Skinny shaming sucks too
It’s every bit as bad as fat shaming.
MOST people don’t take Jasmine Saw’s issues seriously.
She can eat as much as she wants and not gain weight. The 26- year- old also looks much younger than her age.
Somehow it’s harder to convince people that being underweight is just as serious an issue as obesity.
Dressed in a baby blue spaghetti strap top, a stylish waisted denim skirt and casual sandals, Saw is often mistaken for someone in her late teens rather than a woman in her 20s due to her small body frame.
“People automatically assume that I’m younger than my younger sister.
“It’s flattering but also annoying,” says Saw who are usually subjected to identity card checks at clubs to verify that she is of legal age.
Saw weighs just 35kg, and that has been her weight since she was 15. She is classified as being underweight, with her body mass index ( BMI) equalling 14kg/ m2 ( anything under 18.5 considered underweight).
“I know it’s not healthy and it’s not like I don’t want to gain weight,” she says.
“I should get this checked out. I haven’t actually done a full proper full- body check up.
“But subconsciously, I guess I’m a bit worried that something is actually terribly wrong with me,” says Saw.
Gorging on food
Most people assume that Saw is underweight because she is simply not eating enough.
Friends and family are constantly telling Saw to “eat more”. People think they mean well when they urge underweight individuals to take another helping, not realising that it’s actually as hurtful and degrading as telling someone overweight to lay off the nasi lemak. There is constant and persistent pressure to conform to what society believe should be the ideal body type.
“They will stuff your face with food. Even if you’re full they’re still trying to stuff you. Sometimes it gets to a point where eating becomes almost like a chore,”
Tai Tan Fung Ying, 22, who has a BMI of 16.3 says she was probably underweight as a child because she was a fussy eater and would take three to four hours to finish a meal.
“To my family members and people who knew me then, it made sense that I was so skinny,” says Tai. But when she turned 12, she started eating “like a regular individual”.
“But to them, it is as though I had never changed, as though I still dislike food, as though I don’t eat,” she adds.
Tai says that her family would always ask her to eat more, and in an effort to put on weight, she would eat whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted.
At one point, Tai was completely indulgent. She would eat chocolate cake for breakfast, whipped cream out of the can, cookies by the packets and lots of butter on her bread. But no matter how much she ate, Tai simply couldn’t put on weight.
Tai says that she would be eating to the point where she couldn’t consume anymore, but would still endure comments like: “Are you sure you ate anything today?”, “When did you last eat? Last week?”
Most people are more puzzled than sympathetic at Saw’s inability to put on weight.
“They say ‘ I just breathe, and I put on ten pounds. And you’re there eating like nobody’s business and you’re still like that’,” relates Saw.
Growing up looking at curvy Victoria Secret models, Tai admits that she has some issues about her thin frame and lack of curves.
“I’m so skinny, I’m flat. So a couple of comments have been made about my size. It became very hard for me to love that part of myself. It is still a struggle. And I have admittedly considered a boob job,” says Tai.
In an attempt to look more voluptuous, Tai said that she tried various food and herbs that “supposedly increase breast size”.
“I’ve eaten fenugreek... soya milk, miso soup and old papaya that are supposedly really good for that,” she said. However, she said that none worked and “nothing has changed”.
Saw laments that she often has trouble finding clothes.
“You see a really nice dress on the mannequin and they’ll never have your size. You don’t have enough butt, you don’t have enough boobs, you just don’t fit,” she says.
“Half the time, I actually find myself looking for clothes in the kids section.”
But Saw says that she has gotten used to the comments people make about her size.
“Most of the people around me now are not saying these things to hurt me, it’s more like a joke. So, there’s no reason for me to get mad at them,” she adds.
Just as bad as fat shaming
Although people are more aware of fat- shaming than skinny shaming, both are equally damaging.
“Clearly body shaming of any form is damaging, to the individual concerned,” says Malaysian Mental Health Association deputy president and psychiatrist Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj.
Some people who may have good intentions, not aware that they are just being tactless.
It is important to remember that a healthy body is not necessarily a thin body, stresses Dr Mohanraj
The media is often fixated on a certain
body type that reflects what is “fashionable” in the Western world.
But this fixation often completely ignores the different genetic predisposition of various other groups that lead to the variety of body shapes and forms human beings come in.
Dr Mohanraj says that those who are underweight might be suffering from eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorder or depression.
“Negative comments will only be counter productive. It will push the targeted individual to further psychological distress,” he adds.
International Medical University nutrition and dietetics lecturer Kanimolli Arasu says those who are underweight have their own issues.
“Common problems include the risk of osteoporosis or ammenia, or sometimes overly- thin people have a compromised immune system that puts them at a higher risk of infection.
“So being thin does not necessarily mean that they’re healthy,” she says. But being thin can also be just “genetics”. “They may have a gene radiant where they are probably not putting on fat in certain parts of your body. But there are also many other reasons, such as, underlying medical disease.“Some people have metabolism disorder, and it could also be connected to some hormone regulation,” she says.
Kanimolli recommended getting a health check up first before attempting to put on weight.
“First of all, we have to find out why the person is not gaining weight, because there could be a medical reason behind it,” she says.
“But if it’s not any medical related issue and dietary related, then the dietitian would actually analyse the diet and see if the person is eating according to their requirements.”
A visit to a dietitian can help them plan out a proper meal plan that suits their lifestyle and help achieve their weight goal.
“A lot of people think: ‘ I’m very thin, I can finish a whole cake’. But actually, just eating desserts may not be very healthy because it’s only calories coming from fats and carbohydrates,” she says.
She says that she would eat food that are rich in nutrients, like milk, yogurt, cheese, or a peanut butter sandwich.
Tai says that she has decided to adopt a healthier lifestyle by exercising regularly and eating healthily.
“My heaviest point was when I was working out constantly and eating healthily, that was when I started putting on real weight,” says Tai.
Saw emphasises that everyone should strive to be a healthier version of themselves rather than aiming for an ideal body shape. “Try be a better and healthier version of yourself rather than trying to be like Beyonce or some other model,” she says.
Double take: Saw ( right) is often mistaken as being younger than her sister Rachel ( left) because of her small frame.
Healthier life: Tai has recently started eating healthy and exercising more.
Body shaming has its roots in prescriptions of ideal body shapes for women. — Reuters