What does it mean to you to be thin? Seems obvious at first – you want to be thin so you look good, right? But when you consider the intensity of people’s desire to be thin, you realize there must be more than “meets the eye”. People view the number on the scale as a measure of their worth as a human being! So what does it really mean to you to be thin. What qualities of character do you associate with being thin versus being fat?
Here are some answers from Normal Eating Support Group members:
As a slim person, I see myself as competent, agile, and powerful – “cool chick”. When I’m heavy, I don’t feel as competent. I have more of a tendency to see myself as a screw-up. The agility dimension shifts, too. I feel clumsy in mind as well as body – less capable of quickly adapting to situations as needed. And I feel much less sense of personal power when I’m heavy. It’s like my personal power is muted by my fat.
I would say up until fairly recently, for me, being thin…meant being vulnerable. I hated the attention I received as a thinner woman. Gaining weight has meant safety, protection, asexuality, and invisibility. I tend to associate thinness with sexuality.
being thin means not having someone’s eye pass over me and not see me, not being the last one picked on a vollyball team in highschool (the one that people don’t want on their team), not being invisible, not being ordinary.
I think when I first started this, that I felt if I gained weight I would be unappealing, that people would perceive me as sloppy, with no self-control and not in control.
I have two, paradoxical views of what it means to be thin.
First, the good: Being thin means being in the best of health, physically and emotionally. It means the residue of my emotional struggles aren’t represented in pounds on my body. It means food is not a problem. It means I’ve succeeded at becoming the best possible caretaker of my body and my self.
The bad: Being thin means living a controlling, rigid lifestyle. Thin people are hungry, but won’t let themselves eat because their vanity prevents it. Thin people have low self-esteem. They are controlling their bodies because they can’t control anything else. Thin people are superficial.
I know that sounds so harsh! I wasn’t aware until I attempted this of how thinphobic I am.
…when I imagine myself thin I imagine feeling: joy, energy, peace, strong, self-assured, free to be me without bitterness, anger and anxiety.
But at the same time thinking those things causes me to feel vulnerable and fragile in the here and now. I practically have a panic attack. You’d think this imaginary bliss is where I’d want to spend most of my day, but it scares me. I don’t know how to be those things. I don’t know how to be thin.
I think I have been avoiding answering this question because it is so difficult to face – and I am not sure I know the answer! Being thin to me is an unknown, so it is truly all fantasy. … So I guess the answer to this question is that I think people will value me more as a person if I am thin. I will definitely be thinking about this for awhile, as it feels like this goes to the core of my obsession!
Below are my thoughts on this subject. I realize there is some contradictory stuff in there, which seems to be the nature of the beast!
Upside of thinness
1. I feel much more confident and empowered.
2. I feel more comfortable in my body. I can basically just forget it and go about life (as opposed to obsessing all the time that I am too fat). In other words, it doesn’t get in my way. When I am heavier, the excess weight is a big distraction. I feel more free when I am thin.
3. I feel sexier.
4. I am much more social. I don’t refuse social opportunities because I feel too fat, NOR do I talk myself into going even though I feel fat, NOR do I schedule them for a week away so I can lose weight before I go. I just go (if I want). So basically, I engage with the world more. This is a biggie for me. When I am heavier I often feel I put my life “on hold.”
Downside of thinness
1. I am much more suspicious of men. I distrust their motives. I don’t meet their eyes. I erect a barrier of haughtiness around myself (I guess to compensate for the lack of fat as a barrier!). Basically, I am much less friendly to men (on a day to day basis) when I am thin. (I don’t, however, notice a difference in how I relate to women, as many women on this forum have discussed.)
When I think of being skinny, I think that I would have feelings of being carefree. I could throw on anything to wear and know that I look good. I would no longer think about food. I would actually have time to think about other things and play more with my kids. However, I know these are all “thin” stereotypes, but if we have to be honest, that’s what comes to mind.
Thin means I am not a slave to food. It means I eat daintily and with ease, steadily in control. I can take food or leave it. I am in control. It means I feel strong and capable on very little food. i need almost nothing. I am disciplined and people admire how in-control I am.
What it means to be thin ….
This is something that I have been giving a great deal of thought to. I have spent the past 25 years of my life striving to attain “thin”. I have come close to being thin more than once but it triggers something in me that causes an immediate weight gain. Here are some of my thoughts about being thin.
Being heavy gives me a cushion of invisibility. I am not comfortable receiving attention based solely upon my appearance. I frequently crave attention but when I am craving attention, what I am truly seeking is validation. The attention that I receive when I am thin does not validate me; I feel like people are appreciating my thinness and not truly seeing me.
Heaviness protects me from unwanted sexual attention. To me thin means sexually attractive. Sexually attractive means having to deal with male attention – with a childhood history of sexual abuse, this is not something that I am comfortable with. In the past when I was less self confident and unable to assert myself, getting attention from men usually led to sexual promiscuity. Being thin makes me feel vulnerable.
Being thin means no more excuses, no more procrastination, no more waiting for tomorrow. If I am not thin, I can always blame everything on being fat!
Excellent, excellent question…
I have made a real effort and came up with some replies too I was most surprised to find out they were somewhat different to my original, off the head assumptions. I guess, two years ago I would have written more predictably: (strong, competent, charismatic, in control = THIN; while self indulgent, ineffective,boring, lonely = FAT)
But now I see THIN as desirable mainly because:
THIN means young and active while at the same time appealing to other people’s protective instinct. Physical fragility like slenderness, thinness, seems to be one of very few things that will generate sympathetic responses like: are you tired? do you think you can cope with this on your own? Perhaps you would like some rest first? etc. (those sort of remarks you will NEVER hear as a large woman, even though of course physically you will tire far easier that a waif…)
Yet, for all that protective attitude, THIN means carefree, full of promise, living for myself, my fun or career, etc. In short – THIN is adolescent me – all options still open.
And FAT as not as good because it means middle-aged and motherly. . Which could be read in two ways: either as a giving, unselfish, warm, caring and loving , OR predictable, stodgy, grudging, and profoundly anti-fun. But, anyway, fully grown up and thereforealways being left alone to cope with problems.
Rather a lot of contradictions!
I knew there was a reason I have been emotionally invested in staying a big person, and I think in part the answer to this question really exposes what the pay offs have been in my mind to staying large.
I’m not proud of the fact that I have held these beliefs, but if I don’t get honest and deal with them, then i can’t change them. I do want them to change. So here goes. . . . When a person is thin. . . . I think that
1. You are a weak person, not capable of any physical strength.
2. You can’t protect yourself.
3. You are not healthy.
3. Your bones break easily.
4. You are shallow because you can get by on looking good so you never have to develop your emotional skills.
5. You crave attention that comes with being thin.
6. You treat people poorly because again you can get by on looking good.
7. You get jobs that others can’t get not because you have any talent but because you look good.
8. You are stupid if you are thin because everyone does everything for you.
9. You are very controlling just like you are with your food.
10. BUT, at least someone would love you if you were thin.
~sobs~ I think I’m talking to my mother and me. I go cry now…
Being thin for me used to mean (not sure if it still does – I am somewhat “thin” right now, so I am seeing if this is a reality or not) not being liked by women. My mother always had jealousy issues towards me and my father’s relationship, and I always wanted her to like me, so I think being thin symbolized losing my mother’s acceptance. I thought that being thin meant that women would try to sabotage me and talk behind my back and be my “fake” friend.
My first round with normal eating (years ago), I lost a lot of weight and became quite thin… I was shocked at how little things changed. I was shocked that I didn’t suddenly have this great social life. I had been waiting my whole life for this afterall–so I could finally be outgoing.
I was still quiet and shy and just…awkward…
Then I decided that it must be my thin hair and my freckles… so I got hair extensions and bleaching cream…
that didn’t change my personality either…
lol…I could seriously see myself as one of those people who gets 1000 plastic surgeries in the quest for perfection…
I ended up going back to dieting and gaining a bunch of weight back…now I’m currently back to blaming that for all my problems…well, and the freckles…
I have moments of truth though…
I was out to a bar last month and I was sitting in a corner alone while my co-workers were dancing and having a good time. I blamed my weight of course for my lack of fun…
Then I suddenly decided to try something. I decided to really imagine for a moment that I was very thin… that I was perfect looking… and that I had the perfect, hot outfit… Once I was convinced I tried to tell myself to go dance and have fun… I tried to picture ever being able to be fun and outgoing like that. I couldn’t. Even when I was thoughroughly convinced that my body was perfect–it just didn’t sound fun…I didn’t even want to dance and socialize.
I had a lightbulb moment where I accepted that I’m just not fun and social and outgoing and nothing will change that—certainly not being thin… If anything, I suddenly felt more scared to be noticed…like now that I was thin people would have even higher expectations of me…
I don’t know… Sheryl had told me to do some visualizations like this and instead I now find myself actually doing them while I’m out… actually picturing myself at different weights while I’m actually at a bar…
The other night I got up the nerve to picture myself as really big while I was out. I didn’t feel more social or anything…but damn…I felt like I had a right to sit in my corner and not have anyone bothering me.
I think that’s just what I like to do–be left the hell alone while I drink, play video games, and watch people.
It’s so weird how we could ever believe that something physical could actually change our personality. I still find myself believeing it to a point–but at least now I realize it’s a strange belief.
As you read through people’s responses to this question, you will start to see some themes:
- Being thin will change your personality – turn a loner into a social butterfly, make a worrier carefree.
- Being thin increases the pressure on you to perform – people expect more of you.
- Being thin can make you feel emotionally fragile, and vulnerable to sexual advances and/or acting out.
- Being thin makes you mean and selfish – women hate you, it’s not “motherly”.
- Being thin means you’re in control and have no needs – emotional or physical.
Think about what being thin means to you. Go beyond the first thought that pops into your head, and really think about it. The qualities of character that “thinness” symbolizes to you are actionable insights.
For example, if your vision of thinness involves being carefree, then it’s very likely that what you really want most is not so much to be thin per se, but to be carefree. If you don’t trust yourself to set firm boundaries around your sexuality when you are thin, then the problem isn’t your weight so much as weak assertiveness skills. If you associate thinness with being stingy and mean, then the problem isn’t your weight but rather your insecurity about maintaining your personal integrity in the face of social pressure.
Something to Try…
When you’ve identified your main associations with being thin, try this. Think of three things you can do right now that help you to “own” a quality that you falsely ascribe to the percent body fat you carry. And then take these actions! Some examples:
- If you long to be thin because you envision yourself as feeling carefree, think of a specific example of how that would manifest in your life today, and do it. Would it mean that you stop weighing yourself? Would it mean that you smile more when you meet people? Imagine yourself thin right now – what would you be doing differently? Got it? Okay, now do it! Do it right now!
- If you don’t trust yourself sexually when you are thin, then you need to practice assertiveness. Think about your current life, and identify some specific situations where you need to assert yourself but aren’t currently doing it. And do it!
- If you wouldn’t feel as kind, generous, or motherly if you were thin, then you fear being unable to withstand social pressure. Think of an area of your life where you are conforming to social pressure but would rather be doing something else, and do that “something else” – see how it feels to define your own reality.
- If you’re a loner and imagine your thin self as an outgoing social butterfly, you have two ways to go. If you are alone more than you really want to be, then take an action to reach out socially. If you are denying your true nature, try allowing yourself to be who you are and accept that.
The specific actions you decide to take depend on what being fat or thin means to you individually. The idea is to realize that these are qualities of character that have nothing at all to do with body fat. As qualities of character, you can choose to adopt or not adopt them at any time. A person with extra body fat can behave with strength and self-discipline, feel carefree, and be outgoing and friendly. And a boundary of fat is a poor substitute for true self-assertion.
Practice taking back your power! When you do, you will no longer have such a desperate need to be thin, and then – ironically – you will become able to eat normally and become your normal weight without dieting. Why? Because a screaming obsession will no longer be drowning out the whisper of body wisdom!
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them.
This article was first published in the October 2005 newsletter.