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

  • Thomas

    Oh so me being ill which caused me to lose a ridiculous amount of weight is a privilege now? I dropped from being 75 kilos (about 165 pounds) to 55 kilos (again about 120 pounds) in three months. Tell e how that is a god damn privilege.

  • V


  • Jen

    Skinny-shaming is comparable to fat-shaming because it is the *exact same thing* – it is the act of bullying; of attempting to try & feel better by making someone else feel bad via the use of offensive names, offensive behaviour, projecting anger on to a scapegoat, amongst similar harassment; dumping your internal bad energy on to someone else, instead of resolving it within yourself. The only answer for a better world for all is to identify and seek to stop all forms of bullying. Stop dumping bad energy on to others. Bullying Person B because Person A bullied you is not the road to a better world. Bullying is bullying. Just stop it.

  • Erika Allen

    The idea of skinny shaming, real phenomenon or not, still does one thing– it points out the hypocrisy of the fat acceptance crowd. If your talking points are all about loving you for you, and that all women are beautiful despite their size, you had better stick to that narrative. Building your confidence up while simultaneously tearing another’s down doesn’t help your case.

  • Kitty

    I have to say that skinny people do have negative character traits associated with them. They’re often considered vain, shallow, or fake or portrayed to be vapid, bitchy, or catty. We all have negative traits placed on us due to stereotyping, regardless of which groups we fall into. It happens with weight, race, age, and gender, among many other things.

  • Sam Stubbs

    This is just inane drivel. Complete and utter garbage. I sincerely hope this is just a troll post… “Skinny-privilege” …what? I think “privilege” has just become a word people use to excuse reverse-prejudice… “Skinny-shaming” isn’t new, nor are “skinny” people somehow privileged. I’m sorry but I just don’t see it. When was the last time you heard a hit popular song that actually decried heavy people in the same way these songs rail on skinny people? However, decrying skinny people happens all the time in this culture. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “Real women have curves” being thrown around. Have you honestly ever heard anyone recently say “Real women are flat?” Have you ever heard a guy talk about how attractive stick thin girls are?

    Look, I’m not saying that fat-shaming doesn’t happen. I’m not saying that ads don’t photoshop models to unrealistic expectations. It happens. But the people who are shaming (on either side) are usually the ones who are self conscious themselves.

    My wife is a size 0, and has been under 100 lbs her whole life, (except when pregnant) and it’s not from a lack of eating or appetite. And yet, all her life she’s been called “anorexic” Girl’s have made fun of her for being “flat,” or calling her an “ironing board.” She’s always felt uncomfortable in locker rooms. Once person actually came up to her while she was working, and told her that he hated her, because she was skinny, and that looking at her made him feel bad about himself. (Again, it’s always the ones who feel bad about themselves that shame others.) These things stick, and they have been hurtful to her. Of course she’s pretty strong, and has taken most of it in stride. However, It still has taken years for me to finally convince her that she is completely beautiful just the way it is, and that she doesn’t need to be “curvier” for me or anyone.

    So long story short. I don’t buy this “privilege” crap the author is trying to sell. Body-shaming happens to everyone. And just because you’ve been hurt in the past doesn’t give you the right to hurt others. Period. That’s all this discussion need be about. Dismissing hurtful words with petty and nonsensical accusations about “privilege” have no place among sensible, thinking adults.

  • eleanor

    I understand what the author is attempting to say in their argument, and while everything is valid, it seems a bit ignorant, because the “skinny privilege” privileges listed in this article are not always true, at least, not to me. I am what would be described as a very thin person and I have struggled with keeping up my weight since I was little. On a daily basis, even my friends tell me to go eat a cheeseburger, the majority of people like to make snap judgments about my weight and call me anorexic, and it is extremely rare to find perfectly fitting clothes because just because you are thin does in no way mean that you don’t have short/long legs, or wide hips, etc, so jeans and such may be incredibly hard to find, as they are for me. And skinny shaming is completely present in the media, people like Kate Middleton get shamed for looking “scarily thin” and such. It is horrible. But then again, fat shaming is equally disgusting. All of this body obsession, all of this body shaming, is horrific. So I do think that they are equally terrible.

  • Kylan

    Who gives a shit who’s feelings are hurt?? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills! When did it become ok for the collective health of the US population become a back seat issue to some fat fucks who are insecure about their weight, getting their feelings hurt because they are too fucking fat to fit into a goddamn airline seat, and then being to much of a lazy pile of shit to do something about it, and then trying to convince other people that it’s ok and that they should be this way too?! That’s like saying “I’m addicted to meth, and my life sucks, so everyone else should be addicted to meth!” God. Fucking. Damnit.

  • Jenni

    “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.”

    I agree that being skinny has its advantages, but the “privileges” listed below aren’t completely valid arguments.

    “The ability to find clothing in your size at the vast majority of retailers;”
    Skinny women know how hard it is to find clothing anywhere. Very few stores carry sizes below 3, and often it’s necessary to shop in the children’s section. Those who can easily find clothes in their size must not be that skinny.

    “The assumption that your body type is at the very least “normal,” and most often sexually desirable;”
    It’s not easy for a skinny person to consider their body type normal if everyone comments on how they need to eat because they must have an eating disorder. It’s also not easy for a woman to consider herself sexually desirable if she doesn’t have the curves that society emphasizes as most important.

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

    “The assumption that you are healthy and physically fit;”
    How is being told that you must have an eating disorder because you have no muscle or curves a sign of being healthy?

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

    People often assume we are control freaks, or obsessed with our appearance because we must have an eating disorder.

  • SkeletorGirl

    I’m a Black girl and my whole life I had to deal with kids saying I was ugly because I was “skin and bones” and anorexic….girls would look at me with pity and say things like: never get in a fight cuz someone would snap you like a twig or “I could break you in half!” “God eat a cheeseburger” “do you throw up” wow you have like no ass” guys would say: you have the body of a 13yr old boy…sorry but your gross….maybe white girls might not get thin-shamed a lot but in the Black/Latino community it is INCREDIBLY COMMON AND REAL! To say thin-shaming is not the same is messed up…I’m still insecure to this day because of my weight

  • Alias Darker

    ok so what are you saying ? thin women should just accept to be bashed and just stfu ? you’re not serious I hope . You are right, being white is a privilege , but I hear many white people talking about anti white racism . I suppose it exist , so you are saying everyone should ignore it ?

  • speedyhobbit

    While I understand some of the claims on the privileges of being thin, I beg to differ on the part commenting on the ability of finding clothing in your size at the vast majority of retailers. I’m a 2 long and when I go to stores selling longs, many don’t have smaller than a 4 or 6. I end up having to size up in regular length, if i’m lucky enough to find a larger size that hits the right length before they’re falling off!

    As for shirts, needless to say, they end up being baggy so as not to have ridiculously short sleeves- and sometimes the sleeves are too short despite the bagginess because my size is more common in people shorter than me.

    “The assumption that you are healthy and physically fit” Unless, of course, you have people calling you anorexic or thinking you’re unable to lift heavy objects- though considering that it’s usually men making the latter comment, it could be a gender thing too

  • James

    Except you can, unlike race or gender or sexual preference, choose to be unhealthy and fat. How dare you put those on the same level. When someone faces discrimination based on a birth trait or characteristic, it is NEVER acceptable. To say that all fat people fall into that category is incredibly ignorant and disrespectful to every other member of that group, including those who are born with high weight that they cannot control. Jealousy makes an excuse, it seems. Someone wants to be super thin? Well obviously they have a disorder! Someone doesn’t care at all about taking care of their physical self, raising the economic burden on everyone else on this planet? Why, they’re perfect just the way they are! Being obese is NOT healthy in any way, shape, or form, physically or economically. All your argument does is uphold the mob mentality that thas sought throughout history to stifle the brightest and strongest specimens, increasing the less excellent Homo sapiens’ chances of passing on their genetic line. Evolution is absolute, and it does not care about how right you think you are. You have belittled the plight of every African American, every gay, lesbian, every transgendered human, every minority that could not change their person, much less change it simply by actually having willpower in place of weakness. Their struggle should be celebrated. The cause you so negligently tout should be shamed.

  • Ed

    Living in the south, we have a different culture since most folks are obese. As a male, I’m actually about as normal and average as I can be according to CDC’s BMI chart, but I’m considered “skinny” in these parts. I’d argue that skinny shaming is close to being as bad as fat shaming, but I’d stop short at workplace discrimination. I get comments from my peers and places where I get serviced (restaurants, clothing stores, tailor, etc). I get made fun of during lunch with my coworkers and sometimes I can be perceived as gay because I don’t have a Rambo-esque physique. To address the issues raised by the author, despite the fact that the article is about female skinny shaming:

    -The ability to find clothing in your size at the vast majority of retailers;
    It’s impossible to find any shirt, pants, and jacket that fits me. Everything starts at Medium and goes to XXX-Large. If I go to the same store brand at a major city 3 hours away, I can find those Small and X-Small sizes.

    -The assumption that your body type is at the very least “normal,” and most often sexually desirable;
    Like I said, they see me as skinny even though I’m technically considered average by pretty much all health charts. Football is like a religion here and all the media and attention is focused on that body type and that is the ideal masculine look. Everyone gives me a hard time if I don’t eat enough, and contempt when I eat 2x more than they do.

    -The assumption that those who do find you sexually desirable are also normal, and not merely satisfying a fetish;
    Seriously, no one finds me desirable. I don’t fit their masculine hunter-provider look who drinks Coors Light for breakfast.

    -The assumption that you are healthy and physically fit;
    I have a friend who is actually skinny by definition, and they think he’s a meth addict or a recovering drug user. As for me, I suppose I’m glad there’s an assumption that I’m fit, but I find it unfair that I have to “help out” with all the physical things in the office because my coworkers are supposedly physically unable, such as fetching stationary, moving delivery boxes, etc. I’m slowly becoming their gopher even though I haven’t done such things since I was a student worker. When I explain this, they give me the “you’re healthy, and I’m not” excuse.

    -The lack of character judgments (e.g. lazy, greedy, undisciplined) placed upon you for your body type.
    Again, to contextualize my answers, I live in the south where the majority of my peers are overweight or obese. I like them but I’m definitely not part of their “group.” I also tend to look young because of my weight even though I’m the same age as them. I’m constantly assumed to be an intern or inexperienced, even though I’ve held management positions. I get basic lectures about team work, gaining experience on the job, back when telephones were rotary dials, etc etc – great things if I was currently in my early 20s. It’s condescending, but I know my pay grade is higher than theirs. They constantly assume this is my first job out of college. I’m in my mid-30s.

    In short, skinny shaming (or in my case, just being “normal”) is happening with greater frequency especially when everyone else around you is overweight and the environment has been normalized. It concerns me when this shaming bleeds into the workplace and it will slowly become a discrimination issue rather than just shaming. For now, there’s nothing worth for me to do or say without jeopardizing my professional relationships or sound like I’m whining and ungrateful. I’ll just have to accept the snarky comments and condescension because in my community, my concerns are trivial compared to theirs. My argument is that it has gone too far to the other side. The fact is, being medically obese is not ok, nor is being medically underweight. Acceptance should constitute social and cultural acceptance of the individual, but it stops with lifestyle choices if it’s putting their health in jeopardy. And personally, I find it troubling that in the south being “average” is considered “skinny,” which is slowly becoming synonymous with unhealthy.

  • Rosie

    I would actually bring up issue with the points you raised about what ‘Skinny girls’ don’t have to put up with.

    1. The ability to find clothing in your size at the vast majority of retailers
    This is almost impossible for me, being a UK size 6 – 8 (which is about the American equivalent of 2 – 4 I think) it is almost impossible to find clothes in my size. Even if I find something I like the chances of it being a size 8 are tiny and size 6 almost impossible, so it often takes me ages to find anything just on the grounds that most of the stuff doesn’t fit.

    2. The assumption that your body type is at the very least “normal,” and most often sexually desirable
    There are so many more factors than just your body type. Skinny girls can be just as insecure about their appearance when considering if people find them attractive. Thinking about the size of their breasts compared to other girls, maybe their skin etc.
    Also if you are skinny like I myself am, you really are quite conscious that it doesn’t look good when you see yourself in the mirror, you worry about how much bone there seems to be.

    3. The assumption that those who do find you sexually desirable are also normal, and not merely satisfying a fetish.
    This is demeaning to all girls when you consider that we’re meant to be in an age where we apply more to our personalities than appearance, of course appearance will have something to do with it, but I have never thought ‘Oh my friend is dating a fat girl he must have a fetish’, I’d just think ‘Oh I wonder if she’s nice’.

    4. The assumption that you are healthy and physically fit.
    Very few girls who are skinny think like this. Most people who are skinny usually suffer from mental or social disorders, or even medical conditions that limit what they can eat. We’re more prone to bruising, bones can get broken or sprained more easily. I’d of described a girl who was toned as physically fit, not someone who is skin and bones.

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

    You mean girls who are skinny don’t get presumed to be ‘anorexic’ or ‘attention seekers’, these are all words that have come in the direction of girls who are thin. Getting told you care too much about your weight when the reason you’re thin is because of something out of your control can be an awful trapping feeling.
    I desperately attempted to put weight on once as I was unable to go with my friends on a trip due to my weight, and I just couldn’t manage it – being skinny can really restrict your life as well.

    Plus we have to put up with watching TV shows and films where we’re depicted as the bitchy girls or the idiots who only care about their appearance and bully those who don’t. As I said before, most people who are skinny are generally very insecure, some may have social disorders, and therefore the portrayal is likely incorrect in the majority of cases.

  • Samantha

    this discussion has gotten out of hand and, frankly, mean. Yes people who are overweight would benefit from losing pounds. Yes just because your skinny doesn’t necessarily make you healthy. Unsolicited comments from friends and strangers about your weight on both sides is annoying, hurtful, and unhelpful. No one should be shaming anyone about their body, period. It’s disrespectful and if you do it you are in that moment a disrespectful person. I have seen first hand what skinny girls have had to put up with and it is pretty terrible. However I do want to pose this question to everyone on either side of this issue, skinny and fat. If you had the chance would you switch bodies with a fat/skinny girl? Think about this and answer it honestly to yourself. If you don’t even want to walk in the shoes of your opposite, then maybe they just might have it a little bit worse off than you.