Thinness and Gender
As if we don’t have enough gender disparities in this society, I’ve been noticing lately how thin men and women are viewed and treated differently. Skinny men, whether they perceive their physique as unmanly or not, are basically left alone. Perhaps they’re not adored as hunks or hotties, maybe they’re covertly envied or even laughed at, but no one has all that much to say about or to them regarding their bodies.
Thin women, on the other hand, are too much talked about and talked at, on constant display. They are perceived as having it all together and often are the recipient of envy and resentment. One day I overheard a store cashier say to a slender woman, “Oh, lucky you. You can eat anything. I wish I looked like you.” Another day I heard a trim woman mention to her friend that she’d gone to a spa. Her friend laughed and quipped, “You, you don’t need a spa. You’re thin.” I ask, can you imagine anyone telling a thin guy that he doesn’t need to visit a spa or going on and on about how lucky he is to be so trim?
Moreover, comments about and to thin women are often double edged. Idealized and revered as role models and ideals, they are equally envied and resented. Not true of thin men who are, well, just thin men. A slim woman may be a gem of a person, but may be disliked merely for how she looks. Focusing on women’s thinness does a disservice to those who are slender and to those who aren’t by creating stereotypes that damage self-esteem and self-love. They can cause fat women to feel badly about their bodies. But it also may make thin women uncomfortable knowing that people are ambivalent about them. I am not saying, “Oh, poor thin women.” It is far easier, hands down, to be slim in this culture than fat, much less painful to be the target of mixed feelings than entirely negative ones. I am saying, let’s quit fussing about women’s bodies period and start treating them the neutral way we treat men’s bodies.
Thin women should be viewed as women first and thin second. Some are content with life, some are a mess and hanging by a mental thread. Some fear and hate being stereotyped and end up putting on pounds to ease their discomfort. Some don’t feel good about their bodies because they believe they have to live up to unreasonable expectations and are proud only of their slenderness or never feel thin enough. It is everyone’s responsibility to treat thin women and men equally. It’s up to men—thin and fat—to think about how they would feel if folks were constantly focused on their bodies, and up to women of every weight to respect our physical diversity so that we all feel good about the bodies we have.