Don't Get Too Cocky, Thin People: 'Skinny Fat' Is Coming For You


This one’s for the effortless thin. We all know a person like this: one who never goes to the gym, subsists on a diet of burgers slathered in cheeses and sauces and bacons and non-diet soda yet never gains a pound, who hates the gym because “it smells” and drinks like a parched fish. A person who, despite what she puts into her body, always looks like a million bucks (or, like, at least in the six figure bucks range). Just because everything looks great on the outside, but as any Disney movie with an attractive villain has long ago taught us, looks can be deceiving.

According to Time, the ranks of the “skinny fat” represent a significant portion of people who seek medical assistance for conditions that are typically related to excess weight — high blood pressure, strokes, diabetes, high cholesterol, and other illnesses. The problem is, because they don’t “look” out of shape — aka “fat” — they think it’s not possible for them to be out of shape, even though the very definition of being “out of shape” is “not performing physical exercise on a regular basis.” I’m not out of shape because I don’t “look” out of shape because only fat people look out of shape and I am not fat so therefore I am not out of shape. And so on.

The issue is that inactivity, even among naturally thin people, can cause a buildup of fat around the internal organs, which isn’t something that necessarily manifests externally, but wreaks havoc internally. From Time,

[…] a person may not be heavy, but their organs could be coated with visceral fat, whose origins, researchers recently discovered, are genetically different from that of subcutaneous fat. This can cause metabolic syndrome—when someone has several conditions, like high blood pressure and high blood sugar, that put him or her at a high risk for heart disease, diabetes, or stroke.

Conversely, a person who “looks fat” and maintains a healthy level of activity may not be storing visceral fat like the thin folk who can’t make it up a flight of stairs without running out of breath. In almost all cases, you simply can’t judge a person’s health by looking at them.

Unfortunately, Time’s kicky rebranding of out of shape thin people as “skinny fat” (which, to be fair, was predated by what I thought was a particularly inscrutable ad campaign by Equinox Gyms a couple of years ago) isn’t likely doing anything to help solve the problem, which exists because the message that a person is visibly unhealthy if and only if they are fat is virtually inescapable. Skinny-sick would be more descriptive of what the actual issue here is — that common perception is that only people who “look fat” can have adverse health effects that are typically associated with inactivity and poor nutrition — and less reinforcing of a damaging and dangerous falsity.

So hold your heads high, plus size folk in gym clothes getting stink eye from the skinny smokers a block from the gym. And chill out with the looks-health judgement, inactive thin folk. Skinny, in many cases, is only skin deep.

Image via Shutterstock.

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