A couple years ago, Gay Twitter started using the term “skinny legend.” It started with different versions of an image of Mariah Carey shoddily bodyshopped with a hairline waist. There was no regard for the distorted background, her entire body was reduced to a pipe, but the editors left in the same, classic, Mariah smile. It was an absurd and obscure way to honor a celebrity you liked, and it caught on.
Stans started using the term endearingly to whoever was their belle du jour, whether it be Lana Del Rey, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, or the white boy who lip-synced Gaga songs on PhotoBooth. My friends and I threw it around a lot, though I’ll admit, I would have taken any excuse to have been called “skinny” at the time. That was the secret behind the humor. It was ridiculous because weight loss was a serious aspiration for most people. Anyone would know that being regarded as thin was the highest honor one could bestow.
My own fixation with my weight has run over half of my life. I was what you would call a “fat kid,” which was cute right up until I was nine, and then I didn’t hear the end of how I’d be prettier if I lost weight. That’s when I started skipping meals through fourth grade, quickly losing over 15% of my body weight that year. Boys started liking me, I got more compliments. I finally understood the controversial statement, “Nothing tastes better than how skinny feels.”
The adults in my life started showing concern for how thin I had gotten, taking me to a check-up at the doctor, which I only took as a point of pride. I carried on with the rest of my life with the semi-obsessive habit of checking my weight every day. Mostly, I was healthy. I ate normal again, I played sports, and my high school metabolism could easily handle a fast food meal. The times I did overindulge, I felt awful. The feeling was particularly bad in the holidays, and I’d feel an irrational anger towards anyone who’d make me eat the last piece of siomai on the dinner table.
At first, I felt a deep shame, like I’d failed myself, like I was regressing back into the insecure nine-year-old realizing what it meant when she was called “roly-poly.” Then I realized that not giving a damn was the final step in my recovery.
This mentality was my new normal, and going off to college was of no help. There wasn’t as much time for sports, and my teenage metabolism was visibly slowing down. Out of fear for the dreaded “Freshman 15,” I rode the intermittent fasting wave. Most of my days since then were spent more tired than usual. I made the usual adjustments, switched to black coffee, said no to cake, and I learned to use smoking as a means to cope with stress. I wasn’t ready to come to terms with the fact that my body might not what it used to be. Eventually, it did work — I reached my goal weight. That’s usually a huge triumph for me, but then I looked in the mirror, still disappointed with what I saw. I didn’t feel lighter, just emptier.
Defeated, I stopped weighing myself altogether. I did the things I was once afraid to do. I had cake, hell, even a non-diet soda when I was feeling really spicy. At first, I felt a deep shame, like I’d failed myself, like I was regressing back into the insecure nine-year-old realizing what it meant when she was called “roly-poly.” Then I realized that not giving a damn was the final step in my recovery.
I shouldn’t have to unpack what may or may not have been a childhood eating disorder nearly a decade later because of how deeply ingrained fatphobia is in our society.
First, I had to identify the problem. I’d spoken with a lot of other people who had their own experience with weight loss, most admitting they resorted to unhealthy means to attain their goals, even at an early age. I realized I forced myself to lose weight out of spite of the people who criticized younger me for being too pudgy, and every time I drew up new list of restrictions, I was still letting them win.
Listen, I’m not saying that eating more than three slices of pizza is the new revolution, and I still carry the privilege of being regarded by most as “thin” or “average.” I’m saying that I shouldn’t have to unpack what may or may not have been a childhood eating disorder nearly a decade later because of how deeply ingrained fatphobia is in our (say it with me, ladies) society. It’s culminated into “skinny” being used affectionately in an ironic way, so much that it becomes sincere.
I still eat my vegetables, and go exercise when I have the time. I even stopped smoking from getting sick so much. I can thoroughly enjoy some Coca-Cola and sisig among friends without kicking myself internally. I haven’t stepped on my bathroom scale in a couple months, knowing that I might spiral into the same patterns of behavior. The difference is, my idea of my best self is no longer one that’s emaciated, and that’s the best I can hope for others too.