Being naturally skinny and thin isn’t always a blessing. It’s usually far from it. Just like those on the heavier side, a number of us skinny people often get grief and discriminated over the way we look.
For my whole life as an Australian of Chinese heritage, I’ve been skinny. At school in Melbourne (and later Malaysia and Singapore), I was always the thinnest among my classmates. Skinny bones, twiggy, stick, flat chested like a surfboard…I heard all those nicknames back then and felt like a walking freak show.
Only once in Australia have I met someone as skinny as me. According to a national health survey conducted in 2012, just 1.7% of the Australian population is underweight.
Some people look at us who are skinny and think we’re unwell, think there’s something physically wrong with us even if we exercise and eat well. Having a non-skeletal-looking body is favoured in some Asian cultures – it’s symbolic of affording to eat well and living a fairly well-off life. At Chinese family gatherings, it’s not uncommon for someone (usually from the older generation) to loudly gush how “fat and big” the long-time-no-see cousin/aunt/brother/blood relation looks after packing on a few kilos.
There are some who think skinny isn’t a good look, that a skinny body is an undesirable façade. This isn’t much of a surprise since “skin and bones” is the common face of death. Growing up, my mum nagged me to gain weight and said if I didn’t, my face would become “ugly, sunken”, akin to the hollow cheeks of numerous waif-thin Caucasian women. In Asian cultures, round cheeks are prided upon, usually giving one a youthful look that is lusted after by many in this cultural group.
Being skinny, we might feel unloved in the realm of physical affection. Countless times when I hugged someone, they said, “Stop hugging so hard! Your arms hurt me!”. As the laws of physics state, for a given force, if the surface area is smaller, the pressure is greater. Maybe spindly arms and legs do inflict much pain on others.
There are some who think skinny people are lucky to eat what they want and stay in the pink of health. For some of us on the thin side, this is true. For others, not so – a skinny person might have hyperthyroidism, Crohn’s disease or other health ailments affecting their figure.
Some of us of Asian heritage tend to be skinnier than Caucasians for arguable reasons. Serving sizes are smaller in Asia compared to Western countries, so Asians living in Asia are inclined to consume less calories and perhaps resulting in thinner figures. Moreover, it’s customary to have at least a dish of veggies with many an Asian meal.
Many in Asia still make a living doing manual labour, which takes a toll on bodies. For instance, in China millions of farmers stoop under the sun planting rice. Genetics and high metabolism are also debatably reasons why some Asians tend to be of skinny stature.
These days desired beauty is unfortunately idealised stereotypes. It’s ironic how the world applauds certain skinny people and shames other skinny people. Don’t we always applaud athletic sprinters with dainty-looking muscles and nod understandably at those who are lithe and into exercising and dieting? Don’t we often express the least bit of surprise when we find out a skinny someone eats a lot but isn’t the physically active kind? Thinness is associated with the negative, especially eating disorders. In Australia, almost a quarter of young women develop anorexia nervosa and 5% of the population suffer from bulimia, and the fact these disorders can be overcome is often overlooked.
The hate on skinny (and curvy) is partly due to insecurity, jealously and our desire to fit in. We compare ourselves to others to learn from them and better ourselves. It’s no surprise we are tempted to emulate those we idolise, emulate their mannerisms and even body shape. “Look good, feel good”, as the saying goes and a phrase constantly featured in weight loss ads. Why not “feel good, look good” instead? Feel good with a bit of flab around the waist or feel good with ruler-like arms?
In a world so obsessed with body image, it’s easy to forget what “healthy” really is. Healthy is a lifestyle and different for each of us, depending on health conditions we may have – exercise, food, sleep, choices we make that affect how we feel physically and mentally. There are millions of things we can do if we have good health, a million things to be thankful for. As dancing violinist Lindsey Stirling who overcame anorexia and the dilemma of looking “perfect” said, “No matter what you look like, that isn’t where your happiness is sourced.”
Beauty knows no boundaries. Beauty, is intricate. There’s no such thing as a perfect body, and there’s also no such thing as an imperfect body. Our bodies change our entire lives: we pack on the pounds, pack it off or vice-versa as we age. Hormonal changes affect our weight too and so at times we can’t help the way we look.
In defense of naturally skinny people, being thin isn’t always a disease. Being thin, curvy or a shape in between isn’t something to be ashamed about. We’re all individuals with different looks, different talents.
Beauty. It’s about accepting who we are.
Have you struggled with being skinny? Do you know people who are thin?