The Seedy Underbelly of Skinniness

I used to be skinny. I used to have a gap between my thighs. Visible clavicles. You could see the shape of my ribs if I was wearing a bikini or my underwear. 

But you never, ever would have seen me in a bikini or underwear. Not because I wasn't proud of my skinny body. For a time, my slightness was my greatest source of pride and joy. I loved catching sight of my visible hip bones in the mirror. I took every excuse I could to mention my size in conversation or to "fish" for comments from others. But the reason you'd never see me in any level of undress was because I was always so cold. Even in the summer, I was unbearably cold. I would basically never undress unless it was to get in the shower or right after I was out. Sometimes, I was so cold at night that I wouldn't even change out of my clothes into pajamas before bed. It just seemed too difficult.

Being skinny was complicated for me, largely because it wasn't my body's natural state. With a bit of distance from it, I'd like to share some on the subject, and how it affected my life.

Maybe you are incredibly skinny, or maybe you've never been / feel like you will never be skinny. But hopefully you can take something away from this, because ultimately, I'm talking about trying to make yourself someone or something you are not, and I think that this subject actually transcends weight issues.

Being skinny.

Regardless of your personal feelings on the matter, skinniness is valued highly in our society.

There are distinct mixed messages in media. The same magazines that feature (awesome) calls of girl power and support "flaunting your curves" will have a spread on the very next page dedicated to "how to reduce belly fat" or "get the perfect beach bod". 

So basically, it's like curves are OK, but only if you look like Beyoncé. That's my read on things.

Being skinny is very important in our society, especially to women. There are even studies proving that women would rather be skinny than attain greater wealth, and that women would actually rather be skinny than live longer. 

I used to live the skinny dream. 

I used to be very skinny. For some, being skinny is their natural state, due to metabolism or body type or whatever. For me, being skinny was not my natural state and it required a slavish amount of time to maintain. The days stretched long when I didn't eat enough. 

For me, my time and concentration weren't the sum of the price of being skinny. The coveted "thigh gap" and concave belly cost me so much more. Here, I'd like to come clean about the price I paid for being skinny. Because while being skinny seems very cool and important to a lot of people, it's not all it's cracked up to be. 

The seedy underbelly of skinniness

In my efforts to make my weight unnaturally low, these were some of the effects I experienced. As you read these, I want you to consider: is this the type of person I want to be? Is this the type of person I'd even want to spend time with? 

1. I stopped getting my period.

I stopped menstruating for several years. On the one hand, I didn't miss it at all. I didn't miss the messiness, the tenderness, the cramps. I was told by a doctor I might not be able to have children. I thought this was good news (you’ll never have to get pregnant-fat!) But the one aspect I didn't escape? PMS. I seemingly had a PMS bitchiness that lasted all month long, otherwise known as being "hangry".

2. I became a total bitch

This expands a bit on the last point, but I was hungry all the time, and therefore, I was cranky all the time. Everyone who asked me a question was irritating to me. I had no patience for banter with store clerks. On a superficial level, I was able to maintain a level of niceness, but to those close to me, I was sharp. As you might guess, this did not make me a pleasure to be around. 

3: I was completely intolerant of the cold.

I couldn't deal with the cold. I don't know how I can express how awful the cold became to me. When I was cold, which was most of the time, I couldn't concentrate on anything other than how cold and miserable I was. I've always been a little bit of a baby about cold weather, but when I got very skinny, it was absolutely unbearable. I suppose there is irony in this: I had what I considered an enviably skinny body but I was always so cold that I wore big hoodies and thousands of layers all the time, and you couldn't even tell how skinny I was. 

4. I developed a belly. 

My skin stretched tight around my hip bones, but I never lost my little belly. Actually, if anything, my thinness highlighted my belly since my skin was tight all around it, and it had the distinct look of making me pregnant. I was asked more than once if I was pregnant, actually. You can imagine what this does to the mind of someone who is trying to be as small as possible. I didn't put together that I basically had the belly of an emaciated person. What I heard was "you are still fat and you need to try harder." 

5. I couldn't stand up without feeling faint.

My blood pressure was low; if I stood up too quickly I would feel faint. Doesn’t sound too terrible, but imagine this happening every single time you stood up after sitting. You do this a lot during the day. On the positive side, I was told I didn’t have to limit my salt consumption with low blood pressure. Which leads to...

6. I needed to saturate everything with flavor.

Since I ate so little, I needed every bite of food to be absolutely saturated with flavor. I salted everything to a point that would be unbearable to others, but I didn't stop there. I doused everything in hot sauce, mustard, anything low calorie and high flavor. I didn't enjoy it, it was more about it making my mouth feel alive. 

7. I had very low energy.

I had to do my exercise early in the day, soon after I ate, because I couldn’t even walk a mile without feeling incredibly weary during the “starving” hours of the day. Walking up a flight of stairs, the height seemed to stretch in front of me like an eternity. I'd even hold it in if I had to pee if the bathroom was upstairs, because it just seemed so hard to use all that energy. 

8. I totally lost my sex drive.

Desire for sex? No. I'll leave it at that. 

9. After every meal, I got depressed.

I always felt like I wanted to eat more but couldn't. It made the hours until my next meal stretch into an eternity. The idea of the many hours until I could eat again made me sigh and think, well, now I've got to fill that time, somehow. It didn't make for a lively or engaged existence.

10. I started sprouting hair all over

There is a phenomenon where anorexics start growing a fine, downy hair, all over the body. This is called “lanugo”, I learned in recovery books. It grew all over my body, in places where you're not supposed to have hair, like the belly, cheek, neck, and hip areas.

But the fine hair wasn't all. In some areas, like my chin, my neck, and between my breasts, I began to sprout coarse, dark hairs. I would be talking to someone and my hand would go to my chin absently, and I'd find a hair; from then on, I would check out of the conversation because all I could think of was the awful black hair on my chin and how I could get myself to a place where I could remove it. I had to to carry tweezers and a small razor with me everywhere to feel safe. 

11. The hair on my head became coarse and brittle.

The hair sprouting everywhere else seemed to take a toll on the hair on my head. My hair had always been enviably thick, but when my weight got very low, I dreaded brushing it; every time I did, it seemed that more and more hair came out on the brush. 

12. My face became drawn.

Maybe you've heard the lore that as you get older, you have to decide between "your fanny or your face"--that is to say, you can have a great body and develop a gaunt, wrinkly face, or "let your body go" a bit and keep soft, supple skin on your face. 

Well, I didn't have to get old for this to become an issue. When I lost my butt, I lost my face. My pride-and-joy blue eyes became dull rather than twinkling, and my face became pinched. I looked older, and I developed frown lines from frowning and saying "no" so often. 

13. I developed serious digestive troubles.

“Once a day” seemed like an impossibility, even if I ate that yogurt made with real pieces of Jamie Lee Curtis. I would go for a week or more sometimes without taking a dump. It was like a toxic waste factory inside of my gut.

The digestive troubles were paired with a chronic dry mouth. The fact that I was so backed up and my mouth was not lubricating led to the worst breath ever. I didn’t like speaking to people up close. In fact, I would actively avoid it.

13. I couldn't concentrate.

I couldn't concentrate on anything for long. I would have to set timers for 15 minutes at a time so that I could write or work on a task without being tempted to make a list of what I had eaten that day or at least to distract myself on Facebook. 

It was like food formed a fuzz that was all around every other thought. I don't think I am exaggerating when I say that while I was very skinny, I don't think my thoughts drifted away from food for more than 5 minutes at a time, ever. 

14. I creepily watched people eat.

I became such a creeper! I would watch people eating and get an almost pornographic pleasure from it. The richer or more decadent the food, the better. I would rewind scenes in movies of people eating pizza and watch them over and over again. I would bake or cook elaborate, rich meals for other people, and then watch them eat.

There is a joke that "nobody bakes like an anorexic". I was living proof of this. I would bake a batch of amazing, fat, gooey, cookies, take a whisper of a bite, spit it out, and then watch everyone else eat them with pleasure. 

15. I stopped having emotions.  

I completely flatlined, emotionally. What I lament most is that I missed out on the joy front. It's like I had a new baseline, where I didn't feel extreme sadness, but I didn't feel happiness, either. During my anorexic years, I don't think I cried more than a few times. But I don't remember belly laughing, either. I don't remember true pleasure. I don't remember bliss. Mostly, I remember being hungry. 

Let me sum it up.

So, I was skinny. It was important to me, for a long time. And I'll be honest: sometimes, even today, during weak moments, I miss it or think that if I just tried harder, I could get there again, but this time I'd be happier if I were skinny.

Well, that is not true. In retrospect, I am not really sure what I "gained" from being skinny. It didn't make me happier, richer, or help me develop any lasting relationships. It was a grim pleasure but mostly grueling work to be skinny. It took a toll on my health and mental well being to be skinny, and came with a slew of embarrassing side effects. 

Ultimately, I decided I'd rather live life than be a skinny zombie who merely existed. 

If being skinny is important to you, I get it. I really do. But be honest with yourself: is it worth it to try to force your body into an unnatural state, especially when you can lose so much more than just weight? 

How important is skinniness to you?