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Classic Recordings
Robert Altman Week

Tuesday
Mar292011

« In Which We Consider A Rabbit Metabolism »

Snickers From a Paper Bag

by YVONNE GEORGINA PUIG

It’s just as rude to ask a skinny person if they have an eating disorder as it is to ask an obese person if they have a thyroid problem. Few nice, everyday folks would approach an overweight stranger and tell them to go on a diet. Yet many of these same folks have no problem telling a skinny stranger to drink a milkshake. I'm certain of this because it happens to me all the time.

I never know how to respond. Usually I just laugh and say no, I don’t, and tell them that, actually, I'm trying to gain weight. I think I'm going to get snide next time. Thanks for telling me I look emaciated and sick!! It’s not a confidence booster. If you're thinking that I'm a skinny bitch for complaining about being skinny: I'm not complaining about being skinny, I'm complaining about the fact that you might be thinking I'm a bitch just because I'm skinny.

The assumption is that everyone wants to be skinny, or should be skinny. I don’t believe this is true, and most people I've met who are naturally rail-thin skinny, like myself, want to put on some pounds. There's also very little collective sympathy for people with rabbit metabolisms who rarely exercise and can eat anything they want. When I lament to a friend that I’m eating every tub of Ben and Jerry’s in sight without effect, that friend usually tells me to shut up.

The naturally rail-thin skinny person is lucky, true, but the fear of losing weight is still real. Every pound is important. To this day, I'm still not legally allowed to donate blood because I don't meet the minimum weight to height requirement. If I don’t maintain my weight, if it drops below 110 because of stress, for example, I know that I probably do look borderline sick, unlike an anorexic or bulimic who looks in the mirror and sees too much weight.

In eighth grade, I was called out of class to the counselor’s office and confronted. "Yvonne, are you bulimic?" It was awkward, because I had been eating lunch in the bathroom. (I'd been reported by "two girls" who saw me go into a stall. To this day, I still don’t know who those girls were or what made them think I was vomiting. My feet were facing out and I was finishing my science homework, and, ironically, eating a sandwich.) Defending myself to the counselor meant admitting that I was skipping lunch period to eat in the bathroom because I had no friends. I confessed, but she still didn't believe me. Then I told her that I actually had a pass to go the nurse during fourth period and eat candy bars, because my metabolism couldn't make it all the way to lunchtime. I think this just made her think I was binging. She called my mom, and my mom laughed, but I'm not sure she was ever convinced. Her attitude suggested she thought my mother was in denial.

Here are a few more selected highlights from my life as a string bean spaghetti noodle: On our first date, my ex-boyfriend caressed my shoulder as if he was going to give me a compliment, and then asked me if I was anorexic. A group of construction workers in Boston once yelled at me from atop some scaffolding, "why dontcha go eat a steak lady!" A therapist, in a first (and last) session, looked deeply into my eyes and told me I was very… frail.

Recently, I got food poisoning while on a weekend trip with friends. I had to throw up in the hotel room bathroom while everyone was asleep. Half my friends were lying in bed thinking, "Oh my god, she's been bulimic this whole time and hid it from us!" If another person in our group hadn't also gotten food poisoning an hour later they might still think this. I'm paranoid to get up to use the bathroom in the middle of meals, especially with new people, because I don't want them to assume I'm bulimic. And last week over lunch, a friend I hadn't seen in awhile told me earnestly that I looked like a bobblehead.

Yvonne Georgina Puig is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles. She last wrote in these pages about her favorite novels. You can find her previous work on This Recording here. She tumbls here.

Photographs are by Helen Levitt.

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Reader Comments (33)

THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD

March 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter;-)

Just kidding, I'm skinny and also pee a lot and I get weird looks all the time when I have to go to the bathroom after dinner, it's awkward, but, realistically, way better than if I was fat and people asked if I had a thyroid problem.

March 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter;-)

Um. Turns out, LOTS of people are willing to tell fat people all about what they should be doing different, based on all kinds of wacko or just incorrect assumptions. This goes about quadruple for pregnant women.

March 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterQueen of Sheba

What do people say to pregnant women?

March 29, 2011 | Registered CommenterAlex

As a fat girl, plenty of strangers have told me to lose weight. If you really want to make a stand about body policing, don't start your article saying that fat people wouldn't understand because we do.

March 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMiss Eliza Sea

Few nice, everyday folks would approach an overweight stranger and tell them to go on a diet.

Wow. What fantasy land do you live in and when I can move there?

But seriously, what happens to you stinks. Body policing is always wrong. No one else's body, or their health, is public property, and anyone who gets the urge to comment on a stranger's (or friend's, for that matter) body, especially by offering value judgments, should just stop.

But please refrain from speaking about something you do not understand. You have no idea what it is like to be fat in public in this world, just as I have no idea what it is like to be you. I trust your account of your experience. Do the same for me.

March 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdrst

"Few nice, everyday folks would approach an overweight stranger and tell them to go on a diet." Sorry darlin', but you're completely wrong about that. I and most every other fat person I've ever known has had to deal with RL concern-trolling or people who just want to share this awesome diet that totally worked for me/my wife/random female stranger.

Not to mention, every time I go to the gym I get unasked-for cheerleading from people trying to convince my face looks totally thinner, I swear. It doesn't, and what's more I don't give a shit, because I don't exercise to lose weight. I exercise because exercise is healthier than no exercise.

I'm not trying to play Oppression Olympics, and your situation sucks just as much as mine. The vast majority of people need to mind their own fucking business where other people's weight is concerned.

March 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

I definitely think overweight people understand. Of course they do. I guess I underestimated the rudeness of the general public though.

March 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterYvonne

At 25, I've still never broken 105 lbs. My mom would get phone calls in high school (prep school, where 10% of the girls in our class were hospitalized for eating disorders at some point) from other kids' mothers and our counselor. I've lost friends simply because I couldn't gain weight and they were insecure with such a skinny friend.

My point, I guess, is: Preach, sister.

March 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBabs

"Few nice, everyday folks would approach an overweight stranger and tell them to go on a diet."

I love this site, I love this article even, but this is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. Don't make the false dichotomy of fat v. skinny a thing.

TRUST ME, I have been told by strangers, friends, friends' parents, doctors, retail sales clerks, dental hygenists, vague acquaintances, coworkers, and so many more strangers passing me by on the street either on foot or in vehicles: LOSE WEIGHT FATTY. MOO. DID YOU TRY ATKINS/JENNY CRAIG/NUTRISYSTEM/METABOLIFE/COKE/BANANA DIET/CABBAGE DIET/YOUR HEALTH! YOUR HEALTH! YOUR HEALTH! YOUR HEALTH! AD NAUSEUM.

I have had people I don't know blame their health care costs on my specific body fat. I've been accused of gluttony, greed, sloth by street preachers. I've been told that my diabetes (which I don't have) is my own fault.

I am not trying to take away from your experience as a SKINNY, but I'd like to point out that you don't have to dismiss or minimize my experience as a FAT to talk about this.

March 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCat

I'm sorry that people are being rude to you. It really sucks.

But I'm a size 18. People make rude comments to me about my eating and in my hearing fairly often. They did it far more often when I was a size 24.

It's not okay to do this to anyone.

Also, when I was 15, I did have an eating disorder, and everyone, my parents included, kept telling me how proud they were of me and how great I looked. When I look at my pictures from those years, I cannot help but wonder what they were smoking.

I wish someone had asked me if I had an eating disorder. Not a stranger on the street; strangers should never comment on other people's food or eating, because that's rude. But it would have been nice if even one person who had cared about me had said something showing concern. Not, "omg you have bulimia" but just something along the lines of, "how do you feel? you have lost a lot of weight. are you trying to do that?"

Sometimes cancer patients have to deal with the same thing--people who don't know of their illness telling them how much better they look when they're struggling to keep alive.

I'm sorry, because it sounds like people are genuinely being rude and awful. But it's not just something that happens to thin people, and it's just as common for people who are genuinely ill--either with an ED or something else--to be praised for weight loss that is truly pathological.

March 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTiferet

I don't think she is saying that fat people or skinny people have it harder, but that body policing is just plain shitty, and you shouldn't comment on people's bodies. Having a body that puts you in uncomfortable situations, garners unwanted comments and often makes you worry about your health is not a "good deal" (the body is ok, the situation is crap). This is just a reminder that even comments like, "Oh, you're so skinny!" are not compliments. They are inappropriate.

March 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commentera.b.

I feel insulted by this post. I know that maybe it's just trying to provide another perspective, but the preponderance of body-anxiety/shame in our culture is directed at women who have a few extra pounds, and it's insulting to hear this whining.

I'm 5'2" and have a slow metabolism. I've never been fat, but I've always been "curvy", in that way where I always feel too huge for the skinny white boy hipsters, and growing up in Oakland I constantly got comments like, "Damn, you've got the body of a black girl" or "look at that white girl's butt! It's so big!"

I've learned to embrace it. I quit smoking because I CAN'T not exercise and be comfortable with my weight. I have to do aerobics/strength-training at least three times a week and be super-conscious about eating whole grains/tons of vegetables/lean proteins, etc. if I don't want to be carrying all kinds of sagginess.

I'm alienated from a lot of the potential guys in my dateable peer group because so many of them (in today's prevalent hipster culture) don't exercise, smoke all the time, and thus have very skinny, emaciated bodies. Frankly, there's just not enough Mark Wahlbergs out there to take care of us curvy, yet fit, girls. Most of the liberal arts college/20-something fare are lazy and unhealthy.

To this girl:
Cultural hegemony has your back every second of the day. Everywhere you look--billboards, fashion, arts magazines, every strata of the retail industry--there's a celebration of a rail-thin female body. Occasionally girls like me get cultural figures like Christina Hendricks as a role model, but those women are few and far between.

Why is this site a platform for this? Really?

Also, I'd be curious to know if you exercise. I'm no nutritionist, but eating proteins and doing weight training seems like a viable way to move from "frail" to muscular. Eating tons of ice cream/crap won't necessarily make you gain weight, and definitely won't make you look healthier/more vibrant.

Also isn't the poverty-induced obesity epidemic more worthy of an article than this overprivileged whining about how "my friends think I have an eating disorder."

I agree with the above poster who said that body-policing in general is the problem, but most of the body-policing is directed at girls who don't meet the elusive standards of the fashion industry.

March 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersc

It doesn't matter what "kind" of body a woman has--she'll get publicly and vocally shamed/admonished and/or "enlightened" about it and how she should be modifying or maintaining it. When I was young and skinny and unable to gain weight--and again when I was in my 30s and anorexic--I had strangers constantly and derisively admonishing me to have a f*cking sandwich. Later, when I was fat, strangers felt entitled to shame me over that.

When, for a decade or so, I was a swimsuit model who managed to come really close to society's ideal, I had perfect strangers accuse me to my face and in the most rude and nasty manner imaginable of having had my body modified/enhanced by surgery.

The different kinds of shaming come from different places--disgust, envy, insecurity, false superiority, etc.--but they're all horrid.

Women can't win. We're targets.

In fact, becoming less of one is the nicest aspect of getting old. The older I get, the more invisible I am, and sadly, that is AWESOME.

One quick note: I understand the outcry of the fat women in these comments, because I think fat women get a double hit. So many folks love to hate on women and just as many love to hate on fat, and for some reason--I can't sort out why--our society feels both are perfectly acceptable.

March 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSinPantalones

I think that Yvonne's point in this post is that our bodies never fit others' expectations. She wasn't attacking anyone; she was just giving her personal perspective on an issue that ultimately touches most women (and men, too!). Seriously, don't try to make this article into a veiled attack against overweight people, because it's the opposite of that.

March 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterK

Sin Pantalones, can I just embroider your whole comment on a throw pillow? You said what I came here to say about women's bodies and society (except for the personally being skinny part, which has never been true of me), except way better than I was goin to.

March 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMercutia

The comments for this article make me sick to my stomach. They are filled with judgment, disgust and insults. Do you not realize that this is the root of the problem discussed in this article? Everyone deserves the right to write about what they experience, feel, think, so why are you all denying this writer the validity of her statements simply because it does not fit in with the arguments that are usually being made regarding body image? Would you all respond with such hostility if a writer had written an article and "complained" or "whined" about the hardships of being obese? I highly doubt it, because for some reason people have entirely more sympathy for people at that end of the spectrum. I just don't understand why everyone has to be so mean all the time.

March 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterchelsea

Some of these comments, I mean. SOME.

March 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterchelsea

It's funny you know, I'm pretty damn fat but I almost never get anyone say anything to me. Like, I cannot recall a single time a stranger has ever made any comment to me about my weight.

Well, except the one time a bum yelled to me 'you got a nice ass but you oughta lose some weight' which, was weird not only because it was a back-handed compliment but also because dude, you're a homeless bum, lets not start criticizing each other's life choices.

Being super skinny is probably more acceptable, but perhaps because it's more acceptable people feel like it's less of a big deal to comment on it and tell you what they think of you.

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKitty

@kitty I agree, that was my initial point.

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterYvonne

I just wish people would never think they are entitled to make criticism or offer unwelcome advice to someone of any size/weight. It really sucks and hurts no matter who is on the receiving end.

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaurie

I understand and respect the content of your message, but not the way in which it was delivered. I'm also very thin - 5'2, about 90 pounds. And while I also constantly am asked what my problem is in whatever way that person comes up with, I think your article misses the point, which is that body policing is bad no matter the circumstances, aggressor, or nature of the recipient. While someone deriding you for being skinny is 'as bad' as someone pointing out another's obesity, the former is privileged by society - AKA, skinny is currently the societal standard and skinny people benefit from that. I'm sure that as many times as you've been called anorexic you've also gotten these kinds of comments - "you're so thin, I wish I could be like you". Ignoring these comments and focusing on the negative ones denies the complex portrayal of the situation you could have written.

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkit

This is a series of personal anecdotes. If you want a complex portrayal write one yourself.

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBlt

My friend told me there was a good article on This Recording about being skinny, and he was right!

Being afraid that people think I have an eating disorder is my biggest insecurity! I agree with all of your points. I even had a friend give me a back rub in high school and then say, 'you're so bony, I don't know why anyone would want to touch you!'

April 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterM

I had to chime in about the person who thinks that "you are so skinny I wish I was like you" is some sort of compliment. It is often followed by "I hate you". Always made me want to melt into the floor. Also the assumption that my life was so much better because I was petite and the jealousy and sometimes loss of a friend because of it was painful as well. My pain is as real an experience to me as that of anybody else who struggled with a different body image issue. We can't compare our pains. They will never compare. We can only try to understand the experience of another as compassionately as we can. At least this is what I try to practice in my life.

April 14, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter2cents

Helen Levitt images. She was great.

June 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Carey

All you fat people, stop berating this girl. She said that few, normal, NICE people tell strangers to lose weight. It sucks that you are fat, and that people hurt your feelings but this article is not about you.

Piece of advice; try your best to look the way you want, it's obviously important to you. If that doesn't work, then get used to the way you look.

June 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSavage

I know I'm crazy late to have anything to do with this comment thread, but I obviously don't care. I also know it's in bad form to comment on the thread itself as opposed to the article, but that doesn't seem to have stopped me. The article was lovely and amusing, BTW.

To start with, Tiferet, I am very, very sorry you had to experience such pain. I can only hope it's made you stronger. I'm sure it has.

I'd also like to point out that everyone who reacted to this article has a shared experience. We have all been made to question our worth based on the obnoxious comments of strangers and catty judgement of friends. A side effect of body policing is the fact that it separates us from our compatriots and turns us against each other. We should not let that happen, even in comment threads. A woman rebelling against being judged by her body is a woman we should get behind, whether she's skinny or fat or wears glasses or looks like a porn star.

July 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlison

At 23, I have broken 100lbs once - when I was pregnant. And after having my son I could immediately wear my pre-pregnancy clothes. I try and try to gain weight, and it just doesn't work. I have even seen nutritionists and other doctors about it, because to look at me is sometimes alarming, especially if my weight fluctuates a bit lower than normal. But the more I eat, the higher my metabolism is. And if I don't eat at least 3 square meals a day, I get weak, lethargic, and pass out (at which point people *really* assume I've got an eating disorder).

I can't say that I understand the woes of an overweight person, because I have never been there. I can say, however, that it is hard being accidentally skinny, and I appreciate your post on the subject.

July 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHolly
Love this article. I think people are misreading it a bit though.

"Few nice, everyday folks would approach an overweight stranger and tell them to go on a diet."

I think the key word is NICE. I would guess that a NICE person isn't going to approach an overweight person about dieting because that isn't NICE. But, nice people usually want to save the skinny people, because it's believed that thin always equals eating disorder.

I created a tumblr blog for naturally thin women (http://skinnyminime1.tumblr.com/) for the purpose of giving the information that I never had when I was younger. Currently, I'm writing articles about how I gained weight, but I have tons of info that I'd like to share for other naturally thin girls. ^_^
Stay strong ladies!
April 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRachel
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Hey, here's an idea: Instead of trying to get fatter, how about trying to be smarter instead? Or more emotionally mature?
I see a great many comments here, but i don't have the stomach to wade through them. I assume that most vehemently support whatever point it is that you think you're making. Maybe some troublemakers argued against it. Makes no difference, though, because either way, you're getting the message that the boring story of your childish vanity was worth telling.
The truth is that it wasn't.
Unless maybe there was a surprise ending that i didn't make it to. I gave up before the halfway mark.
Get fat if you like: fit in better with fat America.
Or stay skinny: you'll probably be healthier and more attractive, and you'll keep a few ounces of integrity, which might come in handy one day.
But I'm afraid you're probably gonna remain a moron either way.
July 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDon Wan
Here's an idea Don Wan Douchebag -- before forming an opinion [you need to learn how to do this because it clearly doesn't come naturally to you] educate yourself fully, which means read the entire article before you comment -- and certainly don't admit that your haven't (who's the moron, you are, it's you). You're the moron who bothered commenting on an article you found uninteresting instead of moving on like a normal, well-balanced person with human friends.

Also, you trolling misogynist (could you be any more of a stereotype) we know you have sat in your bedroom since you first got high speed internet, wanking off intermittently and hating on actual real life women who, and I'm going out on a limb here, perhaps you don't have a lot of experience with.

To the author, the problem isn't just with skinny women (I completely understand as my sister is very slim and attracts this negative attention all the time) I get the same passive aggressive, thinly veiled insults for having larger breasts, which are fucking glorious and I know people commenting are jealous. But no, it does not excuse them. No one should comment on another person's body, particularly a strangers.
February 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFC

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