Mocked for Being Too Thin? What It Says About Fat Shaming

In an interview with HuffPostLive, television personality Giuliana Rancic describes how she endures taunts for her extreme thinness in social media.

The interviewer seems to be suggesting that Rancic is very thin as a result of having battled cancer but she looks about the same today as she did before her diagnosis. Rancic wants to make the point that she’s thin because it’s just natural for her to be.

People like Giuliana Rancic are called "too skinny." What does that say about fat shaming?

Giuliana Rancic in 2009 before her cancer diagnosis

The co-founder of fashion and lifestyle website has been ranked by Maxim magazine in the “Hot 100” list and was one of People magazine’s “Most Beautiful People” in 2006. And people tweet about her with the hashtag #tooskinny. Yeah OK.

For as long as I’ve been aware of who Giuliana Rancic was, she’s looked about the same to me. I’d venture to guess that she was a delicate-looking little girl and maybe even went through a gangly period as a teenager. I’ve known many people like her, we all do. We call them bean pole. Chicken legs. Skinny mini. Twiggy. Stretch. Skeletor. String bean. We might make fun of them but mostly in a joking way. We tease the guy with no muscles or the gal with no boobs. We tell them to GO EAT A SANDWICH!

I’m not saying it’s always OK to tease thin people or call them names. But there’s a very distinct difference between what is generally said and believed about very skinny people vs. the fat shaming that’s directed at overweight people. We don’t believe skinny people are depriving themselves of food because they’re self-destructive out of a sense of self-loathing. We don’t assume they struggle with such stress and depression that they’ve lost their appetite and can’t eat. We don’t think they have so little respect for themselves they can’t be bothered to eat a healthy diet. We don’t surmise they’ve been traumatized and they’re trying to make themselves unattractive.

Our culture does not make value judgments about the character of very thin people, based solely on their appearance. The teases and jokes are generally limited to the skinny person’s appearance and how they may be physically weak. I believe the key difference is that our culture sees fat as the justifiable penalty for a weak character, ignorance, and poor choices. It is the character of the fat person that is actually more despised than their fat body. A fat person is seen as freely choosing to be fat and to do nothing about it. Fat shaming is viewed as something fat people deserve.

So what’s different about how our culture judges thin people? We either do not associate negative character traits to what contributes to making people thin or we accept that some people are simply thin by their nature and we deduce nothing about their choices.¬†Clearly, similar assumptions are not extended to fat people.

Giuliana Rancic gets to say that she’s very thin because she has a “faster metabolism” and people will believe her. What do you think the comments would be if Melissa McCarthy went on TV and said she had a “slower metabolism”?



    • JoAnn on October 17, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    I’m not so sure I agree. Very thin people are frequently accused of anorexia and having eating disorders. Whether directed at the very overweight or very thin, the comments are really making assumptions about character. I want to say MYOB.

    1. You make a good point but I think in those cases it’s still about the way a person’s body looks. The “eat a sandwich” kind of taunt and even accusations that a person may have an eating disorder are nothing like the character assassination that is so common for even people who are not seriously overweight. There are no equivalent assumptions made about thin people the way fat people are assumed to be ignorant, lacking self-discipline, and mentally weak. People can often be shocked to find out that a fat person has an advanced degree or a highly refined skill or talent. I would assume that in a job interview scenario, for example, a thin person would be viewed more favorably than a fat person, even if the fat person had the better resume.

      There is a well-established dieting paradigm to “think like a thin person” that presumes thin people have mastered discipline and self-control and fat people should learn to be like them. I’ve written often about how my mother is willing to admit she has no sense of personal sacrifice or special effort. She’s been thin all her life because it’s natural for her to be and people have always treated her with a sense of envy.

      Thinking a little more, I’ll pose this question—Our culture sees fat as the penalty, the punishment if you will, for making bad choices and having a weak character and no self-discipline. When we look at a thin person, do we make value judgments about character traits that we believe are the reason why they are thin?

        • JoAnn on October 18, 2013 at 7:25 am

        I think we do make value judgment. Initially, we think “Oh she’s so lucky to have a fast metabolism.” I’ve also heard them described as having so much will-power and being disciplined for working out constantly. And there the judgment when they refuse to eat of “one bite won’t hurt.” There’s label of “health nut” which is initially positive but carries with it the idea that it’s a little crazy to eat good food and exercise. Between that and the claims of anorexia, there’s certainly the judgment of obsessive behavior. It’s not always negative judgment heaped on the thin, but it definitely describes character traits rather than physiological response.

        I certainly agree that there isn’t the vilification that fat people receive. It’s piled on, leaving people demoralized. At some point it’s about accepting what “is” so you can deal with it and move on.

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