It is strange being on this side of the scale again. While it was here that I was raised, grew up and only knew until the birth of my first child…it is not a place I have assumed for a very long time. I’m talking about being part of the exclusive thin group. And even as I write that, I wonder if I truly am once again a welcome part of it, or if I am just fooling myself. But that is for another piece…
I wasn’t one of those girls who grew up always struggling with my weight. Rather I was one of the fortunate few born with great genes who ate whenever, whatever and however much I pleased and simply never gained weight. I was so oblivious to the struggles of being overweight that I didn’t even realize it was possible that I ever could be.
Well, pregnancy changed all of that. And six pregnancies later I had absolutely managed to transform what was once a thin body into one that was quite the opposite for many years to come. While I am thrilled that I have four beautiful, healthy children to show for it, my pregnancies were far from easy. And being that I wrote six pregnancies and four children, you can deduce that tragically two of them did not make it into this world.
Ironically, during the time I struggled to carry a healthy pregnancy, others would look jealously at my flat stomach. I, meanwhile, craved nothing in the world more than gaining weight and having that big belly. Skinny meant I wasn’t pregnant. It was not something to be admired but something that was crushing. It was not a compliment but what felt like a curse.
And then everything shifted. When I was pregnant and able to carry my babies I ate because I wanted to. I needed to. And my babies needed me to. But nothing would satiate me. So I kept eating and eating.
When I kept on that extra weight post birth, I watched the way the world changed how it interacted with me. It was cute for a skinny girl to eat a huge plate of food. Not so much for a heavier girl. I knew things were bad when I actually faked being pregnant so that people would treat me kindly and not just lump me with the rest of the overweight section of society.
I kid you not. For our 10th anniversary my husband and I went on a vacation to a beautiful island. I remember heading to the airport in my spanx thinking I looked fine, until I caught a reflection of myself and no matter how hard I tried to suck in, that belly wasn’t going anywhere.
So off went the spanx and instead I pushed out my stomach a bit more, kept one hand on my back and another on my stomach. Immediate transformation! I was no longer overweight but adorably pregnant, looking somewhere around my 5th or 6th month. When people looked they smiled and oohed and aahed as then my stomach had a purpose and was important and not just the result of perceived lack of self control.
But the point of this piece is actually the opposite. There is no question that society is not too nice to those deemed overweight. But here is the catch. Society is also not too nice to those who are actually in shape and at a healthy weight. To fit right in you need to battle with your weight and be able to relate to those overweight (but not too overweight of course). And skinny people can’t. They don’t know anything. Have no idea what it means to struggle. Can’t be deep or insightful and clearly have nothing to add to any meaningful conversation. After all, skinny people have it easy, with everything just handed to them and going their way.
After a health scare and an intense year of serious life changes, I lost a good amount of weight. And yet, now when I join in a conversation about struggles or commitment or dedication, the assumption is that I wouldn’t know anything about that. Recently I was the moderator at a discussion about body image, and immediately sensed some tension with the unspoken sentiment being “what would you know, you’re thin?!” Could I be projecting? Possibly. But having sat on the other end of the table, I have a pretty good idea of what was running through those heads.
Now with my teenage daughters I struggle to ensure I speak about my desire to be healthy and not thin. That I don’t bemoan or criticize myself if I eat fattening foods and that I don’t speak about that ongoing fear of gaining weight. And yet, the same society that looks down on the thin in many ways both directly and indirectly causes the body image crisis from which we all suffer. I watch as adults, who should know better, comment on how thin my girls are. “Wow, look at you, so tall and skinny! How gorgeous!” Well, guess what…tall and skinny may seem gorgeous but when dealing with a teenager it comes at a high price. Tell a young woman that she is gorgeous when she is under 100 lbs. and see just how willing she will be to watch that scale tip. Remind her of how thin she is every time you see her, and she will do anything in her power to remain that way. But even then she can’t win because if she remains tall, skinny and beautiful she will still be resented by the rest of society.
As a Chassidic Jew I follow the laws of modesty. Externally this means that I wear skirts that cover my knees and shirts that cover my elbows and collarbone. Furthermore I ensure that nothing is too form fitting as the point is that we do not want to draw our attention to body parts. But there is a much deeper level to modesty that I hadn’t really tapped into before this process. That is that modesty is something that we both should create for ourselves and project onto others. We are so much more than just our physical bodies. Whether big or small. And the goal is that when we look at a person we not only refrain from judging him or her by what we see but that we recognize there is an entire package of the physical, the spiritual and the emotional that is contained in the body and the soul. When we allow ourselves to truly embrace the inner dimension of modesty, we wouldn’t judge a body type as we really shouldn’t even be focused on it.
Unfortunately we rarely tap into this level. But the first step in getting there is to stop shaming others. And to recognize that skinny shaming is as damaging and problematic as fat shaming. Shaming is shaming. It is wrong, unhealthy and dangerous. We have no idea when we see a body what the story is behind it. We could be looking at a woman who spent years working and overcoming issues to get that fit or one who was naturally born with those genes. We could be looking at a thin woman who is unable to conceive so her body never went through the changes that pregnancy creates. Or we could be looking at a body that tortures itself every day either through starvation or binging to keep a number of the scale that others will both admire and simultaneously resent.
We need to assume that we can’t assume anything. And we need to support each other regardless of the number on the scale. If we take the time to understand where that number comes from and what it represents, then we can encourage those who should gain weight to gain it and help those who should become healthier to lose it. But the motives must be pure and the intentions correct. And that can never, ever come from shaming, but from open sharing. And the desire to connect. And overcome. And change. So please let’s try to stop judging each other and recognize that we all have a story, we all have struggles, and we all have insecurities, regardless of what the number on the scale might appear to say. And ideally we will one day reach the level where we don’t notice or distinguish if one is heavy or thin since it won’t even be something we feel the need to notice.