I have thin privilege.
I suppose I’ve probably written about this before, but even if so, it’s worth exploring again as my understanding of my own privilege has shifted over time.
First of all, let’s get out of the way what it means to have privilege of any kind, and why it matters that people with privilege acknowledge it.
Having thin privilege just means that a person doesn’t face specific obstacles, challenges, marginalization, or oppression as a result of their weight.
Meaning, since I’ve always been relatively thin, nobody has assumed I’m lazy or stupid based on my weight, I’ve never been passed over for a job due to my weight, I’ve never gotten shitty medical care due to my weight, I’ve always been able to find clothes in my size, and I see other people who look more or less like me represented in films and tv, etc.
That’s not to say I haven’t been presumed to be stupid, or been passed over for a job, of course. It’s just that those things didn’t happen as a result of the size of my body, whereas people living in large bodies experience those challenges and more on a regular basis, due exclusively to the size of their body.
This is where a lot of people (especially those with thin privilege) get stuck, and think… well, fat people deserve those things, because being fat is a choice. They can always lose weight if they don’t want to struggle.
These are very normal thoughts, given the anti-fat biased culture we’re all steeped in! I used to have them too, I get it.
As a thin person, the marginalization and oppression of people living in fat bodies was completely invisible to me, and even when I started to get educated on the patterns of injustice happening daily based on the size of a person’s body, I still felt some resistance to calling it “oppression,” because I was still attached to the lie that weight is a choice, and that being thin is better than being fat.
There is so much wrong with that way of thinking, and I don’t have time or space to get into it in under 1500 words.
For the long version, go read the books Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon, Intuitive Eating by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole, or Body of Truth by Harriet Brown.
The short version is that body diversity is real, being thin is not better than being fat, and nobody deserves to be oppressed no matter what they look like.
Some people live in fat bodies because they live unhealthy lives, yes. But others live in fat bodies due to genetics, natural body diversity, sickness or disability, medications, and (this is the biggest one) a lifetime of dieting in an attempt to lose weight.
Yes you read that right. Due to the way dieting decreases the metabolism, dieting is one of the most common causes of long term weight gain.
Thinness doesn’t equal health, and fatness doesn’t equal lack of health. Even if everyone engaged in fantastically healthy habits starting today, some people would still be fat and have large bodies. Being fat is not inherently unhealthy, problematic, or bad, and a person’s body size doesn’t mean anything about their character or moral status.
Oh, and for the record (in case you were wondering) fat-shaming causes weight gain and decreased health, not weight loss or healthiness.
But to be perfectly frank, even if fatness was automatically unhealthy, and diets worked, it still wouldn’t be ok to treat people in fat bodies as less worthy of autonomy, respect, kindness, happiness, love, or belonging.
Because everyone is worthy of those things, no matter what they look like. Nobody deserves to be bullied, shamed, violated, marginalized, treated badly, or put in danger.
Endless unsolicited advice, food-shaming, and body-shaming by strangers, friends, and family
Less effective medical treatment
Lack of representation in marketing and media, leading to a feeling of not belonging in our society
Encouragement to adopt habits which would be called “eating disorders” in a thin person (restrictive dieting and over-exercising)
Minimal clothes-buying options and representation in mainstream media
Constantly have to overcome biases people have against them, like the idea that they are lazy, stupid, weak-willed, incompetent, untrustworthy, or friendly/nurturing.
The anti-fat bias in our culture is so deeply ingrained that we don’t even notice it. The result is that, while most of us consciously recognize that it’s not ok to shame or endanger people of color, women, disabled people, or transgender people, no such understanding applies to fat people.
Otherwise liberal and compassionate people will explicitly shame, marginalize, and violate the boundaries of people based on the size of their body in a way that would no longer be acceptable for any other physical feature.
Not to mention, it’s nobody else’s business what a person does with their body! Some people smoke cigarettes, some drink too much, some overstress themselves at work, and some eat fast food. None of it is anyone’s business but their own, because we all have complete autonomy over our own bodies.
But also, a person should never have to force themselves to get closer to some false cultural “ideal” in order to be treated with kindness, autonomy, acceptance and respect.
This is why it’s so important to me that I talk about thin privilege– because we live in a world where being thin is praised, celebrated, represented, and held up as the standard for being “worthy” of things like autonomy, love, respect, and belonging.
As a naturally thin (and white, able-bodied, cis-gender, conventionally attractive) person, I have always been praised, celebrated, represented, and taught that I was worthy of things like love, respect, and belonging.
That’s not to say that I always believed I was worthy of those things, of course.
As you probably already know, many thin people still struggle with body image issues, lack of confidence, disordered eating, and body dysmorphia.
(Like I said, privilege doesn’t mean a person will be happy or have an easy life. Anecdotally I’ve even discovered that the closer a person is to the beauty/body “ideal,” the more pressure she feels to fake or achieve her way to perfection.)
But it does mean that even when I hated myself, and compared myself to women who were “more perfect” than me, society didn’t also hate me. Even when I was a nightmare to myself, society was pretty forgiving and supportive, compared to if I had been a fat woman — or, to get really intersectional for a moment — compared to if I had been a fat black woman, or a fat woman with a disability, or a fat black woman with a disability.
By acknowledging my own privilege, I am acknowledging that other people face challenges on a daily basis that they have done nothing to earn, just like how I have done nothing to earn the avoidance of those challenges.
Along with white privilege, able-bodied privilege, and beauty privilege, I have thin privilege.
It’s important to talk about this publicly, because I am a body confidence coach who fights for the rights and equality of people in marginalized bodies, all while living in a thin body.
It can sometimes be misunderstood that my thinness is a part of my message, but it’s not. It just happens to be the body I live in. A big part of my message is that being thin (or hitting any other social-status markers) doesn’t make a person happier, more fulfilled, or more confident– but it can’t be denied that it DOES come with some social advantages.
The truth is that whether I’m eating for pleasure or for health, whether I’m working out or not, I still always have a more or less thin body. This is due to a combination of factors, some of which I was born with, and some of which are the result of my behavior patterns (like the fact that I enjoy being active, and have never dieted) but none of them make me a better, more worthy, more fulfilled, or happier person.
Denying your own privilege is like taking credit for someone else’s work.
It’s like saying: yes, I earned this, and anyone else could be in the exact same situation as me if they tried hard enough.
Denying thin privilege denies the existence of body diversity, continues the myth that diets work, and blames people for their own oppression.
All just to protect our own egos.
Because that’s the thing about privilege, especially thin privilege. We’ve all been encouraged to believe that if we have it, we earned it and are better people. It can feel good to be praised and celebrated, and tempting to let yourself believe that maybe you are smarter and more hard-working and worthy of love than a person in a fat body.
It’s tempting, because it feels good, but it’s a lie. A lie that hurts a lot of people.
If you believe thinness is deserving of celebration, praise, respect, or admiration, then you automatically believe fatness is deserving of shame, disconnection, disrespect, and disgust.
If “fat” isn’t an insult, then “thin” can’t be a compliment. We can’t have it both ways.
So here’s the truth:
I live in a thin body, and that means I automatically have certain privileges that a person living in a fat body doesn’t have. I have not done anything to earn these privileges, just like people in fat bodies have not done anything to be denied them.
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