When Calling a Woman “Skinny” Isn’t a Compliment Anymore

Written by Tabby Biddle

Santa Monica beach

I have a friend who, every time she sees me, feels the need to say, “You look so skinny.” The first time she said this, I took it as a compliment. I thought that she was giving me kudos for the good care I take of myself with three healthy meals a day, exercise, stress management tools like yoga, walks by the beach, romance and good sleep habits. However, now that this is the greeting I get every time I see her, I am beginning to wonder about the motivation behind the comment.

When you greet a friend or colleague you wouldn’t say, “You look so fat.” Granted being “skinny” in our culture is a little more accepted than being fat, does this make it okay to tell a woman she looks “so skinny” when you greet her?

There is no doubt that weight is a serious issue in America – both on the fat and skinny side. Obesity in the US is on the upswing. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, more than one-third of US adults are obese, and two-thirds are overweight. Add to this, healthcare spending on obesity in the US has nearly doubled in the last 10 years. (Obesity has been linked to numerous health problems including heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and some cancers.)

On the skinny side, statistics are also a bit grim. Anorexia is the leading cause of death in young women aged 15-24, and the numbers of young women affected are growing. According to Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, Inc., without treatment, up to 20 percent of people with serious eating disorders die.

When I was 14, I had a short bout with anorexia – and looking at those statistics, I feel grateful to have recovered as I did.

I have spent my life as an athletic, tall, thin person. Here and there I have popped on or dropped off a few pounds depending on what was going on in my life. However, generally I have been a consistent weight, healthy and in great shape.

So, today when someone says to me “you look so skinny” on a repeated basis (all the while I haven’t changed weight since the last time I saw that person) – it doesn’t register as a compliment – it registers as annoying. It makes me think there is something else going on that I can’t quite put my finger on.

While it is wonderful to hear someone say, “You look great!” – talking about the overall essence of a person — I think it is out of place to greet a woman with the first comment being about her weight.

What do you think?

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Tabby Biddle is a writer and editor living in Santa Monica, CA. She specializes in helping women entrepreneurs and first-time authors get their message out. Additionally, she is the founder of Lotus Blossom Style, a yoga lifestyle company created to support women in their journey of personal transformation.

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10 thoughts on “When Calling a Woman “Skinny” Isn’t a Compliment Anymore

  1. I have the same issue with one of my friends! Over the past 2 years I’ve lost 45 pounds and am back to my college weight. My friend, who is on the overweight side, says something about how skinny I am every time we see one another. I don’t know if it’s envy or what. But I think it’s rude after the first time.

    • I agree with you. It does feel rude after the first time. I am taking Karen’s advice below and talking about it with my friend. I let it go the first few times, but it doesn’t do either of us any good if I leave it un-discussed. Perhaps both of us will make some important discoveries and do some healing on both ends.

      Have you brought up to your friend how it bothers you?

  2. Hard one to answer. Is it jealousy? Sincere concern? Does she know about the anexoria bout long ago? Maybe she’s afraid. Always best I think to gently talk about it. It might make both feel more relaxed.

    • Always a wise woman, Karen. I am beginning discussion with my friend. Talking about things — while typically difficult at first — is always the best choice.

      Peace.

  3. I always heard this from my grandparents every time they saw me. “Eat something- you’re so skinny.” I’m glad I didn’t listen to them. They were terrible cooks.

  4. It is just plain rude to call friends skinny, fat or address the weight topic as if talking about the weather. It is not unknown that this is a huge issue, not only with women, but everyone.
    This is along the lines of folks who ask you how much money your earn at a party, or how much your car cost you, what you paid for your house, especially in a public or group setting, but at all. Where did this behavior come from? It is not OK.

  5. I really like your blog. I am going to blog about it on my blog too. It’s true. Some people really have no idea how what they say will be heard by someone and sometimes, I think unconsciously their words run so deep with personal anger, self-hate… whatever that is… receiving it on the other end to me makes me feel like I have to put
    my hands out in front of my chest to save myself from the attack.

    Thanks for sharing~
    Sue

  6. Preach it!!

    Wow… talk about pushing a button in me… this is actually something that enrages me and I am glad to see it written about.

    I was the skinny kid on the playground (with glasses, thank you very much), who got abused as badly as the fat kids did. The kids taunted that my mother didn’t feed me and locked m in a closet… ‘funny’ now but hateful to a young girl. It didn’t get better as I got older, just different, and it didn’t help that I didn’t get my period until I was almost 17 and the rest of my ‘figure’ at the age of 21 (I have stretch marks on my hips from the overnight appearance of my ‘curves’ and I love them).

    These days I do get the “you are so SKINNY” comments through the clentched teeth of some and the “I hate you” with a smile comments from others. Just recently, a mother of a childhood acquaintance saw me in the grocery store, looked me up and down, told me I was MUCH too skinny and asked me if I was ill.

    Seriously??? Where are people’s filters??

    First, the Lord made me the way the Lord made me, so call me a ‘skinny bitch’ to my face, but perhaps it is best to take that up with a higher power than myself.

    Secondly, I am not SKINNY, I am lean and strong and healthy because I work very, very hard to be that way.

    Lastly, although I am much better at deflecting these comments now, there are times I feel like I am back on the playground and I really want to deck the person who made such a displeasing remark.

    I do want to thank those who are lovingly complimentary and want to know what it is that I do to stay so healthy & young looking. It is encouraging words like that that help this former scrawny chicken stay motivated!

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