The unbearable lightness of being thin (or please stop talking about my weight)


Fat – and how to mitigate it – is all around me at the moment.

Yesterday, a friend told me she’d had a gastric bypass operation – and thanks to complications including infected incisions, she’d lost a staggering 35 pounds in three weeks. She’d been feverish, horribly bloated, and spent hours in the emergency ward trying to heal her incisions. Friends told her she looked fantastic though.

I’ve just come off a Viber conversation with a good friend – someone I’ve enjoyed bantering with for years about our fluctuating waistlines and love of all things food. After losing a lot of weight thanks to a hideous bout of food poisoning in India earlier this year, he’s been determined to keep it off, so he’s currently weighing himself every day. Our conversation went something like this:

Me – Isn’t that a little obsessive?

Him – It works for me and it’s really helping to keep the weight off. I know you go to the gym and eat well but you never seem to lose any weight.

Me – (slightly crestfallen). Really? Do I look big?

Him – Well, I’m not going to lie. You don’t look trim.

He’s right. I don’t look trim at the moment. I have a body that’s generously padded at the best of times, and it can go from thin-ish and curvy, to buxom and out there, and to – god forbid – plump and matronly, or just plain fat – by the time you’ve eaten that cupcake. Over the years, I’ve been the butt – pun intended – of many a boob and butt joke, mostly affectionate banter from friends that I’ve had no problem going along with.

But I’ve also been the recipient of many intrusive comments – or what’s commonly known now as fat shaming – from everyone from my mother, who has always been obsessive about fat, to assorted Indian aunties and uncles. In Egypt, where I live now, I’ve had to listen to a number of random comments about my weight and body – both positive and negative – which have led me to conclude that (wealthy) third worlders are actually worse than first worlders where fat’s concerned. The ultimate status symbol in the developing world is a trim toned bod – the skinnier the better.

Being an unmarried woman provides more grist to the mill. I have been inspected by random Indian ‘aunties’– we use the term very loosely in the third world – in a manner not dissimilar to how a farmer, I imagine, would inspect a cow at a farm show. One of these aunties actually popped in to pick my mum up for lunch when I was back in England recently. Her exact words to me were: “Hi. You’ve put on weight. Ok, bye.”

The truth is, my weight does fluctuate – horribly. I wish it didn’t, and I wish the majority of my life wasn’t spent wishing I was 10 pounds– or more – lighter. I wish parts of me didn’t wobble and I didn’t spend far too much time in front of the mirror inspecting said parts, or asking the immortal question: Does my bum look big in this? (which is rhetorical, if you hadn’t figured that out already.) I wish I was one of those women who could eat whatever I wanted without gaining a pound and look good in a burlap sack, if that’s what I wanted.

If fat symbolises a kind of lazy wanton decadence and greedy self-indulgence, thin represents control, discipline and a willingness to conform. There are no fat heroines, and even fewer fat role models. There is a lushness and rebellious sensuality about a fat woman’s body, in fact, that seems to threaten the very foundations of our society. Fat women, in particular, seem to deserve to be shamed.

So, as we consume more than ever before as a society, we applaud weight loss and diets even more, to the point where perceptions of what’s acceptable have become horribly skewed. Thin isn’t about being healthy any more but about being a Size 0. Thigh gaps and clavicles have become fetishised. I’ve been at parties when dangerously skinny women – medically underweight and borderline anorexic – have walked past, to envious sighs of approval from some friends.

I can’t count the number of compliments or approving looks I get when I’ve lost weight, and the general sense of dread I feel when I’ve gained. The majority of conversations with my female friends touch on weight or diets, which I’m sadly as guilty of bringing up as anyone. Most women I know, even the very slim ones, believe they’re not thin enough or toned enough, even when there’s abundant evidence to the contrary.

The fact is that my thin periods haven’t necessarily made me any happier over the long term and they definitely haven’t meant I’ve been particularly healthy – at times the reverse, if anything. Some of the happiest, most rounded people I know – in every sense of the word – are overweight and they’re no less beautiful or confident for it. Their ability to be comfortable in their own skin in the face of overwhelming disapproval is something I both envy and applaud.

Because while I generally abhor political correctness, I can’t help feeling that fat-shaming is one of the last socially acceptable forms of bigotry. I’m not interested in thin shaming any more than I am fat-shaming and I understand the desire to be thin – I’ve lived that my whole life. But I wish we were kinder and a little more sensitive about how we went about it, both on ourselves and on others.

In my own life now, I strive constantly, and sometimes desperately, for balance, to battle all the negativity out there. I try not to take on board the comments I hear, whether positive or negative. I aim for strong rather than skinny – to eat well and to move my body as much as possible, since time and experience have shown that this works for me. If a friend wants me to celebrate their weight loss, I try also to point out that he or she looked great before.

It may be difficult to believe at times, but we are so much more than our bodies.

49 thoughts on “The unbearable lightness of being thin (or please stop talking about my weight)

  1. Definitely more than our bodies! I mean shaming ourselves is worse than others shaming us. And that’s precisely what happens when we talk to imaginary (pun intended) onlookers while seeing our, supposed, fat arses. We ASSume that we aren’t capable of approval and love if we aren’t socially well figured. I’m obese… In a stage where ppl don’t comment, they just accept that I’m useless and can never be anything but fat… This stage is filled with potential for self love. I mean, I love myself like nothing. Your post touches in a subtle manner on the inner conflict that we women perpetually live with… The conflict between wanting to love ourselves the way we are and the desire to become tonned because self love also means loving our bodies. Sigh. Vicious!

    • you’re absolutely right about that dilemma – it’s at the heart of this. we all have to make our peace somehow – i just wish the world at large would understand this and leave us alone to find our own ways! hugs and love to you on your journey.

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  3. Brilliant. I can empathise will the dread and wishful thinking. Trying to be happy with me looking the way I do is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Still working on it!

  4. It’s taken me till my 30’s to be comfortable in my own body. We are more than a number on a scale. Thin, curvy, fat, muscular… We are all beautiful and I hope more people (ladies especially), can realize and see that in themselves. Thank you for writing something very relatable

    • So sorry this is so late – I miss certain comments sometimes. You’re welcome – and well done to you for winning this battle.

  5. Lovely. I especially love that you recognize thinness as a status symbol and a dangerous status symbol at that. When I was 82 lbs and having small heart attacks my grandmother worked out with me while salivating over my bony frame. And despite having been in recovery for over 10 (with one tiny relapse) all I ever hear from family is how I’m still too thin or that I failed to eat enough at the party to satisfy them.
    I recommend a healthy distance from family, no television, good lighting and kind mirrors. Be very good to you and keep writing!

    • You’re right – when I shared this piece on Facebook a number of thin friends shared their similar experiences of intrusive comments – our bodies always seem to be up for approval. I’m glad you’ve found a way to survive, though I suspect, like for me, that it’s a lifelong struggle – for me, if the negativity isn’t external, it’s internal. Argh! Good lighting and kind mirrors should be my mantra. Take care of you too.

  6. Hi Sunnyrap, gosh I love your writing and the insights you share. Thank you very much for that. As an, let’s call it lifestyle coach, I am constantly trying to help my clients to understand all of the things you have written about. It will take ages until it sinks In that “one has fat and is NOT fat”. In this day an age though, with all the possible choices the pressure just triples if people hear you “try” to do this and “try” to do that which eventually leads to the conversation of you must not be “trying”‘hard enough with all of our possibilities – which of course is false and farthest from the truth. But I digress. I wish/hope for you to find the method that will give you the results you look for and fits your lifestyle. Have a great day and keep up the great work!!! Coach Al

    • Thank you so much – had a look at your blog and it looks very interesting too (I can understand the pics at least : ) The journey to body acceptance is a long one for many women but I think I’m slowly getting there. All best and take care.

  7. I just wanted to give you a different perspective on body image from my experience, this changed everything for me. I’m 32 and last year was diagnosed with MS, I spent 9 weeks between hospital and rehab. I was left unable to walk, talk or use my hands to do anything like feed myself or write. I’ve made an amazing recovery and hv never been so thankful for my incredible body, that it’s now 95% fully functioning. And it put soo much into perspective including my body image. I’ve never been obese or overweight, probably more the opposite in my teen years so I understand body image issues for sure and people liking to comment. Please take it from me, if your weight isn’t causing any health issues then do not worry about it. Instead try and shift your focus on how amazing the human body is and how lucky you are to be able to walk, talk, see properly and use your hands, it is such a gift, it really is. I love your writing, your very inspiring – keep up the amazing work!! X

    • Thank you for the kind words and new perspective, Simonne – and congratulations on your recovery. I hear what you’re saying about appreciating a functioning body – it’s just too easy to forget at times. I think that’s human nature unfortunately – you never know the full value of what you have until you come close to losing it, and sometimes not even then. Will try and remember your words. All best and many thanks. x

    • Thank you! I stopped by your blog, which was very interesting – but can I say that you sound very hard on yourself? I wanted to give you a hug and say it’s going to be ok and you are fine, and sometimes taking a step back and trying to accept – and love – ourselves the way we are is the biggest lesson and journey of all. I’m still working on it anyway : ) Best wishes to you.

  8. Most of us have been guilty of it, even I have secretly and shamefully envied friends who have lost weight from a fleeting, minor, virus. Nevertheless I have been left speechless several times by friends who have asked if I am happy about the weight loss that accompanied my diagnosis of cancer. I didn’t judge them, because it has been the tiniest of miniscule, superficial – find-a -positive-in-the-mire to cling to – losing those extra few kgs, so I get it, but. BUT. I also have scars and an ileostomy and I would in a million years have those kgs back than be going through this. Thinking it is bad enough but not realising how warped it is to the point that you actually say it is just stupidity. it is horrifying that modern culture has brought us to this point where girls envy weight loss brought on by illness rather than strong, vital, fully functioning bodies of any shape and Size.

    • Yes – agree completely. That’s what shocked me most really – seeing some friends crave these borderline anorexic, clearly ill bodies – when strength and health is what we should aspire to. Wishing you so much strength in this battle you’re fighting now – all the very best to you. x

  9. This spoke to me on a deep level. I had some trouble in my past about my weight and actually developed an eating disorder. Thankfully, I’m a bit better now, but there are times where I want to stop eating. This helped me a lot, and I just wanted to thank you for putting this up!

    • So pleased it helped – well done to you for mostly putting your troubles in the past. This is one of those things that can be a lifelong battle but taking small steps helps – and gradually changing your mindset to seeking strength and health, rather than skinny, as others have said. All the very best to you – take care. x

  10. This is so accurate – I’ve never been particularly overweight, fluctuating between size eight and ten, but it’s everyone else’s obsession with weight that started making me want to control mine more – when there was absolutely no need! I started calorie counting, and it became (and still is, at times) slightly obsessive, but it also made me feel more uptight and in general unhappier. Weight shouldn’t define a person, just as their facial looks shouldn’t. I love this post.

    While I’m here, I’ve actually just started a food blog, just writing wee things about dining out in places in Glasgow. Things have been tough for me over the last few years but food is something that has always brought me comfort. Would love it if you were interested and wanted to have a look or give me a follow, it would mean a lot.

  11. Thank you for this great post. It’s something I can relate to in no small way. I’ve just uploaded a post in the form of a silly poem called Nirvana Smells Like Rum Custard which deals with this issue, and now I’ve found your wonderful blog. I’ve been obese and I’ve been underweight, and in both cases was unhappy. It’s all about what’s going on between our ears, our perceptions. So now that I’m in my forties, if the desire for an éclair won’t go away, I go get one. Guilt schmuilt. Self-punishment is ultimately futile. Nobody will give us a gold star for hating ourselves. Let us not forget, too, that boys are as susceptible to this as girls. Women do not have the monopoly on eating disorders, as evidenced by some of the male models doing a Charlie Chaplin up and down the world’s catwalks. They’ve got rickets, I swear. Healthy? Atractive? Erm, no. And it appears that the poor lads who suffer from anorexia feel they can’t ask for help because it would effectively emasculate them. There is something seriously skewed in our society.

  12. I am a full figured woman. I have had friends tell me that I need to lose at least 60 lbs. To be a healthier person. Over the years I have tried to get back to 135 lbs, but I know now that I will never be that size again. I have survived breast cancer I am dealing with other health issues but as long as I can look down and see my feet, my blood pressure is stable I will be happy with me. If no one else is happy for me then they can walk right out of my life. I do not need the negative vibes in my life. Sweet Lady hold your head up and be the beautiful full- figured Lady that you are.

    • Good for you and all best in your journey. I think people forget that finding peace and feeling happy with yourself is also a big part of your overall health – and also helps in your journey toward physical health, whatever that may be for you. Thank you – sending many positive vibes to you too. x

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  14. I’m glad I found this today, as I stand in front of a hotel’s full length mirror and try not to hate what I see. Despite all the miles I’ve run and the effort I’ve put into slimming down, my body remains rather stubbornly the same.

  15. I couldnt relate more. I fluctuate. I become sometimes big, and thin the other times. Never mind, I just much more than my waistline. Thank you for such wonderful blog. 🙂

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  17. I wish every person on this world could understand that we’re more than our bodies, as you wrote in the post. As a teenager I perfectly know these feelings but I want to love myself for WHO I am and not for what I am. Thank you for this post!

  18. Take heart. Losing weight isn’t easy in the best of circumstances! I’ve lost a bunch, but I can never seem to get below 150 for very long. That still makes me obese at 5’2”. I’d gladly take a little more height if anyone would give it! It’s a drag having to use ladders all the time. That’s it, you know. We are just undertall 🙂 Thank you for posting!

    • I’m trying not to go by the numbers on the scale and more by how I feel overall – but it’s a process still. You’re right – shall settle for being undertall in the meantime 🙂

  19. This is a topic that I feel really passionate about. It drives me crazy that societies are so focused on numbers on a scale or inches on a tape measure, instead of how HEALTHY a person is. I don’t care how much a person weights or how much “fat” they have on their body. What matters to me is how they feel! How healthy are they? Not just physically but also mentally. Some of the most unhealthy people I’ve known were also the skinniest. It was horrible. And some of the most beautiful people I’ve known were some of the ” heaviest”.

    Don’t let society dictate how you feel about yourself. Don’t listen to them. I know it’s easier said than done, and I am guilty of disparaging against myself because of my size myself. We have to break this cycle of belief that smaller equals better though.

  20. Great post. When we start to compliment each other on extreme weight loss, it is always with good intentions. But I think it is difficult not to infer, “You looked like a complete wreck before.” And let’s face it, sometimes they mean that. I lost 35 pounds and could not eat ANYTHING. I was extremely ill and it took a year to discover that I had a bacteria in my stomach that damaged my esophagus and my thyroid, but oh boy the congratulations I got… What the hell?!? All I wanted to do was feel up to eating. A friend recently has been diagnosed with Diabetes and she was speaking to me about how awkward the compliments are.Personal goals towards health are great, lets add a goal about not preaching and judging other people’s struggle. Well said. Thanks for allowing me to reflect on this issue that really is a shame.

    • Thanks for this, Chrissy – so many people have told me this, which makes our obsession with weight loss even more disturbing. So important to not tie in approval with weight (loss) – thought easier said than done. I hope you’re better now and all is good.

  21. I am very well, thank you! Two pregnancies in three years have only added to weight and proportion shifts. I happily did not button my pants for the first 9 months of my son’s life!! I was busy with nightly feeding, playtime, cooking, and of course my actual career (Thank goodness for maternity bands)… I made it a point to show every pregnant woman at my work that my pants were not buttoned so that she would not feel the pressure that I so felt at the start of this back and forth journey. I am not getting up at 5am to exercise when I just went back to bed at 3:30. There comes a point when we need to say, “Your hangup about my weight struggles, says way more about you than it does about me.” I applaud your honesty and wish you luck as you make the best choices for you. May everyone else get over themselves :-). Best!

    • I applaud your honesty, Chrissy – good for you. I’m on my own post-pregnancy-body journey now and I can’t say I’m as sanguine as you are about it all. I do feel that compulsion to get back to where I was but I’m trying to focus on the fitness and strength part of it as much as possible – my god, motherhood requires strength! Good luck to you too wherever you are in your journey – take care and all best. x

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