Realize, when it comes to body shaming, you probably think of fat-shaming, but there is also such a thing as thin shaming and that too is f*cked up. Nouscha (28) and Anna (25) tell what it is like to be (undesirably) underweight and receive continuous comments about it. Spoiler: comments like ‘then you just have to eat more’ they can no longer hear. Karima from getting Fat With Me can also talk about this: “We learn from an early age that it is not possible to call someone fat, but calling someone thin is no problem.”
I compared myself to others and despite being healthy, I started hating my body more and more.
Nouscha was always on the verge of being underweight. Not that it mattered to her, because she was comfortable in her own skin and felt healthy. Others, however, had something to say about it. “I got comments like: ‘here’s a pastry’ or ‘take a big gulp from a whipped cream can’.” This kind of ‘advice’ regularly made her insecure. “Even if you don’t care what the rest of the world says about you, at some point you start to think that you might not be completely healthy,” says Nouscha. “That’s why it’s so shitty. I was always happy with my body.”
About 2.5 percent of the Dutch population is underweight. This was revealed in a health survey by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) in 2019. But what is underweight? Statistics Netherlands calculates underweight on the basis of the Body Mass Index (BMI). They set the lower limit of a ‘healthy BMI’ at 18.5 kg/m2. Are you under there? Then you are underweight (according to this index). For example, a 25-year-old woman of 1.70 meters is underweight if she weighs less than 53 kilos.
However, the Body Mass Index has some caveats. It was conceived in the 19th century by Adolphe Quetelet, a Belgian mathematician and astronomer with no background as a physician. In addition, the BMI was devised as a measure of the bodies of white men. This means that the BMI actually says much less if your genetic roots lie in, for example, Asia or Africa, are smaller than average or are a woman. Also, your personal situation is not taken into account, such as when you have an illness, for example.
Three years ago, Nouscha got cervical cancer. That caused her weight to drop even more. “I was told very little beforehand about how hard such a treatment – chemotherapy and radiation – works if you are a bit narrow of yourself.” Due to the treatment, Nouscha had a lot of trouble keeping food down. “It’s so contradictory: you want to eat, but you can’t.” The treatment, therefore, had a significant impact. “I only weighed 38 kilos. I am 1.68 meters, so that is of course bizarre. I could hardly walk anymore.”
Although Nouscha has now been cured of cancer, she still struggles with the consequences of the treatment. She is still underweight and although she didn’t mind being thin in the past, it’s different now: “I have no energy, that’s really crap. So I don’t work anymore, that’s not possible anymore. one minute I feel great and the next I feel completely rotten.” She does her best to gain weight, but due to intestinal complaints and a lack of appetite, it is difficult. “One week I’m completely full and I’m hungry for everything and a week later nothing goes in and then I have lost that weight from the week before.”
The physical ailments are annoying enough to deal with, but Nouscha also still receives all kinds of comments about her weight. It used to be mainly irritating, but well-intentioned advice from people who wanted to interfere with her, but now it goes a step further: “On Instagram I get unsolicited messages from ‘Gosh, did you escape from Auschwitz?’, that’s really bizarre. . People are really, really tough.” It doesn’t stop there. “I just get random messages like ‘Wouldn’t you even eat more’, ‘Those legs don’t look like this’ or ‘You really have a rat’s head’.”
Nouscha is very sorry to receive messages like this from strangers: “I also know that I don’t look quite well, I also have a mirror.” Although she is now a bit stronger than before, it remains difficult to deal with these kinds of comments: ” Then I will start doubting myself.”
Like Nouscha, Anna has had a low weight all her life. “I know that a lot of people have the same problem as me, but don’t dare or want to talk about it. That’s why I think it’s important to share my story.” Anna says that she was not at all concerned with her being underweight at first. “A lot of people in my family are slim and I thought it was just normal.” She felt fit and had no health problems.
“I still regularly hear that there are women who wear two pants together, because they have so often heard that their legs are too thin and want to hide this. So a comment can be so harmful to someone else.”
It was only in high school that Anna became really aware of her underweight. “The moment I hit puberty, I noticed that other girls were a bit fuller with feminine shapes. I always felt like a girl with a childlike body.” Anna received comments such as ‘eat some more’ and was called ‘anorexic patient’. “At one point someone even went to my parents to ask if I had an eating problem.” Her underweight started to bother Anna more and more: “I compared myself to others and started hating my body more and more, even though I was healthy.”
initially tried to gain weight by eating fast food, but soon found that it didn’t do anything for her: “Except it made my skin go bad.” Her boyfriend, who is a personal trainer, therefore advised Anna a few years ago to start exercising in order to build muscle mass. “At first I saw it as a punishment because I thought: why do I have to change myself because other people want to?” Exercising was therefore counterproductive in the beginning: she was not feeling well and actually lost weight. “My eating pattern was still the same as before and that is not possible if you are going to do strength training.”
Anna decided to stop exercising and focus on healthy food. But that also felt like a punishment. “Where it went wrong for me was that it was not clear to me who I wanted to change for.” At some point, she took the plunge and changed her mindset. “I thought, OK, I want to change for myself. I want to get fitter. I want to see the Anna I want to see when I look in the mirror.”
There can be several reasons for being underweight, for example little to no appetite, stress, mental problems, side effects of medicines or health problems, such as intestinal problems.
According to Karima of Get Fat With Me, it is not necessarily necessary to do something about your underweight if you are otherwise feeling well. It does become a problem if you experience health problems due to being underweight that affect daily functioning. “The annoying thing about being underweight is that, just like being overweight, you can experience complaints. Think of extreme fatigue, joint pain, brittle nails, disturbed cycles, hair loss and more. Extreme fatigue, for example, can have a lot of influence on your daily life.”
Since that mind switch, Anna is doing much better. “Well, in small steps.” She is exercising again and makes sure that she is getting enough food. That no longer feels like a punishment, because she does it for herself. “You really have to do it for yourself and not because others push you.” A lot has changed in her life in the past two years: “I have become so much stronger both physically and mentally. When I get comments about my weight now, it just makes me laugh.”
photo: Private photo
Karima knows what it’s like to deal with being underweight and the nasty comments that come with it. That’s why she started Get Fat With Me . “I noticed when I was 14 that I was underweight, so I started looking for ways to fix this. I quickly came to the conclusion that there was very little information on this subject,” she says. “Besides, I’ve never heard many people talk about it, which made me feel like I was the only one dealing with it.”
Karima managed to gain ten kilos in two months and from there she decided to help others who also wanted to gain weight. She first did this (voluntarily) via WhatsApp, when that became too much, she started a Facebook group where more than ten thousand members registered. ” It became a place that I myself missed. A place where women could share their advice, progress, questions and obstacles.”
It is a misunderstanding to think that losing weight is more difficult for everyone than gaining weight. “Unfortunately, it is more complicated than people think and it is an intensive process, in which you have to continue investing in to maintain your weight even after you have achieved your goal,” says Karima. Gaining weight is therefore certainly not as simple as ‘just eat more’ for everyone. Because what if you suffer from a lack of appetite, such as Nouscha for example? ” It’s the same feeling you have when you eat at an all you can eat restaurant and are stuffed afterwards. So there are people who already have this full feeling before they start eating.” In addition, it is very important not to just eat everything, but to make the right product choices to gain weight in a healthy way.
Do you want to gain weight (in a healthy way)? Karima gives some tips:
- Make a realistic plan that you can realize step by step. Even if you want to arrive today rather than tomorrow, keep it realistic so that you really move forward and stick to the plan.
- Make sure you know how much you need to take in, so how many calories, carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Otherwise you feel like you are eating ‘more’, but you are not tapping your need, so you will not see any results.
- Make the right product choices. If necessary, research this, because this is very important to gain weight in a healthy way.
- Take bee pollen, a natural superfood, to stimulate your appetite.
- Make use of liquid calories, in other words: smoothies! It is easy to drink, is very tasty and helps you easily to get a lot of calories.
- Dare to ask for help! You don’t have to do it all alone. Find an expert or dietitian who can help you.
Karima experiences that few people realize that ‘being slim’ also has disadvantages and that you can also be insecure about it. Like Anna and Nouscha, Karima was regularly subjected to comments about her body. “I have the idea that people do not realize that such comments are really unacceptable because people still see ‘slim’ as something good that you can never experience insecurity. Nothing could be further from the truth, because if you are ‘too slim’ then that is no fun either and you can experience a lot of ailments because of this.”
How is it that people are more likely to comment about someone who is underweight than about someone who is overweight? Karima: “We learn from an early age that it is not possible to call someone fat, but calling someone thin is not a problem. In the eyes of society, being slim is good. In my opinion, this was also partly created by the modeling world, where most of them walk around with underweight and are continuously stimulated to lose a few more kilos. Fortunately, a shift is now taking place, but being slim has long been the ideal beauty. Therefore people do not see that you can also be insecure if you are slim are.”
Whether it’s fat-shaming or thin shaming, according to Karima, any comment about someone’s body can have an impact. “For example, I regularly hear that there are women who wear two pants together, because they have heard so often that their legs are too thin and want to hide this. So a comment can be so harmful to someone else.”
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