Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Conscientious Objector In The Weight Wars

I was actually tossing this topic around in my head for some time, trying to decide if I had anything to say that hadn't already been said. There is almost as many words out there on women's weight and associated issues as there are actual women, and I wasn't sure that my point of view was something that really needed to be added. However, when I put the word out on Twitter and Facebook that I was looking for input, the response was pretty overwhelming - which at the very least convinced me this is something that DOES actually need to be written. I've tried to wrestle as much of it into a post as possible, but it's a huge subject to try and condense down. I described writing this as being like wrestling with a kraken made of feels, and now it's done, I totally stand by that. But really, the core of what I'm trying to say is simply this; how about we women try being kinder to each other about our bodies, and save the vitriol for the institutions that actually contribute to making our lives harder?




There are so many reasons we come up with to resent each other - She does feminism differently to me, she’s thinner than me, she’s fatter than me, she’s physically disabled, she’s not as educated, she’s over educated, she likes things I don’t like, she’s got a penis, she doesn’t earn any money, she earns too much money. Legitimate criticism is one thing - if someone says or does something hurtful to other people, then I firmly believe they should be called out on it. But what I'm talking about is the vitriolic little lies we have buried in our heads, disguised as truth. There are a million ways we find to tear each other apart, and I could write an entire book about it if I tried to cover them all. But what I want to talk about specifically today is the growing gulf between those of us on either end of the weight scale.

Curvy/voluptuous/fat women have long been at odds with thin/slim/petite women. (Just a little note - I'm going to go ahead and just use fat and thin for these categories from now on so this is actually readable. Feel free to insert your preferred term in your head) Historically, those of us on the bigger side of the spectrum didn't have much of a voice - but with the rolling momentum of the fat acceptance movement, that is starting to change. But there is a downside to this. Bigger girls have been silenced for so long that now we are finally speaking up for ourselves, sometimes we can react to anything we see as silencing with anger, lashing out at the smaller women who seem to have it all to our eyes. We are told over and over again that being thin is best, being thin is everything, if we were thin our lives would be perfect, if we were thin we would be happy because all thin people are happy. When we see thin girls complaining about their bodies, this looks to us like billionaires complaining about not being able to afford a third yacht. Even if they don't complain, sometimes we hate them anyway; just for being something we are not, for being a shape society values higher than our shape. This anger and resentment can curdle into lots of hateful little "truths" we tell ourselves. Thin girls get all the nice clothes. Thin girls don’t know what it's like to have people police their food. Thin girls don't eat anything. Thin girls are arrogant. Thin girls hate fat girls. Only assholes and pedos will date thin girls, because Real Men like women who look like Real Women. Thin girls can't be sexy. Thin girls need to 'eat a sandwich'. Thin girls don't know what it's like to REALLY hate their bodies.Thin girls don't have any personality. Thin girls get all the attention. Thin girls can get away with being bitches, because they're thin.

Not an acceptable joke
In return, thin girls have also often looked at fat girls with equal disdain. I'm sure part of this negativity is in reaction to the vitriol aimed at them by fat girls. I don't know many people who enjoy being called a "skinny bitch" outside of a very specific kink setting. But I think a larger portion is simply channeled disgust from the rest of society towards fat people, fat women in particular, and it forms itself into hateful little "truths" just as insidious as those that fat girls tell themselves. Fat girls are lazy, because if they weren't lazy they would be thin. Fat girls eat whole pizzas, and entire tubs of ice cream by themselves. Fat girls are always eating. Fat girls 'do everything', because they can’t get laid any other way. Fat girls hate thin girls. Fat girls are all miserable, and hate their bodies. Fat girls' bodies are vulgar. Fat girls are disgusting. Fat girls are loud and obnoxious. Fat girls are just jealous. Fat girls have no one to blame but themselves. Only someone totally desperate/ugly/stupid would date a fat girl. Being fat is unnatural and fat girls are all unhealthy.

Also not an acceptable joke
I'm just as guilty of hating other women for totally irrational reasons as anyone, by the way, in case you think I'm trying to pretend I don't. It's not something I'm proud of, and I’ve been making a conscious effort recently to try and refrain from negatively judging women that I see as thinner than me. It turns out it’s really fucking hard. This attitude of "us and them" is so deeply ingrained in the way I see other women it's a real task to try and dislodge it. But do you see how insane this rift is, when you lay it all out side by side? Do you see how many of the same "truths" are just reversed on either side? We're taking all this hatred out on each other when we could be taking it out on the elements of the society that surrounds us that LIKES us hating each other. Just take a minute to think about what the beauty and fashion industries might look like if thin and fat women weren't taught to hate each other. If we weren't all convinced that our happiness is totally and directly tied to our waist size, how much more difficult would it be to sell us crap we don't need? What if all the people obsessing about being thin realised they could actually be happy a couple of kilos heavier? What if the naturally thin women stopped feeling like they have to be a certain size to be "real" women? What if every fat woman realised her happiness probably WON'T actually increase in direct proportion to the weight she loses? I hate to use the word because 9/11 deniers have made it into a laughing stock, but this circle of fat and thin hatred is actually a conspiracy. Think how many less products women would buy if they were ALL happy with the way they looked. Back smoothing bras, weight loss shakes, girdles, padded bras and knickers - all these things are marketed directly at our self esteem. This situation is total bullshit. We're ALL being taken for a ride, and a fucking expensive ride at that.

Panel from a fantastic comic about body image from Thumbcramps

So what do we do about it? All this philosophising and grandstanding is all very well, but how do women on both ends of the weight spectrum start working together to short circuit this self esteem destroying cycle? I crowd sourced a bunch of input from various people, as well as my own thoughts, as to what both sides can do for the other. 

Thin women - don't talk about how lazy fat people are, and tell your fat friends how nice it must be to "eat whatever you want." Don't tell them how lucky they are to have a partner who "doesn't mind" their shape. There is no way for them not to take this personally. Of course, you should keep in mind that plenty of your friends that you don't consider fat WOULD consider themselves fat, so maybe consider not saying things like this out loud at all. Fat women - don't call thin people "skinny bitches" and tell them to eat a sandwich. "You're so skinny, I hate you" is not a funny, or appropriate joke to make to thin friends. There is no way for them not to take this personally. Again, keep in mind you might have friends that YOU don't think are too thin, who are convinced they are, so maybe just don't say any of these things out loud either. The way you view women on the other side of the weight spectrum to yourself won't change overnight - it wouldn't be reasonable to expect or demand that of anyone. But by taking a second to think about how the things you say effect other people, you can start making some headway.

A timely reminder from Things We Forget
Speaking of things not to say, thin women - do not ask fat women if they've "thought about" dieting. There is a 90 per cent certainty that we have, and we've already decided whether we would like to or not, thanks very much. If we want to talk about it, we will, but there is a 90 per cent chance we won't. Don't try to be subtle either - your hints are not nearly as subtle as you think it is. Don't buy us low fat anything unless we've specifically asked for it. Don't 'casually' mention that you've starting going to the gym, and that we are totally welcome to come along if we like. Don't tell us we have "such a pretty face" or "a great personality". We're not stupid, we know what you mean. Don't assume that fat women hate their bodies just because they're fat. Maybe your bigger friends thought about dieting, and going to the gym and decided they really don't feel the need. Dropping these 'subtle' hints just says loud and clear that YOU are not okay with their bodies. We fat girls already have the whole of the modern media telling us our bodies are gross. The last thing we need is our friends "helpfully" pointing out that we ARE gross, and that we should really get on that.

A kick ass message I DO agree with, in a button by Definatalie
Alternately, fat women - don't assume thin women are totally okay with their appearance just because they are thin. There is every chance that they're not. Don't say to thin friends, "Gosh, you're so thin!" They're perfectly aware of their size, and may or may not be proud of this fact. If they're okay with their size, you're just pointing out something as obvious as them having a face, and are likely to get as helpful a response. If they're not okay with their size, pointing it out is about as helpful as pointing out a massive zit to a teenager who is heading out the door on a date. Don't say to thin women, "You're so lucky to be able to eat whatever you want." You have no idea how what they eat stacks up against what they would like to be eating. Maybe they have an eating disorder. Maybe they diet really strictly to stay the size they are. Maybe they desperately wish they were less thin, and eat everything they can to try as hard as they can to put on weight, but can't, and this failure kills them. Maybe they feel as bad about not being able to get enough flesh on them so their ribs don't stick out as some big women feel about not being able to shift their belly. If you don't want thin people to assume they know what goes on inside you from the size of your waist, you can't do it to them either. Being thin is not the cure-all that fat girls are told it is. The lives of thin girls have options and privileges that fat girls don't have, but they're not always perfect. Know that we have been lied to about the healing magic of slimness, and don't dismiss the fact that some thin women feel shitty about their bodies too.

And finally, let's talk clothes.Thin women - don't take it personally if your fat friends don't want to go clothes shopping with you. We love you and all, but going into store after store and finding nothing for you is just depressing. And please don't lecture us about ethical clothing choices - it's not that we don't care about workers rights, or that we don't feel sympathy for factory workers disabled or killed in poor working conditions. We do, we really do. But you have to understand we have SO FEW CHOICES. Trying to find things we like, that fit, that we can afford can be extraordinarily difficult and if you add in that it has to be ethically sourced as well, some of us would be walking around in one pair of pants year round. Some of us wouldn't even be able to find that. While there are more options available in plus sizes than there used to be, there still aren't nearly as many as in straight sizes. And, I gotta tell you, a lot of plus sized clothing is just AWFUL. A huge percentage of our choices consist of shapeless sacks of polyester covered in hideous giant flowers that costs a fortune. This is why, sometimes, we don't want to go clothes shopping with thin girls.

Online shopping is my Achilles Heel

And to the fat women - if going clothes shopping with your thin friends depresses you, quit doing it. Don't go along and then sulk yourself into a furious rage. Do something else instead. Go have coffee with them, go rollerblading, whatever. Go see a kick ass movie, laugh your asses off, then go home and fill your cart up at Domino Dollhouse. If you DO go shopping with them, keep in mind that just because the majority of clothes you see will fit your thin friends, this doesn't mean they have limitless options. If a thin woman doesn't have a lot of boob, a huge number of shirts and dresses are simply impractical. If a thin woman has too much boob, just as many shirts and dresses are out. If a thin woman also happens to be trans, there's every chance she will have an absolute nightmare trying to find a dress that will fit both her shoulders and her waist - that is if the shop assistants will even let them try things on. And even if a thin woman does find an outfit that fits the amount of boob and shoulders they happen to have in proportion to the rest of them, there's every chance it will be too clingy for their taste. My mum, for example, is tiny and has taken to shopping in the children's section to find clothes small enough for her frame, that are modest enough for her taste.

This doesn't happen because your body is wrong, it's because the
shirt is designed poorly.
 The idea that the majority of women's fashion fits ANYONE perfectly is as big a lie as the idea that thin = happy. It's absolute nonsense. Women's clothes are made as cheaply as possible, in as few sizes as possible, because they are designed to be replaced frequently. This often this means little to no tailoring, and I'm sure  you can see how this is a problem when you're talking about clothes for a gender that tend to go in and out to varying degrees. Tall women can never find pants long enough, curvy women can never find pants that allow for any sort of variance between hip and waist measurements, short women can't find shirts that don't come down to their knees. We're ALL fucked by the generic, cut and paste way modern women's fashion is made. The manufacturers and designers are the ones we should be angry at, instead of thinking that any other body shape has it better.

Maybe I'm being overly optimistic. Maybe this sort of change just isn't possible given the weight of messages telling us to hate each other, and to hate ourselves. But I am trying to give it a go, and I hope you will too.


29 comments:

  1. That shirt is about the worst shirt ever! ;-)
    If someone were to ask me if I'd ever "thought about dieting," I would laugh in their face. I'm nearly fifty. I yo-yo dieted for most of my damn life. I'm way past over it.
    It's the damn multi-billion dollar diet industry that pushes this hatefulness. I sincerely wish that we would all to a person give them the finger and then show them the arse. Life's too damn long to go around being this hateful to people we don't even know.

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    1. I absolutely agree - especially given my perspective from working in the sex industry of how diverse the range of women people find beautiful really is, compared to what we're told it is.

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  2. I am so with you on being guilty of thinking negatively about others - both bigger and smaller than me. Every time I catch myself doing it I give myself a silent internal slap.
    It seems so ingrained that we not only feel we should hate ourselves based on our appearance, but we hate everyone else for either being better or worse looking/fatter or thinner, that the negative thoughts come all too easily. Why can't positive be our default setting?

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    1. If you find the answer, do be sure to let me know :-) Honestly, I largely starting trying to shake that habit in order to better take care of myself. As someone with mental health issues, I don't need EXTRA negativity crowding my head. My brain does quite well at making up things to be upset about thank you very much.

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  3. If they just made clothes that fit real women, then we'd probably all feel better about how we look.

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    1. Also ad campaigns that feature women of all sizes. I shouldn't be conditioned to see models in ads look "normal" to me, then see them in real life and immediately think they're praying mantis aliens. Not that there's anything wrong with having that body shape, it's just that it shouldn't be the norm across the board. I should be able to see a group of models in real life and not immediately realise they're models.

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    2. I totally second Lab Muffin's thoughts. When you really look at it, the idea of having a tiny group of women in a set of very specific circumstances (ie on a modelling shoot) be the whole idea of ├Ąttractive is total insanity.

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    3. But what is the definition of a real woman? We are ALL real women. Tall, short, fat, thin -- all body types are real women.

      LabMuffin -- great thought! Show me how clothes look on several body types so that I can make an informed decision!

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  4. Thanks for looking at the "thin girl" side too. I work my ass off in the gym to maintain a smaller size and it irks me to no end when I'm out to eat with friends and someone pipes up with "Oh, you don't need to watch what you eat. You're thin!" when I pass up the cheeseburger and get a salad. And it's hard feeling like I can't openly express any fitness goals because I'll be told by girls bigger than me that I don't need to lose weight and, yes, that I need to eat a sandwich. The bottom line is that it's hard being a woman, no matter WHAT your body type, and we need to be in this together instead of tearing each other apart.

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    1. Personally, I don't enjoy listening to people talk about their fitness goals not out of any specific jealousy, but because I find it incredibly dull. Fitness is just not my priority, but I understand for other people it is, and I try not to actively hassle them about it. Perhaps your bigger friends don't mean to make you feel bad, they just might not be interested? Or maybe they're just being jerks, I don't know you or your friends. Just spitballing here. :)

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  5. I also am really happy with what an all encompassing, friendly post this is for everything. I'm 'thin' girl and I hate when I get in trouble for it.

    When I hang out with my 'fat' friends, they are so nasty to me when I eat healthy or don't feel like eating when they do and it really bothers me. I don't eat healthy because I'm trying to stay thin, I eat healthy because I know what makes me feel like shit and I work in the fitness industry so I know I'm about to jump around teaching aerobics to a bunch of people and I don't want to spew on them.

    I have soooooo many thoughts on this topic and could go on all day - especially being in the fitness industry and seeing girls who want to diet and do shakes and whatever (I personally don't believe in diets and I HATE the idea of shakes!). Great post Cassie!

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    1. As someone with a ridiculous number of allergies (dairy, gluten, peanuts, fake sugar, fish) I know how uncomfortable people get when you eat different things to them, no matter the reason. Even when I explain that no, really, I can't have just one bite of ice cream because I WILL puke, they look at their plates guiltily like I'm judging them for it. I wonder if your friends are doing the same - just reacting to "different" rather than any specific intended malice.

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  6. Hello!! I think this is a really wonderful blog post. it's a really great and important point that we ALL tend to divide ourselves into "us" and "them" depending on our physical appearances, whether we choose to categorize that by skin color, height, hair or eye color, or a number that appears on a scale that we step onto hesitantly. And I think that by pointing out that we are ALL both subject to these biases and perpetuators of them really drives home the point that by doing so, we are validating and participating in systems that wish to keep us divided. Okay so maybe it's past 2AM and I'm being over-emotive, but hey, it's what I'm thinking right now. Thanks for blogging. =)

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    1. I'm really glad you liked it, and that what I was trying to say came through in the end.

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  7. I completely agree with everything you've said here. I tend to fall into that "skinny bitch" or "tartlet" category and you wouldn't believe the people I have to remind that I have medical issues. People think small equals healthy and that's a lie. People should strive to make themselves happy in some fashion other than running down someone who is different.

    http://domesticdysfunction.net/

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  8. I love this so much.

    And you know, I realized while reading this that as much as I've said stuff about thin women as a fat one, I have also said not-so-nice things about my thin boyfriend. He is one of those guys who is naturally slim (which is not my usual type because I'm a big girl who typically likes big men), a natural runner (meaning he is fast and he has so much natural endurance for distance running where I'm a better short-distance runner), and can eat whatever he wants and not gain weight. I gained weight initially in our relationship because I tried to keep up with him. He has never said a mean thing about my body, tells me he likes it, shows me he likes it, and is so encouraging of me because he knows I am trying to be as healthy and fit as I can. His ex-wife was plus-sized and struggled with PCOS like me, as does his sister, so he has greater insight to my struggles than most men. He is amazing.

    But yet, I say things like, "Ugh, you make me sick being able to eat whatever you want!" or "Ugh! You can run 10 miles an hour on the treadmill? I hate you!" I admire the hell out of him for being able to run, but I'm also envious. I brag and say, "Well, even if you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight, my cholesterol and blood pressure and all are better than yours." It's such a pride thing. Competition. Like I have to defend my being overweight by acting superior and mean-spirited.

    Nope. No more. He is kind to me about my body and I will be kind to him about his because God knows I love him and the body he has. Even if I am envious and will probably never be thin like he is or really thin at all. No more being hateful even in jest.

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    1. I'm really glad you brought this up - I think sometimes women get so focused on their own body image issues that they forget men can be just as messed up about the skin they're in. I too am guilty of this. I remember when my boy started getting a visible belly (ie. he wasn't concave anymore) I used to grab it and laugh about it being a puppy belly, because I thought he would just think it was funny. Eventually he (rightfully) told me to cut it the fuck out, because it was making him self conscious, and I was horrified to realise it just simply hadn't occurred to me that it would upset him.

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  9. Love this post! I'm shaped rather like an alien praying mantis. My two cents: Models are also real women. They have a rare body type, but they are real women. We are all real women. The fashion industry tries to tell us that only some of us are acceptable, and it's tempting to try to rob the industry of that power by calling women who are larger than those on the runway "real women." In the end, though, if we do that, we've let the industry drive a wedge between thinner women and heavier women, robbing women of some of our collective, stand-together power.

    I wish that clothing had never moved from made-to-measure to "off-the-rack" clothing because we all have such unique, real shapes.

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  10. Absolutely! When I first started trying to get better at accepting my body, I loved the phrase "real women have curves" because it's just so comforting. It creates such a wonderful sense of black and white, that everyone who likes you is right and everyone who doesn't is wrong. But this is, of course, also why it's so fucking problematic, and actually not that helpful in the end.
    I also wish bespoke clothes were more commonplace - if I could afford it I would totally go that way.

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  11. It would be so awesome if I didn't suck so much at sewing :)

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  12. I was one of those who could not keep weight on for years. I had no reserves, so if I had a long stressful day and/or didn't eat right, I would be unable to maintain my body temperature. It could be 80 degrees, and I would still be wearing a sweatshirt and socks and shivering. I also had a very inconsistent appetite, so while some days I would eat impressive quantities of food. Other days, it was all I could do to force down a whole piece of toast for breakfast. I had to force myself to eat when it made me nauseous and deliberately learn ways to increase my calorie intake in ways other than eating more food and ended up doing things like putting so much dressing on my salads that it ruined the taste.

    Sometimes the comments, even though they were largely meant to be positive, got hard to take.

    I finally started to gain weight and am now much healthier, but I still can't find clothes to fit. Unfortunately, all of the habits I learned to increase my calorie intake are still around, so now I'm trying to change them so that I can maintain a steady weight and stay healthy.

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    1. I have really poor circulation to my feet, so I feel you on how awkward it can be to be shivering when other people are fine.

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  13. I'm 31 years old and literally twice the weight I was when I was 17. I was not happy at 17. Now I have 3 beautiful children (a major contributing factor to the weight gain) and a loving husband. Take it from me, thin does NOT equal unequivocal happiness. My answer to the clothing fit problem is sewing my own clothing as much as possible. This also gives me a really good excuse to never go clothes shopping with thin friends.

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  14. So glad to find a forum where two sides of the same question are generously described and where others can meet amicably and honestly. I am 58 years old, 4'11", and have never weighed more than 101 pounds. This is in my genes. I outweighed my mother (who is a whopping 82 pounds) when I was 11 years old. So I was the smallest kid in my class and also bigger than my mother. At school in my teens, I was often harassed about my size -- that I looked like a little kid and was totally unsexy. At home I was miserable feeling huge and clumsy. Throughout my youth I was deeply ashamed of my small breasts, my round face, and my inability to find adult style clothing. I have had sales clerks actually laugh when I asked for a 32A bra. And all the while, large women would make disparaging remarks about how they hated me because I was so "tiny." There is much to be said for getting older and getting some therapy! I turned out to have prematurely grey hair and am one of the few women in the world who welcomed it. The clothing issue is still a matter of major expense and time investment, but I've gotten to the point where I have a collection of classics that I simply rotate like uniforms... and look forward to weekends when I can put on the kids' jeans and not care. I don't diet, I have a sedentary job, I'm not a praying mantis (love the image!) -- I'm just an adult human being who doesn't want her size to get in the way of honest relationships with other human beings.

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  15. This is a great post! I have always been on the fat side of the spectrum. I have made comments, and I have been on the receiving end of comments. During the last couple of years, I have managed to lose 130 pounds. Now I am a 'tween' -- not so fat, but not yet thin. People who haven't seen me for a while almost explode with "You look fantastic!" I am proud of what I have done for myself and my health, but even comments meant as compliments have a double edge. Was I so gross before? I look at old photos and feel myself cringing at them. I guess this whole thing is about loving yourself and respecting others no matter what. I don't know what goes on in their minds, so I shouldn't make anything any harder.

    Thank you for the insight!

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    1. Lord, I HATE the over-excited "OMG you look SO GOOD" response when you change anything about your body. I know it's meant to be helpful, but it makes you SO paranoid after a while. I recently had a lot of dental work done, for entirely health based reasons, and as an incidental side effect it made them look a lot better cosmetically. At the time I didn't think my teeth had been so bad really, but the amount of times people commented afterwards that it made my whole face look different has given me more of a complex than I had when my teeth were wonky.

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  16. I just love this post. I love the fact that it covers both sides of the spectrum. I suppose I am in a rather interesting position to be able to see it from both sides of the spectrum - growing up I was always on the heavy side but developed anorexia at 16 and suddenly was at the very thin end and I can tell you, never end is good. First I got comments about how big I was, the size of my thighs, my love for dessert, and then I kept getting told to 'eat a sandwich', that I was so lucky to be thin, that I needed to eat more dessert. Trust me, it all sucks. Thank you so much Cassis for such a great post!

    xxLissa

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    1. Thanks so much, I'm really glad you liked it :-) I wanted to cover both ends because, as you say, there are downsides to both, and I think we can get further as women with less arguing over who has its worse.

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    2. I totally agree! There is so much going on in the world and so many better and more interesting things to discuss than our diets and the size of our stomachs! And besides, think of how many more great friends we'd have if we didn't 'hate' people because they're thin! :P

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