I want to talk about an unspoken type of reverse discrimination.
When I was a baby the doctor asked if my mother was feeding me. I was very active and ate, as she said, “All the time.” I was 20 lbs at a year whereas my brothers were 25 lbs, though. It was how I was.
I was a thin child. I was one of those tall, thin girls. My mother said she couldn’t buy dresses for me with ties that come out at the side of the waist because when she went to tie the bow in the back, the sides of the dress would meet and the tie ends went to the ground. She had to sew pants and tops for me so they’d fit. All the girl’s pants were too big around. In 4th grade she was buying small patterns, patterns for 2nd grade sized girls, and adding 2-3″ length to everything. I also never got knee socks because they’d fall down. I wanted knee socks very badly but had to wear bobby socks. I was in the back of the group for class photos because I was tall, though not the tallest. I was a shy kid, but I was OK with my body until I got into about 3rd grade when I started to hear people call me “skinny.” I had friends’ mothers flat out compare their daughters’ figures to mine with my mother and their daughters and other people all in the room. Most of their daughters had that 3rd grader girl tummy. I had a waistline.
My mother put me in dance class. I hated wearing leotards and tights in front of people. Comparisons were more frequent in dance and even at swim classes.
To point out any child’s body shape as being “different” from other children is going to make that person self conscious. It is rude and makes that person feel “other” and excluded from normalcy. It’s bad manners. No child chooses to be thin or thick. It’s no one’s business what shape a child is unless one is that child’s physician with a clinical concern for that child’s health. No intelligent child thinks that people noticing his or her shape is concern for health. It’s purely a comparison and it’s not an innocent comparison. Something is better, something is worse. Someone is being rated up or down. This puts all people in the room with body issues on alert but the focus is on the kid who is being discussed for everyone’s entertainment. The singled out child is very aware of this as women say things like, “I was never that thin. I’m on a diet now, and she looks back and forth between the thin child and other people in the room.
There was one woman, a large woman, who saw the look on my face once, while I was being compared, and I think she tried to help. She said, if front of everyone, that I was “willowy.” I loved her in that moment. The one word that bothered me the most and still does is “skinny.” It is not a compliment. It is a weapon. It is often paired with the word “bitch” and it’s as though the woman is using thinness to be extra bitchy to make others feel bad. If I said “fat bitch” many would think I was just being mean, not that her fatness made her extra bitchy. It’s comparatively socially acceptable to say “skinny bitch.” Thin people aren’t thin to make everyone else feel like crap about themselves. There is no big conspiracy. So, if you’ve ever thought it was acceptable or OK to take note of a child’s shape or a thin person’s shape, reconsider. It isn’t polite to make comparisons about people’s shapes, in general.
I read in a manners book that it’s impolite when one meets, for instance, a redheaded child, to first comment on the child’s hair. One may, instead, inquire as to the child’s favorite subject in school as a conversation starter. I think this is very like what I’m trying to say.