Skinny on the outside, heavy on the inside

Cover Photo of hands in shape of heart by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

I’m considered “normal weight”. Some would call me “skinny”. Just because my outsides don’t reflect my inner struggle, doesn’t mean the struggle isn’t there.

I’m considered “normal weight”. Some would call me “skinny”. Just because my outsides don’t reflect my inner struggle, doesn’t mean the struggle isn’t there.

Skinny and happy are not synonyms

“What do YOU know about body shame? It’s easy for you to accept your body…you’re SKINNY!”

I had an unfortunate interaction with a friend the other day, and it’s something I want to share because I know there are probably others who have experienced similar situations, and I think we can learn from each other.

First, a short backstory is in order. I’m not fat. I’ve gone through phases in my life where I’ve been overweight. But even during my heavier times, no one would have picked me out on the street as being a “big girl”.

When I was young, I never had problems with food, weight, or my body. I never got teased in the halls at school (about my weight, though I did experience bullying for other reasons). Even when I gained weight, it never bothered me much. I never weighed myself. I didn’t exercise. I didn’t worry about what I ate.

When it came to my body, I felt pretty…neutral.

Then, in college, I had the unfortunate experience of dating a guy who loved me only when my body was “right and tight”. I was with him for four years and I cringe to think I actually tolerated his behavior for that long.

Photo by  Aliyah Jamous  on  Unsplash

Looking back on this now, I learned three very important life lessons:

1)    The power of someone else’s words can change the course of a person’s day/week/month/LIFE. I went from being a completely “normal” person — no eating disorders, no body shame — until one person’s words changed everything. Twenty years later, I still suffer the residual effects.

2)    The speed at which disordered eating behavior and body image issues can arise is astounding. Under just a slight amount of pressure, it took less than six months for me to go from happy and shame-free, to body-obsessed and disordered-eating mess.

3)    You don’t have to be the culturally-accepted version of “fat” to experience shame about your body, disordered eating habits, and the associated pain that goes along with those things.

I tell my story to help others

Some of you may know that I’m a blogger. Well, DUH! If you are reading this right now, you probably know that I write a blog.

I write a lot about wellness topics, but I also blog about body acceptance, diet culture, disordered eating, health at every size, etc. I began writing because putting my story into words helps me expunge the negativity from my brain. I also write because it helps me to know that I might be helping someone else.

I know that by putting my story out there into the public eye, I will end up with a few “haters” or “disbelievers”…and I probably need to grow a thicker skin.

Back to the interaction between my friend and I…

I share my story to help both myself and others.  Photo by  Mel  on  Unsplash

I share my story to help both myself and others.

Photo by Mel on Unsplash

My experience of body shame and disordered eating is viewed as less valid because I’m “skinny”

Last week I wrote and publicly posted a blog about body shame and learning to accept my body as it is. A friend, who happens to be heavier, messaged me. She didn’t like my post. She said: “What do YOU know about body shame? It’s easy for you accept your body…You’re SKINNY!

One of the most frustrating parts of my journey to whole body wellness – mind, body, and spirit – is trying to explain myself to those who feel it’s okay to invalidate my experience because I’m “skinny”. (I’m not actually skinny…I’m normal weight…but I understand that some folks who are overweight would give anything to be my size.)

Basically, I’m not fat enough to “count”. I can’t belong to the disordered eating/body-hate club because I’m not big enough. It’s like high school all over again.

But my feelings are real. My worry about visiting a public beach in a bathing suit is real. My worry about the roll around my waist – no matter how small and insignificant it may seem to you – is real. My binge eating disorder is real. My body dysmorphia is real. These are not feelings or experiences that I can control any more than I can control the weather.

I understand that someone who has struggled with her weight her entire life probably has a different story to tell than mine. Her pain may be different that mine. And I stand in support of her, 100%. But my pain and my experiences are no less valid than hers just because my outsides don’t match the culturally-appropriate level of fatness that would allow me to have “body and food struggles”.

Believing that all skinny people love their bodies is like believing that all heavy people hate theirs. Neither is true.  Photo by  Zohre Nemati  on  Unsplash

Believing that all skinny people love their bodies is like believing that all heavy people hate theirs. Neither is true.

Photo by Zohre Nemati on Unsplash

My journey may look different than yours, but it’s not any less REAL

My friend and I are still friends. I called her, and we had a real, honest-to-goodness conversation. (I believe this point about open and honest communication might be the most important point of this post.)

I told her I understand and appreciate where she’s coming from. I can absolutely see how a person who has been teased her entire life by thinner people, could look at a thin person who is struggling and think “she’s lying…she doesn’t know shit about body shame”. I get it, and I accept her experience and her feelings.

And she now has a greater appreciation of something she never considered before: thin doesn’t automatically equal happy and centered. She realized she was “judging a book by its cover”, just as much as that boy who teased her in high school about her weight (her words, not mine).

Our experiences may be different, but our pain stems from the same body-centric and aesthetics-obsessed culture that causes us to constantly feel like we need to change our outsides to be okay on the inside.

Come together and reject the idea that body size determines health and happiness

My belief is that – thick or thin – we need to open the lines of communication and come together to reject the notion that being a certain size is the difference between health, happiness, and inclusion. Not all thin people are healthy, just like not all fat people are unhealthy. Not all thin women love their bodies, just like not all fat women hate theirs. Everyone’s experience is unique and valid, no matter the size of your thighs.

We are all in this together.


Skinny on the outside, heavy on the inside.png

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Blog Author: Kelly Bailey, IIN certified holistic nutrition coach, and NPTI certified personal trainer

Learn more about the author here.