I’ve always been a Skinny Girl. I don’t diet (much) or work out; that’s just how my body exists. Thin. I’m from a family of athletic people, and though I’ve never been a sporting individual myself, I’ve been blessed with their slender genetics. And, for reasons I’ll go into later, I’ve always been the smallest one in my family.
I realize that my body type puts me squarely into the ranks of the size-privileged. My lifetime of experience with the way the media—and our culture in general—bends over backwards to give me an advantage over larger women does not leave me without a clue. I’m incredibly lucky to be able to look through a magazine and see women who resemble me, or to walk into most stores and find clothes that fit (although I can’t afford any of them, but that’s a whole other article). I recognize that my larger friends and lovers are forever being scrutinized by the world and by themselves for their extra-ness in a way I can’t possibly understand because I have never experienced it. I try to listen to their woes and be an advocate for size awareness in my writing and in my daily, lived experience. But I have found, since I was a kid, that being supportive about body issues with other women usually does not include me speaking about my own body. My expressions of body issues are usually met with rolled eyes, dismissive hand-waving, or denigrating comments. As if, having a body that is lacking in too-much-ness, I don’t have a right to be concerned about its flaws.
But I do have concerns. I have a chronic autoimmune disease that keeps me a bit on the wasted side. My body started attacking and trying to destroy itself from the inside when I was less than a year old, and my growth was stunted as a result. My joints are the disease’s primary targets, which means that I have never been able to do a lot of things with my hands and arms. This has kept them alarmingly thin. So really, I am not that skinny—my arms are. They are also deformed after decades of the disease’s steady progression: one elbow never straightens and my wrists and hands are a creepy mess. I am uncomfortable in tank tops and short sleeves, and you’ll often find me wearing too much clothing even in summer to cover up my stick-like, bony arms. When people comment on how skinny I am, they are usually looking at my arms, not at the rest of my actually-pretty-normal body. But I don’t often correct them, because it is a major female faux-pas to explain or denigrate my own thinness.
Trust me, if I could have some extra weight on my arms, if it came with elbows and wrists that straightened—I’d take it. If I could exchange the uncertainty over whether I will have functional hands in a decade for meatier thighs and more belly, I’d do it in a heartbeat. I’m sure I’d have anxiety over the extra pounds, but I can’t help imagining it would be more tolerable than omnipresent fatigue, sky-high medical expenses, and pain and inflammation that tells me my hands and wrists (my most valuable joints as a writer and artist) are trying to consume themselves.
Certainly not every thin woman has a disease or disfigurement, but the point is that, while it can certainly be a privilege, being thin isn’t always the blessing it’s made out to be. There are many reasons for women being skinny—ranging from disease to genetics to strict dieting and exercise regimens to the horrors of eating disorders and body dysmorphia. And the foregone conclusion that those of us with fewer pounds on our bodies have less of an existential weight to bear is not only erroneous, it’s hurtful to body acceptance as a larger issue.
Look, having the so-called “right” kind of body does not blind me to the realities of my disease. Nor does it make me immune to the messaging I, too, get from ads, store windows, the internet, TV, movies… everywhere. Just like any other human raised in a culture that values female appearances more than accomplishment, I am plagued by body image issues: My arms are too thin, and my boobs are also too small. My butt is too big, my stomach isn’t flat enough, what the hell is going on with these stretch marks, oh my god why is my face so fat?! …And so on. But although I exist and have trouble accepting my body in the same climate of constant appearance-based bombardment as the other women I know, I am rarely permitted to talk about my insecurities without being reprimanded: “Oh please, like you have anything to complain about.” “Please, I wish I had your body!” Etc. But I’ve also been told, by men and women alike, that I am not curvy enough. Not “woman enough.” That I am “too skinny” to be a part of the conversation. That I should keep my mouth shut, or go fill it with a cheeseburger.
If we can’t all get seats at the discussion table, feel supported and understood, then there’s a lot missing from the conversation. But it has so rarely been my experience that I am welcome to participate in conversations about body image that I hesitated to write this article. I didn’t want to offend anyone. And therein lies one of the biggest problems facing women today—we are so ready to take offense, get up in arms, retaliate against someone who offers something different in the conversation, that we scare them off. Tell them they don’t understand. They can’t participate.
And so I’m trying to not be scared, and just saying it: I’m skinny, and I don’t like my belly, and my arms are too bony, and I wish my boobs were bigger, and I’m a woman, too.
IMAGE: Jayel Draco.
Lynsey G is a writer, reviewer, interviewer, columnist and blogger writing for and about sex, feminism, and porn since 2007. Formerly a smut scribe for Fox, Juggs, and Tight magazines, she’s also written for xoJane, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Corset Magazine, TOSKA, MadisonBound.com, and WHACK! Magazine. She’s still on a high after winning a 2013 Feminist Porn Award for her short film, “Consent: Society,” and is now at work blogging at her own website and working on a few books of various types.