I’m Happier When I’m Skinny

I’m happier when I’m slim. This has become a controversial statement after years of the body positivity movement’s influence on the culture. Like most women, I enjoy the habitual watch of a What I Eat in a Day video. They’re often now littered with premises like What I Eat in a Day as a Fat Girl Who Isn’t Trying to Lose Weight, contain ridiculous proclamations about how normal calorie ranges for smaller bodies “aren’t enough for a baby,” and are so rife with disclaimers regarding trigger warnings about body image and eating disorders that the entire genre can no longer feel authentic.

By Jaimee Marshall8 min read
Pexels/Alesia Kozik

People don’t want the truth, they want to feel good about themselves, above all else. If that means glorifying obesity, so be it. If that means insulting thin women living healthy, balanced lives out of resentment, so be it. The most telling of behaviors is when thin women who possess “the body standard” post about health and fitness, and people constantly try to trip them up, to point out some hypocrisy, or to accuse them of dishonesty – that they must be lying about what they eat.

Someone suffering from extreme anorexia like Eugenia Cooney, however, is mollycoddled. She’s a protected class. Don’t dare say anything that could possibly trigger her. She’s not doing anything wrong, even if she might be actively catering to eating disorder fetishists for money live on her streams. It’s the women whose bodies we want who are living healthy lives who we should take down a peg. That suggests something really unsavory about our society right now – that we venerate the sick and castigate the healthy. 

Early 2000s culture depicted heroin chic as the body ideal, and while that had wide-sweeping negative effects on women’s body image and heavily contributed to eating disorders, an overcorrection is just as harmful. We can’t talk about obesity without the fat acceptance movement insisting you can be healthy at any size, something they know to be untrue. While acceptance of bigger bodies is at an all-time high, 74% of the United States is overweight and 43% are obese. These are staggering numbers, but because we’re conditioned to always punch up and never down, we can’t actually address it. 

The fat acceptance movement is not one born out of compassion but demoralization.

Any acknowledgment that obesity is harmful to your health or lifespan is met with moralistic lectures about social stigma, accessibility, and the importance of representation. We’re told to “live and let live,” when it’s more realistically “live and let die.” The fat acceptance movement is not one born out of compassion but demoralization. It’s a movement centered above all else on giving up – giving in to your baseline, hedonistic desires rather than demanding more of yourself so you can reach self-actualization. 

Beauty is incredibly important. It’s what inspires us to achieve greatness, it moves people to recognize profundity, even seeing something divine in a captivating work of art. That’s why I intuit that any movement whose objective is to make something uglier is deeply wicked.

Body Positivity for Me but Not for Thee

To tell an overweight person they can’t ride on the Slingshot because they exceed the weight requirement is fatphobia. “Do better” the company is told, not because they should ignore this safety hazard and permit the dangerously overweight person to ride anyway (something that has happened and resulted in a tragic fatality) but because the onus is placed on the company to improve the weight bearing load of the ride – to be more accessible. Sorry, but JFK had a saying, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” and whether or not you think that’s a coherent sentiment, it’s certainly not pro-social to walk around like a bull in a China shop, intentionally reducing your ability to participate in society and then demanding that we cater to your exorbitant size.

If it were just a few bad apples, we might be able to get on with business as usual, but as all social contagions go, the behavior spreads. So here we are, with airlines attesting they will need to start weighing passengers and charging the overweight extra for their fare. Airplanes, after all, have an upper weight threshold, and those who are abnormally sized make less room for other passengers. Unsurprisingly, this move has been deemed a social outrage and another example of the unbearable difficulty of navigating the world as a fat person. 

To that, I say you should expect the world to be a little difficult to navigate as an extremely fat person, just as it would be difficult for any anomaly, never mind one that’s voluntarily elected. We need to return to a reasonable discourse surrounding health and fitness, one that isn’t disingenuous or self-deprecating. If we can’t convince people to take control of their own bodies, we should at least be permitted to unapologetically aspire to be in shape. Cue the Patrick Bateman clip, “You can always be thinner. Look better.“

Women are not only discouraged from speaking about a desire to be thin (if you don’t believe me, just see the unhinged discourse surrounding pilates girlies vs. weightlifting gym bunnies) but are explicitly shamed for promoting “diet culture.” If coveting an aesthetic, healthy body is diet culture, then call me Jenny Craig. There’s nothing wrong with dieting. Dieting is a catch-all term for everything pathologically evil about female pressures to be thin, but at a base level, it means to regulate your food intake to decrease, maintain, or increase body weight, or to prevent and treat diseases such as diabetes and obesity. 

You cannot praise healthy-at-any-size (any size being code for overweight) and disparage the size they choose when it’s to be leaner or smaller. 

It’s one thing to offer grace to women who are struggling with their weight, whether because of pregnancy, a binge-eating disorder, or a simple lack of dietary education. Lord knows eating habits in the United States contribute to a frustrating battle with the scale and body composition. It takes mindfulness surrounding portion sizes, calorie consumption, and ingredients, not to mention an outward effort to get in activity in our car-centric society, to achieve the same results with less effort and intention in other countries. 

However, coveting thinness need not be so problematic. It really isn’t! You are entitled to your aesthetic preferences, whether that be a more muscular build or a slender frame, but implicit in all health and fitness discourse is that you can aspire to be anything but thin. To want to be thin is to admit that you’ve been brainwashed – that you’re an unfortunate product of the diet culture holding women down. Eating disorder culture is out. Anti-eating disorder culture is in. And that’s certainly for the better, in some ways, but it’s also led to hyper-pathologization of the benign and harmless. You cannot praise healthy-at-any-size (any size being code for overweight) and disparage the size they choose when it’s to be leaner or smaller. Women can want to be beautiful so long as that version of beauty is non-threatening (non-threatening here is more about representation rather than intrasexual competition) and doesn’t adhere to dreaded Eurocentric beauty standards, but this double standard is not actually inclusive.

Thinness Isn’t Inherently Negative

Women are afraid to be honest about their aesthetic fitness goals. They have to preface any statement that might be perceived as an inner desire to lose weight to look thin (something plenty of women want) with statements that soften the blow: “I just really wanted to get strong.” Some women, of course, are telling the truth, but I catch too many desperate to sugarcoat a desire to look long, lean, and thin. Oh, the dreaded word “thin.” That dirty little word. You can’t want to be thin. You can want to build muscle, to look strong, to get healthy, to get “in shape,” and perhaps you can enjoy your reaped thinness as a byproduct of these other goals, but you cannot set out to be thin, at least not proudly, openly, and unapologetically. Thinness is problematic because it’s yet another expectation placed upon women. But what if we didn’t need to look at striving for an aesthetic ideal as a burden?

In 2017, French author Gabrielle Deydier wrote in The Guardian about her experiences navigating French society as a fat woman. Her experience is that the French consider being fat to be a "grotesque self-inflicted disability," and she says, at any given time, 80% of French women are thought to be on a diet. She poses the supposed view of French people – that being fat is a grotesque self-inflicted disability – as evidence that there is an antiquated social expectation placed on French women to be abnormally thin and that they do everything possible to achieve this. This is, however, total B.S. I have no doubt that French women do view being fat as a grotesque self-inflicted disability, but I hardly think we can demand that a society changes its ideals of beauty, especially when they bear out far better outcomes in terms of health and longevity and, quite frankly, aesthetics. 

I don’t believe fat women should be discriminated against, but this comes with some caveats. Fat women deserve equal treatment in the eyes of the law and employment, and to be harassed for your size is a true grievance, but none of this entitles you to admiration. I find the idea that we can’t covet a lean body to be an authoritarian social pathology that leads to a demoralized populace. You have the freedom to live your life untethered from living up to body ideals, but my experience is that this makes you miserable and dishonors your potential. 

I would never tell another woman she has to be a certain weight or size, but please, spare me the dishonesty. Being fat doesn’t feel good. If it did, we wouldn’t have an entire movement that revolves around loud overcompensation. The truth is French women are thin for a variety of reasons, all of which have to do with a society and lifestyle that are more conducive to staying thin, but also a greater expectation to be thin. Where does this expectation come from? It comes from within because there’s a recognition that being extremely overweight is abnormal and unhealthy. On the individual level, it is intuitively undesirable.

A movement that penalizes women for striving to be the best version of themselves is a nasty form of social equity.

Deydier’s attempt to portray French women as disordered worshippers at the heroin chic altar is detached from reality. French women have a much healthier relationship with food, which is centered around moderation but never at the expense of pleasure. In France, nutritional education is emphasized from a very young age, so from childhood to adulthood, people are encouraged to eat a varied, balanced diet, to avoid eating processed foods, and to eat their calories through satiating meals gathered around a dinner table with family and friends, not through day-long snacking. As opposed to American women, they don’t obsess over the gym or go on fad diets. Losing weight is a rather straightforward process that only requires minimal compensation, not the black-and-white thinking that characterizes American diet culture. You can have your cake and eat it, too – your slice of cake will just be a little smaller. 

A great YouTube channel for more context on how our different food cultures in the U.S. and France produce such stark differences in our populations is Edukale by Lucie. She’s a French nutritionist who lived in the U.S. for five years, and she offers up anecdotes about how French women stay so thin, which are easily explained by our drastically different food cultures, lifestyles, and approaches to “dieting.” French women understand portion control, the importance of regular activity spaced throughout the day over strenuous one-hour gym workouts, and they don’t associate food with shame or guilt. The French love food like they love life. It’s an art form, a ritualistic time to gather with your friends and family, a sacred time for mindfulness, and an expression of love. 

How do the French eat their meals? Slowly, paying careful attention to their hunger cues so they don’t overeat. They cook with fresh, seasonal ingredients and don’t eat fast food. This is a much healthier and sustainable lifestyle than the American strategy to stay thin. You don’t need to eat empty calories from high protein bars or weird diet meals pretending to be the real thing. French women always prefer the real thing over substitutes. They want the best of everything, and they’re happy to eat a small slice of the real thing over a large quantity of a poor imitation. 

What Countless Women Are Thinking but Can’t Say Out Loud

If I ever gain weight, which happens to the best of us when we’re not careful, I feel sluggish, like I’m trapped by excess. I don’t feel as light and carefree and confident. This is a completely normal sentiment, and there’s nothing toxic about it. My aesthetic preference is to be a certain size (and as someone with an athletic build, that’s hardly anything you’d see on an early 2000s runway). I don’t enjoy feeling bloated, tired, and out of shape, and dare I say, I don’t think anyone does, no matter how insistent they are about loving their fatness. Taking the time to maintain your ideal physique pays dividends. 

Clothes look amazing on you because you’re living up to your own standards, which makes shopping for new clothes an enthusiastic expression of self-love rather than a burdensome labor. Feeling confident and sexy carries over into your relationship, making intimacy better for the both of you. When you feel good about yourself, you don’t fish for compliments or reassurance about your weight from your man. Feeling self-conscious is the enemy of carefree joie de vivre, making you more likely to be jealous of other women (perhaps lashing out at them online for eating a completely reasonable number of calories). You’ll also find that this inner radiance reduces your need to hide yourself behind heavy makeup or elaborate hairstyles. No wonder the French style gravitates toward the minimalistic and natural.

And what about the process of self-improvement? The prospect of having a higher goal to work towards is an essential aspect of self-actualization. Why shouldn’t we demand the best of ourselves? Exercise doesn’t just banish fat and build muscle, but releases endorphins, boosting your mood and giving you higher energy. Exercise for me has always been something of a meditative practice – one which I can’t go without for long periods of time lest I want to start feeling perpetually sullen. Some of us have the exercise bug, and some of us certainly don’t. If you can’t stand to sweat, hate lifting weights, and loathe cardio, do like the Parisians do and walk

I think the fat acceptance movement and the rising rates of obesity in the U.S (but also throughout the Western world) have more to do with learned helplessness than anything else. I truly sympathize with this. Unfortunately, our current culture nurtures learned helplessness in order to prevent any meaningful self-improvement. Despite the fact that you would be happier, more confident, and more pleasant to be around if you held yourself to some sort of standard, every facet of the media is begging people to lean into their hedonistic tendencies while throwing out our self-imposed standards. 

It also conditions you to believe that losing weight or achieving a body recomposition is too daunting of a task to undertake. I promise you there is nothing complicated about it, and it need not be so difficult. It need not feel depriving. To exercise self-control and enjoy the results is such a rewarding pursuit mentally, physically, and spiritually. Stop sugarcoating your goals if they truly are weight or fat loss. You are not holding back women for wanting to look your best. It’s actually the opposite – a movement that penalizes women for striving to be the best version of themselves is a nasty form of social equity. It punishes rather than inspires. Demoralizes rather than uplifts. Above all, it is insincere.

By permitting yourself to have standards – and living up to them – your respect and trust for yourself increases exponentially. 

By permitting yourself to have standards – and living up to them – your respect and trust for yourself increases exponentially. You have better, not worse, body image because you can't fool yourself into accepting a subpar version of who you could be. You won't be worried about every tiny morsel of food you put into your body. You won’t live your life in a false dichotomy of choosing between being thin and indulging. Working for or maintaining a slim figure doesn’t mean forgoing meals out with friends, your favorite snacks, or lazy days, or an arbitrary exclusion of food groups. 

By figuring out what works for you, and by that, I mean whatever method of a calorie deficit (to lose weight) or calorie maintenance (to maintain your weight) is the most optimal for your lifestyle, you won’t be lulled into crash diets or paranoia that robs you of indulgence in moderation. “Cheat meals” will escape your vocabulary. The French don’t have any conception of a cheat meal. It’s a silly idea that does a disservice to food as fuel, happiness, expression, and company. 

The reason why the body positivity movement is trigger-happy over yearning to be anything reminiscent of the body ideal in the early 2000s that made them hate their bodies is because they have been led astray by American culture to believe that you must choose between beauty and pleasure. If you believe this on a fundamental level, then you have to use brainwashing to alter one of these concepts. Either we need to change pleasure, or we need to change beauty. Guess which one they went after. 

Closing Thoughts

By refusing to live a suboptimal existence, you don’t invalidate women who choose to live a different lifestyle, who have different body standards. Models may post “candids” on Instagram, forcing the faintest of rolls to seem relatable, but there’s something deeply pretentious about that. It’s like giving the plebs a crumb of permission to be average while we know that you’re making an explicit attempt to uglify yourself, but you will walk the Saint Laurent runway the following day. 

Somehow, this is seen as feminist, body-positive, and life-affirming, but I see it as contemptuous. Honor other women by honoring yourself and treating them with an equal level of respect. If you don’t view others as inferior, there’s no reason to patronize them. This may be a bit of a tired phrase, but it’s the soft bigotry of low expectations. I dare to view women as more capable and having more agency than requiring two seats and a seatbelt extender to ride on a plane or any comparable rearrangement of society that asks her to succumb to the malaise of low standards.

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