The Vagenda

Skinny-Shaming and the Mung Bean Myth

I recently had the misfortune of catching Salt on the TV. When it became obvious that Angelina Jolie’s CIA-agent-on-the-run wasn’t the most believable character – in part due to gravity defying lorry hopping stunts, but largely because halfway in she somehow dyes her peroxide blonde tresses black without turning them purple first – I turned to alternative entertainment. Twitter. 
‘Nothing feminine about Angelina Jolie! Far too thin!’ screeched @JazzyFizzle4man. ‘As if Angelina Jolie can take on these guys. She is a twig. I’m calling BS,’ chortled @lauramcglone. Just as I was starting to despair over AJ’s boneability, @Taff_Hollywood hit my newsfeed with: ‘Regardless of what anyone says, I would still do Angelina Jolie.’ PHEW.
With a female lead voted sexiest woman alive more times than OK! Magazine has printed photos of Kerry Katona’s arse, sadly it’s not shocking the film’s plot was sidelined for debate on her waistline. What was dire, however, was how readily viewers aired their disgust at her lean figure. Jolie was looking a little on the gaunt side, for sure, but after training two hours a day three or four times a week for the role, she was never going to be popping out of her pencil skirt. It’s not the first time the actress has been lambasted for her size, but I have to wonder if she was tipping the other end of the scales would we be so quick to tell her that she was overweight.
Because there’s something we seem to forget when we talk about the female form. Pointing out excess weight is cruel and unnecessary, yes? So is skinny-shaming.
I’ve never been a big girl, but it’s not through choice. I’m certainly not extremely thin, but in my experience people tend to assume that a slighter frame comes only from a diet of mung beans and compulsive spin classes. I find this insulting because I love food. I love food so much that if I’m not fed every two hours I lose the ability to form sentences. I refuse to go to restaurants on first dates because I know the excitement of impending culinary magic will distract me from the guy I’m there with. “I love you more than cheese” is a platitude which carries immeasurable weight coming from me, because, seriously…CHEESE. The implication that I’d curtail this love affair for vanity irritates me more than you’ll ever know.
Glorifying being skinny and fetishising thinness is never OK. I can’t even begin to describe how much work the fashion industry and media-at-large have to do before they stop peddling unrealistic body images. But not everyone under a size 10 becomes an automatic role model for thinspiration. It is possible to consume your body mass in mince pies now and again, and still naturally err on the slender side – and there’s a real tendency to underestimate how hurtful being called skinny is when you’re demonstrably lacking in so-called ‘feminine’ curves.
With this in mind, I’ve compiled a list of incidents occurring at various points in my life, that you should never mirror if you want to avoid being a dick to someone that’s naturally smaller than you. DO NOT:

  • Utter the words, ‘Oh but you obviously don’t eat anyway’ – assuming that solids don’t generally pass my lips, even though my hair has yet to fall out and I still have gums, is annoying.


  • Physically prod the stomach area, accompanied by exclamations of “there’s nothing there!” Get off. Immediately. Would you do the same if you noticed I was packing an extra roll round my midriff? Didn’t think so.


  • Allude to inherent weakness or being scared to touch me in case I ‘snap’. Careful bitch, I could stab you with my collar bone.


  • Act like my size is so repellent it’s offensive to be seen next to me. ‘I’m not standing to you in a bikini, you’ll make me look fat’, etc. How do you think I feel knowing that your curves make me look like a pre-pubescent boy? It works both ways, but evidently I’m 100 times more polite.


  • Use the words ‘skinny’, ‘bony’, ‘stick insect’, or ‘beanpole’. No. Just no. STOP IT. I’m not ‘about to slip through a drain’, either.


  • Assume that a lack of blubber makes for a Siberian winter. ‘You must be so cold, there’s no fat on you!’ LISTEN TO YOURSELF. Unless you’re comparing me to a polar bear, this is ridiculous.
So let’s all simmer down and make room for the petite amongst us (they only need a little bit of room) without pursing our lips or murmuring cruelly about ‘real women’. It ain’t good form, ladies – and in this world of oft-celebrated diversity, we can afford to remove that last barrier of acceptable prejudice.

33 thoughts on “Skinny-Shaming and the Mung Bean Myth

  1. As someone who has never had less than copious amounts of body to go around, I hate the ‘real’ women thing. Real women come in all sorts of clothes sizes, heights and widths.

    Skinny shaming is pretty awful. In the same way as so-called misandry is not equivalent to misogyny and there’s no such thing as reverse racism, I struggle to think it’s as bad as fat shaming since it’s not, for example, stopping thin people from being treated well in the medical system, or preventing them getting jobs, or causing them to be represented as all things disgusting in quite the same way (perhaps that’s my prejudice talking as a fat bird). Still, it comes from the same nasty place of wanting to put everyone into a narrow ideal so we buy into a warped system of changing ourselves.

    So, from one real woman to another, I salute you, and join you in putting an end to this shit.

  2. although I agree with most of what you’re saying I do have to say that I do not for one second feel sorry for you. Although I am just an average size 12, i find it kind of insulting that you think its difficult being skinny. I’m not sure ever looked at yourself sideways on and thought “shit am i pregnant, no that that was just that ice cream and chocolate cake i just ate’.

  3. Thank You- yes- I have been prodded by TOTAL strangers, been told I was anorexic, biafran, LTS even told me I did not exist. I am now a size 10, but for most of my adult life have been a six- and tall with it. pretty sure I was a real woman as I managed to have four children. It is not okay to make anyone feel bad about their body. Just as not all big girls are unhealthy not all thin girls starve themselves….

  4. Size 12 isn’t fat, but if you’re unhappy lose weight. Unless there is some medical reason (e.g. thyroid reasons) that make it very difficult to lose weight, I don’t understand or sympathise with people who complain about being unhappy/overweight, yet do nothing about it.

  5. Size 12 might well be fat, if you’re under 5ft tall. And size 12 in what brand? A size 12 in Monsoon is a 10 in Per Una and a 6 in Top Shop.

  6. I just wrote that completely wrong. A 12 in Monsoon is a 14 in Per Una and an 18 in Top Shop. But the point stands. Saying you’re a size 12, or an 8, or a 20 is meaningless because the sizes are not standard.

  7. The difference is that while you may find fault with your own body (as do many thinner people) in thinking that you look ‘pregnant’, presumably people are not constantly commenting on that to you, whereas for some reason people think they can openly comment on thinner women’s bodies because we’re ‘the lucky ones’. While the mainstream media may convince many people that being thin is desirable, I for one have been very thin all my life and have experienced all the above incidents many times, and personally I would be a lot happier with a fuller figure because I’ve been told that’s what ‘real’ women look like. Perhaps your version of ‘skinny’ is what most celebrity women look like, lithe limbed with a small waist, pert bum, and B or C sized breasts. Well that is not representative of what most ‘skinny’ women look like, many of us are far more androgynous looking and so yes, we do find it difficult sometimes when women (and men) claim that curvier women are ‘real’ women, and when were told by women to be grateful and not write these kinds of articles.

  8. Thank you. The “real woman” thing has always been infuriating for me. I’m real and I’m a woman, hence I am a “real woman”, even if a small one. I know that most people commenting on my body are likely acting out of their own insecurity/shame, but then why don’t they understand that talking about another woman’s body is off limits? Making people feel low is just shitty.

  9. A year ago I lost a lot of post-baby weight and was roundly congratulated for it. Thing is, I lost weight because my family was so hard up our food budget didn’t stretch very far! (Three meals a day, yes, but no snacks, booze or desserts. Hard times…)

    Congratulations were not in order. Losing weight was not an achievement, it was not something I had been trying to do, it was a manifestation of our comparative poverty at the time, and that was actually a source of embarrassment to me. People kept asking (still keep asking, in fact) how I did it, and I’d no idea what to say – it’s either:
    “oh, you know, being busy, breastfeeding, etc etc”
    “er, we can’t afford to eat much”

    Of course, what I really want to say is “shut up and mind your own business and keep your comments on my body to yourself, now feck off”

  10. I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum. Up until the age of 17 I was always a bit underweight. Girls noticed. I remember them taking turns lifting me to see how heavy I was and then wrapping a hand around my forearm exclaiming ‘you’re so skinny!’ Now I have a podgy tummy, a muffin top, thick thighs and a double chin. I still have skinny arms and calves and a flat arse though. People tell me it’s good because I was ‘too skinny’, but the media say it’s shameful and I’ve let myself go. I can’t fucking win. I like my podge though.

  11. I think what she’s getting at here guys is that it’s not only ladies with bulk getting picked on. And I know it’s hard to see, because as they say “no matter what you have you’ll always want something different”: if you have a bit of weight you’d rather you didn’t you’ll find it hard to believe being thin is hard. What needs to happen is that, instead of “evening it out” by dissing thinner ladies as well as bulkier ladies, we need to just leave eachother alone about our weight. Love what you’ve got! :)

  12. My (very svelte) friend was away with mates for the weekend, they made a big pasta bake and dished it up, giving her about 30% what they gave to everyone else. When she asked where the rest of hers was, they said they assumed she hardly ate anything coz she was so tiny… she had to sit them down and say that if they every DO have a friend with an eating disorder, maybe better to supportively talk to her about it rather than just go along with it. And then she stole their pasta.

  13. I find it kind of insulting Billie that you don’t think its difficult being skinny as well as overweight. If you’re fat enough to think you look pregnant I understand that might not feel fantastic but you have no idea the thoughts ‘skinny’ girls have about their figure as well, such as ‘god I look like a boy’. So I don’t feel sorry for you either.

  14. I do think Billie has a point though–there aren’t institutional barriers or unequal resource distribution facing thinner women because of their size. I think the psychic trauma a culture that constantly stares at, prods, and judges women’s bodies causes is roughly even across body types, because it puts us on a cycle of all constantly striving to look better/hotter/more “womanly”/etc. and compels us all to take digs at each others figures and divide into teams of “thin” and “fat”–as I honestly think is happening in this very thread. ALL OF US are damaged by a sexist culture obsessed with women’s weights. That being said, there is an aspect of moral shaming of curvier women, people blaming their size on selfishness, hedonism, a lack of control, “grossness,” and feeling a “lack of sympathy” for women who are larger than they would like to be. Thinner women don’t get those traits ascribed to them based on their size.

  15. Thank you for this article! I always used to have this problem at school, and know friends whose weight still attracts stupid comments…

    I wish “skinny-shaming” was seen as more important today, especially when you have feminists like Germaine Greer maintaining that a ‘healthy girl is a fat-bottomed creature’, and that Cheryl Cole is ‘too thin’ to be a feminist icon (…I can think of a dozen reasons why Cheryl isn’t top of my List of Feminist Heroes, but her appearance really doesn’t come in to it.)

  16. I really enjoyed this article, and as skinny minny myself I also get very frustrated with assumptions made about my eating habits and body image issues. I have been called ‘Annie’ and ‘Matchstick with the wood shaved off’ and regularly get comments like ‘If you turn sideways you’ll disappear’.

    Its frustrating and yes the definition of ‘real woman’ needs to be diverse BUT…
    I can’t help but feel we need to keep our privilege in check. And YES being skinny and naturally conforming to society’s definition of health and beauty IS privileged. I don’t think skinny shaming is really comparable to the impact of the damaging fat shaming that is far more pervasive and widespread. EVERY girl I know who is not natural svelte finds it a lot harder to love and be at one with her body.

    But I do still agree… why the hell do I keep being congratulated on having a small ribcage? BIZARRE!

  17. I feel the need to make a comment here, because I think this article underestimates the amount of shame women feel for putting on weight, and the amount of pressure slightly chubby women feel to lose their fat and get down to that ‘skinny’ frame. I am not arguing *for* skinny-shaming, but I think this article misses the point that pressure to be thinner is so entrenched in our culture, that most attacks on weight will be fat-phobia.
    I think when you write:
    “I have to wonder if she was tipping the other end of the scales would we be so quick to tell her that she was overweight”, you have to accept that *yes*, if she got a bit fat, the world and the magazines *would* be there to tell Angelina Jolie to “lose that baby fat”, or photographing her and red-ringing her ‘flab’ until she was thin again. There is an unrealistic ideal, and it’s not ‘skinny’ – it’s somewhere in between, some perfect photoshopped figure, and women who topple off both ends of that perfect weight *will* face prejudice, even if it’s behind their back.
    People feel freer to make comments on thin people because they feel like thin people are already going to be more attractive to men, happier, more healthy and more self-assured. That feeling may be wrong, but it’s a cultural assumption that causes reactions like those you describe; that cultural assumption is the one we should be trying to undermine, women of all body shapes together as a united front.

    I realise this was the message of the article, skinny-shaming is NOT the “last barrier of acceptable prejudice”, it’s a form of counter-attack by people who feel ashamed and criticised for their own bodies, or the bodies they risk having if they eat too much chocolate.

  18. I’m really surprised to find such an un-nuanced analysis of “fat-” and “skinny-shaming” on a feminist website. These “it’s hard to be skinny, too!” arguments are the equivalent of accusations of reverse-racism or misandry. We live in a society that glorifies and celebrates skinniness, and that demonises and discriminates against fat people. While you, on an individual level, may not enjoy being skinny, the comments people make to you are not part of a wider, entrenched form of discrimination. Of course it’s wrong to comment on peoples’ bodies, but it isn’t on a par with fat-shaming or fat-phobia so don’t act like it is. At the end of the day you get to walk around in a world that celebrates your skinniness, and that is privilege so don’t pretend skinny people and fat people start out on equal footing.

  19. I disagree, totally. Despite what the world would have us believe, clothes are just as hard to find in a six six- or a four- especially if you are close to six foot. Size 22- tons.. size 16- everywhere. People who are larger simply do not get physically assaulted by strangers- and yes- pinching and prodding IS assault. The thiness so loved by magazines is no more real than the perfect skin- and it is damn hard to dress as well.
    Just as fat girls are bullied and shamed- so are thin girls- because we celebrate a bodyshape which is not real- it is computer generated… those who do not match up are tormented.

  20. Difficulty finding clothes and being “pinching and prodded” is not the same as institutionalised oppression. Of course women in general are scrutinised for their appearance, but fat women in particular are treated as sub-human in a way that skinny women are not. Fat women are treated as though they don’t even exist in popular media, and when they do they are nothing but a punchline. Fat women are constantly reminded that their bodies aren’t good enough by companies shilling weight loss techniques and products. How many weight gain products (aimed at women) are there on the market? We live in a society in which the word “fat” is synonymous with “stupid” and “lazy”, and is often the first word hurled at a woman if a man (or another woman) is looking to insult her. Studies show that overweight women earn less at work, presumably because of the “stupid and lazy” stigma attached with fat that I mentioned earlier. In a recent study, male OkCupid participants listed their first fear in an online dating scenario as the woman showing up and being fatter than he was expecting. These things are all indicative of institutionalised oppression, and skinny people shouldn’t pretend that they understand what that is like. And never being able to find your size doesn’t really compare, frankly.

  21. So reverse racism and misandry are OK, are they? Because what you seem to be saying (and missing the entire point of the article by doing so) is that because ‘skinny-shaming’ isn’t (in your eyes) on a par with ‘fat shaming’, it’s irrelevent. Feelings of self consciousness because someone’s passed judgement on your body shape aren’t valid because, you know, privilege.

    I don’t think the piece was meant to be a ‘who has it worse analysis’, but a reminder that body size commentary isn’t nice, no matter your shape. Just because you think skinny girls should be revelling in their media glorification, doesn’t mean they lack insecurities. All feelings are valid in this arena and we should be considerate and respectful towards all.

  22. No my point is that reverse racism and misandry aren’t comparable to actual racism and sexism because racism and sexism are institutionalised oppressions, whereas “reverse racism” and “misandry” are stupid labels used to describe instances where an individual feels “put upon” by another individual. Society as a whole does not discriminated against white people, men, or skinny people in the same way it discriminates against people of colour, women, or fat people. So if someone “discriminates” against you for people white or being a man or being skinny, it is shitty, but it is attributable to an individual failing on their part, rather than an accepted, societal norm, therefore it is not oppression and therefore not comparable.

  23. Also I did make a note of saying that passing judgment on peoples’ bodies is unacceptable, so please don’t put words in my mouth by saying that I said the author’s feelings invalid. All I am saying is that this article makes a direct comparison between skinny- and fat-shaming that is unfair and doesn’t accurately take into account the privileges of being skinny over being fat.

  24. I, and probably most others, would agree that in general larger women face more discrimination than thinner women. That’s pretty obvious. I don’t see anything in this article claiming that ‘skinny shaming’ is as societally entrenched as ‘fat shaming’, though. Only a frustration that this ‘privilege’ you speak of often lets people think they can say whatever they like about a slimmer female’s physique. What we have here is one person’s experience of a particular type of body commentary and a reminder that ‘institutionalised’ or not, it’s still unpleasant. We should be applauding any effort to stop ANY kind of weight discrimination, not getting bogged down in semantics. Over and Out.

  25. Uh, “last barrier of acceptable prejudice” “I have to wonder if she was tipping the other end of the scales would we be so quick to tell her that she was overweight”…. I think the writer (intentionally or not) did make a direct comparison between the two oppressions, and by using the word prejudice she made it about more than just “one person’s experience of a particular type of body commentary”. She was also very dismissive of other thin women who aren’t “naturally” so – “the implication that I’d curtail this love affair for vanity irritates me more than you’ll ever know”. Lots of women do feel pressure to diet and even starve themselves out of “vanity” (ie. the bullshit pressures society places on us). These things combined show a lack of awareness of her privilege, and more than that it sounds like she is trying to align her feelings about being personally insulted with the very real struggle of large sections of the population who are actually are facing “prejudice” (author’s word).

  26. I often find that it’s those women put up on a pedestal for their ‘privilege’, that are the most insecure. And that often people make quick assumptions about the kinds of things they can say about other women’s bodies, when they’re cow-towing to this type of ideology. When you make preconceived judgements about people purely based on how they look, you are being prejudiced – whether they’re small or large. All talk of ‘privilege’ serves to do is reinforce unpleasant assertions that women of a particular body type shouldn’t air their concerns, because another group faces greater prejudice from wider society.

  27. A lot of people don’t get certain things. I’m pretty thin (with curves. Yes it’s possible. I have an hour glass figure not a stick one tyvm) but I have really thin arms and legs because of a form of muscular dystrophy. Do I generally like my body? Yeah, aside from my arm’s and legs. But I am sick and tired of people always telling me I need to eat more or grabbing at me saying I’m too skinny (don’t grab me. Really. Take your hands off me and leave me alone. Would you like me poking and prodding at your fat rolls? I doubt it). I remember being 14 years old and my sister’s friend says to her RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME “Is your sister anorexic?” like I can’t hear her (I’m thin not deaf)… Then when I explain to people (which I don’t do all that often because of their reaction) they go from teasing/ridiculing me to being overly nice and patronizing because they feel sorry for me. Well I’m fine, thank you. But the thing is bigger people can lose weight. Yes it may be really hard for some, but even conditions like hyperthyroidism and Cushing’s Disease ARE treatable (and correct me if I’m wrong but I’ve done research and can’t find any other diseases that make it hard to lose weight that CAN’T be treated or cured). Muscular dystrophy is not treatable nor it is curable. My arms and legs are never going to develop more muscle. So yeah they CAN stop being big, but I can’t stop being ‘skinny’ so maybe you should stop before you say anything to a thin person because they just might have a condition like I do.

  28. I think the most important thing to realize is feminism is about the defetishization of ALL women’s bodies. It’s about no longer being reduced to your body because you are not the ideal form for the masculine gaze. It doesn’t serve anyone to fling ashes upon their heads about who has it worse, but to recognize that we all have a unique struggle. All women are being reduced to their bodies, which are further reduced to objects, whether that means “too large” of an object or “too small” of an object. So, let us band together as women of all shapes, sizes and colors against the fetishization of our bodies as anything other than what we are, flawed, thinking, beings trying for an equal foothold within a system that has been put in place to hold us in a submissive position.

  29. Late to the party here, but must ad that everyone has different insecurities- Billie’s are obviously to do with extra weight, mine and the writer’s are to do with lack of. It literally feels like someone is commenting on how unattractive I am every time someone mentions that I’m skinny, or tiny. Rhetoric in the media such as “real women have curves” is intended to counteract negative responses to women who aren’t on the skinny side, but what are the naturally skinny girls supposed to take from that? Am I not a real woman?
    It’s very tiring when you feel that friends are thinking the way some of the girls above are, that any insecurity you have about your (“skinny”) body is less valid than theirs. Girls who aren’t skinny read the articles that circle celebrities’ fat and can always find a counter-argument somewhere that tells you that skinny is out, real, healthy women have curves.

    In terms of personal anecdotes, my most hilarious has to be working on the till at Debenhams and having an old Indian gentleman grab both my wrists over the counter and declare loudly “WHY ARE YOU SO SKINNY??” in front of a huge queue of shoppers. I’d also just come out of a week in hospital feeling extra insecure about my weight loss, and that just cemented it. Charming.

    Additionally, when I was about 17 a “friend” shared with me how some of the boys at my college had been chatting about how they wouldn’t “get with me” because I was too skinny, and just “not fancyable”.

    Please don’t tell me that I don’t have anything to feel angry about because, lucky me, Grazia, Cosmopolitan and the fashion industry have got my back.