Two girls threw their arms around each other and puckered their lips in seductive fashion, giggling and beaming smiles in between iPhone camera flashes. Their trusted friend and designated photographer snapped and clicked away with glee. She then lowered the phone and looked down at her screen in disgust.
“Redo that. You don’t look skinny,” she said.
The girls got back in formation. This time, they arched their backs, stuck out their butts and positioned their arms a little more to the side. The forced smiles and laughs were apparent to me, but in the picture, you could never tell.
I see this quite frequently. I see how the word “skinny” causes the self-esteem thermometer to fluctuate to incredible degrees and how this one word is adding so much weight to the mentality of teenage girls.
This is because as a culture, we have given such power to the word “skinny” that it sets incredible standards on our happiness and health.
Girls don’t want to just know they are skinny, they want to be told that they are. Girls want to be told by peers and Instagram stalkers and Facebook friends that they look “so skinny OMG.” Girls want their best friend to envy their flat stomachs and thigh gaps and flab-free arms. Girls want the word served to them on a silver-platter.
These are the approvals we seek, and they are causing us more harm than health. The ever-changing standards of the ideal thinness push girls into detrimental eating habits and dangerous exercise cycles. It also wears on the on the minds and emotions of those who don’t think they have the perfect figure.
It’s hard to know what skinny really means when E! News is glorifying Khloe Kardashian’s weight-loss or teenage girls are are exalting photoshopped Instagram models. The BMI can tell you where you fall on average, but even that national standard is ridiculously untelling.
It’s hard to stop the strive to be “skinny.” But, there is something we can start doing to build more self-confidence.
Our role as friends, sisters, companions or girlfriends is not to be adding to more pressure, but to be alleviating it. We didn’t form these relationships to debase or exalt our significant other with one insignificant word.
We’re here to empower one another. Sure, we all want to know the outsider’s opinion on whether the dress fits rights or if the new bikini is too tight. However, it’s time to push the conversation away from weight.
This is not to promote feminism or to trump eating disorders. This is about ridding our vocabulary of the word “skinny” and focusing on giving positive reinforcements about personality and character.
When your best friend loses weight after a break-up, don’t compliment her body. Instead, say, “You are so strong.” Stop using the words “skinny” or “thin,” and if the conversation falls into the trap of body-talk, divert it away.
It’s hard to ignore ever impending pressures to look a certain way, but by being the supportive peers that we are, we can be one step closer to having a generation full of confident and healthy women.
The photo of the girls in front of the flashing iPhone camera doesn’t tell the story of the 100-picture photoshoot, the discouraging friend or weight of criticism the girls feel. But we can create a new storyline today, one with a dialogue that promotes body peace and mutual empowerment.