The Skinny on Beauty

The problem with society’s portrayal of beauty isn’t that it depicts skinny as beautiful, it’s that it singles out skinny as beautiful. But in order to try to fix this problem, many go in the complete opposite direction, stating that skinny is not, in fact, beautiful, or at least, the most beautiful. But why does curvy have to be more beautiful than skinny? Why can’t they both be beautiful? (obviously it’s a huge problem that there are women with eating disorders in the media shown as the ideal of beautiful, but I’m not talking about that in this case).



I’ve seen this picture posted around the internet and I originally thought, wow, I love this! But then I started thinking about it more and realized that by liking this picture, I’m actually hating on myself, in a roundabout way, for being naturally thin.

While I believe that beauty shouldn’t merely encompass one size ideal (skinny) it’s also complicated because by fighting this one size ideal, some people take it in the other direction, saying that skinny is unappealing and curves are better… I’m a pretty optimistic person and I believe most people don’t feel that way, but even I (a very open-minded person) instinctively went along with this image when I first saw it. On one hand it fights the stereotype that skinny = beautiful, but on the other hand, it’s sending an equally bad message.

I can’t comment on how healthy each of the women are in the top line of this picture, but I have reason to believe (from interviews I’ve read and watched) that Keira Knightly is naturally thin. In this picture, why is Keira Knightly any less sexy than Marilyn Monroe? Why do we always have to compare “who’s hotter”? They’re both very different, but in my opinion, both are beautiful. And that’s totally plausible. It shouldn’t be skinny versus curvy. We should be thinking about the fact that we’re being told that certain sizes are better than others, and that’s wrong. We shouldn’t be thinking “they tell us skinny is beautiful, but skinny is actually less beautiful than curvy.” That’s totally unhelpful! The focus should be on ameliorating unhealthy diets or lifestyles (i.e. obesity or eating disorders), and not necessarily size at all. In an ideal world, all models would be hired under very strict health-assessment guidelines, and we would see models of all different shapes and sizes everywhere. Some people are skinny and healthy, and some people are curvy and healthy.

Everyone is different, but somehow we have a herding mentality and all want to fall into this “accepted” group. With this photo, that means going with the idea that bigger is better and thin is less beautiful. It’s so hard not to fall into the trap of exclusionary ideals of beauty, and because of this, women are always being pitted against each other. We need to fight this with critical thinking! It’s the only way.




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3 comments on “The Skinny on Beauty

  1. I really get this message, and am all about stopping the body-comparison-game. But I want to point out one small thing you mentioned in your argument that gave me brief discomfort.

    Yes, “the focus should be on ameliorating unhealthy diets or lifestyles”– absolutely, yes, yes, yes. However, you immediately jumped to the idea that obesity is inherently unhealthy. While this is a common idea circulating around our culture, it isn’t necessarily true. Our current definitions of obese and overweight do not account for people who are naturally that size, just like Keira is ‘naturally’ skinny, or Marilyn is ‘naturally’ curvy. It is, once again, a comparison, based off of an arbitrarily selected ideal, and involving the comparison of one’s body type to a preconceived ‘normal.’ Because we have put the weight of medicine behind it, it somehow makes it more real, but in fact, it is not. While there are overweight/obese people who are very unhealthy, there are those who are not, and who may perform better on health indicators than many people who are not overweight/obese (specifically, check out Ragen Chastain, As a self-identified fat person and dancer, she challenges a lot of preconceived notions many of us have about obese people).

    Instead of juxtaposing obesity to eating disorders, perhaps simply expand your range of eating disorders that you are taking into consideration. While the category of eating disorders is often thought of as the limited “anorexia or bulimia” it also contains overeating, which can lead to the weight gain that we then use to point to obesity as a problematic, unhealthy body. It is the behavior, not the body that is unhealthy though.

    Overall, thank you so much for your post–more people need to be thinking about these things critically, and you’re awesome for being one of them!

    • Hi YoungAndAngry,

      Thank you so much for your reply! I really appreciate that you started a dialogue – I love hearing other perspectives because I always learn something new. I see where you’re coming from, though admittedly, I had never thought of it that way before! I have to say that in my vocabulary, “obese” is synonymous with overweight to the point of being unhealthy (I definitely don’t think of it in terms of those who are overweight purely because of genetics and maintain a healthy lifestyle). When I say obese, I’m not referring to “fat,” or even “extremely fat” which most definitely can be healthy for certain people. I always associate the word obese with people who are the most extreme cases. Perhaps someone who is obese is naturally large due to genetics, but exacerbates the situation further with poor diet and an unhealthy lifestyle, which leads to major health issues. When I use the term, I am solely referring to those who have gotten to the point where their health is affected by their weight. That’s the trouble with words – there will never be one sole meaning understood by everyone equally!

      Anyway, I just wanted to clarify what was going through my mind when I wrote “obese,” and I in no way intended to generalize that all woman who are excessively larger than what society deems normal are unhealthy. The reason I juxtaposed the term with eating disorders is because “obesity” in the unhealthy sense I was referring to (i.e. overeating to the extreme, leading to lesser health) is, in fact, an eating disorder too (as you mentioned… you pretty much read my mind there!), though it’s not nearly as recognized or publicized as anorexia or bulimia.

      Regardless of my above defense, I really cannot thank you enough for your comment. It brings to my attention that in the future, I should be more careful to explain exactly what I mean because it’s so easy for a third party reader to misconstrue even the most minute details. Also, thank you so much for your positive feedback. This is one of my favourite topics and I love discussing it with others who are as passionate about it as I am.

      Take care 🙂

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