March 2, 2012 at 3:37 PM ET
She wasn't nominated for any awards last Sunday, but Angelina Jolie has dominated the conversation this post-Oscars week, thanks to both the insta-meme inspired by her right leg -- and what some considered her surprisingly skinny appearance.
Only the meanest mean girl -- or Karl Lagerfeld -- would publicly call someone "too fat." So why do even the kind-hearted among us feel like it's OK to trash someone for being "too skinny"?
In our culture, calling someone "too skinny" is almost like calling someone "too pretty" -- it can seem like a twisted compliment. People may believe that a woman is skinny because she worked hard to get that way -- as opposed to a woman who is heavier, who might be perceived as someone who would love to weigh less, but hasn't been as successful at dieting. So, we feel for the overweight woman, but not for the overly thin one.
Some people might even be envying the thin one if they are struggling to get their own weight down -- saying she is “too” thin is a way of jealously putting her down.
The truth is, for some, being underweight can be just as distressing as being overweight. There are women who legitimately have trouble keeping weight on and don’t like it -- not to mention, it is also unhealthy. Many women reading this will be saying, “Oh, sure, I’d like to have that problem!”
But the fact is, you wouldn't: It's upsetting and very difficult for women who may be struggling with an eating disorder, depression or illness. And they are often unhappy with their bodies and worried about their health. (Of course, others just might be naturally skinny.)
Skinny-shaming, calling someone -- celebrity or otherwise -- "emaciated" or "stick thin," or telling the person to "eat a sandwich," as the cliché goes, is as unhelpful as fat-shaming. It is our skewed view as a society obsessed with being thin that left us open to commenting on Jolie, forgetting that any extreme in appearance can be a difficult and painful place to be (just ask any adolescent).
A loving discussion from someone known and involved can be a life-saver, whether you are too thin or too overweight. If you notice your friend is seeming to shrink before your eyes, you could try saying something like, “I've noticed you're looking quite a bit thinner recently, and as your friend, I just wanted to check in. If something's wrong, please know I'm here to help you.”
But comments from the public at large should avoided -- or, at the very least, used to empathically understand a real issue that may be going on for many women.
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Dr. Gail Saltz is a New York City psychiatrist and regular TODAY contributor.