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Thursday, May 17, 2018 12:09 am

Waif watchers

PHOTO COURTESY AMY ALKON
Amy Alkon
I’m a 33-year-old woman, and I’ve always been thin. I lost about 12 pounds after a tough breakup. I’m working on getting back to a healthier weight. However, people keep making cutting remarks about how thin I look. Yesterday a friend said, “You’re so skinny it’s gross!” I’d noticed that she’d gained quite a bit of weight, but I didn’t say anything … because that would be rude. She made other digs about my weight, and upon hugging me goodbye, she said, “Eww, is that your shoulder bone?!” What’s with this double standard? There’d be hell to pay if I said the slightest thing about anyone’s weight gain. – Tempted to Lash Back

It is more taboo than ever to make cracks about a woman’s weight – that is, unless she doesn’t have a whole lot of it. Then it’s open season: “Wow, what happened to you? Forget where the supermarket is?”

However, it probably is not “people” but “people who are female” who are thin-shaming you. Welcome to female intrasexual competition – competition between women – which is covert and sneaky (and thus poisonous) in a way male-on-male competition is not. Men, who evolved to be the warriors and protectors of the species, tend to be openly aggressive. A guy will give another guy a beat-down or publicly dis him: “Yeah, bro, sure you can get a chick to go home with you – if you’ve got five grand for a sex robot.”

Psychologist Tracy Vaillancourt explains that women seem to have evolved to avoid physical confrontations (and in-your-face verbal attacks that can lead to them), which jeopardize a woman’s ability to have children or fulfill her function as an infant’s principal caregiver and meal provider. Women instead engage in “indirect aggression” to “reduce the mate value of a rival,” like by “disparaging the competitor’s appearance … or using derisive body and facial gestures to make the rival feel badly about herself and thus less willing to compete.” (Yeah, that’s right. It seems Mean Girls was a documentary.)

The tricky thing about these indirect attacks is the plausible deniability they confer. Call a woman out for thin-shaming you and she’s likely to duck behind “I’m just worried about your health!” So instead, simply tell her that remarks about your weight hurt your feelings. Speaking up like this says that you aren’t likely to let any future digs slide, yet you remain on moral high ground – instead of giving back in kind: “Wow, looks like you’ve been exercising a lot. Do you do the backstroke in frosting?”

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