by people when I always assume positive intent.
However, good intentions can only go so far. Let’s all think before we speak. Is it kind? Is it uplifting? Is it necessary? Do we really need to say anything about another person’s body?
Probably not. Because it just doesn’t matter. Skinny is just a word, not an assignment of value. Bodies do not determine worth.
And, as Thumper taught us when we were kids: if you can’t say something nice, you don’t need to say anything at all.
*The original version of this post was first published at Real Life On Purpose.