One little known fact about me is that a love a good poem, especially when delivered by the poet themselves. You can hear the heart and soul put into the work, and it cuts much deeper than reading a poem on my own. I can spend hours watching poetry on Youtube, each poem giving me more chills than the last. When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny is one of the most incredible poems I have ever stumbled upon, and I had to share it with readers of this blog.
Poems can be beautiful, hopeful, and inspiring, or they can be dark, devastating, and heart-breaking. This poem has a bit of everything. We will start by watching the author perform it, and then I’ll break it down line by line, adding background information about certain parts or sprinkling in personal anecdotes about how I relate to some lines. If your interest does not pique at the idea of reading my own interpretation, I don’t mind, but you owe it to yourself to at least watch the poem if nothing else.
While writing this post, I watched this poem about 15 times, and it never fails to send shivers up my spine and knock the wind out of me. If you enjoyed this type of poetry, do yourself a favor and check out other slam poems on Youtube, and look for slam poetry competitions in your area when things open back up again. Slam poetry is an artwork like no other.
My interest and love for a good slam poem came from one of my English teachers in high school. In his class, we would sometimes watch a slam poem at the beginning, and spend a few minutes talking or writing about it. I loved comparing my own interpretations to others, and sharing how key phrases or lines affected us in a deep way. So that’s what I decided to do with this post today. Let me know in the comments below if something in particular stuck out to you or gave you extra chills!
An Analysis of When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny
The year of skinny pop and sugar-free jello cups, we guzzled vitamin water and vodka. Toasting to high school and survival, complimenting each others thigh gaps.
I had never heard of a thigh gap until I entered high school, when suddenly it seemed like everyone was absolutely obsessed with having a space between their legs. I never felt self conscious of my legs, and the fat on them, until I stumbled into a world where thigh gaps were coveted. Every time I sat down and my legs smushed together, I felt awful about myself. I avoided wearing shorts because I didn’t want anyone to see my lack of thigh gap.
It’s such a stupid concept, isn’t it? Who gives a damn if your thighs touch while you walk or sit? Thigh gaps, like other fitness trends, come about because they might make us purchase diet products or start a new fitness routine. This particular fitness trend happened to the subject of memes, tweets, and Instagram posts, and when you see something being praised enough times, it sinks in that this is the new thing you should be striving for.
If you don’t have a thigh gap, it’s okay. I promise. Most people aren’t even bothered by their lack of thigh gap until they hear about the concept, and then suddenly it’s always on their mind.
Trying diets we found on the internet: menthol cigarettes, eating in front of a mirror, donating blood. Replacing meals with other practical hobbies like making flower crowns, or fainting.
The internet has given rise to many articles and videos that promote disordered eating methods, pushed as pro tips or life hacks. Although I do not personally know anyone who took up smoking specifically as a way to lose weight, that was touted in tobacco ads a few short decades ago. I have seen articles that promote the idea of eating in front of a mirror. The logic goes that if you spend time scrutinizing your body while you eat, you will be disgusted by the image of yourself, and it will encourage you to eat less.
Let’s take a moment to pause and absorb the horror and disgust of this advice commonly found online, waiting for vulnerable people to find it. I feel sick when I come across these tips in major magazines and online publications because I know that people who hate their body will use them in an effort to change how they look.
Any time an article or another person offers you advice about how to eat less or distract yourself when hunger strikes, run as far away as you can. The author, or person in question, does not have your best interest in mind. Maybe authors and journalists do not intentionally try to cause harm, as they too have lived in diet culture for a long time. But anyone posting anything (myself included) must think about potential consequences that can arise from advice or life hacks that can cause physical or psychological harm.
Instead of distracting ourselves with hobbies when we are hungry, what if we just… ate? This seems obvious to me now, but I spent lots of time and brain space trying to devise strategies for how I could ignore my hunger, so that I would eat fewer calories. Maybe instead of making flower crowns, I listen to music, or scroll on Instagram until it seemed like an “acceptable” time to eat.
The mention of donating blood here felt like an interesting choice. However, when I was in college I would look forward to days where I could donate blood, once I learned that it takes your body a few hundred calories to replenish the blood you lose. I remember feeling like I could eat an extra snack or enjoy a bit more at my meal times because I donated blood.
I was there to help save lives, definitely. That was the main motivation. But the idea of burning up a couple hundred extra calories felt alluring to say the least. It’s also funny that she mentioned fainting here. Ironically, my blood donating “career” ended when I fainted after a donation, hitting my head so hard I got a concussion. I laugh now, but it was probably a sign I was malnourished.
I have not donated blood since, but given that I no longer deprive myself or count calories, it would probably go well without incident.
Wondering why I hadn’t had my period in months, or why breakfast tastes like giving up. Or how many more productive ways I could’ve spent my time today besides googling the calories in the glue of a U.S envelope.
I have heard from numerous readers, friends, and acquaintances that when they were dieting, they lost their periods for months and months. Most ignored it, or even reveled in the reduced inconvenience of not having to deal with a period. Some told their doctors during physicals, but their doctors often prescribed birth control to regulate their cycle instead of thoroughly investigating why they may be missing their periods.
It’s almost a reflex reaction for doctors to prescribe birth control at the first sign of irregular periods, especially for those in larger bodies. People don’t typically associate those in larger bodies with eating disorders, so signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders often get overlooked.
If you are dieting and have a body that should be menstruating at regular intervals, take it as a warning sign that you may be malnourished, regardless of your body size. Also be aware if your hair is falling out in droves, and if you are cold in a warm room.
The line, “Why breakfast tastes like giving up,” feels particularly poignant, too. This phrase makes such an impact, and I believe more of us relate to it than we might realize. When you try so hard to lose weight, or avoid eating, you don’t eat foods that bring you pleasure. You eat foods that are the lowest in calories, and avoid dressings, sauces, or other flavoring agents that might make them taste better.
Forget about cheese sauce on my broccoli, that has too many calories. No thank you to ranch, I’ll have my salad plain so that I can meet my calorie goal today. After awhile, meals really do taste like giving up.
Watching Americas Next Topmodel like the gospel, hunching naked over a bathroom scale shrine, crying into an empty bowl of cocoa puffs because I only feel pretty when I’m hungry.
If you are not recovering, you are dying.
Damn. Another stanza that delivers a powerful emotional punch right to the gut. “I only feel pretty when I’m hungry”. Do you relate to that? Conversely, do you feel awful about yourself when you feel full, or bloated? When you accidentally overeat a bit, do you start trying to think of ways that you can cut future meals or exercise a bit more to burn some calories?
Back in my most disordered days, I loved the feeling of an empty stomach. It made me feel like I had willpower, and that I was stronger and more restrained than those around me who ate what they wanted. I liked the feeling of being smaller when my stomach was empty.
On the other hand, when I ate “too much”, I hated myself. I felt worthless, like a failure, and that I didn’t deserve to eat again for a long time. I would spend the entire rest of the day, and maybe a few days after, feeling down in the dumps. Now, overeating does not carry such a negative emotional state. When I eat a bit more than I needed, I have no regrets. I understand that I will just eat again when I’m hungry! You can get there too, if you are not there already, via intuitive eating.
By the time I was sixteen, I had already experienced being clinically overweight, underweight, and obese. As a child, fat was the first word people used to describe me, which didn’t offend me, until I found out it was supposed to.
We do not come into the world hating our bodies, or viewing others as less than because of theirs. Instead, adults step in and teach us that having a larger body is bad, and that we should do whatever we can to avoid having a larger body. Maybe our own parents don’t tell us this. Maybe teachers, coaches, healthcare workers, or other adults do.
Lots of people preach treating everyone equally to their kids, which sounds like a valuable lesson to instill. But then they turn around and gossip about their friends’, family members’, and coworkers’ weight gain, or make offhand comments about a “fat and lazy” person they know. Or perhaps they spend all of their mental energy and time trying desperately to change their own bodies, making it clear to little ones that it is not okay to be as you are.
Adults should know better than to send kids these messages, but to be fair, they received the same messages as kids too. This is nothing new of course; fat phobia has been around for generations. And when adults you trust make it seem like being fat is a bad thing, that becomes your reality. From there, it can be nearly impossible to break away from that school of thought.
Many of us feel uncomfortable with the term “fat” to describe a person because it carries such a negative connotation. Fat activists across the globe are working to reclaim the word “fat” and make it as neutral of a descriptor as “brunette”. After all, fat is just a descriptive word when it comes down to it.
It doesn’t have to have a negative connotation the way our culture at large has asserted that it does. “Fat” also does not have to pair with other words like “lazy”, “stupid”, or “incompetent”, but these are words our society chooses to associate with the word “fat”. When people call someone fat, they usually mean it as an insult. It’s said with a degree of hate or distaste, and it’s almost spat out.
Kids in larger bodies often don’t feel all that different from kids in smaller bodies (and they shouldn’t), until someone tells them, directly or indirectly, that they should feel shame about their bodies. A playground bully might begin terrorizing another student in a larger body by calling them mean, fat phobic names. Perhaps the bully’s parents have made comments about fat people at home, making this kid register fat kids as “others”.
There is no inherent gene or law that tells us we have to look down on fat people. It’s not a fact of life that we must bully or ignore a person in a larger body. It’s learned behavior, and we must be careful about our own words and actions about these topics, especially around kids.
When I lost weight, my dad was so proud, he started carrying my before-and-after photo in his wallet. So relieved he could stop worrying about me getting diabetes. He saw a program on the news about the epidemic with obesity, said he’s just so glad to finally see me taking care of myself.
I picture a well-intentioned dad trying to make his daughter feel good about what she “accomplished” by shrinking her body, making it appear more socially acceptable. Well-intentioned or not, I cannot imagine how much that had to hurt.
We as a society must find a way to stop treating weight loss like a monumental accomplishment. Losing weight does not inherently make a person healthier, like the author’s dad thought. Especially not when weight loss came about due to an eating disorder.
People in larger bodies do not automatically get diabetes or heart disease, and they should not be deemed unhealthy. People in larger bodies simply have larger bodies. If a person in a larger body has healthy habits, they have a greater likelihood of avoiding diabetes and other illnesses.
Similarly, people in smaller bodies that have less healthy habits become more likely than those with healthy habits to get diabetes and heart disease. I cannot emphasize this enough. Being in a larger body may be associated with certain diseases, sure, but being in a larger body doesn’t necessarily cause diseases.
Although I revere the role the media can play in bringing important issues to our attention, the way the “obesity epidemic” has been presented is disturbing to say the least. Local news stories on the topic often show footage people in larger bodies walking about, minding their own business, with the caption “obesity kills”. Imagine turning on the local news, and seeing your body being used to scare people about a “disease”.
The author’s dad was glad she was, “Finally taking care of herself,” too. This is an important point, because people in larger bodies have to hear these sentiments all the time. The author, “Took care of herself,” by not eating, crying in front of a mirror, and using menthol cigarettes to stave off hunger. That does not sound particularly healthy or an example of, “taking good care of oneself,” to me. People in larger bodies who are losing weight are so often praised for “getting fit” and, “finally taking their health seriously,” but how are those things true when weight loss is achieved with self abuse and neglect?
I have said it before, and I will continue saying it until it no longer needs to be said: do not compliment a person on their weight loss. This reinforces the idea that a person’s value increases when their weight on the scale decreases. It can also encourage more disordered eating behaviors. This gets us into our next impactful line.
If you develop an eating disorder when you are already thin to begin with, you go to the hospital. If you develop an eating disorder when you are not thin to begin with, you are a success story.
This is absolutely true. Fat people using disordered eating techniques are praised. Skinny people using disordered eating techniques are met with concern and sometimes receive help. Sometimes, doctors even encourage disordered eating behavior in fat people, like recommending a 1200 calorie diet or distracting themselves when they feel hungry and desire a snack.
Even if a fat person’s labs come back healthy and normal, doctors still often tell them to try to lose weight. It doesn’t matter if their blood pressure registered as normal, their blood sugar remains at a healthy range, or their cholesterol fell in the healthy category. Some doctors still pressure patients to lose weight, and for what reason exactly? So they can fit the normal aesthetic?
Tell me, Doc, what happens if I lose this weight? What happens if I drop a few pounds through disordered eating means, and then my labs come out all messed up? Will I be healthy enough for you? As I write this, I can feel my blood boil, and I don’t even experience this on a regular basis.
Sofie Hagen discusses this experience in her book Happy Fat (affiliate). I cannot stop thinking about how it must feel to be told to lose weight even after explaining you are recovering from an eating disorder. No wonder people go to great lengths to lose weight- they don’t want to be told by their doctors that they are “too big”, or be ridiculed by family and strangers alike.
So when I evaporated, of course everyone congratulated me on getting healthy. Girls at school who never spoke to me before, stopped me in the hallway to ask how I did it.
I say “I am sick”. They say “No, you’re an inspiration!” How could I not fall in love with my illness? With becoming the kind of silhouette people are supposed to fall in love with? Why would I ever want to stop being hungry, when anorexia was the most interesting thing about me?
If you have opted to read this poem instead of listening to the author deliver it, you have made a mistake. The author drops these lines with such genuine pain and urgency, and it feels so real. I mentioned earlier that I always get chills when I hear this piece, and this particular part is where they feel most prominent.
We give so much attention to people who lose weight. We create entire shows about it, and the “winner” is showered with money, fame, and more praise than they know what to do with. People may not care to admit it, but the attention often proves tantalizing and difficult to resist.
Why wouldn’t a student in high school enjoy getting attention from people who never talked to them before? It must have felt so validating to have people compliment you and suddenly show interest in you, especially when you felt largely ignored before.
When a person who has lost weight receives so much praise, it can begin to feel like losing and maintaining weight is their new purpose. Many people begin to show symptoms of anxiety because they worry about how they will maintain their weight loss, which is notoriously difficult to do. Nobody wants to be the person who lost weight, received tons of praise, and then became the victim of weight-gain gossip around the office again.
We must stop glorifying weight loss and the idea that smaller bodies are somehow “better”.
So how lucky it is now, to be boring. The way not going to the hospital is boring. The way looking at an apple and seeing only an apple, not sixty, or half an hour sit-ups is boring.
Every holiday season, I see infographics and bulletin boards about how many calories common holiday foods contain, with a handy little chart that explains how much of certain activities you’d have to do to burn it off. My fiancé had assignments where he had to teach lessons like this to little kids when he was studying physical education and health education. He thought nothing of it at the time, as we both received lessons like this in school. But now we both feel sick when we think about it.
Our school system feels the need to teach kids about how much exercise it takes to burn off foods, but there is no lesson about how to enjoy foods and accept your body as is. There is no mention that being in a larger body is not bad, and that healthy habits mean so much more than size ever could.
Instead, we have our students calculate their BMIs and undergo fitness testing for assignments. The smaller kids get esteem and praise from teachers and students alike, and those in larger bodies get teased and scrutinized.
My story may not be as exciting as it used to, but at least there is nothing left to count. The calculator in my head finally stopped.
Can you relate to having a calorie calculator in your head? As a dietetics student, I sure do. Even before enrolling in the dietetics curriculum, I used MyFitnessPal and other such apps that allowed me to count my calories. I probably spent 90 minutes a day planning out my meals so I would stay under my calorie limit using those apps.
In my dietetics program, we looked at the nutrition facts of certain foods so many times, it’s impossible not to memorize some calorie counts. The RD exam prep materials I perused also quizzed me on calorie counts of certain foods. After a while, it’s nearly impossible to look down at your plate and see anything but calorie estimations, and maybe even educated guesses about carb, fat, and protein counts.
So yes, calorie counts made up some of my assignments, but I ended up letting it take over much more than some school work. I wonder how much better I would have done in school had I not spent so much time and headspace calculating my meals and worrying about how I looked. Now that I no longer do this crap, I have so much more time to spend doing things that truly care about. Like writing for this blog. Or actually being present when I’m around other people, and not silently adding up the calories while everyone else enjoys their food.
If you still count your calories, or at least worry about them, what else could you do with that time? What else could you do with that mental space?
I used to love the feeling of drinking water on an empty stomach, waiting for the coolness to slip all the way down and land in the well. Not obsessed with being empty but afraid of being full.
I used to be proud when I was cold in a warm room. Now, I am proud. I have stopped seeking revenge on this body. This was the year of eating when I was hungry without punishing myself and I know it sound ridiculous, but that shit is hard.
Those of us that are lucky enough to claw their way out of disordered eating may eventually forget how hard it was to begin eating normally. There is a constant fear of gaining weight, thus losing value in our society. We see a slippery slope, where if we gain a few pounds by eating what we want, we eventually won’t be able to stop. This is the barrier that prevents so many people from even starting intuitive eating in the first place.
To those who have never wandered into the realm of disordered eating, of course it sounds ridiculous that just eating when you are hungry is difficult. People who have never dieted or cut out meals and snacks to try to get or stay thin probably won’t understand that it doesn’t feel simple to eat when you’re hungry. That shit really is hard. You can hear it in the author’s voice when she delivers that line. You can hear the pain and the resilience at the same time.
Overcoming disordered eating often feels like an impossible feat. Those who have strong support systems usually fare better. Unfortunately, so many barriers and disparities stand in the way for most people to get the help they need to recover.
I’m so glad she managed to add that she is now proud of herself for eating without punishment or guilt. Because it is hard, and she should be proud. People who are deep in disordered eating need to work to change the narrative of being proud when they resist food toward being proud when they listen to their bodies and eat when they are hungry. Easier said than done, of course, since that is a prominent narrative in our culture.
Our society praises “will power” and “restraint”, so it’s no wonder why intermittent fasting and strict diets like paleo and keto became such huge hits. Encouraging people to ignore their hunger cues for hours at a time, or avoid entire food groups, makes people feel righteous and admirable. Simply eating what sounds good when we are hungry seem so… detestable and gluttonous.
But it’s not. Listening to your body and giving it what it needs is imperative to our health, and we cannot let the elitist nature of fad diets make us feel bad about eating what we want. Often, we are our own harshest critics.
When I was little, someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said.. “small”.
Wow. What an amazing mic drop moment. This one small, but mighty line shows how much the desire for weight loss can take over our entire lives. When I was a kid, I was obsessed with rocks and fossils, and I raved about becoming a paleontologist. I was lucky. I grew up in a smaller body, so I was free to dream.
Kids who grow up in larger bodies are typically not so lucky. Their dreams are often squashed because it’s difficult to focus on anything besides the overwhelming desire to fit in. We must stop teaching our kids to listen to diet culture and abuse their bodies to make them smaller. We have to change how our societies views bodies of different sizes, and work to make the world a more accepting place. Too many people have suffered, and will continue to suffer, the consequences of our collective obsession with thinness.
This is one of the first poems I ever remember that absolutely shocked me to my core. It’s a wonderful thing to hear some of your own experiences articulated so beautifully and with such strength.
It can feel impossible to adequately explain what disordered eating feels like to people who do not have firsthand experience, but this rings true about many struggles or traumas we may undergo. Works of art as profound as When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny can help us feel seen and heard, and they can help others walk a mile in our shoes.
Writing for this blog has allowed me to express my frustrations with the culture at large, and hopefully 🤞raise awareness of these issues that are accepted as a normal part of life by most of the population. I would encourage you to find your medium of choice that will allow you to adequately express your daily struggles or overwhelming traumas, whether or not they have anything to do with the topic of this blog. We just need to get it out of our systems.
We also need more people to tell their stories and explain their uphill battles because awareness and empathy are some of the best tools we have to create meaningful change. On a planet where diet culture, weight stigma, and fat phobia dominate, we must show the world its inhumane ways and the lasting damage it causes, allowing us to change the narrative once and for all.
As Always, a Book Recommendation
The poet of this incredible work, Blythe Baird, has a published book, If My Body Could Speak, available for purchase! She writes about all kinds of pertinent topics like body image, trauma, and sexuality. If you are in the market for a collection of poems that will absolutely devastate you, yet also give you a glimmer of hope, this just might be what you are looking for.
This work is honest, deep, and raw, so it may be triggering to survivors of sexual assault. Treat with caution, but know that it may also be helpful to hear someone else’s experience too. Support her work, and an indie bookstore today!
As a proud Indie Bound affiliate, I get a small commission on books and products sold using the links on my website. It doesn’t cost you anything extra! I only recommend books that I truly love and believe in, and your purchases on Indie Bound through my website support both my work and small bookstores. Thanks!
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