SKINNY AND FAT: UNDERSTANDING OUR CULTURE'S WAR ON WORDS
Let's face it, "skinny" and "fat" have starkly different connotations. Ever wonder why when someone wants to insult another person (particularly a woman), "fat" usually ends up being thrown in there somehow? Why is that word so hurtful? Why is it insulting? In short, it is because fat is shameful, ugly, lazy, gross, undesirable, unwanted. And it's our job to be the opposite of these things, right? In that same vein of thought, "skinny" could substitute in our culture as the opposite. Skinny is desirable, accepted, wanted, successful, adored. So when someone says, as I'm guaranteeing you reading this have said to yourself before, "I feel fat," what you're really saying is you feel the things you associate with fat. "Fat" is not a feeling. It's a descriptor; you might as well tell me I have brown eyes. But the meaning we've construed from it over time has sent us into a frenzy to avoid it at all costs. When someone talks about wanting to be skinnier, it's hardly ever something they're doing for themselves or to feel better physically, despite how they've convinced themselves of such. Healthier yes, skinny no. You don't really want to be skinnier, you want what skinnier means. What our culture promises comes with being skinny i.e. desirability, success, attention is a powerful antithesis to feelings of guilt and shame. Trying to fix your problems by "fixing" your body will never bring about lasting change because your body was never the problem in the first place. We all
want success, love, admirability, acceptance, and more to some extent; humans are social creatures that crave a sense of natural belonging. It's no surprise that we as a culture are obsessed with sculpting and smoothing; imperfections remind us of our own fragility and changing nature. The way that companies deliver their messaging to you strategically pricks at these points.
The next time you stop at your local grocery store, I want you to take a mental note of something for me. How many times do you see the word, "skinny" on a product? Off the top of my head, I can think of "think thin" bars, skinny pop popcorn, skinnylicious meals, skinny lip balm, and skinny water. Think about that for a minute. IT'S WATER. Why would you need "skinny" on water or lip balm or anything not food-related? They didn't say "healthy." They said "skinny." That's because your brain quickly associates the word skinny as desirable, and you are more likely to buy said product. Companies that lead with this strategy know that word association can play a huge part in picking products, and they;re willing to bet on you to uphold the standard they've set.
Understanding that skinny and fat are simply descriptors and nothing more is one of the most important steps to developing a healthier body image and personal relationship to food. Health looks different on everyone, and someone who is fat can be healthy while someone skinny can be incredibly unhealthy. The point is, you don't know just by looking at a person. Everybody wants to stand out until they actually do, and then they want to know where they fit into. Breaking apart the concept that skinnier people are automatically healthier, happier, more successful, or desirable is just as important as breaking apart the idea that fat people are lazy and less worthwhile.
I'd like to get to the point where "skinny" and "fat" are really just words. I'd like to see the day when skinny isn't a compliment and fat a nasty insult. By better understanding the lens with which we look at the world around us, we can make more educated, conscious choices. The culture will not change over night, and there will always be someone waiting to sell you an insecurity, but our best medicine is to be informed, and to apply what we learn in any small way we can. After all, change starts with you.