Don’t Make the Thin Girl Ugly

 

I stumbled across a petition on Change.org started by a fellow blogger, whom I happen to adore.  I’ve met her.  I’ve laughed with her.  I’ve slept in the same hotel room with her.  I find her intelligent and quite glorious.

I don’t like her petition…. though I may be in the minority on it.

The petition is to Francesca Bellettini, the CEO of Yves Saint Laurent with this request: “Do not use anorexic models in your advertisements anymore”.

Shannon (who started the petition) uses this picture from the latest Vanity Fair as an example:

 

VF_March_YvesSaintLaurent

 

She also wrote a blog post about it here.

My problem is that we don’t know that this young woman is actually anorexic.  Perhaps the genes she inherited, combined with her youth, keeps her rail thin.  Isn’t assuming all skinny girls are anorexic just as bad as assuming all bigger girls are unhealthy?

What really bothered me were some of the comments that I read on the petition page:

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The comments go on and on and on…

Here’s another picture:

 

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That’s a picture stolen from my senior year yearbook of me stringing lights on a reindeer.

I was a thin girl.

I was called anorexic.  I was called “toothpick”.  I was called “boob-less” and “stick figure”.

I was an active teenager who was training in dance and had thin parents.

I also ate four large meals a day, numerous snack, and spent several months on weight gain shakes so the name calling would stop.  It didn’t.

I know that “Aw, poor skinny girl” is not the majority sentiment, but body issues and self esteem have never been beholden to body type.

I’m not going to lie, being thin did open doors for me and I was able to walk through those doors and enjoy a short career in the fashion industry.

 

Elite Comp Front.jpg

I made a good bit of money in a short amount of time…

and well into my twenties I would still walk down the street and hear other women throw over their shoulder, “Eat a sandwich”.

In Shannon’s post that I linked to above, she calls the use of very thin models cruel, and even “cruel for the girl in this photo as booking this job has affirmed for her that if she’s skinny enough, she’ll work. She’ll think twice about eating even one healthy meal a day fearing if she gains an ounce she’ll be unemployed.”  The assumption is perpetuated that very thin girls don’t eat a single healthy meal in a given day.  Assumptions based on what people look like is not the message I think we should be sending.

I’m not saying the industry doesn’t dangerously favor a certain body type – it certainly does.  However, I do believe it’s changing, and there are companies out there like Dove that have been on the forefront of that change…

But banning thin models and calling them anorexic isn’t the answer.  Thin-ness isn’t the enemy – exclusivity is.  Instead of banning one body type, we should instead be demanding all body types.

I know that the knee-jerk tendency is to put down one to uplift another…

and that often the pendulum swings high toward both extremes before settling in the middle…

but I would caution against this particular fight being one of those times.

I worry.

I worry for the girls out there who are like I was – who are suffering from the same self esteem issues that most teenagers do, and are being told they are ugly not only by their teasing peers, but by adults around them who are crusading for change.

Ceasing to use one type of model isn’t the answer.  Starting to use other types might be…

because in gym classes all over the world, the really thin girl may be standing next to the thick girl, who is standing next to the short girl, who is standing next to the average-built girl…

and they may all have inferiority complexes…

they may all feel a little weird in their own skin…

but they all want to be represented…

and in the end…

they all probably want to buy clothes.

 

jenni chiu sig

 

PS – I’d like to note here that I no longer have to worry about being called “toothpick”.  Birthing two children, a sedentary lifestyle, and a middle-aged metabolism has taken care of that.

 

Discussion

  1. vickie b says:

    I had a hyper active thyroid for years – I am 5′ 9″ and I weighed (at the most) 120 lbs. I was called the same thing, even been asked if I had cancer or was sick. Thyroid taken care of, skinniness taken care of. You hit it right on – you don’t know this persons journey.

  2. It’s funny because I’ve always been on the other side of the coin, the “thicker” side. Deemed “curvy” but actually not really built with any of those said curves! And I used to be a skinny-shamer as well. Then I birthed a little girl. One who is tall and lanky and can’t seem to put a pound on her. And now I understand. And you’re right. I hate to think of someone telling her to eat a cheeseburger, I would hate for someone to make her feel ugly because she’s on the thin side. The war isn’t against each other, it shouldn’t be skinny vs thick or straight vs curvy, it should be against whatever society of system is trying to tell us that one or the other is beautiful. We’re all beautiful.

  3. You are spot on. People have this stupid idea that, because you can make slight changes to your physique through diet and exercise, that you are somehow MORALLY responsible for how you look. Overweight? You must be lazy. Thin? You must be shallow.

    When will people just get a grip on the fact that we’re all built a bit differently? I’m tall with broad shoulders and got teased about being a “linebacker.” My tall, thin aunts are all emotionally scarred from the teasing they’ve endured their entire lives—including into their 60s. And telling someone to “eat a sandwich” is rude and mean almost beyond belief.
    Julie recently posted..Productivity games for busy days

  4. Thank you for this. A voice of reason. My knickname until I was almost 30, was ‘skinny minny Miller.’ My daughter? She’s thinner than I was. Neither of us were anorexic, and in fact, we were highly active, always eating and just genetically thin. I no longer get told to ‘eat a sandwich’ (thanks to middle age, sedentary tendencies and antidepressants) but my kid does. ALL THE TIME. It’s infuriating. Yes, the fashion world has to change. Absolutely. But thin-shaming, or presuming someone is fighting a deadly illness like anorexia just because they are skinny, isn’t the way to make those changes happen.
    Tanis Miller recently posted..Mirror Image

  5. I remember the day I hit 100lbs. I was in college. I grew up being called a stick and told so many times I was too skinny. I was always trying to gain weight. Over twenty years later, two kids, and a slower pace, I don’t have a problem gaining weight! I have two girls. The other day I heard my mom call my oldest daughter “skinny-minnie.” Hearing it as a mother took on a whole new meaning for me. I never thought I’d be talking to my mom about the importance of “self-image” before my girls!
    Cam B recently posted..Adventure More Summer Camps

  6. This was my reaction to the petition, too. I have seen a lot of writing by bloggers lately that comes from really good places, desiring to create positive change, but I can’t support initiatives if the basis of the argument is founded on assumptions without proof.

    This happened with people writing about Fred Phelps and his Westboro church, too. He was excommunicated from that church a year before his death and effectively silenced and isolated by those members, so during the last year of his life he was kept from both the media and his other children who had previously left the church. The assumption was that he died an evil person who still held those beliefs, but his excommunication could mean that he had a change of heart. In the end, he was too ill to speak for himself, and everyone’s declarations that he died an unrepentant hatemonger were based assumptions, not fact.

    I don’t mean to highjack this to be about other stories, but I do want to express how important it is that when we try create movements, no matter the heart behind them, that we don’t perpetuate misinformation or cast judgements that feel emotionally true but are in actuality not true and possibly harmful to those we intend to help.

    Using photos of strangers’ bodies with their heads cut off for the purpose of harshly judging anonymous bodies without establishing the facts behind those judgements does not respect those bodies and the individuals they belong to.

    • I do not mind highjacking… because its really not. It’s an excellent point, and echoes my sentiments here – the casting of judgements that we feel are emotionally true.

  7. I was always thin. In high school, I was called Olive Oyl. When I went to the college health clinic for a cold, they called a therapist in for my “anorexia.” I asked “what anorexia?” I was just thin. Some women won’t like someone as soon as they see they are thin. I’ve had remarks slung at me, loud enough to hear, “must be hard to count every calorie.” I eat, I’ve gained weight since then, but when I was active in highs school and grade school with sports, I was under average in national weight standards. Judging, feeling threatened, it’s hard to say where the assumed knowledge comes from. I never dieted, I never counted calories. It was just my body.
    alexandra recently posted..Suburban Haiku

  8. This post was very well written. I was so skinny all my life that a few guys said I looked like a monkey to my face when I was a teenager. My mom’s friends always told my mom to feed more. I actually ate at least three meals a day back then. Both my parents were thin, and they also eat big meals. My daughter was thin, but very beautiful. She was smart and talented in dance and drama class. Being thin also got the attention of a talent scout and got her good modeling jobs, which helped a great deal toward her college fund. I’m a grandmother now, and still thin. My doctor and my husband loves my weight, because I’m healthy. I actually eat about three small meals and two big meals a day. I gave up on trying to gain weight. As for my daughter, she’s no longer thin after given birth to my grand kids. We are all different, in body type, believes, and ….. God made us different and loves all body type!

  9. Hello Ladies– Jenni was kind enough to let me know she was posting this today and that her opinion differed from mine which is just plain classy.

    Jenni I really enjoyed this post. The point you make about accepting all different body types as beautiful I agree with entirely. And like you and some of the other ladies I was incredibly thin growing up. My own dad said, “Hey, what are those two strings hanging out of your shorts? Oh, they’re your legs.” (Still love you, dad).

    Like you I passionately feel more body types need to be seen in advertising campaigns, from thin to very full-bodied because that’s what the world looks like.

    And it’s true that I don’t know whether the model in the YSL ad is anorexic. But when I look at her photo, and then the photos of you when you were very thin, I have an instinctual reaction based in emotion. To me you look beautiful and healthy in your photos. I see muscle tone and strength.

    When I saw the photo in the YSL campaign I had a visceral, and yes, emotional (not factual) reaction. To me this girl looks ill. Her legs have no muscle in them and even her posture seems deflated and defeated. I MAY BE ABSOLUTELY WRONG. But I felt YSL pushed heroin chic (or whatever it’s termed) too too far.

    And having two daughters — one who is quite thin and lanky but plays a fierce game of Little League softball — that image really bothered me. Again, an emotional reaction. In any case, I do so get and respect your point of view Jenni. It shouldn’t be all or nothing at all.
    Shannon Bradley-Colleary recently posted..The “Love Your Body Now” Project: Healing Body Image Issues Through Fine Art Nudes (Ruby)

  10. The woman in the ad looks unhealthily thin, without muscle mass at all. She looks weak and unattractive. Glorifying that is absolutely wrong & harmful. There is no middle ground here.
    Carol Cassara recently posted..Love blindness and suicide

  11. I have a couple of points to make here and they will not be in any order:

    1. Photoshop is an amazingly scary thing – especially when used in the fashion/beauty industry. We have absolutely NO IDEA what the woman in that photo really looks like. None. Between ‘actions’ and filters and upping the grain level – the ‘heroin chic’ look can be something that was absolutely added well after the last photo was snapped and the model took a Snickers bar break.

    2. My son is thin. REALLY thin. Last month, as I signed him up for tball (TBALL – the kid is 5), a would-be coach told him I should start feeding him more cheeseburgers in order to ‘put some meat on his bones’. Never in my life have I wanted to smack someone more than I did in that moment. Between Halloween costumes with built-in muscles, our society placing so much emphasis on male sports players as role models – I have an entirely new outlook on the body image issues that BOYS face.

    3. This is a fabulous response piece, Jenni. Very classy and well written. xoxo
    Tottums recently posted..Snips and snails and puppy dog tails

  12. I was a thin girl too, and it was just the way my body was built (I had my Dad’s skinny frame – he’s still skinny, but eats like a horse).

    Fortunately, I’ve never been told that I was ugly, or to eat a sandwich, or to grow a butt/ boobs. Still, I didn’t have any body confidence, and saw fault nonetheless.

    I love your point of view – you just don’t know someone’s back story.
    Alison recently posted..Through The Lens Thursday #13: Looking Down

  13. dixie says:

    THANK YOU! I’ve always been curvy, I’m just built that way, and despite this have always hated “skinny shaming.” My aunt was like Jenni, TRIED to gain weight, and my brother? He could eat 5 hamburgers (no kidding) at one sitting and yet in every childhood photo you can count his ribs. Stop with the body shaming already, you guys!! Facebook is so chock full of posts about how curves are beautiful. No, PEOPLE are beautiful. Putting down someone to make yourself feel better is called bullying and if we teach our children not to do it that how can we possibly condone this in ourselves! We should hold ourselves to a higher standard, we are better than that… or can be if we consciously shift from what is becoming the normal mindset in society. I also used to laugh at, but have grown to hate, the things like ‘people of walmart’. Since when has it become okay to point fingers and publicly ridicule ANYONE. We are all becoming big judgmental bullies pointing fingers and taking delight in rooting out flaws in others, but it’s okay because everyone else is doing it too. (I know that isn’t what the author of the other post intended, to hold this thin girl up to ridicule, but if you look at the comments like the ones Jenni posted as examples, that’s where the general public often takes it, unfortunately) It’s scary how accepted it is becoming and just normal.

  14. Catherine says:

    Hi Jenni — I was a professional dancer as a first career. While studying at a major (world-class) dance school — I’ll leave it anonymous but it feeds one of the top ballet companies in the world — a doctor came in to do a study of the dancers. He found a 60% rate of anorexia. At that time, the rate for women in college was 20%. Either number is much, much, much too high. You are/were naturally skinny — and name-calling is never right — but I still feel it is absolutely vital that the images we present to our young girls covers a wide range of body types and it does not. There is only one ideal figure — and that is one unobtainable by most women. Our fashion magazines and movies are where we get our role models from — and they play a dangerous game with far too many youngsters. Perhaps Shannon’s petition should not so much be “ban anorexic models” as “give us women with average BMI — and match each low BMI with a high one so that there is a representation of many ideals.

    • Yes, that’s exactly my point – “a wide range” of body types. Neither banning nor glorifying a particular body type seems like the right course of action to me.

  15. So true! We need to welcome all body types. Excluding one is not the answer.
    Jess recently posted..Dogs vs Kids

  16. This is really great, and echoes my own sentiments around this issue after years or hearing about “real women” and knowing I wasn’t considered one. I too was always the super skinny kid who got teased endlessly. As an adult, being slim has probably helped open doors in ways that I am not even aware, but I’m still subjected to lots of jokes and conjecture (particularly as a vegan who eats very well). I hate that “the skinnies” have been vilified in the dialogue. On a few occasions in “real life” when I’ve protested that, the reaction was to pooh pooh my concerns on the basis that since I was slim, there was nothing for me to feel put out about.

    And… Very classy response from Shannon. :)

    Your post also reminded me of something I wrote a few days ago before seeing this: http://themindfulmavens.com/2014/04/02/you-never-know-whats-going-on-behind-someones-smile/
    Pamela recently posted..You never know what’s going on behind someone’s smile

  17. Kerri Wojcik says:

    Thanks for writing this! I was “stick-girl” in HS and very self conscious. Even now, I just had my 2nd baby and am blessed to have a body that bounces back quick. I will be be very thin for a while due to nursing. But the comments don’t stop and continue to make me self-conscious, even though people assume they’re complimenting me I guess. I’m not trying to be thin, it’s in my DNA, yet I feel like I need to apologize for it because I make other people feel like they’re doing something wrong.

  18. annjay says:

    Thank you for this. Im kind of skinny, I was 165cm, 45 kilos in junior high school. Some of my seniors made fun of me and called me things like bag of bones. And that just made me kind of want to have an eating disorder because then at least I could say there was something wrong with me. I didn’t, but I still find it really difficult to eat in front of people because they always kind of comment about how the amount I eat isn’t enough or is more than they expected me to eat and it’s really hard for me to deal with that. Like, I really hate people glamorizing thinness like Kate Moss used to, but I don’t think the reaction to that should be to put skinny people down. We are all different, I feel we should focus on health rather than beauty. So really, thanks for your article, you made me feel a bit less alone. God bless!

  19. AWESOME! I was the skinny girl and I hated myself. My mom always tried to make me feel better by saying I was slender. I hated it, with a passion and was constantly trying to hide under my clothes. I was called Anne Frank, toothpick,stick figure, bean pole, a gym teacher would not let me back in her class until I had a dr.’s note stating that I was not anorexic. That is surprisingly the actual reason I did not graduate with my class, that one gym credit the first semester if my sophomore year. I’ve dealt with, “oh my god! You’re so skinny!” In a disgusting and derogatory tone most if my life. Never, not once, have I turned around and said, “holy sh*t! You’re really fu**ing fat! It’s mean, people are the way they are. I would never intentionally make someone feel the way I have about my body.
    I’m 39 years old, I’ve had two kids and I look f***ing great!

  20. I’m completely for women of a larger size being represented and portrayed positively, but I’m much more for the representation and positive portrayal of ALL sorts of body shapes and sizes. I may be thin, but I’m sick of being constantly bombarded and made to feel that to be attractive/sexy/desirable, especially to men, I have to have all the ‘right’ curves – breasts larger than a B-cup, a defined waist, and a booty I can shake (just look at celebrities like Scarlett Johansson, Kate Upton, Beyonce, Kim Kardashian, or for that matter, the comment featured in the above article “No twigs, curves are beautiful”). I also have to have perfect skin, symmetrical facial features (and even with symmetrical features, I could still have an ‘unattractive’ nose or lips etc), minimal/non-existent body hair, straight white teeth, legs that go on for days, and a neck like a swan. It’s exhausting, unattainable, unrealistic, depressing, and maddening.

    That’s why I wish the debate was more than just fat vs thin, and was, as the author says, more about body acceptance in general. I wish the campaign was for the idea that attractiveness/sexiness/desirableness can come in all shapes and sizes. Oh, and all shades of skin tone.

    (On a lighter note – I also wish there was less discrimination against people who don’t have Facebook, Twitter, Google, or other major service provider accounts. I wanted to post this comment on HuffPost, but I couldn’t even set up a HuffPost account without having an account with one of these!)

  21. Thanks for posting this. I read the article you referenced and I was very put off by the negativity that shot out from it. Hello, persecution. (Not a great example to set for daughters.) No one knows what the model’s situation is except her. I am petite and slender; I also danced when I was growing up, I’m still very active and my metabolism has always been wicked fast. And I eat a lot, and fairly healthily. People have been mean to me because of my genetics since I was 12 (how to not make a sale: sneer at me when I tell you my size when I’m looking for something). I think if the article focused on POSITIVELY promoting a healthy body as opposed to ostracizing the model for the way she looks and what YSL likely photoshopped her to look like I would sign the petition.

  22. Thank you for writing this. Thin people are stereotyped just like people who are overweight. By the way your modeling shots are beautiful!
    Old School/New School Mom recently posted..Mentally Ill People Are Not Crazy- The Stigma Continues

  23. Reading this article really helped me gain the courage to share my experiences. Thank you for that! Everything you said is so true! No one has the right to impose certain ideas on people about the ideal body shape or size, whether they endorse being skinny or being fat. Size is not always a reflection of health. The sad part is, even older and supposedly wiser people with the power to influence others criticize people for their skinny figures. Then how are young people supposed to learn that it is not right to bully others because of this? As a teen, I have to endure so many comments because of my size and it just isn’t fair to judge people and make them feel bad.

Trackbacks

  1. […] still hope you’ll consider signing my petition, but have a look at Jenni’s post then let me know where you fall in this […]

  2. […] agree with the author of this post: Beauty shouldn’t be an either/or debate when it comes to shape and size. Our daughters need to […]

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  4. […] though. Fellow blogger and Shannon’s friend Jenni Chiu has published a reply entitled ‘Don’t Make the Thin Girl Ugly‘, where she argues: ‘Banning thin models and calling them anorexic isn’t the answer. […]

  5. […] though. Fellow blogger and Shannon’s friend Jenni Chiu has published a reply entitled ‘Don’t Make the Thin Girl Ugly‘, where she argues: ‘Banning thin models and calling them anorexic isn’t the […]

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