Roller Skate Skinny

Written by Emily Bartnikowski on July 20th, 2012

Body Image, Healthy Living

“She’s quite skinny, like me, but nice skinny. Roller-skate skinny. I watched her once from the window when she was crossing over Fifth Avenue to go to the park, and that’s what she is, roller-skate skinny. You’d like her.”
~ J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye

Me, at the ripe age of 9 or 10

The first time I heard the phrase “roller-skate skinny,” I knew that was exactly how I would describe me if anyone ever asked. I was 9 or 10 and cheering for our local little league football team and was just entering the phase of life where I felt like I was all knees-and-elbows all the time. I was also in gymnastics, had recently “retired” from swim team, hadn’t quite started dance yet, and walked or rode my bike everywhere. Aside from the seasonal allergies that still plague me, I was basically a healthy child. (As was my sister, 2.5 years my senior and equally knees-and-elbowy.) I have distinct memories of being in line at the supermarket and having other nosy people in line comment to my mother about how she just needs to feed us more. To her credit, she rarely did more than look pointedly at the full cart and shrug as if to say “feed them more than this?”

In fact, it wasn’t until I was in high school, on Drill Team, that I encountered the first person my age who was “watching her weight.” It struck me as a ridiculous notion: we were 14 and she was beautiful. I told her as much, and she responded by asking me if I had ever “just felt fat.”  I told her that I had not, nor had I ever felt particularly “skinny,” but that I have always just filled my space. “That’s because you’re skinny,” she snipped. “Roller skate skinny,” I replied (probably smugly). From where I was sitting, though, so was she. I was just the only one of us who knew it.

My husband, almost two years ago, at the velodrome.

My husband is of a similar stature to me: he is long and lean, with sinewy muscles and skinny wrists. He also grew up all-knees-and-elbows – running track, playing soccer, and now he cycles dozens of miles each week. He told me the other night that this is the first time in his life he’s been content with his body. For adolescent boys, it is the opposite conversation: to be the “90 pound weakling” is something to be avoided with gusto. (Between you and me, all of that cycling has done wonderful things for his legs. Trust me.)

Our son is already proving to be exactly like us: 40th weight percentile and 70th height at his last well-child check. He is long and skinny and full of energy . . . and there are days when I swear he’s eaten his weight at a single meal.

In our house, this is no big deal – he’s a skinny among skinnies – but out in the real world? The world that seems to draw a line in the sand between those who are forever trying to lose weight and those who are deemed “not real” because they don’t fit into a randomly chosen set of measurements? There he will be subjected to people’s opinions about how I feed him, and how well he cares for himself. Out there could be taunts about him being the 90-pound-weakling, bullies could see him as fodder for being reed-thin. Out there is a world of judgement that can be unbelievably harsh to those deemed “different.”

The last of his baby fat just melting away...

It is also realistic to think that he could be passing judgement of those who are shorter than him, rounder than him, darker than him, etc. I take comfort in my awareness of the possibility, because it allows me to frame our conversations now so that they embrace people of all shapes and shades. It is my job, as a parent, to remember the words I have heard my entire life and to give my child the tools to deal with them when they cross his path, regardless of whence they came.

The hard part will be finding the balance – it is ok to notice (and virtually impossible not to) that some people are tall or short, have mahogany or porcelain skin, curly or straight hair, and etc. I suspect that the key lies in taking a moment to see the beauty in what we’re talking about, then he will, too. Then maybe, all of our baby steps together will rub off on the world, and this whole debate over what is “normal” or “attractive” or “acceptable” for the human body will ground to relief-filled halt.

About The Author: Emily Bartnikowski

Emily B emmieb My NPN Posts

Emily is a wife, mother, photographer, and aspiring novelist. She blogs about parenting and life at Embrita Blogging.

5 Responses to Roller Skate Skinny

  1. kelly @kellynaturally  

    Great article. As a “roller skate skinny” myself, I still remember the first time I had a friend comment about her weight in comparison to mine. Prior to that time it hadn’t occurred to me… and I remember not being sure what to do about those feelings, or how to process someone else’s feelings on “dieting” or “god” vs “bad” foods, body image, etc. As a child, my mother taught us that all body sizes/shapes were normal, food was for nourishment, and exercise was for fun.

    I’m still thin, as are my kids – it’s just how we are. But in this culture, it seems no one bats an eye about calling out someone’s thinness to their face, have no problem telling thin people to “eat something” (insinuating if you’re thin you’re obviously dieting or have some kind of eating/exercising problem), or referring to non-thin women as “normal” size/ “normal women” / “real women” (insinuating that thinness is not normal, or somehow not real).

    There’s nothing un-normal/real about being thin – some people just ARE. I hate feeling like I have to acquiesce to rudeness; like I must be apologetic for my genes. I don’t want my kids to have to grow up surrounded by that sort of biased ignorace.

    HEALTHY is what’s important. Healthy food, healthy movement, healthy thoughts about yourself and your environment. Size, shape, comparing & contrasting yourself with others – it’s purposeless. We’re all human, we’re all different; differences should be embraced, not pointed out, mocked, or judged.

  2. Hannah

    Aw, you were so cute in your cheer outfit. Yeah, I went through the same stuff you both describe. I matured very, very slowly. I was very short and very skinny until the end of high school. I was the last to get my period and was often underweight for things. My family tends to be pretty slender and my mom was very nutrition conscious. Actually I was caught between friends saying they hated me because I didn’t gain weight, peers making fun of me for not looking sexy because I had a small chest/wasn’t curvy and my mom’s neuroses about weight. Even though she was trying to make sure we were healthy, she was also a former anorexic who was obsessed with weight. She would mercilessly point out people’s physical flaws and say “you don’t want to get fat, do you?” every time I wanted to have a potato chip. None of that is positive or contributes to a healthy self-image. In the last few years, for the first time, I’ve started to put on weight. Until I was about 28, I could eat anything and barely gain weight. Of course, I never ate the quantities some people do because of what my mom engrained in me. Even though I’d like to lose a little weight, I try not to obsess about it. And I kind of like having curves for the first time in my life, too.

  3. Emily Bartnikowski  

    I’m not sure how I missed linking this – LOVE YOUR TREE is one of my mantras!