Skinny Shaming: The Lesser Known, Yet Equally Devastating Side Of Body Shaming

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Many Nigerian ladies know what it’s like to be body-shamed either directly or indirectly. It could be your family members or close friends teasing you about your size or a stranger making condescending comments about your body. For context, body shaming is the act of embarrassing or degrading a person by ridiculing or making disapproving statements about their body type or size. 

While body shaming is often associated with fat-shaming, many don’t realise that slim people deal with their share of shame too. The major difference between fat shaming and skinny shaming is that slim ladies are usually appreciated and preferred. In contrast, plus sized ladies were often systematically excluded from participating in things like an advertisement, music visuals and modelling. We can blame this on the beauty standards from western society projecting slim girls as the ideal body type and assigning people with bulkier bodies to second-class rank which facilitated the discrimination of bigger people (fat-shaming). This is gradually changing due to social media and the ongoing body acceptance movement with more people becoming extra sensitive towards the plight of ladies who are vulnerable to fat-shaming. 

While people are basking in the compassion shown towards victims of fat-shaming, advocating for their uplifting and inclusiveness, skinny shaming is often overlooked since historically, slim girls were the standard. Teasing petite people is almost never a big deal because people think they never really experienced long-term discrimination and exclusion. It’s still okay to describe a small person as ‘skinny’ or ‘lekpa’ even in this age of body posivity and generally perceived ‘wokeness.’ Slim girls are constantly taunted or made fun of because of their small features or the assumption that the opposite sex does not like ladies with smaller figures. “A girl once said if only I had a booty to go with my breast, I would be really attractive to men,” Selena Ojo, a graphic designer, tells us.

With Nigeria being a place people often associate being thick with good health or success and a leaner figure with poverty or ill health, slim people regularly get statements like, “African men like women with meat on their bodies” or “you look like a toothpick”. These degrading comments make people insecure, depressed or worse.

It doesn’t help that there are some influential people, movies, and music everywhere that discriminate against those on the slim side of the spectrum while preaching body positivity. Songs like Anaconda and All About That Bass that root for bigger girls are perfect examples of the problem as they have problematic lines like “Fuck the skinny bitches”, and “Men like a little more booty to hold at night” which shame slim girls.  

Oluwafeyikemi Osunfisan is a programme officer who has been skinny-shamed all her life. Describing her childhood, she says, “growing up, even in the church, everyone had comments about my body telling me ‘you are very skinny’ and asking ‘are you not eating?’” 

As a result, she became insecure and unhappy with how she looked. “Being slim was one of my insecurities. The comments used to get to me. I would cry and wonder why things were not changing?. I was obsessed with my weight. Someone told me that I’m all bones and the guy won’t have anything to hold on to. She said guys like thick girls,” she reveals. This is why she believes that “skinny shaming needs to be talked about more”.

These jabs and comments at slim girls can have harmful effects as some go the extra mile to fit in and avoid getting teased. As a result of the ongoing skinny shaming, Selena made several attempts to gain weight but she ended up harming herself in the process. “I was called “flat yansh” “flat chest” that one time I bought this fake butt pad just to have a round bottom. I also remember always taking these weight gain pills. One time, I took a pill, some kind of steroid drug. It worked for a while as I noticed my butt got bigger but the side effects were scary. I bled nonstop for a month,” she shares.

Despite the negative comment from naysayers, Selena eventually found someone who loves her body and now loves her body. In her words, “I met someone who literally adores my body and is quick to tell me how much I look good being skinny. It helped a lot with my esteem. I am still a size 6.”

Ultimately, the truth is that body shaming hurts regardless of your size. The only way to curb or put an end to body shaming completely is by encouraging people to stop making negative comments about people’s bodies especially if they have nothing positive to say. We need more people speaking up for body positivity, regardless of one’s body type. Everyone needs to realize that people are different and so are body types. No one asked to be fat or slim.