Skinny fat is a term used to describe people who appear to be thin or have a healthy weight (per BMI) yet have a relatively high body fat percentage. It combines the loaded “skinny” and “fat” adjectives which have little to do with someone’s health status and more to do with society’s body shaming. Body shaming is the act of saying something negative about a person’s body. It can be anything from commentary about a person’s size and weight to their age, hair, eating habits, and level of perceived attractiveness.
Medical “skinny fat”
There’s a common misconception that small or thin bodies are an indicator of good health and big, fat bodies an indicator of poor health. This is not true. It’s possible to be within the right weight range per BMI which is flawed too and still have a high body fat percentage. This is medically referred to as normal weight obesity. There are people who appear to have lean bodies yet are at risk of cardiovascular diseases like heart attack, stroke, and diabetes.
Despite the phrase describing a true condition, medical experts agree that it does more harm than good. Here are some reasons why we need to stop saying skinny fat.
In a society that views being fat negatively, skinny fat is yet another way of fat-shaming people who are outwardly skinny. It’s a way of implicating more people in the judgment we reserve for fat people. So, it’s not enough to be outwardly skinny, you also have to be skinny-skinny internally. It’s a way of increasing the number of people getting shamed for their bodies.
Fat is unhealthy
Implying that skinny people can internally be fat i.e., unhealthy perpetuates the faulty notion that fat is unhealthy. Fat here is used solely as a stand-in for unhealthy. Skinny is the positive attribute and fat is the negative one. This is an incredibly harmful worldview for everyone, not just fat people. The negative perception of fat people also has other real-world effects like viewing fat people as lazy or lacking in self-control. Negative perception in one arena flows into other areas too.
Promotes diet culture
Skinny fat is linked to eating unhealthy foods. This association only works to further exacerbate diet culture. Even people who outwardly have socially accepted bodies are forced to consider the fact that internally things may not be okay. They may in fact be as unhealthy as the outwardly fat people, maybe even worse. The implication is everyone is at risk. All this does is increase the number of people diet culture can prey on as they seek to be skinny inside and outside. Demonizing all fats leads to disordered eating habits, further increasing the risk of developing full-blown eating disorders.
Skinny fat is not a beneficial way of describing a condition where someone is outwardly lean and inwardly unhealthy. All it does is promote an unhealthy body image among both thin and fat people. Plus, there’s the fact that it’s based on BMI which is discredited as a way to determine a person’s healthy weight range. It’s inaccurate, based on white men (racist, sexist), and just scientifically nonsensical. Society’s obsession with the body’s appearance and avoiding fatness at all costs is unhealthy in every way.
6 Subtle Ways In Which Fat Shaming Occurs
6 Ways In Which Skinny Shaming Occurs
Body Image: Fat Shaming vs Skinny Shaming