Tuesday, April 05, 2011

There's Nothing Wrong With Me

This article was published in Pelican magazine, November 2010.

There's Nothing Wrong With Me
Kaitlyn Plyley defends a controversial body shape.

Recently in Australia, as part of an initiative to improve national body image, the Government ruled that our fashion industry must refrain from using models with dangerously low BMIs. In the media frenzy over 'healthy body image', certain body shapes are being discriminated against. People are calling for 'real women' to appear on catwalks and in catalogues - by which they mean rounder, curvier, shorter women. Are tall, leggy, slender women not real? If you cut us, do we not bleed? For too long, thin girls have been discriminated against, suffering taunts about their weight and comments that they should 'eat something'. This cannot go on.

I weigh about fifty-seven kilos, and according to my body mass index I am dangerously underweight. I do not diet. I do not have a punishing exercise regime. In fact, I spend most of my spare time lolling on the sofa, watching The IT Crowd and eating salted peanuts. I’m not trying to be thin - I just am.

As if being thin wasn't enough, I'm also quite tall. At 185cm, I stand head and shoulders above the average Australian woman, and around ten centimetres taller than the average Australian man. My height is almost always the first thing people remark on when they meet me. I also get the occasional unsolicited comment from people on the street. (The term 'BFG' comes up a lot.) One guy tried to pick me up in a nightclub by whispering into my ear, 'Hey, you're really tall.' It wasn't even a compliment - it was just an observation. People always seem to feel compelled to point out my obvious physical difference.

Think of those poor skinny little girls in the schoolyard, being ostracised by their curvaceous peers just because they're 'different'. They dread swimming carnivals because swimsuits draw attention to their bony shoulder blades. Every lunchtime, they stuff hedgehog slices into their faces, hoping to one day have big thighs like Beyonce. But there's no fighting the inexorable force of their quick metabolism. Who will give these beanpoles a voice? Won't someone please think of the skinny girls??

My teenage years were a harrowing experience. At high school I had to endure nicknames like Twiggy and Stick Insect. It got even worse when I went through my unfortunate 'punk' phase: with the combination of short spiky hair, band T-shirts and teenage-boy body, I was often mistakenly addressed as 'sir' by people. 'I'm a girl,' I wailed. 'A GIRL!'

Later, I grew more comfortable with my body. At nineteen, I spent a summer in the US, eating my way up to sixty-two kilos. It is the heaviest I've ever been; it was the happiest time of my life. But all good things must come to an end and, for all my good intentions, I just couldn't keep the weight on. Back home in Australia, the temptations of muesli, lean meats and fresh vegetables were all too great. I even started jogging. Before I knew it, I was back down to fifty-five kilos (sixteen kilos less than the average weight for Australian women). But it's important to be true to yourself, so I have to own who I am. I am a thin girl. God, it feels so good to say that!

A lot of women wouldn't feel comfortable with me talking about my weight. When women get together, conversation often turns to body image; girls lament their pudgy bellies and jiggly arms, or hours spent in 'Body Pump' (whatever that is). But if I voice a concern that my stomach is not completely flat anymore, I'm met with groans and scathing glares. The thin girl is not allowed to express body issues. She can't refuse a second helping of dessert without being accused of having anorexia. One time, I turned down a slice of chocolate cake (because I'm genuinely allergic to chocolate), and the other women rolled their eyes at each other. 'Oh piss off, skinny bitch,' they roared. Must I bear this ridicule? I would never rebuff another woman based on her weight, so why is it acceptable for other women to judge me thus? 'Skinny bitch' is a particularly spurious insult, since it implies that all women of slight build must be rude. Pffft - whatever, jerks!

I'm aware that women of larger build face many challenges, but being a tall, thin girl has its challenges as well. Shopping for clothes is a hassle: it's as if mainstream clothes manufacturers think that as women get taller, they get exponentially wider. Knee-high boots aren't an option, since they simply flap around my chicken legs, and don't even talk to me about buying jeans. Fashion dilemmas aside, there are also physical disadvantages. I am hungry literally all of the time, and cold, because I lack a natural layer of insulation between my skin and my bones. If I were lost in the wilderness, the only thing between me and starvation would be the small store of fat in my tiny backside. I wouldn't last long.

I'm tired of the media telling me about 'real women'. I am a real woman. I'm abnormally tall, and naturally slender, and I'm fine with that. Our fashion industry is changing: Australia is working towards having a popular culture that celebrates every body type. It's definitely a change for the better. For too long, too many people have been made to feel that their natural body shape is not good enough. So please, don't punish the skinny girls - their lesser weight doesn't make them lesser people. Be thin, be proud! I am a thin girl. And there's nothing wrong with that.

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