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LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Fri 28-Aug-15 16:33:25

Permission to be me-shaped, please

Why does the world and his wife imagine that it's their right to comment on another person's weight? Kate Long's been wondering that lately, and has decided to take matters into her own hands. Cue the #NOYB card...

Kate Long

Permission to be me-shaped, please

Posted on: Fri 28-Aug-15 16:33:25


Lead photo

Photo credit: Jo Harrison @joelizaharrison

The party was winding down. It had been great to catch up with family and friends, share the gossip over a barbecued sausage and a glass of cider. I’d had fun.

Then a woman I'd only met a few times before took me by the arm and leaned in confidentially. I thought she was about to say goodbye. In fact what she said was this: "We think you're too thin."

I blinked. I floundered. The comment was delivered quite seriously – I had been assessed and found wanting – and particularly unsettling was that use of "we". Had they all been sitting round talking about me? The whole crowd of them? I’d thought I’d looked nice. Evidently not.

Of course it's not the first time in my life that I've been shamed for my weight. As a child I was tubby, and often attracted negative comments from my parents' friends and even from strangers. At a bus stop one wintry day, in full view of my schoolmates, a man pelted me with snowballs, yelling, "I like little fatties!" I wanted to die of shame.

What's become obvious to me as I've grown older is that, whatever shape you are, someone will find fault. More than that, they will feel it's their right – nay, duty – to point out to you that you don't measure up to their standards.

What's become obvious to me as I've grown older is that, whatever shape you are, someone will find fault. More than that, they will feel it's their right – nay, duty – to point out to you that you don't measure up to their standards. Crucially, it doesn’t matter whether your BMI is in or around the healthy range. They have an opinion so it must be expressed.

And yet this kind of crass judgment can be really damaging. During some recent research I read again and again how, for some people, hearing just one thoughtless remark can spark a confidence crisis that spirals into an eating disorder. Unprovoked criticism cuts deep. Even a weight-related compliment can backfire. A male friend of mine once told a woman how "lovely and slim" she was looking, only to then discover she was in fact very ill and dreadfully self-conscious about her changed figure.

Well, I have an idea: why don't we start a polite revolution where we just stop pronouncing on other people's body mass index? Block our ears to the media's running commentary on celebrity dress sizes, who's 'showing off her curves' this week and who's 'worryingly thin'. Those of us who don't spend our lives on the red carpet have more pressing concerns than today's exact reading on the bathroom scales. The point is, while I'm healthy, how much I weigh is my own affair. It's not up for public debate.

In the meantime I've started carrying a small card in my purse. I'm sure you mean well, but my weight is none of your business, it says. Next time I'm at a barbecue and someone feels the urge to criticise, I'll be prepared. I won't gape and stutter. I'm going to whip that card out and wave it in their face. "You know what?" I'll say. "I'm happy being me-shaped. End of story. So pass me another sausage, and let's talk about something more interesting."

Kate's new book Something Only We Know is published by Simon & Schuster and is available from Amazon.

By Kate Long

Twitter: @volewriter

Ana Fri 28-Aug-15 16:36:46

Late Long? confused

LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Fri 28-Aug-15 16:39:09

Pesky gremlins...

Volewriter Fri 28-Aug-15 17:08:00

Please can you credit @joelizaharrison for the #NYOB card? That's really important. Thanks!
Kate Long

Alea Fri 28-Aug-15 17:25:29


LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Fri 28-Aug-15 17:27:48

Hi Kate, we've added that for you now!

crun Fri 28-Aug-15 17:36:58

She makes some good points, such as the possibility of triggering eating disorders, but it's a question-begging argument. It presumes that there's no contention about whether people are entitled to burden society with the consequences of their personal choices when this patently is contentious.

Volewriter Fri 28-Aug-15 17:39:25

Thank you!

crun, if someone's weight is within the healthy range, then I don't see how that's anything to do with anyone else. Mine was, when someone thought to pronounce on my shape.

Volewriter Fri 28-Aug-15 17:40:04

But also, thanks for your comment. :-)

ninathenana Fri 28-Aug-15 18:48:04

If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. angry
That's a general comment to all those who feel it's ok to make any type of personal comment. Whether it be the colour of your hair or the size of your nose.
It is possible to be other than average weight and still be healthy, we're not all a burden on tax payers.

Ana Fri 28-Aug-15 18:54:28

Although it's quite telling that the woman in the OP's blog felt it was OK to tell her she was 'too thin'. I doubt whether she would have 'leaned in confidentially... and said "We think you're too fat."

MamaCaz Fri 28-Aug-15 19:01:17

Been on the receiving end of that type of comment so many times, despite an exemplary BMI!

vampirequeen Fri 28-Aug-15 21:24:21

Believe me people are only too happy to tell you that you're too fat as well.

annodomini Fri 28-Aug-15 22:02:38

VQ, nobody has ever had the nerve to tell me I'm too fat, though I am. Someone did call me formidable - though he was a bit drunk at the time!

vampirequeen Sat 29-Aug-15 07:26:37

The worst is the 'concerned' person who just as you're about to put a tasty morsel in your mouth looks at you solicitously and asks, "Should you really be eating that?"

Or my mum's favourite, "Are you eating again?"

kittylester Sat 29-Aug-15 07:59:06

I am really surprised when I hear of things like this. I am overweight and no-one has ever mentioned it!

thatbags Sat 29-Aug-15 09:49:22

Are you the same Kate Long who has recently had a book on anorexia published?

Volewriter Sat 29-Aug-15 09:53:53

Yes, that's me. I did a LOT of research, and it's amazing how many people with eating disorders cite nasty comments as the trigger for the illness. (Though obviously there's a great deal more to a mental health issue than that single point.)

Volewriter Sat 29-Aug-15 09:55:22

'The Ministry of Thin' by Emma Woolf is a very good book on weight/body image and the way society pressurises individuals.

thatbags Sat 29-Aug-15 10:00:48

Do you count "we think you are too thin" as nasty?

Genuine question because I have had that said to me a few times by different people and I didn't regard it as nasty. I've never been anorexic but my sister was and two of my nieces.

Volewriter Sat 29-Aug-15 10:21:22

'Nasty' is too strong a word for it in my case, but it was uncalled-for and critical. It certainly wasn't intended for a compliment, in my case. And it did sting a bit because I'd made an effort for the party and thought I'd looked nice. Plus I had a real moment of, 'God, no matter what we weigh, we never get it right, do we?'

Volewriter Sat 29-Aug-15 10:22:30

I'd say, thatbags, that in your case comments about your shape were almost certainly born out of genuine concern. x

annodomini Sat 29-Aug-15 11:01:48

I suggest that someone who comments that 'you are too thin' could be envious!

thatbags Sat 29-Aug-15 11:46:36

Why don't you think it was said to you out of genuine concern?

Volewriter Sat 29-Aug-15 12:35:49

Because the person speaking to me didn't know me intimately enough to make that call (imo), and also - more crucially - because my BMI was well in the healthy range.