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When a Stranger Said She Wished She Was ‘Skinny’ Like Me

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Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Something that has always baffled me is that calling someone “fat” is often seen as an insult, yet calling someone “thin” is often seen as a compliment. I don’t think either of those statements are true. If a person is healthy and happy with themselves, that’s what matters. It is frowned upon to comment on a person being overweight, but many people think commenting on those who are underweight is socially acceptable. This is a perception I would love to change. There was definitely a time when being told I was losing weight was a compliment because it meant I was achieving something. However reflecting on this now, I know those comments were not compliments, but instead a recognition of a problem I was determined to ignore.

There are definitely moments in life that impact you to the point where you can remember the date, the time, where you were and what you were wearing. One of these moments for me was when I was still at school and had gone shopping with a friend. We were in a clothing store and we separated to go and look at different things. There were two women looking in the same area of the shop as me and I heard one of them say, “You know, I wish I was skinny. I mean, not just normal skinny, but skinny like her.” And with that, she pointed very clearly in my direction, our eyes met and I instantly looked down. In that moment I felt so ashamed of myself and hurt someone could so easily single me out like that. Although I know it probably was not meant to be hurtful, I couldn’t ignore the ignorance of what she had just said. It wasn’t her fault, but it had a massive impact.

“Skinny like her.”

I remember instantly thinking she had no idea what she was talking about. She had no idea what it meant to be skinny like me.

It didn’t mean eating healthily, going to the gym a couple of times a week or having a cheat day and not feeling guilty about it. It meant starving myself. It meant sitting with other people while they ate and constant questions as to why I wasn’t. It meant every inch of the packaging on any food was examined and assessed, every number scrutinized. It wasn’t pretty. It was in no way an ideal way of life. I had to lie to my parents about what I had eaten that day and then tell them I was going to a friends for dinner when I actually went out for a walk. My life felt like it revolved around what I was eating and how I looked in the mirror. I would faint and at times people even tried force-feeding me. I felt cold all of the time. I remember regularly just sitting in the bath and crying because I didn’t know what to do.

Now, obviously this woman knew nothing about my life. But if she did, I wonder if we would have had the same encounter. I wish I’d had the confidence to explain it to her, to help her understand why her comment was damaging.

Your words have a much bigger impact than you think. Ignorance is so prevalent in society about so many different things. Be compassionate and do your best to understand other people.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: January 5, 2017
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