Sunday, May 31, 2009

STI: Skinny is no cakewalk

May 31, 2009

Skinny is no cakewalk

By Fiona Chan 


If you belong to the 99.9 per cent or so of Singapore's population who have a healthy appetite and look it, you'll probably hate me by the time you finish this column.


But if you are part of the lonely club comprising the remaining 0.1 per cent, you'll understand when I say: Being skinny sucks.


Don't get me wrong. I'm not talking about being slim or svelte or slender or any of those appealing descriptions.


What I mean is skinny. Scrawny, shrimpy, skinny. Size-XS-is-too-big skinny. There-are-lampposts-bigger-than-you skinny.


In short, my own personal hell of skinny.


For much of my life, I've struggled with my weight, though not in the way that people usually mean when they say it. In my version of weight-watching, no matter how much I eat, the needle never moves up.


I'm no Rwandan refugee, but I've been underweight for as long as I can remember. At 42kg, my body mass index has always been 16.5, well below the healthy level of 18.5.


People like to come up to me, jab me in the ribs and say: 'Wah so skinny, no need to diet anymore lah, hahaha.'


That makes me mad. Not just because it really hurts when people poke at my scrawny ribs, but also because no one ever says it with any sympathy in their tone.


'You have no fat,' they seem to be sneering. 'You don't need anyone to be nice to you.'


These people then proceed to insist that you must be anorexic or bulimic. 'Eating disorders are bad, you know,' they tell you in a serious voice, as if having no fat also means you have no brains.


The worst thing is, you can never complain about being too skinny, because people don't want to hear it.


So for the last 20 years or so, I've kept quiet about how painful it is to be too thin.


Because, believe me, it is painful - literally.


Being all skin and bones and nerves means you can't sit on the floor for more than five minutes without needing a soft cushion.


Getting massages is also a difficult process. Five minutes of 'Mmmm that feels good' is inevitably followed by 55 minutes of 'Ow ow ow don't press so hard'.


It's also painful on the wallet: 90 per cent of the clothes I see in shops don't fit me and I end up always having to pay more for expensive brands that run in smaller sizes or to get my clothes altered.


But even as I write all this, I know these are small problems. The truth is, I never gave much thought to my weight until I went for a routine health screening a few weeks back.


When I got the results last week, they said I was in excellent health - except for one small thing.


'You are very underweight,' my health results proclaimed.


'Please eat more. And then lift weights. Like the training ones for kids, because we know you're too lightweight to handle the real ones.'


Okay, maybe those weren't the exact words used, but it was in the same spirit.


Snideness aside, the really scary part was all the potential health problems that come with being too thin. Apparently I have a higher risk of osteoporosis, and it doesn't help that I'm allergic to milk.


Skinny people also have problems regulating body temperature (which explains why I'm always cold) and fighting off infections (no wonder I'm always sneezing).


So when I found out about a new trend of 'thinspiration' websites telling people that anorexia and bulimia are an acceptable way of life, I got really angry.


As it is, every time I hear that perfectly healthy people are trying to lose weight because their perfect-body fantasies tell them to, I can't help feeling disturbed.


In my experience, there's no such thing as the ideal weight. Almost every girl I know from the age of 16 onwards wants to change her weight, no matter what it is.


But a number on the weighing scale says nothing about how you actually look. And there is nothing attractive or desirable about looking like you can't afford to buy food.


I'm guilty of the greener-grass syndrome too: If I had a dollar for every time I wished I had more curves, or more energy, I would be a millionaire by now.


The trick is to accept that your body is the way it is, and that you can only improve it by making yourself healthier, not skinnier or fatter.


It's not a task to be taken lightly. But before I make this topic even heavier, I'm going to sign off now and stuff myself with some ice cream.

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