What the Hell is “Skinny Fat”?

I first heard the term “skinny fat” at an event during a conversation with an old acquaintance about their current fitness regime (which involved eating massive amounts of protein, as well as a shit-ton of pseudo-ephedrine as a “metabolism booster”). This acquaintance told me that “skinny fat” was when someone looked skinny, but was just not fit and healthy.

I put this concept on the back burner for a while for it to simmer down. And when I say “for a while” I mean six months. And when I say “simmer down”, I mean get to the point mentally where I don’t want to go running down the street screaming obscenities and shooting lasers out of my eyes like Cyclops without his visor.

I thought I had actually pushed skinny fat so far down into the back of my mind that I had forgotten it, until I ran across this interview with skier Lindsey Vonn:

“I’ve been to a lot of photo shoots and I just see these girls that are really thin, they’re not healthy. They don’t work out … It’s difficult to be at events with a room full of women who weigh half as much as you do. That’s always tough. I don’t envy them, though, because so many of them are skinny-fat. They have more cellulite than most people.”

“It may look good in a magazine, but it’s not healthy, and girls who are that skinny are actually fat. You can see the cellulite on their legs and on their butts. You know I have cellulite too but I go to the gym and I try to eat healthy. I think that’s a better model for girls to look up to than skinny people who need to eat more.”

First of all, c’mon, Lindsey! Every body’s got its own thing going on. Athletic, thin, fat, whatever — the commentary is not helpful. Aside from the clearly polarizing message, what the hell is this? Is skinny fat a legit thing?


Apparently, skinny fat is another term for Metabolically Obese Normal Weight (MONW), which is confusing to me. Apparently, someone who is “metabolically obese” is someone who is “hyperinsulinemic, insulin-resistant, and predisposed to type 2 diabetes, hypertriglyceridemia, and premature coronary heart disease” just like many obese people are. What grinds my gears, specifically, is that not all obese people experience such symptoms.  IN FACT, research is now showing that 1 in 4 THIN people are showing signs of metabolic obese-ness.

So let’s just get this straight… there’s a metabolic problem fat people often suffer from that now lots of skinny people suffer from. And medically, we refer to the problem with the label “obese” even though it isn’t an obesity-specific problem. And colloquially, we refer to it as “skinny fat”, because the “fat” modifier tells the lay-person that it isn’t “regular” skinny… it’s “bad” skinny.


6 thoughts on “What the Hell is “Skinny Fat”?

  1. Yes, this whole concept confuses the hell out of me. I think they need to rename this phenomenon. Seriously. Like now. And I love the image of you running down the street shooting frickin’ lasers out of your eyes. Hehehehe. Thanks for this writing. 🙂


  2. This reminds me so much of the original name for AIDS, which was GRID – Gay-Related Immune Deficiency. Back in the early days of the epidemic, AIDS was widely considered a disease that only gay people and IV drug users could get, so the medical research community was totally cool with dismissing it and letting it fester and kill people who were already on the bottom rungs of society anyway, so who cares? Fast forward to the mid-80s, when innocent, God-fearing, unsuspecting hemophiliacs started getting it, too, because guess what? A blood-borne illness is a blood-borne illness and it really doesn’t discriminate based on whether a person shoots up or likes to get it on with people who have the same junk as them. SCIENCE!
    By calling skinny-fat (AHHHHH IT HURTS TO EVEN TYPE IT) people “medically obese,” the medical establishment is not-so-slyly taking a jab at fat-fat people. As you pointed out, the collection of symptoms that occur when someone eats lots of unhealthy food and doesn’t move at all has nothing to do with body size or shape and everything to do with… that person’s eating habits and physical activity. The problem is that for now, those health problems are specifically attributed to fat people, because that’s just a really convenient way to tell if someone is unhealthy or not, right? Right… ? Guys??


  3. Seriously, no one is allowed to feel good about themselves. The people they are talking about have a MEDICAL CONDITION, and they have the nerve to be condescending and to critique their diets. What? Unless you are a medical doctor talking to a patient, you do not get to make judgments regarding someone’s weight and diet (whether skinny, fat or normal) because you just don’t know.


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