The myth of skinny-shaming


As Nicki Minaj’s highest charting single ever, “Anaconda” has elicited a lot of controversy since its release. While the most prominent discussion seems to center around its salacious music video, which has garnered over 100 million views on YouTube—where comments oscillate between denouncing the video as “pornographic” or “disgusting” and heralding it as a sex-positive black-feminist masterpiece—what I find to be the most interesting argument against “Anaconda” is the accusation that Minaj is promoting an unhealthy body image. Indeed, opponents of the song have criticized its lyrics for “skinny-shaming,” contending that Minaj’s call to “fuck the skinny bitches” marginalizes thin women in the same way that larger women are marginalized. Here’s the fault with that argument: while instances of “skinny-shaming” may seem like as much of a problem as fat-shaming—and may very well be just as hurtful—the two phenomena are neither comparable nor equal, because the fact of the matter is that we live in a society that systematically and structurally privileges those who are thin and marginalizes those who are not.

It wasn’t until last weekend that I first heard the term “skinny-shaming.” I was hanging out in a friend’s common room listening to music when “Anaconda” began playing. About 3 minutes into the song, there’s a section where Nicki raps, “Where my fat ass big bitches in the club?/Fuck the skinny bitches/Fuck the skinny bitches in the club/I wanna see all the big fat ass bitches in the mother fucking club, fuck you if you skinny bitches.”

When I mentioned afterwards that I respected Nicki for saying that, to my surprise, my friend replied, “What? But like, skinny-shaming’s also a thing, which is just as shitty.”

“Skinny-shaming,” as I later learned, is the term that’s been coined to describe the act of degrading or insulting someone for being thin. It’s often mentioned in the broader context of body-shaming and women’s body image and is typically offered as a type of other-side-of-the-same-coin alternative to fat-shaming. Often, it’s heralded as more important than fat-shaming, because fat-shaming gets more attention in the media and general discourse. And with the growing discussion surrounding beauty standards, the media, and “real women,” this notion of skinny-shaming is one that’s received a lot of attention lately.

The core of the skinny-shaming argument can be best be summed up by the top comment on Meghan Trainor’s YouTube video for “All About That Bass”—another song that’s proven controversial recently for Trainor’s claim that she’s “bringing booty back” and planning to “tell them skinny bitches that.” The comment reads:

“What happened to everyone is beautiful?! Calling someone a skinny bitch is the same as calling someone a fat bitch. I bet if someone made a song calling someone a fat bitch everyone would hate that person. We’re all beautiful, no matter what size and we need to stop calling each other names or saying things like ‘only curvy girls are real women’ or ‘that girl would be pretty if she wasn’t fat.’ We are all BEAUTIFUL!!”

The basic premise of this argument, my friend’s argument, and all other arguments against “skinny-shaming” is this: skinny-shaming, like fat-shaming, is a form of body-shaming, so it is just as hurtful, dangerous, and problematic. Therefore, skinny-shaming should be discussed, analyzed, and combatted just as seriously as fat-shaming. Basically, “skinny-shaming’s a thing, and it’s just as shitty.”

But not all body-shaming is created equal. Skinny-shaming is absolutely not comparable to fat-shaming, nor should the two issues be weighted equally. And by pairing Trainor’s or Minaj’s or any other person’s individual criticism of “skinny bitches” with the systemic and cultural condemnation of all those who are not “skinny bitches” is to completely ignore the hierarchy of power associated with body-type and weight in modern American culture.

Being skinny is a form of privilege, in the same way that being white, wealthy, heterosexual, cisgendered, or able-bodied is a form of privilege. There are a series of societal benefits and advantages that come with being skinny, and these benefits serve to marginalize those who do not fit into a very narrowly defined notion of the acceptable female body type. These privileges include, but are not limited to:

The ability to find clothing in your size at the vast majority of retailers;

The assumption that your body type is at the very least “normal,” and most often sexually desirable;

The assumption that those who do find you sexually desirable are also normal, and not merely satisfying a fetish;

The assumption that you are healthy and physically fit;

The lack of character judgments (e.g. lazy, greedy, undisciplined) placed upon you for your body type.

These are all privileges enjoyed by those who are skinny, and these privileges are important to recognize when analyzing what exactly body-shaming means, who it affects, and how it affects them. Fat-shaming represents a larger social system of oppression. Skinny-shaming is an individual insult or criticism against those who are already in a position of power. Fat-shaming is nearly constant, ubiquitous, and often unacknowledged. Skinny-shaming happens sometimes. Yes, fat-shaming and skinny-shaming are both forms of body-shaming. No, they are not equal.

What differentiates individual instances of prejudice from large-scale discrimination is the system of power inherent in the latter. In “Developing a New Perspective on Race,” Pat Bidol defined racism as “Power + Prejudice”—I think this is true for all “-isms.” What transforms individual instances of prejudice into larger systems of discrimination is the existence of a power disparity. To be discriminated against is to be constantly placed in a vulnerable position in society—it is to be told, explicitly and tacitly, that you are unworthy and thus deserve less.

This is why even using the term “skinny-shaming” is dangerous; drawing the parallel between a system of oppression and individual grievances serves to conceal the ways in which body-size privileges or marginalizes certain groups. In the same way that affirmative action does not constitute reverse racism, or a concerted effort to recruit women in the workplace does not constitute reverse sexism, an angry comment towards skinny people does not constitute reverse fat-shaming (i.e. skinny-shaming). Being in a position of power means that while you may encounter individual instances of prejudice, you will never be subjected to a system of prejudice. Thus being told “fuck you” by Nicki Minaj is not “skinny-shaming,” but rather an instance of skinny-prejudice.

To be clear, by no means am I approving of or endorsing skinny-prejudice; insulting someone for their body-type—regardless of privileged status—is unproductive and hurtful. What I am saying is that comments like “fuck you if you skinny, bitch” have a context in which they must be considered. In a world in which a national retailer (ahem, Brandy Melville) labels size small clothing “one size fits most,” the dieting industry brings in $20 billion in revenue per year, the media routinely and publicly criticize celebrities for weight gain and herald Jennifer Lawrence as a “curvy woman,” non-skinny women are given very few avenues for attacking and criticizing the culture of oppression to which they are subjected. Add to that the history of patriarchy associated with female weight management, and it becomes clear that insults against those who are skinny are not an attack, but rather a response to a much broader issue.

So when Nicki Minaj says “fuck the skinny bitches” she’s not personally attacking women who receive skinny privilege, but rather combatting the system that gives it to them. She’s publicly recognizing the power dynamic that surrounds the female body, and she’s attempting to disrupt the dominant narrative that allows this dynamic to exist.

Yes, I understand “fuck the skinny bitches” might hurt your feelings, but no, this one instance of skinny-prejudice is not comparable to the pervasive culture of fat-shaming we live in. And by ignoring the fact that there is a difference, we deny the fact that this system of privilege and oppression continues to exist.


Illustration by Julia Kittle-Kamp

  • Raven

    Here’s the thing. I can’t find clothes that fit me well in most stores. If I want to find something that is long enough, I have to shop in the Junior/Ladies section, but then everything drowns me. If I don’t want it to drown me, I shop in the little girl’s section, but then it’s too short. Yes, I could buy clothes and then take the time to take them in myself and make them fit, but why should I have to? Because I’m skinny, aren’t I supposed to have the “privilege” of finding clothes in my size, according to you? You talk about discrimination and shaming against groups of people who have more approval in society as if it should be applauded.

    Here’s a little clue about how to be a good person: Don’t shame anyone.

    Just because a person is rich, white, skinny, male, straight, or any other quality that may make you think that they have an easier life than you doesn’t give you ANY right to talk about them as if they don’t have feelings. “Fuck the skinny bitches” is not something to be celebrated. Ever. Sure, maybe she is railing at the system, but she is certainly not doing it in the right way. If you want bigger bodies to be celebrated, focus on bringing them up, not bringing others down.

    Because all of this hurts. “Fuck the skinny bitches,” “silicone barbie doll,” “only dogs want bones,” etc, all of that hurts people like me just as much as the fat, lazy, unhealthy stereotype hurts larger people. And it’s just as wrong. And to justify it with “But skinny people can find clothes in their size in stores, so they have skinny privilege” is laughable. Yeah sure, magazines idealize skinnier frames, but guess what? People still assume that I have some sort of eating disorder because I’m skinny. So most actresses tend to keep their fat down, but guess what? The internet still tells me that I’m an arrogant prick simply because I’m skinny.

    Get over yourself and step off your high horse for a minute. It is not fat-shaming that needs to be addressed by the body positive movement; it is body shaming in general. Skinny shaming is not okay. Racism against whites is not okay. Hating someone just because they are rich is not okay.

    Discrimination based on race, class, gender, sexuality, or size is not okay. Not even to bring down a corrupt system. You want to do something positive? Be positive.

  • Jane

    As a teenage girl who is under 5’2 and weighs barely 100 pounds I am extremely self conscious about my size. I am always asked if I want the kids menu. I am old enough to drive a car but still buy my clothes in the kids department. When ever people see how much I eat (alot) they act suprised. Teachers have asked for years if I ate that day. A friend of mine is tiny about 4’8 and 80 pounds (she’s 16)and thats because of a deficency in growth hormones. The fact is that there is no way of knowing about why someone is a certain size and attacking them or saying they are privileged is an assumption that is often untrue. Please take into account that us SKINNY BITCHES cry in front of mirrors and dislike how we look.

  • Bailey

    Go to any second hand store or low end clothing store, and tell me how many pants you find from size 4 down. Not all thin girls want to pay mall prices. $50 for jeans is unreasonable. Also, how many people comment on your weight per day? It’s like a broken record of mostly negative thin comments. Oh, I don’t follow celebs or models, because fashion is too shallow for me. I don’t get validation from airbrushed images of strangers. If I have enough respect to not even feel tempted to comment on a large woman’s body, I think I deserve the same respect. I have no idea if fat shaming or thin shaming are the same, because I’ve never walked in their shoes. But does it really matter who has it worse? If you ask me, minorities have it worse. Gay people have it worse. Nobody is in fear of being killed for being thin or fat. The media has polarized women with different figures, because if we band together, magazine images would no longer hurt us into buying unnecessary products. All body shaming is bad. Get off your high horse, and wake up.

  • Elizabeth Blake

    I find this very hard to read. As a naturally “skinny bitch” I have never been able to put weight on like a normal person. I even had to be on medication to help me gain weight as a child. I have been called things like anorexic, twigs for bones, and other very hurtful things. People don’t realize that just like a person who is made fun of for being heavier, skinny people will try and do things to make them gain weight. I tried. It didn’t work. But I stopped that because it wasn’t healthy. I had to change the way I looked at myself and turn it into a positive light, because everyone around me was telling me my weight was a negative thing. I am a very active girl. I do mma and bjj. And I am an ex gymnast. Recently my whole family went organic. We don’t eat processed foods. I am healthy and I am tired of hearing that “real women have curves”. Because no. Real women have vaginas. That’s all you need to physically be a girl. I’m also tired of hearing “real men go for curves, only dogs go for bones” because if we reverse that and say “real men go for thin girls, only dogs go for meat” people would be very upset. Just as we are upset. We can’t help our weight. Don’t tell me it’s not as important. Because it is.

  • guest

    Maybe this article is thinking of thin/in shape women and not actually skinny girls? Being skinny is not ideal, being thin and in good shape is. Being a skinny, bony girl my whole life I have been harassed everywhere. In school, at work, walking down the street people say things to me like “ew, go eat a cheeseburger, go eat a donut, you have no ass” and these are mostly men saying these things. I read comments under pictures of skinny girls “ew who would want to sleep with a bag of bones? no man likes that” It’s like people think the media is portraying skinny as ideal so it gives them the right to say anything negative about the person they want. I have gone through many unhealthy options to gain weight including weight-gaining shakes and pills. Body-shaming is wrong. Let’s stop arguing about which is worse fat-shaming or skinny-shaming. And please don’t tell me there is such a thing as skinny privilege. My bony ass has not helped me get anything in life.

  • Charlotte Alyce Jane Markwick

    Well said!!! You took everything I was feeling and turned it into words!!!

    And honestly, people get all hung up on the words and start getting all “what are we teaching children, won’t somebody think of the children!” -come on, can’t we just enjoy brilliant, catchy music?