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Nothing but Skin and Bones

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Don't worry too much about him—after all, he's Batman.

He was very tall and as skinny as a beanpole—so alarmingly thin, in fact, that it looked as if his bones were about to break through his skin.
Jacob about Sergei Andropov, Hollow City

A character is shown as exaggeratedly skinny, usually for any of the following reasons:

Most often Played for Laughs, this is usually just a short Sight Gag with no relevance on the plot. Plot-relevant examples are much less common, and are rarely funny.

Sometimes crosses with Lean and Mean. Serious examples may be the end result of Weight Loss Horror.

Examples of incredibly thin characters with no visible bones instead fall under Noodle People.



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  • An ad for awareness of Anorexia Nervosa showed a sadly undoctored picture of an emaciated Isabella Caro.

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, Alphonse's body has become this, becoming gaunt with emaciation and barely strong enough to stand.
    • When Al is given the chance to get it back (but unable to fight in the final battle as a consequence) he says this line verbatim.
  • Soichiro of His and Her Circumstances had a horribly abusive childhood, receiving constant abuse and neglect at the hands of his mother, never once even getting any amount of affection from her. He was constantly starving and desperate for food, not helped by his mother leaving him locked in their home alone for days at a time, with barely anything to eat. By the time Soichiro is rescued from his mother, he is so emaciated he can barely even walk, his mother having decided to leave him to die at that point.
  • In My Hero Academia, as a result of a horrific injury that cost him some of his internal organs, All Might's real form has been reduced to a sickly skeletal figure. He's been able to use his powers to hide it from the public, but he can only do so for a few hours a day. After he gives his powers to Deku, that time gradually shortens, which complicates things even more when the League of Villains begins repeatedly targeting U.A. After his final battle with All For One, All Might used up the last embers of One For All left within him, leaving him stuck in his skeletal form and forcing him to retire.
  • Nagato, a villain of Naruto, is horribly skinny because of a Dangerous Forbidden Technique of his, which drained his energy. His legs were burned useless just before that. And overall, he uses nothing but techniques that consume huge amounts of Chakra. Here is the result.
  • Brook from One Piece is of course this, since he is literally only a (living) skeleton, but even when he was an actual human with flesh and blood, he was just as skinny as he is currently.
  • "Flighted" Henya, a villain from Rurouni Kenshin, has starved himself down to almost nothing in order to be able to glide freely in the air.
  • Tokyo Ghoul:Re uses this trope with two different characters, to very different effect. The Serial Killer Torso is incredibly skinny, likely as a result of killing to satisfy urges other than his Horror Hunger. In contrast, Shuu Tsukiyama is revealed to have wasted away due to three years of grief-induced starvation. Once he begins to emotionally recover, his physical health improves rapidly and he returns to a normal weight.

    Comic Books 
  • Superboy (1994): S-03, the third failed attempt by Cadmus to clone Superman before they got it right with S-13, had his development stopped and was placed in a stasis looking incredibly emaciated due to something going wrong with the cloning and artificial aging process used to create him.

    Fan Works 
  • Astral Journey: It's Complicated: In Part 9, Melanie is taken again after her second escape attempt, resulting in her being strapped to a wheelchair and bed after being sectioned apart from her injuries. Melanie's body was left in this condition thanks to taking very little to fuel her addiction to exercising, which had already gave her one of two heart attacks.
  • In Coming Back, Broken, Barbara points out that whatever Jim and Claire have been eating in the Darklands lacked a few key nutrients that humans need, being the reason why they have lost an unhealthy amount of weight. A few more months and they would have died of malnutrition.
  • In the Highlander fic The Dragon And His Wrath Duncan, Methos and Joe are captured. Only the mortal Joe is supposed to be fed but Joe shares his food with Duncan because the Highlander has the best shot at defeating the insane immortal who captured them. Methos however doesn’t eat anything for weeks and by the time they escape, Methos is looking like this. Duncan’s internal monologue as he’s getting Methos into the barge describes Methos’ waist being way too small and being able to feel his ribs as he helps him into the barge.
  • Another Highlander fic Welcome Back, has Richie escape from being imprisoned and abandoned. He died repeatedly from starvation and is still bony and way too thin when he’s found. Even after a few weeks, the sequel Long Journey Back has him Rage Against the Reflection and nearly driven to suicide-which for an immortal means trying to hack his head off with broken glass)by how people react to his way too skinny frame when Duncan takes him out for new clothes.

  • Joker (2019): Arthur is painfully emaciated. There's no explicitly stated reason for it, though it can be assumed it's due to his severe depression and other mental illness.
  • The Machinist: Trevor Reznik has become a walking corpse over the years due to repressed guilt slowly driving him insane..
  • Happens to Mark Watney in The Martian by the time he begins his rover journey to the waiting Mars Ascent Vehicle. Non-comedic example, in that it is the result of nearly a year of subsisting on a reduced-calorie diet of home-grown potatoes on a low-gravity planet, leaving his body only the minimum of fat and muscle as it needs to survive.
  • In Se7en one of the serial killer's victims has been reduced to this after a year spent strapped to a bed. The worst part? He's still alive!

  • A serious example: By the time the Golden Ticket tour day arrives in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie and his family have been subsisting on so little food for weeks on end that the boy is described as this in the narration and other characters notice—including Grandpa Joe, who along with the other grandparents was this at the start of the story ("They were as shriveled as prunes, and as bony as skeletons"). Another character who notices is Willy Wonka; during the trip down the chocolate river in the Cool Boat, he gives each of them a mugful of the melted chocolate precisely because they "looked starved to death!" This trope is dropped in adaptations, probably because it's hard to visualize with live actors (especially child actors).
  • The children Ignorance and Want from A Christmas Carol.
    Scrooge: Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask, but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?
    Ghost of Christmas Present: It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it. Look here. [reveals the children]
  • The dead gluttons in The Divine Comedy's Purgatory are starved to the point that each of them looks like a skeleton made out of skin with hollows, uncolored eyes. Their emaciation is so extreme that when The Protagonist, Dante, comes across one of his best friends in childhood and adulthood, Dante can't distinguish the friend from any of the other husks without hearing his voice.
  • In Dragon Bones, the heroes look like this after traveling in a country where they are so disliked that no one will give them food, and fighting bandits on top of it. Not played for drama, as they get something to eat in time, but no one finds it funny, either.
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox: Mr. Bean is the Lean and Mean member of the Big, Thin, Short Trio of antagonists. By all accounts, he never eats, but subsists solely on the cider he makes on his farm.
  • Gaunt's Ghosts: Gaunt notices that Curth looks emaciated after her return from the Gereon mission, where she had suffered many hardships while fighting the Chaos occupational forces. He still finds her attractive, though.
  • In The Goblin Emperor, Maia frequently refers to himself as skinny, with the implication that this makes him ugly. It is not clear whether he is just a rapidly growing teenager, or whether his abusive guardian has been starving him.
  • In the German novel Gottes Bodenpersonal: Eine unwahrscheinliche Liebesgeschichte (God's Ground Personnel: An unlikely lovestory), this is played for drama; one of the characters steps out of the shower in nothing but a towel, and is described as very, very skinny. His lover is concerned about his health, as he's been neglecting self-care in general.
  • Guards! Guards! has the narrator stating that even if someone tried to assassinate Lord Vetinari, they wouldn't have found enough flesh to stick the knife into. As Vetinari's character is more revealed, the audience comes to learn that he eats a strict, limited diet (all the better to avoid poisoning), but he's not unhealthy either.
  • Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, who is dying of an unspecified illness, is described this way.
    "I could see the cage of his ribs all astir, the bones of his arm waving."
  • In The Hunger Games, most of the people from the poorer Districts are systematically underfed and many are reduced to this sort of condition, including Katniss and Prim after their father died and their mother fell into a severe depression.
  • Gollum spends most of The Lord of the Rings traveling at a fast pace through the wilderness with no provisions of his own, and is already famished when he first meets Frodo face-to-face. But he's explicitly described as skin and bones near the end, after crossing the desert plateau of Gorgoroth alone, when even the starving Frodo is able to briefly overpower him in a fight.
  • Played seriously and for laughs in Loyal Enemies with Veres, who becomes nothing but skin and bones after being beaten almost to death and taking weeks to recuperate enough to even be able to eat on his own. Additionally, he uses a long-time healing spell on himself that accelerates his metabolism, turning him into a Big Eater and creating a Running Gag where Veres eats all the party's food without ever looking any better. The spell wears off towards the end of the book, culminating in Shelena's assessment that he ain't all that skinny anymore.
  • In The Quest for Saint Camber, Nigel is described as wasted and frail some two weeks after Conall attacked him with magic and left him in a coma. Since Nigel got no solid food for that period, it's entirely plot justified and not pretty. Morgan and Duncan leave Rhemuth to search for Kelson and Dhugal partly to avoid watching Nigel starve to death.
  • Skulduggery Pleasant:
    • The titular Skulduggery is ridiculously thin as a result of being a literal re-animated skeleton. He has to get his clothes made by his tailor friend just so that they don't hang off him.
    • Carol describes her twin sister Crystal as this, comparing her to Skulduggery above. It's Played for Drama, as her forced loss of weight greatly concerns Carol.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Theon was a tall, good-looking youth of a healthy weight. After spending a little vacation time in the Dreadfort, he comes out some 3 stone (that's 42 pounds or 19 kilograms) lighter both due to muscle atrophy and starvation.
  • The Wheel of Time: Mat spends a little while looking like this while recovering from a deadly Curse, both because of the curse's degenerative effects and because the magical healing that saves him draws heavily on his body's energy to do so. It also gives him an insatiable appetite, so several characters are startled to watch such a sickly-looking beanpole scarf down a whole roast chicken and go back for seconds.
  • Mayfear: Cheryl's best friend Síofra has struggled with anorexia for years, and has been in and out of hospital.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Subverted in an episode of The Drew Carey Show. Drew is on a hunger strike and when Mr. Wick comes to see him at home, Wick finds Drew lying on the couch due to lack of energy and is now extremely skinny. But it turns out that Drew knew Wick was coming over and he got an assist from a pizza delivery man who is naturally extremely skinny. The pizza guy is willing to help because Drew on a hunger strike is costing him business. They lay on the couch together, covered by a blanket, arranged in a way that it looks like Drew's head is on the other guy's body. Wick is initially suspicious that Drew's head is still as fat as always, which is brushed off by explaining head fat is the last thing you lose, which he falls for.
  • Seen on Intervention either because the person has been consuming mostly drugs and little food, or has an eating disorder.

  • Bleed Like Me by Garbage.
    And the kick is so divine when she sees bones beneath her skin.
  • 4st 7lb by Manic Street Preachers.
    A week later all my flesh disappear [sic]
    Stretch taut, cling-film on bone

  • Classical Mythology: Limos, the spirit(s) of famine and starvation were described as women with emaciated, gaunt faces and dehydrated skin.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • A short sequence of some early Dilbert strips observed Dilbert's date with a supermodel, who was drawn as a literal skeleton, and did not eat on their dinner date but instead simply sniffed the mints.
  • In Peanuts, Snoopy's desert-dwelling brother Spike was like this initially. In the first strip where he appeared, he woke up after traveling a long time, and Snoopy announced, "Eggs benedict for my brother Spike!" To which Lucy replied, "Better make that ten pounds of buffalo steak" before he was actually seen. (In later stories, Spike was simply thin.)

  • Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues:
    • Harriet is skinny to a concerning degree, her features described as angular and bony. This is because she's deeply depressed and does little to take care of herself.
    • Ivan's physical description emphasises how skinny and frail he looks, describing his skin as porcelain and his arms as twigs. This can be unnerving for other characters, even though Ivan is actually a Nice Guy.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the Dungeons & Dragons Splat book The Book of Vile Darkness, there are several Willing Deformity Feats that the evilest of characters can take, including Gaunt, which makes the character disturbingly thin (and actually grants a few benefits, but a few liabilities too).
  • In the Forgotten Realms setting, Chosen Ones are humans transformed into humanoid monsters by the Red Wizards of Thay. They are downright morbidly thin, to the point where basically look like flesh-colored skeletons.
  • Princess: The Hopeful: Darkened with the Hunger Means Nothing Umbra will not die from deprivation, but they do grow inhumanly emaciated and are somewhat weaker than a properly fed human.
  • In the Scarred Lands campaign setting, worshippers of Gaurak the Glutton become fatling, obese abominations reflecting the titan's appearance. However, fatlings who prove failures turn into gauntlings, which are even more hideous, tall, impossibly thin and gaunt, nearly mindless beings who more successful fatlings use as slaves.

    Video Games 
  • In American McGee's Alice, several characters, including the Cheshire Cat and White Rabbit, look horribly gaunt and malnourished, due to The Corruption that has blighted all of Wonderland.
  • Overlaps with Lean and Mean for Bendy and the Ink Machine's eponymous Big Bad, Bendy, whose ribs can be seen and whose spine juts out of his back.
  • Fans were a bit surprised when a trailer for Final Fantasy VII Remake showed Cloud, who's normally depicted as being fairly well-built, had been redesigned to look unsettlingly thin, sinewy and sickly. Some of the fanbase were not happy with the change, while others thought it was a perfect fit for his characterization at that point. For those not in the know, prior to the start of the game Cloud had spent years locked in a jar as a lab specimen.
  • The Sheikah Shrine Monks in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, who have spent 10,000 years meditating in their chambers to give Link their Spirit Orbs, are portrayed this way. What with Sheikah culture having a fantasy Japan inspiration, they are meant to be a reference to real life Sokushinbutsu monks who starved themselves to death while meditating and underwent self-mummification.
  • Six's legs and severe starvation in Little Nightmares leave no doubt that she is extremely skinny.
  • A very stark example comes with Red Dead Redemption 2 Arthur Morgan starts out as a powerfully built, broad shouldered man that is in the prime of his life. After he contracts TB, it becomes harder for the player to maintain his ‘perfect’ weight. In the terminal stages, it becomes impossible for Arthur to keep any weight on at all, and he becomes painfully thin and frail looking.

  • Issue 8 of Flying Suit Reiko has Reiko getting her overweight friend Potchari to take a fitness test for her so she can take diet pills she's inelligible for and throughout the story she gets skinnier and skinnier.
  • Slimy Thief: Absorbing water can cause Aisha to swell up but losing water, especially a lot of it, can cause her to shrivel to emaciated state. After a some adventuring and drinking Aisha comes in her fat form but after an extremely long bathroom break, she walks out of the toilet just skin and bones much to Camilia's horror since she is unaware of Aisha's power.
  • SWAP Ensemble: Patrick Tempo is tiny for his age and always wears a thick black coat. He is visibly irritated when his sister takes off his jacket, but he is wearing long sleeves that time. Someone on the smaller side can completely wrap a hand around his arm. The next time his jacket is off, he is wearing short sleeves. The skin on his forearms sinks between the bones.
  • Sinjal/Crippled from Wurr is very, very skinny. While not underfed per se (not anymore than, say, Morri) he has severe disgestion problems.

    Western Animation 
  • In Adventure Time, The Ice King is actually very skinny under his robe. Though sometimes he's very fat, depending on what's funnier or more pathetic.
    • In a rare serious example of the trope, "All Your Fault" features two frighteningly gaunt, starving Lemongrabs.
  • In American Dad! Stan becomes extremely worried about his weight and image after the family points out that he's arguably just as fat as Steve's new girlfriend, Debbie Hyman (an overweight goth girl), and he goes on an extreme diet and exercise regime, even getting a verbally abusive fitness trainer named Zack (later revealed to be just a figment of his imagination). At first glance, Stan's regime doesn't seem to be working, as he's somehow getting progressively fatter, and it might be due to his family sabotaging his diet as payback for mocking Debbie. But, after the family does some research, it turns out that the episode was seen Through the Eyes of Madness and that Stan had actually developed anorexia (and had been wasting away to nothing).
  • In the Brandy & Mr. Whiskers episode "Wolfie: Prince of the Jungle" Brandy has a bunch of fashion magazines on the floor. One of them has a literal skeleton on it.
  • Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck have been known to show skinnier frames under their skins to try to deter those who wish to eat them.
    Bugs: (To Taz) Look! No meat!
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Hearts and Hooves Day", the Cutie Mark Crusaders have an Imagine Spot where a famine strikes Ponyville and when background pony Lily Valley momentarily stands up right in front of the "camera" she suddenly has protruding ribs and a concave stomach.
  • In one Quick Draw McGraw cartoon, a wild mountain lion (an early version of Snagglepuss) steals one of Quick-Draw's biggest, fattest sheep, then shears it down to prepare it for dinner. It is then that he discovers that the sheep is rail thin underneath its wool.
  • In an episode of The Ren & Stimpy Show, the duo are starving and Ren opens his skin to show there's literally no fat, just bone. Then Stimpy opens his skin to show he's nothing but skin and fat.
  • Happens to Cartman, of all people, in an episode of South Park. To elaborate: the kids were setting up a play on the Passion of the Christ, and Cartman insisted on playing Jesus. Since it's Passion of the Christ, crucifixion is customary, and eventually Cartman gets crucified, but Stan and Kyle end up forgetting him there for days. When Cartman manages to get down from the cross and his friends see him again, he's looking pretty malnourished, even by normal standards.

    Real Life 
  • The victims of Nazi Germany, Josef Stalin and other notorious regimes throughout history have been found in this condition. Systematic starvation is a common tool employed against people targeted by such regimes.
  • Tuberculosis wasn't known as Consumption for nothing.
  • A very unfortunate case of Truth in Television, victims of prolonged starvation or illness (e.g. cancer, AIDS) will really wither away down to a flap of skin over a malnourished skeleton. This is also the case of people with anorexia.
  • "Shrink-wrapped dinosaur syndrome" is a phrase that refers to the tendency for paleo-artists to depict dinosaurs this way because they use the skeletons as reference and forget to account for muscle and fat. The resulting animal looks bony and emaciated.
  • The late Filipino comedian-actor Palito capitalized on his thin, "walking corpse"-like appearance to deliver laughs during the seventies and eightiesnote . He even starred in parodies of Western action films such as Rambutonote  and James Bone.


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