Jeff Peterson is a local reporter who recently lost 31 pounds after going to a vegan diet. The newspaper article has before and after pictures of him, and while I didn’t think anything strange of his new appearance, apparently others don’t agree. “People will say to me, 'You're getting way too skinny,’ Jeff said. ‘People aren't used to seeing people at regular weight."
I might consider this an anomaly if it weren’t for other similar experiences. For instance, I was recently talking to another man who lost a lot of weight (in his case about 100 pounds), and when people saw him for the first time since that loss, many were shocked. Some asked if he had cancer, unable to conceive of how else he could have shed so much weight. Others commented that he looked almost cadaverous, although when I met him, he seemed to me a healthy weight.
I also encountered this odd phenomenon with my own weight loss. After I had gone down about 100 pounds, I was also getting the comments about becoming “skinny” and people worrying that I would lose too much or become anorexic. It made me question my perception of myself, to worry that they might be right. When I looked in the mirror, I still thought I was heavy, but what if I was deluding myself? After a lot of thought, I realized that given the fact that I’m only five feet tall and still weighed around 150, I couldn’t really qualify as “too thin”.
When I think about why I got those comments, I have to agree with Peterson, but I think it goes a little deeper than what size people are used to. After all, we see images of models (some of who I do think are too skinny) and actors, who are much thinner than me, so it shouldn’t truly be a shock. And passing by a stranger at my size, friends and family probably do not think, “She’s too skinny.”
But when you lose that much weight, many people no longer recognize you, literally. I ran into a situation where a man who had known me since I was 14 had to confirm with my brother that I was, in fact, me. Those who have known you at a heavier weight may wonder how else you’ve changed. Are you, in fact, the same person that they knew? It may also make them reassess their own bodies. Suddenly what they had considered an okay weight no longer looks so good compared to you, and that could be threatening.
The tricky part, of course, is that it can go too far. Some people do get down to an unhealthy weight, or become anorexic. But the vast majority do not.
So if know someone who is intentionally shrinking and you feel like they might be going too far, I would suggest taking a moment to consider objectively before commenting. After all, for those of us losing, hearing that we’re suddenly too thin instead of too fat is not particularly helpful, and may even cause unintended angst.