Some people call me skinny. And while it may be true through the eyes of a society that peer through skinny-tinted lenses, I cringe on the inside when they do. I am what I am. I have a healthy appetite and I struggle to gain a pound. Hate me or love me, it is the way my genetics made me. But in my opinion, being called skinny is insulting and objectifying. It is not a compliment nor do I think people should throw around the word as if it were one.
To think this way seems to make me a minority within a culture that appears to be enamoured with skinniness while people unhappily toil toward its unrealistic achievement. Many in our civilization have bought into this gold standard of beauty while the skinny ideal continues to cunningly creep its way into marketing norms. And no one even flinches.
But flinch is exactly what I did after seeing a Skinny Cow commercial by Nestle for the first time several years ago. I still remember my first reaction: “What the f*ck?” I was even a little horrified that this commercial existed in a time when we should have been aware of the detrimental effects unattainable body ideals have on our sense of self-worth. And now years later, though I haven’t seen another commercial aired on TV, the Skinny Cow website still endorses disgusting skinny idealisation.
Since then, there are many more “skinny” products and “skinny” promotion: Skinny Girl, Skinny Water, Skinny Body Care, Skinny Bitch books and so forth. Ultimately, this skinny fetishizing disempowers people, especially women and girls, by perpetuating an unhealthy and extreme body type, which creates societal perceptions of beauty that are skewed and unnatural.
Despite the barrage of other “skinny” products, I’m going to target the Skinny Cow brand image and their website as they all too easily illustrate the embodiment of nearly everything horrible that people, women and girls in particular, are subjected to in our society regarding their appearance (and the contingent value that it holds for their self-worth).
Allow me to elaborate. The word “skinny” assaults us repeatedly: the brand is called “Skinny Cow,” the mascot of the brand, the cow, is named “Skinny,” one of their webpages tells us how we can “get in on the skinny,” where we can go for “all things skinny” on their YouTube channel…and it goes on. I think it’s rather obvious that through the explicit onslaught of “skinny’s,” the basic marketing implication is that we should (or at least can) buy their products because they are a guilt-free way to enjoy snacks that are delicious, yet low calorie.
That our society focuses so heavily on calorie restriction and body weight is clearly related to health issues, I understand that. What I don’t understand though, is how being skinny ever became synonymous with being healthy, and by extension, what healthy is supposed to look like. And just because snacks, food, and drinks are low calorie, it does not make them nutritious; replacing lots of good calories with fewer shitty ones is not the magic formula for health.
But besides the main implied concept of marketing low calorie products offered by Skinny Cow, there is another implication, a hidden one that is dangerous and harmful: that being skinny is ideal. In case it wasn’t clear enough, the bright yellow measuring tape around the waist of the skinny cow as seen in previous versions of the brand image solidifies this notion like a hammer to the head. What this suggests is that people should continuously watch their waistlines because the ever-elusive goal is to be skinny. (And if cows are actually skinny, their health is likely compromised and they most certainly are not a pleasant sight to behold.)
Furthermore, the glorification of skinniness is perpetuated through the use of the sexualized skinny cow image—complete with red lips and sultry eyes framed by luscious lashes—naturally. Essentially, the Skinny Cow brand is implicating that the desirable trait of sexiness is achieved through being skinny, which especially applies to females. Now to be fair, this is not a new idea that Skinny Cow has conjured; however, Skinny Cow is shamelessly propagating this negative ideal through their brand image, marketing, and website.
Despite all of this, I want to sink my teeth into the real meat of this issue: why I find it objectifying, why it is offensive. The word “skinny,” regardless of our deranged societal preferences and perceptions, is not a good meaning, at least not according to its definition. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “skinny” as “very thin or too thin…lacking sufficient flesh; emaciated; lacking usual or desirable bulk, quantity, qualities, or significance.” The Oxford dictionary defines it as “unattractively thin” when referring to a person or a part of their body. From these definitions alone, it is obvious that “skinny” is not, and should not be, a desirable trait.
Aside from those who suffer from eating disorders like anorexia (and no doubt there are many as a result of the skinny ideal), I’d venture to guess that not many people would normally associate being sexy and desirable with being emaciated. Or gaunt or scrawny or haggard. But skinny is totally acceptable. How does this make sense? It is bad enough society dictates that only a specific and unrealistic body type is to be considered attractive, but the chosen body type isn’t even attractive by our own societal definitions. How did we become so misguided?
Now I’m going to expose this issue in a new light. Let’s replace the word “skinny” in the Skinny Cow brand with its opposite: “fat.” Fat Cow brand; meet Fatty the cow; indulge in some Fat snacks—they’re sweet, they’re scrumptious, they’re totally Fat. In our society, this would be offensive and rude—possibly even viewed as satirical. In fact, being fat in our society has been demonized and demoralized and is viewed as undesirable; hence the constant controversy around fat shaming and the awareness the issue continues to garner.
Yet, the definition of “fat,” “having a lot of extra flesh on your body, notable for having an unusual amount of fat” is simply the opposite of what it means to be skinny. By that premise alone, we should be able to recognize that both skinny and fat are at opposite ends of a spectrum. If fat is objectionable, then by rational observation and reasonable assumption, skinny should be objectionable too. Moreover, we each have our own spectrum that is unique to us—what is large for one person may be small for another.
We need to bring awareness to the ideals we embrace and to what those ideals truly mean. “Fat” carries with it inherent negative connotations in our society; likewise then, “skinny”—looking at its rudimentary meaning—is equally negative. Society must open its eyes and see with clarity that idolising skinniness degrades self-worth by basing it on what the scale or measuring tape reads.
And marketing practices like those used by the Skinny Cow brand have to stop perpetuating these injurious values. The true beauty of humanity is that we come in all different shapes and sizes, not one is better than the other. But choosing one end of a spectrum to represent beauty is not only irrational, but also downright cruel. Variety is, after all, the spice of life. And that is true beauty: not a typified standard, but the wondrous complexity of diversity.
So please, don’t call me skinny.
Merriam-Webster. (Current as of 2015, November 10). Fat. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fat
Merriam-Webster. (Current as of 2015, November 10). Skinny. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/skinny
Nestle. (Current as of 2015, November 10). Skinny Cow. Retrieved from https://www.skinnycow.com/
Oxford. (Current as of 2015, November 10). Skinny. Retrieved from http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/skinny