In response to last week’s post How To Eat Dessert And Still Stay Skinny, I got an email from a reader asking why I use the word “skinny” when it undermines my message of health:
“I’ve been following your blog etc for a few months now. I love it and have shared your posts widely…. Unfortunately, your emphasis on being “skinny” really puts me off, not just in this article but in your bio and elsewhere in your writings.
To me, and folks in my world, to value “skinny-ness” is to encourage excessive — and often obsessive — emphasis on body size without regard to health. This dangerous message is everywhere in our society, and not consistent with the rest of your message. Do you see how this undermines your credibility — despite your academic credentials?
Please consider changing your language from “skinny” to “a healthy weight.” I don’t think this is just semantic.”
This is a very important point, and I want to thank the reader again for bring up her concerns. Since I’m sure there are at least a few of you with the same question, I wanted to share my response:
“Thanks for writing, I really appreciate your input. I totally get your point, but there are a few reasons I make the word choices that I do.
First, I’d guess that given your stance the reason you enjoy Summer Tomato at all is that I actually do make a concerted effort to not use the words “skinny” or “thin” in the text of my articles, particularly when I talk about goals and motivation. (My bio is a different story, I was intentionally trying to illustrate the thoughts of a chronic dieter.)
But I do occasionally use these words in headlines. The reason is that one of the major categories of people I’m hoping to win over with my message is dieters. I want them to focus on being healthy and stop dieting.
The problem is, to get their attention in the first place I need to speak their language. The word skinny rings bells with these people and draws them in, and then my message is different from what they expect and that’s how changes are made.
The phrase “healthy weight” does not even come close to bringing in the click throughs as the word skinny, which I’ve seen in my Facebook and Twitter traffic analytics. I’m less interested in preaching to the choir then helping lost people find a new way to live.
Another important point is that I feel the phrase “healthy weight” has been greatly over-used and has come to mean something a little bigger than it should. Sadly, the latest statistics suggest many overweight people believe they are a healthy weight, simply because the average has been so skewed in the upward direction over the past 20 years.
Health is definitely my message, but I’m very careful to not let people off the hook just because they are the same size as their friends and family.
I’m walking a very tight rope with my message balancing health, weight loss and quality of life, and I’m acutely aware of the power of words. I hope you understand that to make the biggest impact I need to reach the people who need me the most, even if sometimes it comes off as less academic and more mainstream.
My hope is that I’m in a position to bridge these two worlds and get diet trends headed in the right direction again.”
To be clear, I read a lot of great blogs that do preach to the choir, and I share them here regularly.
But one of the best things about the Summer Tomato community is that it includes people from all walks of life, from young college students frustrated with their bodies to baby boomers and academics with more letters after their names than in them. We also have foodies trying to balance their love of food and need for health, and geeks just trying to get fit enough to beat their friends at Kinect.
Most people that come to Summer Tomato for the first time don’t know that the solution to all these goals is the same. My main mission here is to help people see that healthy habits (not dieting) is what makes you both thin and healthy, and provide you with the tools to create a healthstyle that works for you.
I hope one day these points will be obvious to everyone, but in the meantime my experience has shown me that the best way to capture someone’s attention is with the promise of looking great and eating amazing food.
I was happy to get a sweet reply back from this reader signed,
Even a bigger fan than before,
What do you think about the “S” word?
Originally published May 30, 2011.