At least three times in the past two weeks, I have found myself in a conversation about Skinny Girls. (It is summer, after all.) Usually, someone was complaining about a girl they know on Facebook, or looking for affirmation about the stinging judgment of the girls in their yoga class, or just ranting about someone in the dressing room next to them at Zara. And it wasn’t simply about girls who are thin, of course, it was about the entire persona and imagined lifestyle that goes along with being a Skinny Girl (or perhaps their less politically correct cousin, the Skinny Bitch). The offhand comments or the full-on complaint sessions were not just about someone’s BMI, they were about what those nebulous Skinny Girls are really like, and why they’re the worst thing ever.
Skinny Girls, you see, are not really people. They are a vague combination of Lululemon-clad thigh gap, Instagram shots of a couple slices of lemon in a big glass of ice water, and a military-level resolve not to touch the bread basket before dinner arrives. They are the mindless aspiring model-types who are the target of our humiliation on sites like You Did Not Eat That. We imagine that their life is defined by deprivation, and an absolute focus on appearance, and a constant process of transforming their desire to have a slice of pizza into a desire to be the best at something — something, of course, being looking unbelievable in a bikini.
On some level, even when we’re trashing the Yoga Bitches or the Just A Salad For Me Girls, we know that their appearance is not all of who they are. And even if our worst assumptions were correct (that they are vapid and obsessed with physical perfection at all costs), that still wouldn’t mean they aren’t real people with hopes, fears, and a complicated history. The truth is that it’s simply easier for us to turn them into cardboard cut outs and mock them than it is to engage with the possibility that they really are just like us, except with a focused discipline on being in perfect control of their bodies.
Because when you are the girl who is not Skinny with a capital S, when you frequently go for the thin-crust white pizza with a few big glasses of wine, you want it to be validated in some way. We live in a world where the value on your body — and on the things you do or don’t put into it — is so high, we need to make choosing a salad at every meal into a moral failing, or an indicator that a trim waist is all those girls have. We feel shamed for having the breakfast sandwich, or not making it to the gym this week, or having a few ripples and dimples on our skin. And so we feel resentment — a weird, fleeting kind of hatred, even — for the girls who are living proof that a very narrow kind of perfection really is possible, it’s just that we can’t (or choose not to) achieve it ourselves.
Skinny Girls make great villains because they are so beloved by society, and so resilient to any shaming we can throw their way. Sure, they might see a snide comment on Instagram about how no one eats donuts and maintains a thigh gap, but at the end of the day, every cultural object of beauty has their body, and their proportions. They have “won,” in a limited way. And so we project an enormous amount of insecurity and frustration on them, because to get angry at the society which makes their slender arms such a victory is too big and too messy to address.
When I have hated Skinny Girls, or tacitly agreed with conversations that painted them as empty, deprived monsters, it’s because in some small way I didn’t like myself. I felt that my body, my choices, and my distinct lack of a thigh gap needed to have some kind of value, that being bigger than them also meant I was smarter, funnier, kinder, or more worthy to be around. There had to be some trade-off for not having the Cosmo bikini body, right? But making fun of them only provides a very small, very hollow kind of satisfaction, one that goes away almost as soon as words were out of my mouth.
Because Skinny Girls are not all some mindless reality TV star whose only goal is to cultivate a perfectly healthy social media presence. In fact, there is no such thing as a Skinny Girl, only women of different body sizes, who have a million different methods and reasons for looking and feeling the way they do. And the sooner I accept that their humanity is just as complex as mine, and their turning down of the dessert menu does not make them better or worse than I am, the sooner I’ll be able to just enjoy taco night — without having to worry about the kind of Girl it makes me.