I got two compliments in one day last Wednesday (I know, it was a big deal). The first, after a workout class, was from a close friend I’d hung out with recently. She told me that her husband had noticed that I “looked skinny.” It was nice to hear, I said thank you, and I made my way to the shower before I offended her any more with my post-workout stench.
Later that same day, I went rock climbing with a friend that I hadn’t seen in probably five months. We hugged and she pulled back to give me the once-over: “Oh my god! You look so strong.”
It made my f***ing day.
There was definitely a time in my life (hello from the other side, freshman year of college) when having someone tell me I looked skinny meant everything. It was probably the highest compliment I could have asked for, actually – way more valued than “Wow, Kristen, your insightful comment during Philosophy 101 made me think,” or “Damn, Gina, you really managed to walk across campus without embarrassing yourself. Well done.”
My “fitness” (aka chaining myself to the elliptical for 45 minutes a day, every day) and my “nutrition” (huge salads twice a day that even a rabbit would get sick of) were all done with the goal of being skinny, and then, once I was skinny, being skinnier. Without realizing it, most of my friends positively reinforced what were, looking back, unhealthy habits. Any time someone told me that I looked skinny, that was just more proof to me that I was doing things right, when in reality, I probably wasn’t even strong enough to run a 5K.
Today, I have no idea how much I weigh. But I do know that I’m a hundred times stronger than I was when I was just “skinny.” I’ve run three marathons, I have forearm muscles that are super helpful for opening jars, and I once did five chin-ups (almost six!!). Someday, I aspire to do a pull-up. I know – dreaming big over here.
To me, getting told I look strong is a testament to hard work. It means that the countless Hardpressed sessions, the 5:30 am wakeup calls on Saturdays for long runs , and the times I drank a protein shake while holding my nose because I wasn’t sure I would like the taste. It means I’m a little further away from being a DNB.
Getting told you look skinny, on the other hand, seems to imply that you’ve become less of something – that you’ve eaten less, to the point where you’ve physically lost part of your body mass, and now take up less space than other people.
I know that’s not what people think when they offhandedly say “That dress makes you look really skinny,” but it’s what I think about. And while there’s an argument to be made for “skinny” still being a compliment, I’m not sure that it’s one I want to hear anymore.
To that end, my girl gang brain trust and I have come up with a list of compliments we’d rather get than “You look so skinny.” They are:
- You look STRONG AS HELL
- You look healthy
- You’ve improved so much at [specific exercise or functional movement]
- I can see your progress
- I noticed that you’re picking up heavier weights
- You’re working so hard
- You’re amazing
- You could totally be on American Ninja Warrior
- Your skin looks great
- I’m so impressed by your dedication
- I really like your taste in books/music/podcasts/dog breeds
- That Spotify playlist you made me is my favorite thing to listen to at work this week
- You are beautiful
- Your hair looks like you didn’t just roll out of bed
- No one makes me laugh as much as you do
- You absolutely kicked ass at that workout
- I’m proud of you
In sum: you work hard, you are strong and the word “skinny” doesn’t do justice to just how true that is.