Skinny doesn’t make you smarter or kinder

By Caitlin Kelly

Great, lucid post from Joshua David at Jezebel:

Being thin is a priority for some people. This is a fine and perfectly valid thing. But your priority is yours and yours alone, and the ease with which one can make this a priority is irrelevant. It’s obvious if you make the same arguments about any other lifestyle choice that it’s absurd on its face. You know what’s easy? Being really knowledgeable about film and film theory. It’s something that I make a priority in my life. I don’t go to the gym; I go home and watch French New Wave films. But people aren’t crashing the comment section of reviews for Michael Bay movies to tell fans how easy it is to hang out and watch François Truffaut films and how much better you’ll feel, if you just make it a priority.

If you place a great deal of importance on being thin and athletic and in amazing cardiovascular shape, I think that’s just swell. You made something a priority in your life and you are doing things you enjoy. That’s great and I encourage you. But you’re no better than the person who doesn’t place a priority on those. Your choices aren’t better than the person who is fat and in great shape (I ran a half-marathon at 275 pounds, I know from being fat and in shape), or who is thin and in terrible shape, or even the person that’s fat and out of shape. Those people have different priorities than you, and to suggest that their priorities are inherently and obviously lesser, whether with outright nastiness or couched in pseudoscientific – hell, even solid scientific – concern trolling, is high-minded arrogance.

As someone trying to slim down — preferably by early September  when I start teaching two college classes a week, (i.e. being more publicly visible than working alone) — this hit home.


I admit it. I’d easily shed 30 pounds in a few months if I immediately stopped consuming: alcohol, cheese, any sweets, bread/pasta/rice — and made time to exercise vigorously for an hour every single day.


I’d rather weigh a larger size and enjoy my life.

Me, a cover girl -- even at size 16
Me, a cover girl — even at size 16

I lost some serious weight a few years ago by going on a super-strict diet, the kind where you measure everything you consume, eat no fruit and in which my only allowed “snacks” were a tiny handful of almonds or sour, wet, cold, unflavored o% fat yogurt.

Neighbors were asking my husband: “Is she OK?” Meaning — the weight loss was so quick and noticeable (and I enjoyed it, believe me), they assumed serious illness.

But it wasn’t sustainable.

Women’s bodies are used every day in our toxic culture to shame us into silence and submission, as though wearing a smaller size of clothing somehow makes one of us more valuable in the world than another.

Which is bullshit.

Some of the nastiest women I’ve ever met were petite and chic, and some of the kindest are pillowy and zaftig.

And some women simply have no time or no money to focus all their energy on the size of their ass.  And/or they work multiple jobs and/or face underlying health issues and/or are helping needy family members — all of which make getting and staying skinny a much lower priority than mere economic and emotional survival.

Here’s a lovely and inspiring post about taking a photo of herself  — while overweight — by a professional photographer, L.A.-based Stephanie Simpson. As I did for the AT cover shoot, she had the services of a make-up and hair artist and a pro shooter to do it.

When the AT team of five (!) — makeup/hair, photographer, art director, stylist and assistant — came to my one-bedroom apartment, flying in from Chicago and Atlanta to NY just for me — I was excited and happy. I could have been terrified but I really enjoyed it.

I think my confidence both surprised the team and made the day, and the photos, much better than we probably expected.

I’ve modeled twice now at this size, both times for pro photographers, one time (yes, really) in a bathing suit, albeit with most of me underwater demonstrating water aerobics. It was a lot of fun.

Yes, I would like to be thinner. But until I am, I do not measure my sole value in the world — whether to friends, family, work — by the size of my ass.

The size of our hearts — as evidenced by our acts of compassion and generosity — and our brains’ ability to create art and science and music and dance and solve difficult problems — matters most.


45 thoughts on “Skinny doesn’t make you smarter or kinder

  1. todessakane2013

    I for one totally, completely, wholeheartedly love all of our different shapes, sizes, colours, creed’s, personalities, characters, gifts, talents etc etc!! They are what make life so outstanding, so perfect and such an incredible blessing, joy and heartache, to be a part of! If only we could learn to love every season of our own lives slim times, not so slim times, then perhaps we could begin to love everyone elses too 🙂 Who knows?

      1. todessakane2013

        Very true!

        I loved your post thank you for sharing 🙂

        Have a wonderful weekend and God bless you lots 🙂

  2. Steve

    I often get a chuckle out of your posts. Just last night I was sitting around watching an old John Wayne movie with my wife eating our homemade Reece’s Pieces sundaes and my wife commented about how she really needs to lose some weight. Now mind you, these sundaes were probably around the 500 to 600 calorie range. After almost choking on my spoon, I reminded her that she COULD do something about her weight but it probably would have to involve a surrender of ice cream. She looked at me, looked at her bowl, smiled and took another mouthful of her sundae. My wife is no “Twiggyesque” female by any means but she isn’t obese either. She also is one of the nicest, sweetest person I have ever met, never a harsh word about anyone (unlike her husband). I guess what my point is can be summed up by that age old proverb from the schoolyard, “beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes all the way to the bone”. Thanks! Steve

  3. I’ve always been petite. I didn’t hit 100 lbs until I joined the high school track team. Tiny is not forever. Marriage, children, stress, menopause all add on the pounds. Weight loss can become a fixation. I know I will never be 125 anymore, instead I am aiming for toned and healthy. Plus, who can resist a tasty dark chocolate huckleberry truffle now and then?

  4. This may come across as a little preachy. If so, I apologise in advance.

    Having grown up surrounded by people with eating disorders of one kind or another, I will say this: unless one feels comfortable in one’s own skin it makes no difference what the bathroom scales tell you.

    For myself it is important to dress for my own shape in clothing that fits me and that I enjoy wearing. I try to eat (and drink) things that make me feel good.

    Overly-restrictive diets and punishing exercise regimes are not a pleasant nor a healthy way to take control of your life. Neither for you, nor for the people around you. Putting your whole life and relationships on hold to focus exclusively on your weight or physical dimensions will also be fundamentally meaningless if it doesn’t make you happy.

    That said, I am not against regaining control of your health if there is a problem. By all means if you are feeling lousy and poor diet or lack of exercise is a contributing factor, then a change to your lifestyle just might help (endorphins are often good news). But choose your changes carefully and keep sight of what really matters to you.

    Eating a healthy, balanced diet that agrees with you and works in harmony with your metabolism to allow you to achieve the things you need to do throughout the week can be beneficial. Monitoring your intake of things that make you feel bad (e.g. excess sugar if you’re diabetic; alcohol or fatty foods if you suffer from gallstones, IBS or liver damage) may help you to feel better, and may help your body run more smoothly. But this is all it can do. It doesn’t make you a better or a nicer person. It doesn’t give you the right to judge others’ choices.

    If you must diet, then try to make it part of a general lifestyle makeover that makes you feel better about life, not a seasonal bikini-inspired bout of self-flagellation. Hanging your self-worth on something so far outside your control as what other people tell you is fashionable is dangerous. Next season they might decide everyone should chop their toes off to fit into the latest in glass slippers. Their dernier cri could easily be yours as their goals will not be achievable for every body (and to some extent, deliberately so). After all, if they were perfectly ordinary, fashion models would cease to be revered as exceptional shapes in society. Then who would look, who would listen?

    Thin is not the answer (however much the fashion industry might try to tell you Douglas Adams’ 42 was meant to be a shoe size). Food is not the enemy. It’s just stuff you put into your body that helps make it work. Sometimes it tastes really good, which is a definite plus. If life is a journey, we all need fuel. Without it, we will go nowhere.

  5. i love this and so agree, caitlyn. i have not been petite for years and consider myself fluffy and curvy and huggable. i’ll never be a stick, could be maybe if i went on a crazy regimen, but not worth it to me. my dream when i retire, is to wear mumu’s (sp?) and go barefoot, making cupcakes, dancing, writing, watching movies, walking, reading, and playing with the grandies. and i agree, we should not be judged but the size of our asses, instead you can usually judge who’s an ass more by what comes out of his/her mouth. great cover by the way –

  6. I’ve been trying to live a healthier lifestyle for most of my college career with varying levels of success. Honestly, it’s not the biggest thing to do on my list. I place a bigger emphasis on getting school and work out of the way, writing, and being happy. Now am I a body-builder or even slim? Not exactly: I have a little fat around the belly area. But hey, it’s not how I measure my self-esteem, so who but I and my doctor should care?

    1. The only people whose opinion I heed re: my body are my doctor and my husband. Given that my jazz dance teacher (who surely knows my body better than most) yesterday guessed me 15 years younger than my age, I’m good…

  7. You hit upon a wonderful and necessary point that the body is merely a temple of the soul. If the soul crumbling, what difference does the architecture make?

    I’ve always been a big girl, but after some personal trauma (abuse, having to move), I found myself 300 lbs when I hit the 4-0 four years ago. I didn’t realize I was eating myself into oblivion, it just snuck up on me — that is, until I got the “clue by four” when I had to ask for a seat belt extension on the plane home from my visit to New York. Then, I realized I had a choice: lose the weight or change my life. I chose the latter, started making different choices, worked on my shadows, and lost over 90 lbs to date. Never felt better and I’m still going.

    When I was at my heaviest, no one said anything. No one! Never got a lecture, never a nasty word, nothing. In fact, I wish someone did say something. I don’t know exactly how I would’ve reacted, but it would’ve haunted my conscious, at least. Maybe I would’ve got the ball rolling earlier, before my ankles started to swell from just sitting.

    And yet, ironically, the least support I received so far were from women of size! I have found most tend to become defensive, snarky, or redirect the conversation when I mention my transformation. “Look at you getting all skinny! We’re gonna have to feed you some cake to fix that.” Or, “Well, I don’t understand why you just don’t take some pills and get it over with.” Comments like that are far more hurtful than, “You should think about your calorie intake.”

    Someone will always have something to say about something. Personally, I’d just rather be lectured than degraded.

    1. Congrats on your progress. That’s a great achievement — and I bet (?) you feel a lot better physically. Having had joint problems with my knees and hip, I know that additional weight can make orthopedic issues more difficult.

      It’s a difficult issue…My father has made my very angry when commenting on my weight; I have a physician and he and I discuss it medically. My husband loves me at this size and would love me at a size 12, if I ever get back there. I hope to, but starving myself into it just won’t work.

      1. Thank you! It’s been an incredible journey that I’ve come to enjoy. And yes, I feel physically stronger, too. I’m sorry to hear about your joints. Joint pain is no joke, I’ll tell you what…

        Truth is, the only voice I believe anyone should listen to is their own, in any case. Sounds like you have great support system, in spite of Dad and they matter. As for the starvation, I never did. Never went hungry, never deprived myself of anything. If I wanted something sweet, I just made a different choice — chocolate almond milk instead of ice cream. If I wanted something salty, I made popcorn. That’s all it’s about is making different choices and understanding why you’re hungry and why you make the choices that you do. You’re a complete package, either you’re all in it or not. And if you’re not, that’s okay. Love where and what you are. When you’re ready, the magic will happen. And trust me, you’ll know when you’re ready!

      2. I see a real difference in my dance classes as I do releves (rising on one foot) as weight comes off. It’s much more motivating to me to want to do a double pirouette easily than to shed X lbs for their own sake.

      1. themodernidiot

        No way. I’m fat. It’s mine.
        I will however, buy you your own pie divine.

        Hey, speaking of NYC, they say your pizza’s all that. You got a favorite joint you wanna promote?

        I had a cousin drove all the way to NY just for a slice. She said it was totally worth it.

  8. YES! “I’d rather weigh a larger size and enjoy my life.” This basically sums up everything. I tried modeling for a little while, and was always told to lose weight. I tried it, but it just wasn’t worth it to me. I’d rather enjoy myself than spend every second thinking about what I eat, what I’m doing, and feeling guilty and shameful about myself. Thanks so much for this 🙂

    1. My mother modeled for a while in her 20s and is still someone with a much slighter bone structure than mine. I’m glad I knew my maternal grandmother, as I am more her body type. It’s tough to stay skinny for some people and after menopause, ugh. Nightmare.

      1. Well, and that’s the problem, is I don’t have a slight bone structure, so for me to be as skinny as they wanted, I would have to break some bones, haha. Ah, well. I’d rather be real and eat bagels whenever I want, anyways 🙂

  9. It doesn’t matter. And you’re right – the meanest, nastiest people I’ve ever met were either skinny (probably miserable because they were starving) or used to be fat, which perplexes me. The people who seem to exercise the greatest measure of “control” are usually the weakest ones.

  10. rich

    When you begin to talk about weight, it is literally the opening of Pandora’s box. The key word is health. For clarification purposes I am a doc and I am trying to be “healthy” and it is hard because it requires a shift in thinking and in daily practice.For everything in life there is a happy medium. Talking about weight in terms of health is so important and the right way/framework/paradigm to have this type of discussion. The goal is to focus on nutrition without focusing on eating/dieting as a way to lose weight….That’s the medical part of this…

    There is so much that goes into the discussion of health and what is a healthy weight that is beyond this post. The first question again, is one of health. I will finish with this: I have seen the devastating consequences of uncontrolled weight, including diabetes, heart problems, liver problems and kidney problems. The key is finding a “healthy weight.”

    I know in writing this I am going to be lambasted by people saying “I am telling people to be skinny.” That’s not what I am saying. I am saying “healthy weight.” This is not unreasonable.

    1. Thanks for this perspective. It is very difficult to write intelligently about weight without being too cheerleaderish — no, I don’t think anyone, anywhere should weigh 300 pounds, let alone 200 (maybe a tall man!) — yet I wish women (and men) would find better ways to discuss women’s value in and to the world.

      I agree with you that health is paramount. It is damn difficult, certainly after menopause, to find things to eat that are: 1) low calorie 2) pleasurable 3) in any amount beyond teaspoons! I struggle with this daily.

  11. While many worry being overweight, some skinny people wish to put on weight. I have to eat constantly to maintain a healthy weight and can’t remember a day when I tipped the scale at 100 lbs except during pregnancy weighing 110 lbs.

    Due to the nature of my work, I usually take dinner after 9pm, and dessert is 3 ice-cream cones, chips and fruit. So not all skinny people starve to keep petite or slim so that we can be mean and nasty.

  12. I haven’t seen my “ideal medical goal weight” since 8th grade. In college I was an athlete and in world class condition. That said according to the medical weight charts, I was fifty pounds overweight. Really! I stopped looking back at an random number and started looking for better health. Yes, I could stand to lose a few pounds. However, I am happy where I’m at.

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