I rarely talk about thin privilege. A couple of days ago I dipped my toe into the thin privilege waters in my post about an article written by a woman who is traditionally thin but feels fat and it kind of reinforced why I don’t.
I was so worried about being accused of invalidating her feelings that I mentioned five separate times that thin women in general, and this woman specifically, who suffer because they feel fat have every right to feel that way and talk about it. I owned the fact that upon my first reading of the piece I projected, inferred and assumed in a way that wasn’t cool. I said specifically that I understand that our culture leaves almost nobody unscathed. I mentioned thin privilege once and all I asked was that people consider the effect of their words on fat people who are subject both to the issues of feeling fat and to institutionalized oppression. I also suggested that it might be appropriate to have some spaces that are weight neutral and free from fat shame, negative body talk, and diet talk.
It seems that some commenters somehow took this to mean that I thought she didn’t have the right to feel how she felt or say what she said and that, by extension I was somehow saying that they didn’t have the right to feel that way or speak about it, or that their feelings weren’t important. I even got comments telling me what I “should” have said or what the “appropriate” way for me to respond would have been (oh, Underpants Rule, why are you so difficult to follow?)
The reason I don’t typically talk about thin privilege is that the philosophy of the diversity work that I’ve been trained to facilitate discourages “calling out” privilege – not because it’s not our right to do so, but because from an outcome-based standpoint “calling out” often leads to a defensive reaction that reinforces the belief that we are trying to challenge, and makes people less likely to do want to do anti-oppression work, or you kickstart a round of the “Oppression Olympics” wherein people spend time arguing about who is oppressed more rather than fighting together against oppression.
So I was planning to just let it go but then I got a comment that said “To some people, if you don’t have the body of a Victoria’s Secret model …you might as well be 400 lbs in their eyes.” and another that said “Discussing “skinny privilege” is just as bad as any fat shaming – it’s skinny shaming.” That’s when I decided it was probably worth it to clarify and take one more stab at it, with the understanding that, while I appreciate it when thin people acknowledge their privilege, I don’t think acknowledging thin privilege is nearly as important as being willing to work for size acceptance, since dismantling the oppression of people of size will dismantle the privilege whether people acknowledge it or not.
First, discussing thin privilege is absolutely not thin shaming. Thin shaming occurs when people say things like “She needs to eat a sandwich”, or “real women have curves.” It’s something that I speak out against on a regular basis and I have taken my share of criticism from some facets of the Size Acceptance community for doing so (I even got ejected from a Size Acceptance Facebook Group and told that I should just start a thin acceptance group if that’s how I felt) and have never, and will never, back down from my position.
Discussing thin privilege is being honest about the realities of modern society and culture, which include the fact that even if a thin person feels that they “might as well be 400 pounds,” and I would never argue with their description of their experience, their cultural experience will be very different than that of a person who actually is 400-pounds. To be clear, thin privilege is not something that thin people ask for, it is conferred. Having thin privilege does not mean that women who are thin are not hurt by a cultural stereotype of beauty that is unattainable, or that they don’t have a right to feel or express their feelings about that – they are and they do. The concept of thin privilege is about acknowledging that fat people deal with that, and also deal with institutionalized oppression like:
- Seats in restaurants, planes, movie theaters etc. are often not made to accommodate us and if we point that out we are often subjected to shame and/or additional costs
- We can find a limited supply of clothes in a limited number of styles and a limited number of stores. Often a fat person can be at a large shopping mall and be unable to find a single piece of clothing in their size, let alone find something that fits their personal taste and style
- Courts use our body size as part of determining if we are fit parents.
- We can find articles in the media daily suggesting that we are to blame for everything from global warming to healthcare costs. These are typically completely without evidence, even contrary to the evidence that exist,s and yet they are reported as fact and repeated to us by family, friends, coworkers, doctors and others
- The government has organized public and private interests to wage a war against us because of our size. They are encouraging people to stereotype us based on how we look, assume that we are a drain on society and support our eradication, by force if necessary, to make things “cheaper”.
- When we speak up and say that our experiences are being misrepresented, we are told that thin people are more competent witnesses to our experiences than we are, and that we have no right to speak up for ourselves.
- People moo at us at the gym, throw things at us from cars, refuse to hire us, fire us without cause, confront us about what they assume our choices are in public places
- It can be impossible for us to get good medical care because doctors don’t listen to or believe us. I’ve personally been prescribed weight loss for a broken toe, separated shoulder, strep throat and anemia. There are entire forums online dedicated to fat people’s stories of mistreatment by the people who are supposed to be entrusted with our health.
- We are told that the cure for all of this societal stigma, oppression and bullying is to become thin.
- Studies suggest that even if we manage to beat the odds and become thin, we will continue to be subjected to discrimination that women who have always been thin will not.
- Find more examples at This is Thin Privilege
If you have thin privilege I am fully aware that you didn’t ask for it, and that it doesn’t protect you from a society that is poison when it comes to self-esteem and body image. In the end I am a very outcome-based activist and so, though I definitely appreciate it when people acknowledge their thin privilege, thereby acknowledging the institutional oppression that fat people face (as I try to be aware of and acknowledge my own privilege in other realms), it’s much more important to me that we change the culture that hurts us all, than that thin people agree that they benefit from thin privilege. Oppression of any of us hurts all of us so I’d rather fight oppression together than fight each other about thin privilege.
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70 thoughts on “What’s This Thin Privilege Thing?”
I hope none of my comments have been misleading or misinterpreted. I made the comment about 400 lbs and that was only to show that thin people are often fat shamed by having a less than perfect body by whatever individual that comes along to judge them and how extreme their fat hate is. Maybe I should have included that I know of course the hate made towards actual fat people are greater in number because there IS thin privilege. Most of society holds thin as ideal and fat as bad and that is an indisputable fact. I recognize that much of my life has been easier due to being thin, and that thin shaming is not the same as fat shaming. I have been trying not to discuss too much about “thin shaming” because I understand that fat people want a safe place to discuss things without having to hear judgement or hear about thin people problems. I just don’t like hearing, as you call it, about the oppression olympics. I’m not interested in about how any group is treated worse than another group like it’s some contest to see who is the biggest victim of society. The way I see it, each individual’s experiences are going to be different depending on a lot of factors and yeah, we can say that some groups of people are oppressed more than others but I personally think that to fight body shame in the best way, let’s stay on the same team and fight body shame and hate as a whole and stop trying to divide each other by arguing about who gets the worst treatment. That’s just my opinion.
Have to add one more to the bulleted list — it can be impossible to get good medical care because insurance companies deny health care coverage based *solely* on weight. Without regard to blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, heart rate, whether you smoke, etc etc. Just: if you weigh more than [x], we will not cover you.
And this is not new. About 25 years ago as one of my first jobs in the big world I worked for an attorney who was a solo practitioner. Obviously no health insurance carrier would issue a policy for two employees. So I looked about for coverage on my own. The charts all said the same thing: 175 lbs and under, yes. 176 lbs and over, no.
Yep. I’ve been denied coverage because of my weight.
When I was looking for individual coverage in my 20s, I got rejected because of my weight and a pre-existing condition: anemia. The cost was $700/mo. 10 years ago, when I finally found someone who would cover me. Ridiculous. Luckily my current doctor doesn’t harp on weight as a cause for unrelated issues. She pays attention to my numbers.
Me too. Denied medical coverage when I was in my early 30s because I weighed over 180 lbs. Embarrassing and enraging. Luckily I am now working for an organization where everyone is covered regardless of weight, pre-existing conditions, etc. As it should be.
Isn’t your message that no one should judge another person’s body? Period. At least that’s what I’ve taken away from reading your blog. And it’s made me very conscious of the thoughts that run through my mind (and are becoming less and less) focusing on physical appearance. None of us know what’s happening in another person’s underpants…so keep out of it.
I definitely take the “don’t judge another person’s body” message from Ragen’s blog, too. But she’s not confined to just one message, right?
I certainly never meant to imply that Ragen’s only message was don’t just people by their bodies. Simply that that is something has really stuck with me. As a judged fat woman, I have responded by judging everyone back. I like that I am now conscious of it and am trying to change that.
Yes – I do believe that we shouldn’t judge another person’s body. However pointing out thin privilege is neither judging, nor shaming, and it’s not about the other person’s body – it is about a culture that’s constructed to suit that person’s body (in all the ways that I listed in the bullets and many others) and how that makes their experience different than someone whose body is the source of their oppression (see the list). It’s the same as the fact that it’s not being racist to point out that I enjoy privileges as a white person (for example, based on their laws I would never be pulled over in Arizona and asked to prove my legality to be in this country.)
The intention of pointing out privilege is to point out the cultural constructs that support oppression so that the people benefiting from them can be aware of them and help dismantle them. The reason that I don’t think it’s very effective is because of the defensiveness that gets in between the pointing out stage and the dismantling stage. If someone points out that I have white privilege and my immediate response is “No I don’t, there’s no such thing, you’re being racist let me tell you about how hard it is for white people…” (not that that’s what you’re doing in your comment, but what happens when people get defensive) then what’s happened is that I’ve reinforced in myself the idea that the cultural constructs that support racism don’t exist, I’ve derailed the conversation about destroying racism, no work has gotten done, and I’m less likely to do anti-racism work. That’s why I don’t talk about it very much.
Ragen, I am not arguing about thin privilege. I know it exists. Just as I know white privilige exists–as a mother of black children I am acutely aware of the racism that exists in our country. But try to point it out–as you have with the thin privilige discussions–and people become very very uncomfortable. No one wants to do it. No one wants to believe it exists. Thank you for speaking up.
Gotcha So sorry I misunderstood your original comment, and thanks for clarifying. You’re awesome 🙂
Thin privilege is no different than straight privilege, or white male privilege. It is the cultural assumption that a person who meets the criteria is the norm and all others are aberrant and somehow substandard. It is, in my opinion, another form of classism. Many fat people have also experienced being thought of as less intelligent, less talented and less sophisticated simply by being fat.
And I understand ‘feeling fat’ regardless of the weight I am. My body size fluctuates due to health issues and has most of my life. Even at the times when I am considered ‘thin’, I have had moments when I have felt fat. To this day, I still have those moments and I am fat. I recognize those moments for what they are, culturally induced self shaming, take a deep breath and move on with my life. I refuse to apologize for being myself, no matter what our culture tries to enforce through constant bombardment.
I understood your position, even if it did get a little jumbled with all the comments I read. Different people interpret different things, especially when they feel they have to be defensive about it. Sometimes no amount of explaining can be enough–other times it is.
There is a blog I read about a woman who has body image issues even though she’s thin and pretty enough to wear a bikini (and has). Sometimes I have trouble reading the stuff she writes because I just want to yell at her and shake her and tell her that her body image issues are completely imaginary, that she HAS no body problems and shouldn’t be writing or thinking like that. But I always catch myself–who am I to think or tell someone that they should or shouldn’t feel a certain way? I acknowledge the fact that she feels not-that-great about herself, but at the same time I burn with jealousy because she-can-wear-a-bikini for pete’s sake! In public! I’m still struggling with this. And I feel awful because I know that I appreciated her writings more before I found out that she was thin–and I know that’s wrong.
To me, it’s a serious challenge trying to acknowledge the feelings of someone that DOES fit into the “thin/beautiful” demand of our culture who expresses the same self-consciousness that I do. But at least I recognize it, right? And I certainly haven’t stopped reading her blog since I realized she was thin because that’s not what body acceptance is about. It’s just so hard to explain.
… and pretty enough to wear a bikini…
I’m just going to throw this out there: Everyone gets to wear a bikini (in appropriate locations) if they want to. It is not necessary to meet any arbitrary standard of “pretty enough.” 🙂
“Oppression Olympics.” I like that!
The closest parallel I can think of are the idiotic people- mostly journalists – I have read over the past week decrying people contributing to Karen Klein’s vacation fund (she is the bus monitor from Greece, NY who was bullied by her middle-school charges). Warning: If you google for the video, it’s horrible; 10 minutes long, and I could only watch about 1.
Anyway, I have read several articles whining about how people could contribute money to this lady when there are children starving, homeless people, kids being abused, yada yada. As if contributing to charities is a “zero-sum” game, whereby if you contribute to one, you are not allowed to contribute to any others! I find that disgusting.
Ditto the “Oppression Olympics.” It’s as though when someone points out oppression of some person or group, there’s a Greek chorus insisting it isn’t nearly as bad as the oppression suffered by Group X or Person Y. Folks, oppression – especially when based on someone’s physical characteristics – is uniformly bad and should be called out and fought when we see it.
Thinner people can be ‘fat’ shamed to the point that it effects their lives in that way. I was in college and ‘normal’ weight by BMI, not Hollywood thin. I had people make vicious comments as they passed me on the street. I’ve been humiliated by people in gyms especially the staff. I’ve been called names to the degree that Karen Klein was when in high school with most comments being about my weight. It wasn’t an one time thing. It happened more than once a week in high school and college even when I was trapped on a bus.
My grandmother would frequently say things, “like you would be such a pretty girl if you lost a few pounds.” She said during the few months that I stayed with her, “How could you be so fat and eat so little?” I guess I should be complimented that she didn’t think I ate food in private. My father would call my rare friends thin that wore the same size clothing as I did. My doctors when I went to see them for ear infections and stomach issues would give me weight loss diet.
I got weight loss advice from a doctor when I was so thin that I stopped having periods, had stomach upsets all the time, and was shivering in the 90 heat. I also had exercise bulimia at the time, but I don’t think anyone called it that. I was normal weight, not fat at the time, again by BMI. I gain back a few pounds by eating again and not exercising extremely and all my systems went away. My doctor at the time, implied that I should eat even less handing me a 1200 diet.
I should have had ‘thin privilege’ but I didn’t. I’m sure I’m not the only curvy, ‘literally’ big boned girl out there. When I was at my thinnest weights, still to heavy for family and doctors, my bones struck out. I’m now middle aged and gained a few pounds making me ‘overweight’ but I’ve had thin privilege and still do since I was over twenty-four outside of a few doctors and nurses that only can see numbers on a scale and not the body in front of them.
I had these things happen to me too. I weighed 130 pounds at five foot five-ish (have since grown to just shy of 5 foot seven, for what it’s worth) and was told by a doctor that I could stand to lose weight. I also had a guy that I had a crush on tell me that he’d want to go out with me if I wasn’t so “fat.” Way to reinforce the eating disorder that I’d had since age 12, guys.
If I could find this guy now, I’d power slam him into the ground with my currently 295 pound self. When I think back on that, I wonder what the hell I saw in him at all.
I made a few mistakes in this post. I didn’t say degrees after the 90 and I said systems instead of symptoms. I also didn’t mention that I was mortifying by this nearly constant teasing that I didn’t think about guys wanted to date me for years. I thought they had been put up to it. This kind of abuse cut one’s self worth to nothing. I didn’t matter that I was a size 5 to 9 and of ‘normal’ weight on the height/weight charts of the time.
I just want to tell you, the world did this to me too, when I was a kid. I’ve come to think it MUST have been some sort of government experiment that my parents were partaking in, because it made no freaking sense AT ALL. I was the same size as my sister, only I hit puberty earlier and was more womanly than she was. It is mind boggling now and my biggest regret issue in my life… listening to those crazy people in the first place!
The reason I talked about this is that ‘traditional thin’ people might not have thin privilege. They might be called fat by family, medical personnel, classmates (co-workers) and strangers all the time. They might be mocked at gyms. You can’t look at someone and know that these things. I’m glad this stuff stopped when I was in my early twenties for the most part outside my dad and a few asshole nurses.
It took me about three years after this abuse stopped to believe my dates when they said I was beautiful. To learn to take a compliment. I still don’t enter gyms. I feel uncomfortable in pools, but I do it anyway. I have to tell myself occasionally when a man says I’m beautiful, that he really means it.
You can experience all of that and still have some thin privilege. It’s not an either-or thing. There were still things that very fat people have happen to them that did not happen to you.
I am fat, 235 and 5’1″, morbidly obese with a BMI of 44.4. And I still have more than privilege than some of my friends who are significantly bigger. You didn’t have no thin privilege at all, you had less thin privilege.
You make an excellent point. The parameters of privilege are pretty flexible. As a size 18/20 woman, whose weight is very proportionate, I think am afforded a certain amount of body privilege in our society. Why should this be? I have no control over where I gain and/or lose weight, yet I have heard many well meaning comments praising my body (and, either explicitly or by inference, putting down other people’s shapes.) I didn’t ask for it, I don’t know how I got it, but I am certainly aware of this body privilege.
Absolutely. When I weighed 200 lbs, I hated my body right along with the rest of the world. I had family members shaming me, doctors telling me I would never get pregnant unless I lost weight, insurance companies refusing me health coverage, a random stranger came up to me in the street and snorted like a pig in my ear, a group of teenagers yelled “get out of the road fat bitch” from their car …
And yet. My body was proportionate, I never had trouble finding clothes, I never got turned away for a job because I was fat, I never had trouble fitting in an airplane seat, a movie theater seat, or buckling the seat belt on my Honda car. I wasn’t constantly having strangers bump into me as if I wasn’t there, or ignored in stores as if I just don’t exist.
Now that I weigh 300+, all of the things in that 2nd paragraph are true and more. But I am really absolutely 100% clear about what thin privilege I had back at 200 lbs. I was discriminated against, sure, but I still was treated as if I were a *person*.
Just wanted to say I don’t know why anyone is getting the wrong impression. I understood you perfectly and you were very clear. Personally, I found it very hard to believe that privilege exists – for example, white privilege. No one has ever given me something because I was white! Then I read Peggy McIntosh’s article on White Privilege. While not everything on the list is true (I can’t be sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford in which I would want to live) there are many things on the list that I would never have thought of as privileges – unless of course I didn’t have them. Many things on the list could be applied to people of size, too, of course. I wonder if it might not be more effective to phrase thin privilege in terms of what thin people can expect than what happens to not-thin people. For example, “Thin people can get on an airplane and not have to worry about whether the seats will be large enough or whether they will need to ask for a seat belt extender.”
Privilege clicked for me when I realized I have skin privilege (at least as far as acne goes, I do have fairly severe psoriasis, but as far as as my face is concerned, I am blessed with skin privilege).
But I didn’t think I had skin privilege, I thought I “earned” it by taking care of skin. My very “difficult” regime consisted of washing my face in the shower and putting on a little moisturizer.
Why did other people have bad skin? Because they didn’t put in the “work” I did and of course because they ate the wrong things. (Yes, I can’t believe I thought this, fortunately, human decency kept me from sharing my opinions with others.)
My husband doesn’t have skin privilege and I nagged him about washing his face, but I felt like he just wasn’t putting in any effort at all. But then I really paid attention to his habits and it all clicked for me. That’s what thin people think about me, I must be lying about what I eat and how much I exercise because I’m fat.
It was a good lesson for me, I wish I could spread that lesson to others.
Thanks for that comment, it’s always so cool to see the principles of size acceptance applied in new and unusual (but accurate) ways.
I see what you mean. I always felt that thin people looked at me and thought to themselves, “I eat X and am not fat so she must be eating XXX to get that fat”. As wrong as it is….that is how some think of fat people.
What a great analogy! Also linked to physiological conditions rather than anything we really have any control over, despite constant media information telling us otherwise and trying to sell us something. Thanks for this!
As a black woman, I see white privilege all the time. In certain stores, I find the staff ignores me or follows me around like I might steal something or whatever they have in their head. They are “ultra-attentive.” And I see other people who walk by with no attention. And it isn’t the attention you get when you look like you are a big spender.
In conferences for work, I have had people comment or come up to me and say “you are so articulate, and you really know what you are talking about.” if I made a comment in a session or during Q&A. I have never thought to go up to someone and say “wow you understand the topic well” during a conference.
If I mention I went to college, certain type of people are shocked and surprised. Growing up, I had people doubt that I lived in the neighborhood I grew up in, because it was an upper middle class area, and most other african americans in the city lived in poorer areas.
I have even had people comment on the way I speak, and how it didn’t sound “ghetto” or like “ebonics.”
People make a lot of assumptions based on your appearance: race, size and/or gender.
But if you experience privilege, it is just daily life for you. You think that everyone is treated the same way no matter what.
I think that sometimes we as a people assume that if things aren’t 100% great for us, that any group we might belong too can’t possibly have any sort of privilege. To me that can be so dangerous because those privileges absolutely do exist. I won’t go into a list of privileges that I see on a daily basis, but there are frequent times that I have to stop myself and tell myself, “Check your privilege, Karen.”
You are right that when we call others out on their privilege we run the risk of making them defensive and lose our chance to fight together because we’re too busy fighting against each other.
I would also like to point out the irony that I apparently can’t spell privilege without some spell check help. 😛
This is why, whenever discussions around privilege come up around me, I make it a point to point out that:
1) Privilege is not about saying that members of privileged groups are bad people;
2) Privilege is not about individuals, it’s about trends across groups, and
3) There are very few people in the world who belong to only privileged or only non-privileged groups. Most people belong to a mix of privileged and non-privileged groups.
It doesn’t always help. But if the person you’re talking to is reasonable, sometimes it does.
That does help, actually. When people have pointed out my privilege before it has seemed to be an attack. It has seemed to say, “You are not successful because of your own work or habits but because you were born lucky. Only people without your advantages can be true successes because they have had to overcome what you cannot even imagine.” It left me feeling like a fake, a secret failure, and a bad person who took advantage of others to steal a high place in society.
The way you have put it is very helpful in getting me to think outside the context of my personal experience and think in terms of larger trends.
I see this – people assuming that if their lives aren’t perfect they can’t possibly be benefiting from any form of privilege – ALL. THE. TIME.
And, alas, I lost a friend earlier this summer for calling her out on her thin privilege. I don’t know exactly what that triggered for her but it was big and it was bad and it involved way more aspects of life than body size. Didn’t accomplish anything constructive and caused us both a great deal of pain.
Right there with you. I lost a whole group of friends when I asked someone to consider whether her dislike of Michele Obama not smiling was rooted in social constructs that demand black women smile constantly to make white people (and white women in particular) comfortable. Apparently by pointing out that social construct I was calling her a racist.
Yep, I had that too. I met a girl last summer at a writing program and we started becoming friends, but I started complaining in front of her about some thin-privilege issues (as I see them) in the fashion world, because I assumed that since we were both plus-sized we would be on the same page (not a great assumption). She disagreed and ended up getting really defensive about plus-sized clothes and weight loss and it was just a terrible experience.
All bodies are beautiful. The simple act of accepting yourself and enjoying/appreciating the biodiversity of the human race, regardless of how “different” it might be, is one of the most radical acts of activism that you can engage in.
That said, it is completely different to have privilege and say, “someone called me a mean name, so it’s ok if I call those people OVER THERE a mean name to feel better about how I was treated badly” (what are we, in kindergarten?) or in fact support the current system of oppression and suffering that directly affects things like….HEALTH AND SAFETY of those with less privilege.
It’s not just a question of being “worried that someone will call you fat”- it’s a question of being possibly assaulted or attacked PHYSICALLY by others because of your body size (especially in school, where being the “fat kid” has become such a stigma that many obese children are targeted for violence while the teachers and administrators look the other way because they “deserved” it for being fat- as though being attacked is going to give them an incentive to lose weight!!). It’s like being a woman and being told by men that you should just “not lead men on” or “don’t look so sexy” to prevent rape, even though the majority of rapes are committed by people who know EXACTLY WHAT THEY ARE DOING and who generally are considered close to their rape victims.
It’s being forced to think and strategize your day out in terms of your accessibility and safety in a public space- can you hold hands with your loved one or will random people think “oh gross, gay people showing affection” and THEN use that to come over and hurt you and your partner (which has happened)?
The absolute RAGE and ENTITLEMENT that people feel to randomly invade the space and safety of those without privilege is something that people with privilege simply have to “worry” about losing, not actually directly deal with on a regular basis.
A man who wears gender normative clothing only has to “fear” what people think if he wears a dress in public, but a man who wears a dress in public is in very real danger of being murdered simply for looking “wrong”. All of this stuff pours into itself, and it cuts in all directions, hurting everyone.
So why can’t people understand that hey, getting to a place where we’re all suffering less is a GOOD thing? Why can’t thin people understand that if they stop holding onto the “thin is better” mantra of our society, that losing the “superiority” of being “more attractive” also means losing the shame or fear of losing that superiority by gaining weight or the hatred and shame of body dysmorphia that many thinner people still experience because the mantra of our society seems to be “you can always be thinner, richer and more popular”?
We are playing a zero sum game where people compare each other to a scale of worth based on outward physical markers and how well someone adheres to certain social and physical tropes/stereotypes. I suppose it’s just a big question I have to ask- why isn’t it worth it for everyone to sit down and collectively realize that hey, the status quo is *really fucked up* and it’s hurting everyone to some degree, and hurting is bad for everyone, so let’s figure out some ways to make the world safe and accessible for *everyone* so that we don’t have huge sections of our population worried about leaving the house simply because of the breadth of logistics that they have to process just to go and pick up a loaf of bread?
It just makes me feel really sad to see people hating themselves and using that as a reason to spread that pain and misery to others, regardless of their justifications for that pain they hold within themselves. I acknowledge that others have been hurt, but I just can’t agree with people who somehow think that this gives them a license to spread abuse to others.
Man, why must human-ing be so damn hard?
I hope you don’t mind that I am quoting you on this. Specifically that letting go of being the best means letting go of the fear of not being the best. Brilliant!
People go immediately on the defensive whenever they hear they have some kind of privilege. We all have it in some ways, and don\’t have it in others. I have privilege by being white, cis and able-bodied, for example, but I don\’t have it by being a women and fat. Whether or not you HAVE a certain privilege isn\’t what makes you a good or bad person, it\’s what you choose to do with it. Being aware that it exists is the first step, though.
I don’t know why there are slashes in there.
Ragen, I love your blog and look forward to reading your posts everyday! I really like your perspective on body size acceptance and all your hard work as an activist! I usually don’t post on fat acceptance blogs because I feel out of place coming from the other extreme of the BMI scale at “under-weight,” but since the topic is thin privilege I wanted to give another point of view.
I found your blog after a particularly bad day coming home from my health insurance mandated doctor visit. I feel healthy and just wanted the doctor to sign off my health insurance paper-work, but all she could focus on was my “under-weight problem” and ignored the fact that I have been under-weight all my life and have been at the same weight for the last 10 years. Every other question she asked me was “Are you sure you don’t have an eating disorder?” and after my fifth answer “NO,” she insisted on getting my thyroid levels checked (which came back normal by the way). Before I left, she told me that my weight will interfere with me getting pregnant even though I never told her what my child-bearing plans were.
I am sharing my story because after coming home feeling like something must be wrong with me since I can’t gain enough weight to have a “normal BMI,” your blog helped me realize that BMI is a bad measurement and health comes in ALL shapes and sizes! What turned me to fat acceptance was what I had in common with body size discrimination and the message to love your body as it is, not thin privilege which mostly highlights the differences.
FWIW, I’m glad you posted. I think life is always better when we can see each other’s perspectives, I hope you contine to comment.
That doctor was completely out of line, I’m sorry you had to go through that. My mom is very small and my dad is trying to get her to gain weight and that’s been hard to watch. I told her she’s a grown woman and since she goes for a physical every year she could talk to her doctor about it or just tell my dad to shut up; I doubt she’ll do either, but I want her to know I’m on her side.
One of my best friends in high school was the proverbial stick figure. She ate plenty, she was just naturally skinny like her parents. Well, that didn’t stop herfrom giving birth to two boys after college. When I saw her last she was still super skinny. Sure, underweight can affect your ability to get pregnant, but it is ridiculous to assume you will have that problem without a proper assessment. Pretty asinine of that doctor.
For me it comes down to attitude. When I was thin, (for the 2 short years) people acknowledge me, I wasnt ignored, and sometimes I would get ‘extra’, meaning, products,food, doors held open. It was different. The attitudes were much nicer. I would even think to myself, “I wonder if that person would be so kind to me if I was fat”. It didnt take long. As soon as I started gaining weight, the attitudes came with it. I looked inside myself and wondered if I was just looking for bad attitudes from people, but not so. It is one thing to have do deal with someone with a bad attitude and quite another to have to deal with bullying. But both hurt. And I was hurt that no matter how much weight I lost, it was never good enough. We are so flawed as humans. I know for me I have to check my attitude with others. I work very hard on finding commonality instead if finding differences. As Ragen has said many times, it is the society that needs to change and accept us as we are.
I had the same experience. At age 23 I starved myself down to a slightly-curvy slender figure. Strangers started talking to me. Men started conversations by saying stupid things that were supposed to be humorous and engaging. I was hit on at parties and leered at by some of my professors. It was — weird! Like one of those movies where a person gets switched into another person’s body. The hard part was I didn’t have the skills to discourage creepy people. The best part was walking down the street without fear of harassment for being fat. I used to walk all over, all the time.
That was always one of the things that made me uncomfortable about losing weight. Before hitting 45 and finding size acceptance, I was a yo-yo dieter. When I got down to lower weights, I’d always have guys hitting on me. I don’t know that it would happen any more, since I quit dyeing my hair and am prematurely gray.
Because of my mental health issues, I stopped allowing romantic or sexual interactions in my life back in 2000. I don’t like casual sex and I tend to become very clingy and jealous with significant others. Borderline personality disorder is very bad this way. Because of this, it makes me extremely uncomfortable when men hit on me. I think I’m actually less uncomfortable with women hitting on me, because I can just say “I’m flattered but I’m straight,” and they get a clue. If I say I’m a lesbian, that just makes the stupid guys hit on me even more!
I know not all guys are clueless idiots, but I have sadly encountered my fair share.
Great post! People definitely get knee jerk defensive about ANY kind of privilege (race, sexuality, ableism, gender, etc) because they automatically feel as if though it’s some kind of attack and that leads them to bring up THEIR personal hardships and/or other forms of oppression. But you can (and most people are) be privileged in some ways and not in others. It’s just something to be aware of, not to be ashamed of. Also I see weight/thin privelege as a spectrum, though not absolute pound by pound obviously. As an inbetweenie I know I still have a lot of privilege over those who are heavier than I am even though I am in the still ~oh so horrible~ overweight BMI category and am subject to concern trolling, fear doctor visits, etc.
I’m sure it was not done on purpose, but there is a difference between privilege and an -ism, i.e. you comparing the racial privilege, sexual privilege and gender privilege to ableism.
One thing I will say that what you just said is that I prefer to be careful about the difference between a privilege and an -ism or -ist. Having privilege is inherent and there is no good or bad about it in and of itself. It simply is due to the construct of our society. To apply an -ism or -ist to that, however, automatically conjures up ideas of “evil.”
Take for instance that I fully admit that I have white privilege. Just because I recognize this, does not, in and of itself, make me a racist. However, if I were to decide that simply because I have a genetic heritage that happens to make me stupidly pale, (thank you Irish!) that I am better than those who do not have that particular genetic makeup, and treat others as inferior, then we delve into the realm of racism or me being a racist.
I was recently accused of being an ableist because I recognize that my son will have more difficulties navigating this world due to the fact that he is autistic. Recognizing that should not have earned me this hurtful label. I truly love my son and feel that he has a shot at his dreams just like the rest of us, but that he may have to go about things in a different way.
I only ask that people as a whole are careful about how they address privilege because once you start crossing that line into -ists and -isms, then you have made a correlation with bad/evil.
My apologies for the word mix up from writing hastily (the correct term would have been able bodied privilege), and I do agree that there is a difference between having the privilege and the ist/ism.
White privilege can’t exist without racism. Having white privilege doesn’t make me a racist, but it does mean that I benefit from and participate in a racist society, with interlocking systems of white supremacist racism.
It also means that the racist society has by definition influenced how I think about and treat people of color and how I think about and treat white people. Also, how I expect to be treated by people of color, how I expect to be treated by white people. This is not because I consciously choose to be racist but it is nevertheless a part of who I am and how I behave because I was raised in a racist society.
So it is my job to continually unpack and debunk all of the ways in which my whiteness is privileged, all of the ways in which I have unconsciously accepted and act out racist paradigms. And to do all of that with as little defensiveness as I can manage. Which, it turns out, is ridiculously difficult precisely because one of the ways white privilege perpetuates itself is to make the stakes for admitting racist thoughts or behavior so high (low class, uneducated, terrible human being) that it is nearly impossible to grapple with them.
All of the above is true for fatphobia as well, with the exception that the barriers to debunking it are not as severe as for racism.
Though I don’t want to mention my actual clothing size (I wouldn’t want to trigger anyone or run the risk of setting a standard for what does/doesn’t constitute “thin”), I am thin and I absolutely agree that thin privilege is rampant and generally unacknowledged in our society. I also agree that a thin person seeing her/himself as fat and/or not liking the size of one’s body is not the same as being fat and having to deal with oppression on a daily basis because of body size.
Perhaps I have some perspective, because I am someone with a long, complex history of eating disorders, and my weight has run the gamut from “obese” (according to medical standards, which we know are problematic) to severely underweight. I am now in the middle and, while I still struggle with how *I* see myself and feel in my body, I know that by any objective standards, I am thin. I also know that, in addition to the ways that you have outlined, thin privilege operates in ways that are more subtle. For example, people in general (e.g. servers at restaurants, retail associates in stores, cashiers, colleagues, random strangers, bus drivers . . .) are nicer to me than they were when I was fat. (Thin privilege does make eating disorder recovery very, very complicated and can make weight changes in recovery scarier. AND while that may indicate oppression based on living in a society that is insensitive to mental and holistic health, but it does not mean that I am oppressed because I am thin.)
I also agree with you that people need to not only acknowledge the existence of thin privilege, but we also need to actively work to change it. I teach my students about HAES, I am on the Body Image & Health Task Force at my university, etc. And I talk to them about thin privilege.
When I was a kid, my dad helped me understand oppression and how it affects everyone negatively – but differently – by describing a jail. There is the prisoner (the oppressed person; in this case, a fat person), and there is the guard (the privileged person; in this case, a thin person like Daisy). Being a prison guard still sucks and still binds you to prison. But, unlike the prisoner, the guard can walk away.
Wow! I have really understood for a long time that a thin person can experience as much unhappiness with their bodies as I have…. it’s something a couple of dear friends & i bonded over. But I never realized how much “real women have curves” can be hurtful. D’oh. And I love the Oppression Olympics quote. I have long thought that dwelling on how much worse/separate/different your pain/experience is than anyone else’s is fruitless navel gazing. Unity in purpose is what we need…. thanks for another great thought provoking article.
It’s an awful catchline. As if I wasn’t de-feminized enough all my life, never having been able to shop in standard women’s sizes for clothes and underthings because I’ve got the figure of a 12 year old boy (it’s humiliating that all my clothes say “grrrl” somewhere on the tag in the brand name- including bras!). I’ve worked professionally in my field for many years and am even going gray, but I’ll always be that “girl” to the people who see me, because of my thin-ness. As a teenager, my peers had no problem reminding me that I was skinny and ugly and now people are just too polite to say it to my face because we’re “grown ups”. Do I have thin privilege? Sure. Do I also get shit on all the time for being thin? Yes, that’s a true fact too 😦 Let’s just all stop picking at each other!
I know my opinion will be unpopular but I have to say it anyway. I think the truth matters. Some people are just not objectively fat, whether they feel that way or not. Pretending otherwise does a great disservice to everyone, wherever they are on the size spectrum.
First, I want to say that one of the messages I took away from the original post (“Feeling Fat vs. Being Fat”) was that there is a difference between being fat in our society and being above the weight that any one individual considers the ideal weight for their own body. Another message was that the author of the XOJane piece made an outrageous statement in saying that some people are okay with their bodies while they should not be comfortable in their own skin (I paraphrase, of course.) I did not read anything that would lead me to believe the original post was speaking about thinness (or non-fatness?) in a negative way. In fact, I considered Ragen’s original blog post so cogent and straightforward that I didn’t even bother reading the comments, assuming they would be a chorus of “way-to-go” type statements. Silly me.
Second, it breaks my heart to hear about situations such as family members shaming a relative they consider overweight (real or imagined.) Likewise, it drives me nuts to read accounts of size two models who starve themselves because they are considered “fat” by industry standards. No one should have to endure that type of treatment. However, those kinds of situations – horrible situations that I am in no way invalidating – do not nullify the thin privilege afforded to a “normal weight” or “underweight” person by current American societal standards.
This is slightly off topic, but I’ll throw it in anyway. When I was fat, it did confer one very clear benefit. In the workplace, it desexualised me and put me in a space that wasn’t male, but wasn’t traditional female either. I work in a very sexist culture and being fat afforded me a way out of the sexist trap. I could put my point of view forward and insist it be considered, and it was. Also, a lot of people are very frightened of bigger women with attitude, and they avoid tangling with them. Being big gave me a kind of gravitas that sometimes came in very handy.
I’m in the peculiar position of having gone from fat to thin in a relatively short space of time (illness) and I know more about thin privilege now than I did when I was fat. The difference in the way I’m treated is very, very obvious and it’s only in retrospect that I can see clearly how insulting and discriminatory people were (I mean, I obviously felt it at the time, but the magnitude of it wasn’t apparent until afterwards). But now that I’m thin, I’ve stepped into the space that says ‘female – we can ignore her’ at work, and that’s peculiar and sometimes enraging. Admittedly some of that comes because I can now find clothes that fit and are more conventionally feminine than I could in the past.
I only throw this in as an observation of the twisted way that privilege can play out.
I’ve had EXACTLY the same experience!
Great post. I especially appreciated your discussing the type of diversity training you facilitate. Does it have a name? I am stuck in a workplace mired in “Oppression Olympics” and what I see as unproductive word policing. The approach you describe sounds like it would include and inspire more people to act against oppression of many kinds. I’d like to “officially” bring it up at some key meetings :).
I’m so sorry that you are dealing with that at work. I am certified in several different diversity curricula, but was most influenced by my training and work as a facilitator for the National Coalition Building Institute. I really like their approach, they’ve been around for a long time and they have chapters Internationally. http://ncbi.org/about-ncbi/
“In the end I am a very outcome-based individual and so, though I definitely appreciate it when people acknowledge their thin privilege, thereby acknowledging the institutional oppression that fat people face (as I try to be aware of and acknowledge my own in other realms), it’s much more important to me that we change the culture that hurts us all, than that thin people agree that they benefit from thin privilege. Oppression of any of us hurts all of us so I’d rather fight oppression than fight about thin privilege.”
this was my favorite part of your post. being aware and acknowledging any of one’s own privileges is crucial to being an advocate against any type of oppression. thanks for being so awesome!
I’ve had this bookmarked for a little while now, it’s a ‘thin privilege checklist’ I look up when I need reminding that people can’t walk all over me.
Oh dear, I’ve been on a blog-reading hiatus for far too long.
I’ve had enough body image issues crammed into my formative years to last me a lifetime, but guess what? I know that I’m still privileged as hell because I’m in the thin spectrum. Not just anywhere in the spectrum. I’m on the low end. That means that I get all of the sandwich comments, the skeleton comments, similar problems with finding clothing and with getting medical advice that doesn’t hinge on my weight. But I have no delusions about which boat I’m in when it comes to how society treats me. They may not brand me as sexy, but they don’t completely deny my worth the way they do my larger friends. As long as someone isn’t telling me that my experience is insignificant or blaming me (for the existence of fat discrimination or eating disorders), I’m all ears about the thin privilege topic. Society screws with all of our mindsets, regardless of size, but it doesn’t actively screw with all of our lives.
As someone else brought up, it’s like heterosexual privilege. I think being bisexual really gives you an interesting dual perspective, where you share in straight and gay advantages and disadvantages while also having ones that are unique to those who don’t fit the binary. I can “pass” as straight and I can’t deny that privilege or the fact that I could still find happiness in an oppressive society. Admitting that doesn’t invalidate any of the discrimination that I /do/ face. It just acknowledges the difference between me and someone who has a strictly homosexual orientation.
If you haven’t read this article on privilege, I highly recommend it. It works on so many different levels of advantage by comparing them to aspects in a video game: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/05/15/straight-white-male-the-lowest-difficulty-setting-there-is/
I’ve had this post bookmarked for a few day to read and I’m glad I did! I’m one of the formerly very obese women who somehow managed to loose the weight. By US standards I’d be relatively thin but here in Brazil I’m average and still have had to deal with discrimination by doctors as little as about 10-15lbs up from my current weight.
It’s given me a bit of an odd perspective on the whole thing. At my highest weight I NEVER got any comments on my appearance. I exercised in public, went about my business and never once did I get a derogatory comment (I count myself very luck!). But, I have noticed since losing the weight that other things have changed. I’m can be a somewhat introverted person at times and at my highest people would leave me alone more. Now, not so much. I find people talk to me more, seem more interested in my life etc. Maybe it’s added confidence but it does make me wonder.
Clothes were actually a lot easier for me to find at my highest but that has more to due with my body type and also me currently being focused more on having clothes that fit well and understanding how to dress my body type better.
Other things are certainly easier, though, like airplane seats are WAY more comfortable. I’ve also found that other mom friends are constantly asking me about our family’s food choices and tend to think of me as the “healthy one”- a very odd switch!
All that being said, the thing that hit the whole “thin privilege” thing home to me was once not too long ago when a coworker was laughing hysterically about a fat man having problems doing some basic everyday activities. At my highest nobody would’ve made that sort of comment in my presence but I guess I was “thin” enough to hear it (And be appalled by it!). Thankfully, before I even had a chance to say anything another coworker pointed out how horrible it was to say that.
I guess we should all just lose some weight then, to get perspective.
I’m really baffled how you took that away from my post. I by no means WHATSOEVER think that women HAVE TO lose weight. I was simply pointing out that thin privileged exists and that I’ve experienced that to some extend following weight loss. My weight loss was a very personal journey and was initiated due to health concerns and dealing with my own mental health.
One woman’s weight loss does NOT reflect on your body and I’m actually pretty offended that that was what you took away from my post.
” the diversity work that I’ve been trained to facilitate discourages “calling out” privilege – not because it’s not our right to do so, but because from an outcome-based standpoint “calling out” often leads to a defensive reaction that reinforces the belief that we are trying to challenge, and makes people less likely to do want to do anti-oppression work, or you kickstart a round of the “Oppression Olympics” wherein people spend time arguing about who is oppressed more rather than fighting together against oppression.”
This is really interesting, because other social justice blogs I follow spend a lot of time calling out privilege. Those blogs seem to view learning to check your privilege without getting defensive as a central part of anti-oppression work
Is the ‘not calling out privilege’ approach mostly a practical way to engage people who are new to social justice? Or do you think that it would be useful in a lot of social justice work? If you don’t talk about privilege, how do you convey the ideas that it covers? How can people understand and acknowledge the difficulties oppressed people face if they don’t recognise their own their privilege?
Sorry, that seems like a huge demanding stream of questions – I’m just interested in your thoughts as it’s a really different approach from what I’ve seen before.
Great questions, thanks for asking. The theory that I learned goes that if people can learn to check their privilege without getting defensive it can absolutely be part of dismantling oppression. The problem is what Robert Cialdini calls the principle of Consistency. People have a need to maintain a congruent sense of self and studies show that they will go to great lengths to do that. So if someone doesn’t believe that they have privilege or that they are racist and someone “calls them out” and tries to push them to say that they do have privilege and are a racist, they will very likely have a psychological reaction of putting all of their energy into maintaining their previous view of themselves – which we typically identify as defensiveness. When they do that it strongly reinforces their original belief and their desire to keep from being put in that situation again and so they are less likely to come to anti-oppression work.
I do not have studies on this part of what I’m saying, it’s just my guess based on my experience: I think that people can be much more likely to come to the work if they can identify as also being hurt by the system of oppression rather than being strong-armed to admit that they benefit from it. If a thin woman, for example, says “I’m sick of being made to feel “fat” and I also disagree with the way that fat people are treated, and I believe that we should live in a world where people of all sizes are treated with respect and weight is not conflated with health etc. and I’m willing to fight for it” then her work to dismantle the oppression is just as effective whether or not she ever admits that she benefits from the system that she is helping to dismantle, further I think that she will be more likely to come to the realization that she has thin privilege on her own as part of her activist work.
There are my thoughts. This is my approach and I’ve found it effective but I understand and respect that it’s not the only approach.
Hope that answers your questions. If not then feel free to ask more and/or give me your thoughts on this!
I like your approach very much. The problem I have with ‘calling out’ people about their privilege, is too often it is done with an undertone of hostility, where the person ‘calling out’ adopts a superior attitude of ‘instructing’ the privileged. It blocks the conversation, whether it’s racism, sexism, ableism or whatever.
Thanks for the reply, that makes a lot of sense. What you said about Consistency is really interesting. I still think there’s a vital place for the idea of privilege, because you can’t really understand where oppressed people are coming from unless you think about how their path through daily life is different from yours due to discrimination. And I think that to be an effective ally you need to realise that you’re not a perfectly logical blank slate, but a person who’s absorbed some of the prejudices and judgements of society. But maybe if we can get people to realise this in gentler, easier-to-accept ways then fewer people will get immediately alienated from what we’re saying.
I really enjoyed reading your post. I have been struggling to understand thin privilege and your blog has really put it into perspective. As someone who would be deemed to have thin privilege, the last thing I have ever wanted or intended to do would be oppress anyone, regardless of their size, colour, religion or beliefs. Your post was so fair. You didn’t pose any blame for thin privilege, just simply asked for awareness of it. I have long believed that body judgment is wrong, to anyone. I’m the daughter of a paraplegic and spent most of my childhood watching my Father being criticised for ‘being a cripple’ and judged purely on his body rather than his ability. This is wrong. I firmly believe if we are to move forward and create a world in which everyone is treated with fairness and respect, we can only do that through the sharing of ideas in a constructive way.
You are such a wise and just person. Thank you for all that you do.