“You’re just too skinny! You don’t have enough meat on your bones to keep you warm.”
When he said it, I forced a laugh. It was a balmy Tuesday afternoon, and as we settled into our chairs in the small meeting room—the one notorious for its overactive AC unit—I pulled a blanket over my lap. I knew he was just trying to be funny. It was supposed to be a joke. But I’d learned years before to let jokes like that disappear into the cracks in the walls. There was no right response. And well I guess, I was hugging a blanket to my waist on a 90-degree day.
But the words didn’t just drift away. Instead, I could feel them burrowing into my subconscious and making themselves at home. My thoughts spun like a Rolodex, cycling through all the other times I’d heard jokes like that. From the car-salesman-turned-VP-of-sales at my last job. The boys in the house next door senior year. That friend-of-a-friend I met at a happy hour.
It reminded me of the time I was sitting in that VP’s office, taking notes on the newest customer profile, and was asked about my running. How when I told him I was training for a half marathon, he chuckled, and suggested I eat at least 10,000 calories a day to compensate. Or the time I filled my plate with lettuce at a picnic and was told I should get pizza instead, because I can afford it. It reminded me of other times I was made to feel—unsure. Was I supposed to say thank you? Or should I be offended?
It made me wonder if I’d ever told someone, even with a laugh, that they were “too” anything. At work? With friends? Maybe with family? I’ve undoubtedly said some stupid things to people, especially those closest to me (sorry, sisters!), but I like to believe I’ve never told anyone something like that. I don’t know what makes people who they are, how they got that way, or if they even like it. I only know what it’s like to be me, and how hard that can be some days. So who am I to judge?
I hesitated to even write this post, knowing how tricky body image and weight conversations can be. Especially as someone who was lucky enough to have been born with genes that do most of the work, I’m admittedly unaware of how hard it can be to change the size you’re born with. I mean, I get it. I’m “skinny.” I do a lot of the things people assume skinny people do. Eat a lot of salads. Work out. Talk about eating salads and working out. But if you asked me to describe myself physically, “skinny” wouldn’t be one of the adjectives I’d offer.
The thing is, when I look at myself, I don’t see a “skinny” person. Or a “not-skinny” person. I see a person with too much torso and not enough hips. With abs that need to crunch and legs that need to squat, and still don’t look like they do in the movies. I see a person who gets cold in heavily air-conditioned rooms, even in the summer.
I also see the girl who wrote, “I wish I knew what it was like to be [her]. To look into a mirror and see perfect skin and perfect hair and a perfect face attached to a perfect body” in her 7th grade diary. Who has since (tried to) grow into her own, and remember that no one is perfect. Who, even still, sometimes withers around coworkers and friends for their thick hair, impeccable style and, let’s just be honest, voluptuous frames, because none of those things describe her.
But more than that, I see a person who’s trying to figure out what words do describe her. Because isn’t that what we’re all trying to do? Aren’t we all just trying to keep up with the ever-changing adjectives that make us, us? Why should anyone—coworkers, friends, strangers—get to choose them for us?