By Yael Lubarr
The other day I was walking in the West Village of NYC, enjoying the sunny day, when I saw two smiling women, both attractive and stylish, greet each other hello. One of them proclaimed to the other: "Oh wow, you look gorgeous!" "Aw, that's sweet," I thought. Then as I passed them, I heard her follow it up with: "And you look SO skinny!" Inwardly, I cringed. Then sighed. There it was again. Skinny. The ultimate compliment for so many women. Yet I've always found it strange — although I have been called skinny pretty much my whole life, I never thought of it as a favorable or desirable adjective.
I was the girl who was so underweight as a kid that my mother used to bake me cheesecake in order to fatten me up, and had to comfort me when classmates made fun of my small, lanky frame. I ate normally, but due to a fast metabolism and genetics, among other things, I was always extremely thin. Before you start rolling your eyes and think, "Oh, poor you," and I might as well just type #humblebrag #skinnygirlproblems after that statement, let me elaborate: I grew up as someone whose bodyweight was deemed an acceptable, common topic of conversation among classmates, relatives, and friends. Skinny became a word I heard constantly in reference to my body, and to this day remains an insult, connotating: unhealthy, sickly, and scrawny.
Luckily, due to being raised with healthy eating habits and a very supportive family, I did not veer into destructive or obsessive behavior when it came to food or my body image (even as a teenage ballet student, when hitting puberty meant I went from zero curves to a bit of an ample backside). I don't blame family members or doctors for being concerned for my health, yet I never understood why it was deemed okay for others to casually remark on my weight.
With all the popular "Skinny Girl" products, and blogs like "The Skinny Chick" or "Eat Yourself Skinny," we've missed the point somewhere on what to focus on in terms of appearance and health. (Sweat Life founder Aly Teich also addressed this in her post here.) As a certified classical Pilates teacher who has taught in Manhattan for almost a decade, this type of mindset is something I see all the time. Some clients have told me during their first session that they want to "look like me," or ask: "How can I get a skinny body like yours?" This is obviously meant as a compliment, which I appreciate, but it mostly results in making me feel uncomfortable.
Although I felt physically self-conscious as a child and a pre-teen, once I started to seriously train as a dancer throughout high school and college, and then completed a rigorous Pilates certification as a post-grad, I finally learned to embrace and appreciate my body. After years of hard work and training I finally feel strong and confident, no longer simply small, delicate, and weak. This "skinny girl" has now become the girl who can do 10 pull-ups. This attitude shift is an extremely powerful and satisfying achievement.
That's why as an instructor I try to steer the conversation off myself and respond with: "Thank you for saying that, but let's focus on you. This is your hour to get a great workout in, and feel fantastic afterwards." Working out, watching how you eat, and striving to live a healthy life shouldn't stem from a hypothetical, one-sided comparison or competition. If that's the case, you are more likely to never feel fully satisfied with the results. Everyone is born with a specific bone structure and unique build, and the goal shouldn't be about becoming more like the girl on the mat next to you. We should take care of our bodies in order to feel our best and our healthiest.
It is understandable that many people are concerned with gaining weight and maintaining a healthy lifestyle — according to the CDC, more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese, and it often leads to extreme health conditions and skyrocketing medical costs. The careful monitoring of one's own body is an obvious and logical reaction, yet I find this compulsion with being “skinny” to be almost a form of overcorrecting, in order to avoid becoming ill.
Have I been lucky enough to never have major issues with weight gain? Fortunately, yes. But a lot of that is from believing that being healthy and active should be the priority, as opposed to "looking good." If you're feeling a bit off, or your favorite pair of jeans aren’t fitting how you remember, by all means, go for it: take your favorite fitness class or go for a run. Do whatever it is to feel comfortable in your own skin, and wonderful when you look in the mirror. This is a more realistic and productive goal that produces long-term results, as opposed to simply comparing ourselves to others — but it only occurs when we look internally, not externally.
Frankly, I just feel size shouldn't even be a part of the conversation. If you would never publicly comment on someone being overweight, why do some people feel it is then appropriate to comment on someone's body when they are thin, merely because it is more socially acceptable? I'm all for saying someone looks beautiful, wonderful, great, gorgeous, etc. That's all we need to hear, and that is enough. Just leave body weight out of it.
I’ll leave you with Naomi Campbell's oft repeated quote, "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels." You know, as well as I do, that something else does actually feel better than being skinny: being healthy, energetic, and powerful. I will take that over being skinny any day of the week.
Originally from New Jersey and the youngest of 5 girls, Yael Lubarr first began ballet lessons at the age of 5 and immediately fell in love. Her devotion and passion for dance ultimately led to her acceptance into the dance program of The University of Michigan (Go Blue!), where she graduated in 2005 with dual bachelor degrees in both Dance and English. While in college, Yael obtained a summer internship with the renowned Merce Cunningham Dance Company, where she immersed herself in summer dance workshops and classes, fully taken with the ingenious Cunningham technique and choreography. Yael not only was fortunate enough to perform excerpts of Cunningham repertory for her senior thesis solo, she was also offered a scholarship to study in the Merce Cunningham Studio's Professional Training Program in New York City shortly after graduation.
In 2007, Yael became certified through the prestigious Romana's Pilates program at True Pilates New York, and for almost a decade has taught private and group sessions in classical Pilates at two Manhattan studios, Uptown Pilates and Alycea Ungaro's Real Pilates. In 2014, Yael was accepted into the 2-year, full-time cohort MBA program at the Fordham Graduate School of Business Administration, majoring in marketing, and plans to pursue a career in health and wellness.