Stop Saying Skinnyfat – You Sound Like an Idiot

If you haven’t heard this let me fill you in:  “Skinnyfat”  is a term used to describe people who are thin but not healthy – they may lack muscle tone, be sedentary, have poor eating habits, be genetically unhealthy etc.

Another term that I’ve heard bantered about (on ABC News among other places) is “normal weight obese” – which means the same thing.

I’m curious, as a healthy fat woman should I be offended because nobody calls me “fatskinny”?

This one makes my [healthy fat person] blood boil with rage.

We didn’t need to coin the terms  “skinnyfat”  or “normal weight obese” because we already have a word for the condition of being thin and unhealthy:  “unhealthy”.

I almost can’t believe that so many people have made so much money purposefully confusing the concepts of weight and health that these terms have been accepted into our lexicon.

A barely thinking person who spends 20 seconds on this will realize how ridiculous it is.  It’s an utter contradiction of terms based entirely on an erroneous conflation of weight and health.

This is an incredibly simple concept:

There are healthy and unhealthy people of every shape and size.

If someone is skinny and unhealthy that DOES NOT make them fat. (It’s such a big, hot, steaming pile of “duh” that I can’t even believe I just had to type that.)

By the same token, someone who is fat and healthy is not skinny. (Oh look, a giant bowl of No-Shit-Sherlock Flakes.)

There is weight and there is health.  They are two different things with completely different sets of measurements.  We DO have the technology to measure health – it’s not even that difficult or expensive so if this was actually about people’s health then right this very minute we as a society could stop the sheer medical laziness of substituting weight for health and start accurately assessing people’s level of health (in case you missed it, the operative word here is HEALTH).  And if a patient wanted to get healthier the doctor would prescribe healthy habits rather than just telling that person to do whatever they have to do to be skinny (but not, god forbid, skinnyfat).

Just to recap: there’s no such thing as skinny people who are fat or “normal weight” people who are obese.  I’m going to put it out there and say that using these terms is so stupid that it should cause the speaker instant and intense physical pain. For the love of all that’s logical, intelligent, not to mention grammatically and physiologically correct, let’s stop this nonsense right now.

23 thoughts on “Stop Saying Skinnyfat – You Sound Like an Idiot

  1. And for the record, it is also possible to be sedentary & ‘flabby’ & still be in good organic health…not suffering from any illness, just as it is possible to have a disability & be overall a healthy person. It is also possible to be very fit & active & still have some serious health problems. I of course understand that we would all prefer to be healthy rather than sick, but no one is 100% of the time or for an entire lifetime &, while I agree that calling thin/average weight people ‘obese’ because they are deemed ‘unhealthy’ is as stupid & wrong as labeling all fat people ‘unhealthy’ because we are fat, I get a bit tired of all the emphasis on ‘health’ all around the fatosphere, as if, regardless of how much people protest otherwise, the message is always being sent by fat bloggers that they are saying that being fat is okay & acceptable if we are ‘healthy’, or, as one blogger said outright, that health is a ‘choice’. Health is not a choice any more than being fat is a choice; mostly it is genes, dumb luck, & aging & all the ‘lifestyle changes’ in the world do not guarantee perfect health or immortality. Everyone dies, virtually everyone gets sick at some point, & we all know/are related to/are people who do everything we are told is ‘wrong’ & live to be 100, while we know others who do everything ‘right’ & drop dead in their 40’s, sometimes while running.

    There are things we can do that make sense…use a seatbelt, use sunblock, practice good dental hygiene, not jump out of a plane without a parachute (or with one, for me & many others), not smoke or use recreational drugs, either not use alcohol or use it sparingly, eat a variety of foods on a regular basis…which are helpful & MAY help us be healthier. But NO lifestyle & NO body size guarantees health. And health is not about having perfect muscle tone or working out more than someone else, it is about not having a disease, not being ill. And, as most of the people I have known & most of my relatives have shown, living a long life is not about working out, eating perfectly, being thin or never having health issues. The health police & the fat police, who can be the same people but are not always, are ALL driving me nuts.

    And, yes, there is a terrible disconnect when having health issues is conflated with being fat. There is also a disconnect when not exercising is conflated with being unhealthy…& I say this as a 61-year-old woman who has exercised all my life, but also one who was born with cerebral palsy & has arthritis & who believes we own our own bodies & how we live in them is no one else’s business, & that none of us needs to have ridiculous & meaningless labels attached. “Skinnyfat” or “normal weight obese” are as meaningless & idiotic as ‘obese’ or ‘overweight’ have always been (I love reading a review of a clothing item & seeing words like, ‘As an ‘overweight’ woman, I like/need’).

    1. “health is not a choice” Yes, yes, YES 100%!!! You have elaborately described the current zeitgeist about health. There seems to be a powerful conviction out there that perfect health is entirely within our control. People seem to think if you’re not healthy, you must be doing something wrong. But people get sick for no known reason all the time. My sister got leukemia at age 34. There was no family history, no known risk factors whatsoever. Fortunately she recovered, but she will never have perfect health after that no matter what she does. Of course we hear the news stories about athletic young teenagers who drop dead. We really don’t know how to control our health. Sure we may be able to improve it with “good” habits, but we can only hope for the best, and the best is not always what we get. The danger of this notion that health is a choice is that it provides justification for marginalization of those who supposedly show by their health that they are not making “healthy” choices. we see it already in health insurance companies charging fat people more, and even in whole foods’ stupid discount policy penalizing employees who don’t meet standard for cholesterol, bp, bmi and smoking. Smoking may be a choice(at least when you start it)but the other standards can be influenced by many things other than behavior. Unfortunately I think the health police are only going to get more aggressive.
      Oh, and one more thing Ragen: “Oh look, a giant bowl of no-shit-sherlock flakes”!!!
      I almost peed my pants. Quit being so funny. Seriously. 🙂

  2. ….based entirely on an erroneous conflation of weight and health.

    Or wishful thinking, if fat people can represent everything bad, that will save everyone else.

    Increasingly like the guy who was said to have ‘died to save our sins’.

  3. Thanks, both Ragen and Patsy. I want to add to the conversation that I am dismayed at the trend for some fat activists to fall into the “inspiration” game. That meme that objectifies people with disabilities. As long as you are a cheerful, uncomplaining striver, TABs can pat you on the head and tell you, with unconscious condescension, what an inspiration you are, how great it is that you, even broken, messed-up you, can actually do xxx. If you don’t play along, you are a bad crip, ungrateful. We have to be sure we don’t play along with those who want to turn Ragen, for example, into the exceptional exception, the good fatty who “overcame” her fatness. (I am clear, Ragen, that these images are projected onto you by some folks, not that they originate with you.)

    It seems that maybe, for some folks, breaking down biases is a process and some go through stages. I don’t want to wait for people to catch up, and I know that it is all too easy for people to get stuck in the “inspiration” meme in their conceptions of PWDs. Similarly, many well-meaning folks are stuck in their unexamined fatphobia, including, I daresay, most fat people.

    Just preliminary thoughts for a discussion…

    1. “As long as you are a cheerful, uncomplaining striver, TABs can pat you on the head and tell you, with unconscious condescension, what an inspiration you are, how great it is that you, even broken, messed-up you, can actually do xxx. If you don’t play along, you are a bad crip, ungrateful.”

      Yes indeed!
      I have both physical and mental challenges. My physical challenges are comparatively pretty minor: sciatica, fibromyalgia, mild hypothyroidism, mild hypertension. I can deal. Even with the degree of urinary incontinence that I “enjoy” ever so much, if these were my only problems, I’d be a pretty happy camper. But then we have my good old pals bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and OCD. Now these dear old chums put my life on hold for a long time before I finally learned how to wrestle them into some semblance of submission. HOWEVER this does not mean that I am asymptomatic. The depression part of bipolar (I have type II, which tends to be more prone to depression) can still slam me into powerful suicide ideation, and I am not always a “good crazy” being ever so positive and happy-slappy in spite of the fact that I quite literally am fighting the urge to kill myself. I am also not a “good fatty” because even though I am trying to eat more healthy foods, I flat out refuse to eat die-t food. That crap either tastes like cardboard or they add a shit ton of sodium to make it palatable.

      But yeah, like you said, as long as you’re a Happy Cripple (in whatever sense) then you get pats on the head from the Perfect People who are secretly feeling smug that they don’t have to be so flawed.

  4. I call myself normal-weight obese not because of any nonsense about fat and health, but as a way to emphasize how ridiculous BMI standards are. I look like I am of “normal” weight but my BMI reveals me to be a deathfat. That way, when people piss and moan about how fat people are costing them mnoney, I can say, “Hey, you’re talking about me.”

    Granted, it doesn’t matter how fat or skinny you are, but if they realize how broad the “overweight” category is, it might start them thinking different about this so-called epidemic.

    1. This. I agree with that last sentence completely, and that should be what “normal-weight obese” means. I’m in that category. I’ve had people accuse me of having some sort of body image disorder when I call myself “obese”. But that’s what the numbers tell me!

      1. Same here. Five minutes research on the internet find me several seemingly respectable sites calling me “obese” by at least one of the don’t-know-how-many fatness criteria out there. I suspect they were all made up by people with snake oil to sell.

  5. According to the logic of “skinnyfat”, fat is always unhealthy but even skinny people can be unhealthy. Instead of saying thin but unhealthy why not also insult them by saying they are so awful they may as well be fat? It is a way of always bashing fat people and shaming thin people who are supposedly unhealthy. Of course, these people could never say you cannot tell a person’s health by their weight. Fat people in their minds are per se unhealthy + all the other stereotypes.

    Great post.

  6. Somehow I have managed not to hear these terms before. How I have missed out on the parade of stupid is beyond me, but alas it is true. I cracked up laughing so hard at one point I just had to read this post out loud to the Hubster just so he could join in my giggle fit. As always, fantastic!

  7. So not only are we not allowed to be fat we’re not allowed to be unhealthy either. What’s next: not allowed to have dark hair? Not allowed to be short? Seems to me that someone already had a go at enforcing that.

    I think the whole ‘fat is bad’ thing is driven by people who are judgemental and superior and it’s laughable that elements are now turning on their support base ‘the skinny’ using the same argument that if you’re not ‘healthy’ you’re bad.

    Well I’m fat and I don’t have an exercise regime and I eat McDonalds. Mmmm burgers! Gosh, I’m so bad.

    1. Ha, hahahaha, Sistergirl, I’ve finally found you! I too am bad, bad to the bone since I am also a non-conformist and non-traditional……..

  8. Thanks for the clear-headed response to the idiocy of these labels. I’m startled to realize that I’ve heard the term “skinnyfat” without even blinking an eye.

  9. The use of this word is a way of noticing how crazy are things in our society right now with weight, our society is weight biased.
    No matter how much its proven than health its not directly related with weight, our society blinds to this proof and relates automatically being overweight with a series of stereotypes, provided by media, opinion liders,our own society standards of beauty, this gets so bad that people automatically relates being unhealthy with fat, and then they become blind and def to any good arguments anyone would make to refute that silly theory of less weight=healthier.
    Any time that fat people talks, we get ignored, no matter what our personal history is.
    at lease that’s what I get, they still say what? come on? you can still loose a bit of weight right? wouldn’t you like to be healthier? you gotta be lying!
    the link between fat and unhealthy is so ingrained and attached to society’s beliefs that it creates all sort of stupid ideas about fat people, not to mention the type of words you are describing which make no sense at all.

  10. I remember hearing “Skinnyfat” a long time ago, possibly used by someone in a health club as a way to convinced skinny people that they needed the gym too.

    I like “Smartystupid” better – stupid people who walk around saying “Skinnyfat” and think they are quite smart because of it.

    Most excellent post as always!

  11. You’re absolutely right that weight and health are not synonymous but somehow our society has come to define them that way. The term “skinnyfat” is stupid. Great post!

  12. People are healthy until something happens to make them otherwise, so I won’t drag health into any talk of size. I’ll go with “not in shape (for physical tasks)”, “flabby”, “weak”, “in need of some muscle”, or something involving couches, depending on how nasty I feel.

    “Skinnyfat”, apart from making the tongue stumble and the brain go “WTH?” is also sending the wrong message. An unfit but slight person’s problem, should they decide to make it theirs, is not that they are fat, but that they are unfit. But call someone “fat”, and all other considerations cease.

  13. Well, see, I’m probably going to wind up like a little gnome as I age, skinny everywhere else with a pot belly. I suppose you could call that “skinnyfat”, not that I’m going to worry about it.

  14. In Japan we use ‘skinnyfat’ to describe people (usually Asian) who have a slim figure but carry a lot of fat. They use ultrasounds and can see the fat. I translated the kind of fat it is and it comes up as ‘visceral fat’. I agree though that there is a danger of using the word fat erroneously as a replacement for unhealthy. Grrr!

    Love your writing!

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