If you’re a bloke, come back tomorrow. This is not for you. No, just us girls. And before anyone asks or emails, working one-on-one with thousands of women (and their bodies) for over three decades qualifies me to write this article. So there.
I have some questions for you.
1. When will you be skinny enough?
2. How will you know?
3. Will it be a number, a feeling, a reflection in the mirror or a comment that tells you?
4. Or maybe something else?
5. By the way, skinny enough for what?
6. Once you are skinny enough, then what?
7. A bit more maybe?
The truth is that some women will never be skinny enough. Not all, but some. Somewhere, somehow, some women have come to believe that skinny equals good, skinnier equals better and skinniest equals best. You know them. You may even be them.
*Just to be clear here, when I use the term ‘skinny’, I’m not talking about a fit, lean, healthy, athletic female body. No, I’m talking about that super-skinny, ribs-sticking-out, could-faint-from-hunger-at-any-moment (type) appearance. Unhealthy skinny, not healthy lean. Neither am I talking about women who are naturally thinner than most.
Now, while I’m not crazy enough to suggest that the quest for a skinny body is always driven by the need to impress a potential partner, having had countless conversations about this topic with countless women, I can say with some confidence that the ‘skinny obsession’ often stems from a desire to impress or attract someone and is based on the unhealthy belief that ‘skinnier is always better’.
Ironically, I’m yet to hear a bloke (or girl) say… “you know what I’m looking for in a partner? Someone who’s really, really, skinny… like stick-insect skinny.” Nope, never heard it. Nonetheless, I’ve had many conversations with already-skinny women who always want to be “just a little bit skinnier”.
Just like women are not generally attracted to hugely muscled, lumpy, veiny, freaky-looking men (my goal when I was twenty and stupid), neither are men generally attracted to the skinniest girl in the room. And yes, I’m generalising and yes I run the risk of getting noses out of joint but keep in mind that (1) I’m being totally honest based on the feedback I receive from both men and women (2) talking about this stuff has been my job for thirty years, so I don’t share it without thinking carefully and (3) about 75% of my clients have been women, so my research pool is large. Just because we don’t want to hear something or we don’t like a certain comment doesn’t mean it’s not accurate or valid.
Of course, we all understand the rationale behind losing weight to be healthier and more functional but the smart question is, where’s the line? When do we move from healthy, intelligent weight-loss to unhealthy, irrational obsession, eating disorder and distorted body-image? In my experience, it can be a fine line and one that’s easily crossed. And often crossed.
As I’ve said many times on this site, even the smartest person can be totally irrational when it comes to how they manage (or destroy) their own body. And you can believe the once obsessive-compulsive, over-eating, under-eating, insecure, irrational wanna-be-Mr-Universe when he tells you this.
Whoever he is.
Interestingly, one of the biggest selling weight-loss (type) books of the last decade (and a New York Times best seller) was ‘Skinny Bitch’; a book written by a former model and a former modelling agent. Two obvious choices to dispense such important health advice to the masses. It came complete with a cartoon drawing of a painfully skinny woman on the front cover and while I can’t be positive, I’m guessing that the huge sales weren’t based solely on the content of the book.
Like it or not, skinny sells.
By the way, awesome marketing by them. They know and understand their market. Brilliant.
Okay, so we recognise there’s some unhealthy thinking and behaving going on in the pursuit of ultimate skinny-ness but how do we ‘fix’ it? Well, the important answer is ‘slowly’ but here are some thoughts and suggestions if this particular issue happens to be relevant to you or someone close to you.
1. The skinny-ness problem is essentially a psychological and emotional one with a physical consequence, so the shift needs to work from the inside-out to create lasting change. In order for this to happen we must be prepared to challenge existing beliefs, thinking, fears and habits and to tell ourselves new stories (based on logic and reason, not fear). We don’t accidentally starve ourselves; it’s a choice based on an unhealthy belief.
2. Sometimes aligning ourselves with a ‘coach’ (friend, mentor, doctor, trainer, psychologist), to help us make the physical process of eating and exercising a more methodical, strategic and rational one is exactly what’s needed. For a while, anyway.
3. Recognise your triggers, the ones that make you do irrational things (weighing yourself, for example), and create a plan (with your coach) to deal with them.
4. Switch your focus to your health, strength, flexibility and fitness (rather than your skinny-ness) and your body will take care of itself. If you’re fit, strong, flexible and healthy, you’ll look and feel amazing.