Warning: this piece will go into graphic detail about body image and eating disorders, to those who are sensitive to these subjects, please read on with caution.
I have been borderline emaciated all of my life. I just happened to have the body chemistry where I could eat like a horse a barely gain a pound. However, during college, it got bad. I am 5'8" roughly (about 172 cm) and typically weighed in around 130–140 pounds (about 59–63 kg). During my freshman year of college, I dropped the freshman 15 (and then some more) due to how frequently I was walking to class and how little I actually ate. The lowest weight I am aware of that I dropped to is 105 lbs (47 kg). This terrified me, and I went straight to the nurse, asking for tips to help me stop losing weight.
I have had two eating disorders growing up. One has been around for as long as I can remember (avoidant restrictive food intake disorder), which means I am extremely sensitive to food textures and smells (and will gag if a food’s sensory attributes disagree with my body). This means I only have a small handful of foods that I can “safely” eat. On top of that, I developed anorexia tendencies during my teenage years. I have periods of self-inflicted starvation, even though I have access to my safe foods. Yes, some days (and sometimes weeks) are better than others. My mother is a picture perfect definition of orthorexia (healthy eating to the extreme, where it becomes an obsession), but she was forever in denial of that disorder.
Being thin all my life, I have always had people attempt to wrap their arms around me like a bear hug (they would teasingly say “I can break you in half if I wanted!”). I’ve been told off-handidly “why don’t you just put some more meat on your bones!” or “just eat a cheeseburger!”. I would always see advertisements for people trying to lose weight, but never find products to help people maintain weight (or god forbid: gain weight, outside of body builder nutritional products). I recall having a conversation with a good friend of mine from high school where she got extremely mad that she found a pill to help people gain weight and I just told her, “look, some people have a struggle to just stay at a healthy weight level, this pill is for them.” She was not too happy with me that day.
Being on the extreme end of either side of the weight spectrum is awful, but we need to stop dismissing the issues that emaciated or borderline emaciated go through. Every time I see people attempt to speak up about the struggles they have gone through as a very thin person (whether the result of an eating disorder or otherwise), almost always they are shut down by people saying things like, “Thin people don’t go through anything like fat people do! Your struggles aren’t valid!”
Hell, just attempting to find scientific studies or articles written about emaciation is a struggle with Google. Anything related to “weight”, and Google will bring up obesity articles (even if you speifically look up “underweight” or “emaciated”, which for “emaciated” specifically, you’re probably going to find abused animals, not people struggling with weight problems).
It is currently estimated that a minimum of 10–25% of boys will go through an eating disorder at some point in their life and about 50% of gitls will go through an eating disorder at some point in their life, however these numbers are guesses at best (even with top researchers) because many of those with an eating disorder are self diagnosed, or never seek out professional treatment for their disorder. One side effect of the many different types of eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, PICA, etc.) is the potentially dramatic weight loss.
It doesn’t help that there are very toxic areas on the internet that promote “pro anorexia/pro ana” and “pro bulimia/mia” where people will post phrases to “promote” an eating disorder mindset. It doesn’t help that there are things called “thinspro” and “bonespro” that contain visual imagery of severely emaciated individuals to help “encourage” weight loss. Many teenagers (and god forbid, younger) individuals are exposed to these toxic sides of the internet, where they are fooled into thinking that it is a healthy mindset and develop disordered eating habits.
Ultimately what I hope to accomplish with this article is that people need to know that “thin shaming” can be just as damaging as “fat shaming”. It is not something to joke about, regardless of how “good natured” you might think the joke it. Numerous people struggle with some kind of body image or weight related issue, and it is completely tactless to make either end of the weight spectrum the “butt” of your joke.