By Karen Petree
Fifteen years ago, I might have been delighted for another woman to call me skinny. Thank God that changed.
I’ve met skinny. It’s the street kid in Cambodia who doesn’t eat regularly or the grown man who does 12 hours of manual labor for half the calories the average American consumes in a day. I am not “skinny,” and when you tell me that I am, it is not a compliment. It’s insulting that you would point out to people that you think I am so vain that I make a conscious effort to shun the food I am so blessed to have access to.
But when you call me skinny, annoying as it is that you feel entitled to comment publicly on my body, it has nothing to do with me. It’s about you. You’ve decided that I look the way you think you should. And when you say you hate me because I’m enjoying my food but my waistline’s not getting bigger, what you are really saying is that you hate yourself because you let someone else define what beauty is and who gets to be beautiful, and you have an external locus of self-worth.
Projecting your insecurities onto other people isn’t going to help you. You may starve yourself into my jeans, but when you get there you’ll find that your boobs aren’t big enough or your toes are weird or your cheekbones are too low, and all you’re really doing is playing whack-a-mole with your insecurities. Your body is not your worth, it’s your paintbrush – you decide what picture of yourself you use it to create.
As a teenager, I worked in a box office. I was often in there alone during the day shift, so when the bosses were distracted, 20-year old Tony would sneak in to talk to me. It was the first time anyone ever treated me like a sexual being. One day, Tony was inspecting my legs as if I were a horse at auction. Running his hand up my bare leg, he remarked: “You got some big ol’ calves.” He also asked about my stomach (“Don’t hold it in!”) and what color my nipples were. Today, the fact that I subjected myself to this kind of inspection from a man with a marijuana plant tattooed on his arm makes me cringe and wish I could go back in time and shake my teenage self awake. But what bothered me most back then was his comment about my calves. I still had a dream of being a supermodel, and I couldn’t do it with big calves.
My supermodel ambitions never panned out, but I found a lot of other things to do with my calves. Instead of defining myself by my body, I let my body become a sculpture of who I am. My muscular legs beat my boyfriend in a race to the top of a Mayan pyramid in Guatemala. I trained in kung fu for over a decade, and my legs and butt have a distinct kung fu shape that would be too big to be considered beautiful for the pages of Vogue, but who remind me of the hours of hard work I put in, sweating alongside some of the greatest people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet, not to mention the sparring competitions I’ve won and the fact that I can do a damn good roundhouse kick.
But there’s more to me than my legs. My toes are freakishly long, with my second toe longer than the big toe. I think there’s even a dirty word for this now, but I can’t remember it. Anyway, a lot of people find that ugly. But my long, narrow toes are the spitting image of my grandmother’s, and every time I look down at my feet I see my roots. Surely that’s worth more than what some passing man may or may not prefer to suck on.
I used to do a lot of push-ups when I was 13. I thought that if I could develop my pec muscles, it would push the boobs I had up and out more to give the impression that they were bigger than they were. I don’t think I really understood how boobs worked back then, but I learned to be okay with what I got. It makes tackling a climbing wall a lot easier when you can flatten yourself against the rock face. My size works for what I do, and if someone else doesn’t like that, well I’d rather be climbing something or kicking a bag than being wined and dined in an uncomfortable dress anyway. And let’s not forget that breast size doesn’t affect how much they tingle when they’re touched just right.
Every time I hear a woman give one of these false compliments to another woman, I cringe inside. Having to watch your weight and fuss over food is not a mark of womanhood – it’s a symptom of insecurity. Loving your body means being healthy, regardless of what anyone else thinks. Women love to blame men for objectifying women’s bodies, but when are we going to give them a better example to model?