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facts & arguments

RACHEL IDZERDA/The Globe and Mail

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'You're going to go throw that up in the bathroom in a minute. You're messed up, you have a problem." This rather abrupt and accusatory "intervention" came from a complete stranger sitting at my table at a friend's wedding. He was not convinced I could eat an entire meal and maintain my figure without throwing up later.

This isn't the first time someone has commented on my size. My frame typically fits in size 2 or 4. I have had countless "Skinny Minnie" comments over the years. One of the earliest dates back to Grade 2, standing in line waiting to go on stage for the Christmas concert, and my teacher telling me that my "arms were like twigs" and my legs "like chopsticks." I don't recall being flattered or even offended. I was mostly confused – I didn't know what chopsticks were and pictured pork chops and that just didn't make sense. Little did I know that this was going to be the first in a long line of references about my size.

I have been a "skinny bitch" from the get-go and as I tell everyone who asks, I'm just lucky. I can essentially eat whatever I like and my speedy metabolism takes care of the rest. I am smart about my diet. I eat healthy food and cut the junk as much as possible and have a decently active lifestyle. I do admit, though, getting active is more for my own enjoyment rather than to keep weight off. But it's far from a land of pink Corvettes and slow-motion hair flicks here on the skinny side. What I'm about to launch into isn't a plea for pity, but rather an attempt to show that just because I look to some what might be considered fabulous, being a "skinny bitch" has its downfalls.

For starters, along with the twig arms and the chopstick legs comes what the fashion industry likes to call the "boyish figure." I prefer to call it like it is and refer to it as the perma-12-year-old figure. Most clothing designers seem to think that because you are a grown woman you must have "junk in the trunk." Not this 27-year-old trapped in a 12-year-old's body. Thank goodness for the boyfriend-jean fad.

During high school when a girl's self-image is at its most fraught and misconstrued, friends didn't want to go shopping with me because my body made them feel self-conscious about their figures. Even then, I didn't really get it. I had never made fun of anyone bigger than myself. If anything, I longed to gain a few pounds. As an adult, I prefer to shop alone. I lean more toward clothes that aren't meant to be as fitted, mostly for personal preference, but masking my actual size is an added benefit.

The daily stare-downs, the weekly inquiries from random strangers about my "secret" and the immediate disgust when they find out there is no secret, do take a toll. I'm sorry post-office cashier, I know it's "not fair" that we were all built differently, but my sole existence is not centred on making heavier women feel bad about themselves.

There have been countless ad campaigns geared toward making curvier woman feel confident by telling them that "real women" have curves and plus-size women are the "real beauties." These women are beautiful, of course, but on the flip side, telling the world that women with no curves are not "real" women makes it difficult to convince yourself that skinny can be sexy.

Why do people think it's okay to ask me how I stay so thin? You don't ask others how they manage to stay so big. A question like that would cause hurt feelings or uncover upsetting details of their life that they may not feel comfortable sharing with a complete stranger. I wonder why skinniness isn't associated with such potential outcomes. In my case there is no backstory, but for some there is and I don't think people acknowledge that. We are too busy relating slender body image with perfection to consider the other possibilities.

So if it helps, next time you see a "skinny bitch" and begin to feel jealous, keep in mind some of these things we deal with on a fairly frequent basis. The majority of us will constantly be asked if we need help lifting or carrying things because skinny girls cannot be considered physically strong. On my small frame my bones protrude, this can make activities such as yoga and pilates painful. After each class the feeling of relaxation is gradually replaced with painful bruises. Skinny women commonly have poor circulation and low blood pressure. I have to consciously make an effort to get out of bed or stand up out of a chair slowly to avoid a head rush. I joke that fainting is my part-time job but it's been humiliating at times. Skinny women are also susceptible to a range of health issues including miscarriage, heart and lung disease and arthritis. We even stand less of a chance of surviving car crashes because of our size. Our situation is not worse, it's just different and just like being curvier, also comes with its adversities.

In no way do I want to make it seem my situation is worse than that of bigger women. It's important to show, however, that those of us at the other end of the spectrum have a whole realm of issues to deal with, too. The public needs to change the way that they approach people of all shapes and sizes.

Michelle Heath lives in Virden, Man.