What’s in a Word?

I grew up being called skinny.  One of my friends in the eighth grade told me that I had legs like a horse – you know, knobbly kneed.  My mother said I was thin.

I met up with a friend this week – I hadn’t seen her since just before Christmas.  She saw me and said that I looked small.

This morning at bootcamp we were talking about how the last few months had made us feel tighter, leaner.


All words. 

What is in a word?

A few months ago I remarked (online) that I thought someone was thin.  The reply I received was full of rage.

Little did I know that the word THIN could cause such offense.

What is in a word?

For me, when I listen to and read words, I try to understand the intention of the writer or speaker.  Are they choosing their words deliberately?  Do they intend to make me feel a certain way with their word choice?  Or are my reactions just that – MY REACTIONS to words where the speaker had no intention to make me feel that way?

In a society where words and image can mean so much, how do you teach a child to be positive, develop good body image, and to use words?

My friend Miranda shared with me that she talks with her 9 year old daughter about feeling good, feeling confident, being healthy and strong.  She is teaching her daughter by using words that express feeling comfortable in our own skin.

The language that we use is based on our own experiences and our intentions. 

Language enables us to label and group things, to simplify and classify, to focus the mind and set aspirations.

But what label suits my aspirations best?


And today?  What is my current physical label? 

As my friend Pia says, I “have some on top and bottom” – I am not a lean mean minimal body fat athlete. 


Alas. It seems that curvy no longer means something good – now curvy is synonymous with overweight.  Curvy used to mean something different – breast, waists, hips, hourglass.  But now? Breasts are bad? 

This is a complete throwback to a post of years gone by when I lamented our society’s obsession with fatness rather than fitness.  I lamented misplaced energy.  And I condemned the meanness of those who labelled on Jodie Swallow fat (for background, Jodie is a world champion triathlete and used to be called fat by many people in triathlon – she had breasts and was curvy relative to others – but in the last year she has “leaned up” and can now be found gracing magazine covers).

Is it really about words, or is it about the intention behind the words?

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”


It’s a minefield.

2 responses to “What’s in a Word?”

  1. I am a curvy triathlete and recovered from an eating disorder, and like your friend I try to use words with our daughters that talk about feeling good about how we are, and striving for health and wellness. The message elsewhere contradicts mine. It IS a minefield. A painful one. Very balanced, well done post. @pameloth

  2. i really like this post. i don’t think thin should be thought of as a bad word, but i think words like healthy and fit are definitely better for mental health! some people (like me!) will never be thin but i can be fit and healthy. but i don’t think curvy is a bad word, either. i guess it’s all about your perspective!

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