When People Don’t Get Fat Oppression/Thin Privilege

Reality and PerceptionAn interesting discussion came up in the Rolls Not Trolls community the other day.  One of the members posted about a situation where she was expressing to her friend how frustrating it was that stores don’t carry plus sizes and her petite straight-sized friend immediately brought up how she has to hem every pair of pants that she buys because they are too long.

This is something that I hear and see happen a lot  Almost anytime a main stream publication has a piece about fat oppression, thin people insist that they deal with size discrimination as well.  Or I talk about how body size disqualifies dancers from almost every mainstream gig and someone who is currently dancing in three shows tells me that they understand exactly what I mean because once they didn’t get a show because they only wanted girls between 5’6 and 5’8.

The urge to yell “IT’S NOT THE FUCKING SAME!!” is really strong for me in these situations.  Sometimes it’s exactly what I say, sometimes not.  I think it’s important to think about what my goals are before I decide how to deal with this.   Do I want them to understand/acknowledge that they have privilege that I don’t have, or do I want them to be moved to want to improve the situation that I’m bringing to their attention, or is it something else? I think that this is absolutely a personal decision for each of us and that these are all valid goals.

I think that one of the things that happens here is people’s desire to empathize as a way of sympathizing.  I’m not saying it’s the right thing to do, but I think that there is a societal tendency to look for how we’ve been in a similar situation when someone tells us something bad that they are experience.

I’ve written before about why I don’t often discuss thin privilege There are lots of reasons for that but none of the reasons is that thin privilege doesn’t exist – it absolutely does.  If I’m in a situation where I want someone to “get it” – to understand that the world is different for me than them because of my size – it’s typically a close friend.   I find that if they give me push back or try to empathize in a way that I feel is minimizing my experience, it works best for me to acknowledge that our society’s obsession with a single stereotype of beauty actually hurts us all, but that in this moment I would appreciate it if they could see how fat people have a very different experience.  I think that one of the things that is tricky about privilege is that, when you have it, you just assume that everyone else has the same experience that you do so it can help to point out some examples.  Someone might feel that it sucks to “feel fat” but even if that is their experience (and I would not question that it is) those who are actually fat have a very different experience regardless of how we feel about our bodies.  I have been in huge malls where not a single piece of clothing would fit me – I ask them to see how that’s not the same as having to hem some pants.

When I am asking people to understand fat oppression/thin privilege, I often request that they consider doing something to make the situation better.  For example, if I’m speaking to a group of people I say that it would be amazingly cool if those in the group who find themselves accommodated most of the time – for example, if they are able to go to restaurants, on planes and public transportation and out to theaters and not stress that they won’t be able to find a seat that is comfortable – would start to ask those establishments why everyone doesn’t get that same experience, and start refusing to give their money to places that accommodate them but not their friends.

Still, I often leave the discussion of thin privilege out of it based on my goals and what I have found works for me (of course your mileage may vary.)  I’m typically hoping to get someone to choose to try to improve the situation, and I think that their ability to empathize can be really valuable. I’ll bring up fat oppression/thin privilege and if they say “Oh, I understand because I have to hem pants” I can say – “That sucks! I’m short so I might have that problem if I could actually find pants that fit in the first place. How can we get the fashion world to make clothes that work for people of all sizes?”

To be clear, it can still be super frustrating that they don’t fully “get it”, but I’m at least getting the action that I want in the situation and not provoking a defensive response that includes them spending all of their time trying to explain why the fact that they have had bad experiences negates the existence of thin privilege.  Of course their defensiveness is not my fault but it becomes my problem if it makes them less likely to become involved in size diversity activism and that’s something that I take into account.

Regardless of how you decide to handle this, I suggest keeping in mind that it’s not you – the world is effed up, that you can explain thin privilege to people but you can’t understand it for them, and it’s not on you if they don’t get it.  As always I encourage everyone to find what makes them feel the most empowered (though. from my perspective, hopefully not by doing exactly what they don’t want done to them to someone else) in a seriously effed up society.


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68 thoughts on “When People Don’t Get Fat Oppression/Thin Privilege

  1. I’m short and fat. My last pair of jeans were bought in the shortest length I could get and needed 2 ins removed from them to fit – they still drag on the ground a little in flats. However if I can’t get them in my leg length I can get them altered or alter them myself easily and fairly cheaply often in less than an hour (myself or paying someone to do it) if I can’t get them in my size I can’t wear them. Heck I’ve even worn my jeans too long and let them fray away at the back. If they are too long I can still wear them if they are too small I can’t – doesn’t take a genius to tell the difference.

  2. I know! It’s so irritating to hear comments like that. It’d be nice to find pants in the first place! Then I’d be GLAD to get them hemmed! As it is, even if I *do* find pants, they always need hemmed anyway, so it’s the bowl of peaches from both worlds isn’t it?
    I hear gripes from two people at work about not finding pants for themselves because they’re too tall. And somehow…I just don’t sympathize that much for them. I wish I had the oh-so-horrible problem of being too tall rather than being too fat and short. At least then you could actually find pants to try on in the first place!

    1. Yep! But now try being fat and tall! Not only do the pants not fit, when you do find them, you’re praying that there’s enough hem to let out so you don’t look like Urkel!! And, if you’re tall because of leg length and not body length, most of the tall, plus size pants hang about half way to your knees. Not a good fit and holy chafing Batman! But I do understand the petite side – my husband has a heck of time finding pants and he gets choices! Having a new pair of pants languish beside the sewing machine because you have to change them prior to wearing is definitely annoying.

      I think we should chalk this one up to the grass always being greener! 🙂

    2. Even as a fat and borderline tall person (the right inseam for me is a tall size, but it’s only by about 1.5 inches on average), I get this. Essentially, no one has ever shamed me — overtly or covertly — for being too tall for a store’s size range. There’s a lot more social stigma attached to being too wide for a particular size range.

  3. I had this happen to me last week. A couple of us bigger ladies were talking about how inconvenient it was to buy pants that fit. A dear friend of mine, bless her heart, said “it is impossible to buy women’s clothes with UV protection, too.” I wanted to scream “But at least you can buy pants in more than 3 stores in this town.”

    1. Out of curiosity, are you Southern? I ask because I’m wondering if the (charming) habit of forgiving idiot behavior with a blessing of the heart is a regional tradition. Having moved from Alabama to Texas in 36 years, I’ve witness a metric fuckton of blessed hearts. 🙂

      1. “Well, bless her heart” is a Southern way of saying negative things politely. “Well, ain’t she dumber’n a post, bless her heart?” is a strong insult, but in an affectionate sort of way. Usually.

  4. Yeah, I also know people who are very thin who say there is bias against them… and there undoubtedly is, to some extent. I always think of this bit of an Ani DiFranco song when that comes up:

    and god help you if you are an ugly girl
    course too pretty is also your doom
    cause everyone harbors a secret hatred
    for the prettiest girl in the room

    But the bottom line is, while you may feel some sense of bias or judgement for being “too” thin, you can’t possibly expect me to believe, for even one freakin’ minute, that you have ANY notion of what it’s like to be in a situation where you don’t think you can eat at a specific restaurant because they only have booths, or all the chairs have arms or they look fragile and you’re terrified you might break it – and it’s a legitimate concern because you truly are fat, not just because you feel fat.

    Thin people NEVER have to walk away from turnstiles because they’re terrified of getting stuck. They fit on all the rides at amusement parks.

    So yeah, maybe very thin people deal with a bias… the notion we hear all the time when a celeb has dropped weight. “Oh, maybe she’s sick,” or “she must be using drugs” or “I bet she’s anorexic.” And that sucks, too. And it should be stopped.

    But it’s not even remotely similar to my experience of needing to buy 2 airplane seats and ask for a seatbelt extender when I board the plane (and hoping, desperately, the flight attendant will be discreet about it). And you know what? If the “obesity epidemic” is really such a big problem (no pun intended) why on earth aren’t all movie theaters being built with armrests that lift up, or better yet, with bigger seats? Why haven’t airlines begun to adjust for larger people, when supposedly, we make up most of the population these days?

    Instead, we’re made to feel we’re the freaks, and have no right to expect any sort of accommodations or assistance. Well, you know what? I’m NEVER going to be thin. It’s not gonna happen. I’m tired of being made to feel that I’m somehow flawed, or that it’s my “own damn fault” that the world has refused to accept that dieting and willpower aren’t the solutions to these issues.

    So, don’t stand there in your size six jeans and tell me that you understand because you had to hem your pants. You cannot possibly fathom what I go through.

    1. In regards to turnstiles you may find this article interesting: http://tinyurl.com/b5vy9rj

      It is about the new system Disney has been working on for Disney World, where they use a wireless system called MyMagic+ that works via a wristband you wear. They say, this will replace turnstiles, so it will be easier for everyone to get through.

      1. I can imagine some people won’t be thrilled that Disney will now be able to track them everywhere they go, but it definitely sounds like an improvement over turnstiles.

        1. As a high-ranking official in the Tin-Foil Conspiracy Consortium, I approve of Disney’s right to track people who are on their property. Frankly, society brought that karma on ourselves via complaints and petty lawsuits. If they try to follow us home, however… let’s just say the backlash would get ALL the attention. All of it.

  5. Don’t wish being tall and fat on yourself. It’s no picnic. Unfortantely when the clothing manufacturers do create items in plus sizes, they assume most of the women needing them are average to short (but not petite). It is RARE for me to find clothing long enough for my 6’1″ body. Pant length is the least of it. I like to find a top that is long enough to help create a graceful line and accents my best features… I do not want a shirt that is so short in length that I cannot raise my arms to write on the board or gesture when talking without exposing my belly. I don’t even really like shirts short enough to show my belly drape area at my hips. I don’t find it attractive on me and I don’t want attention drawn to it (sorry, these are my underpants and I have expectations for my appearance that make me feel confident). I also do not like to layer clothing (I get too warm, too easily) and so the presumption that a bigger woman needs a larger neck hole/opening really pisses me off. I work in a public school with kids. I do NOT want to have to worry about my shirt drooping off one shoulder and exposing my bra straps (again, I refuse to layer… it is simply too uncomfortable for me) or worse, show my cleavage. I need to role model modesty on my job.

    ** side note… to well meaning folks here,…please don’t suggest the obvious ‘tricks’ to make things look layered, cover, etc. I teach sewing and I sew/design things. So I know what can be done… I just don’t have the time, inclination or budget to manage it. Besides, why should I have to do all that?

    As for the few places that do have large and tall fashions combined.. it is usually mail order and I can’t try them on to see if they are comfortable or actually long enough. I mean really, where in the world do clothing folks get the idea that a 33 inch inseam is TALL for anyone? Seriousy? I need a 36 or more if I plan to wear shoes with any kind of heel at all.

    As for the whole ‘commiseration’ thing of thin people commenting on altering pants for length… it is only the same in that we both are frustrated by of-the-rack-purchases. Beyond that, not at all. I like to think that when my friends so things like that, they are just trying to be sympathetic to the frustration. I don’t push it too far. I usually come back with ‘at least you can find clothes.

    Maybe women’s pants and skirts should be sold like men’s wear used to be…. unhemmed. Once upon a time (and still in finer stores) men’s pants were made unhemmed and when you bought them, they measured them for you and finished them before you took them home. Of course that is going to drive costs up… but on the plus side, it might generate some jobs.

    Wow… this is a big trigger issue for me… whoops… sorry I ranted so much. but thank you for listening

    1. I know how you feel. I’m 6′ and big myself. Still pretty proportionate though. I sew, but I don’t like HAVING to make things for myself all the time! If I were sewing all my clothes, I wouldn’t have time to sew as my job.

      My biggest issue is that the type of pants I do find that do fit – are just absolutely fugly. (I don’t use that term much.) I’m talking about polyester pants with grandma’s curtain floral patterns. Hey! They fit! … but there’s now way in HADES am I ever going to be caught dead wearing that in public!!

      And then having hips? Perish the thought! Yeah, I might be big, but I still have a waist! 12″ smaller than my hips might I add! Not all fat people have spherical figures!

      Yeah. One day I would love to be able to walk out of my house wearing a more professional attire. But I have to stay with a pair of men’s jeans that are still too big on the waist and wearing extra-long tee-shirts.

  6. I’m reminded of a friend–really more of a frenemy–that I had a few years back. In retrospect, I think she really didn’t get it, but it was infuriating to deal with. At 135 pounds, she was always talking about how “fat” she was. She suggested that we try to go on “The Biggest Loser” together. That’s when I lost it. I said “you have no idea in hell what actually being fat is, and The Biggest Loser is nothing but hateful exploitation and I would never have anything to do with it.”
    She was a former ballet dancer, and I understand that this is a very thin-centric profession. Nonetheless, her inability to understand where a genuine fat person stood as compared to someone like her who simply just didn’t feel thin enough really frustrated me.
    She did a lot of other things that got under my skin and so we’re no longer friends. But this was a pretty big reason.

    1. The dance world is disastrously negative when it comes to body size. I would wonder if she had an eating disorder that you were unaware of. It’s extremely common in dancers. If that’s the case, then no, she *can’t* have an inkling of what it’s like to live in our heads, but neither can we know what kind of hell she might have been living inside her own mind.

      1. Oh, I knew she was a right mess. Like me, she was bipolar/borderline, and wasn’t handling it very well. I also knew she had body dysmorphia. It wasn’t just this issue that led me to stop being friends with her. It did get on my nerves, however, when I would ask her to stop referring to herself as “fat” in my presence, owing to the fact that even if she happened to be “fat” (she wasn’t) I was far fatter, and it was very triggering for me.

        1. It may have been just as triggering for her to be told not to call herself fat if that was how she thought of herself. It might have been better to suggest that you both simply eliminate body and food talk from your conversations. Not say you did something wrong, just trying to see both sides.

          1. Yeah, I suppose that’s true. However, she was a back stabber in the first degree and I don’t regret losing her friendship. She did cause the breakup of a relationship and I find that unforgivable.

              1. He actually didn’t. It was her behavior that did. He’s dead now anyway, suicide. He never had a relationship with her. She just cast a lot of doubt because she was a bitch who wanted him. I have borderline personality disorder and tend to have a high degree of doubt in myself anyway that’s only made worse by the BPD. Doesn’t matter much anyway now I suppose as nothing can be done. It’s quite painful to discuss, really.

    2. See, I had a friend like that and I must be more cynical than you because it never once occurred to me that she didn’t say things like the with the intention of making me feel bad. But that was kind of her personality. We’re no longer friends. 🙂

  7. As a very short, very fat person, I do have to say I think the very tall girls have it worse. After all, as a short person, I can get things shortened/hemmed. It’s a pain, but it’s possible. I am gleeful when something I like is short enough that I don’t have to hem it up, and grateful that I tend to gravitate toward longer skirts to begin with, but it’s possible to get things altered. If you’re very tall, most of the time there won’t be any cloth to let down to make things non-pornographic. Oh, and I am gleeful when capri pants are in fashion, because then I can buy the ‘average’ length pants and they’re usually just perfect for my shortstuff self.

    But even when I was thin and could walk into any store and find clothes to try on, I did have one point where I could get truly empathetic with the fat women in my life: shoes.

    I know that for a lot of fat women, shoes are the great equalizer, but in my case they absolutely are not and never have been. Why? Because I don’t have feet so much as I have cubes at the ends of my legs. They’re wide and they have a ridiculously high instep and they’re not very long. So even when I find a store that carries wide widths, it’s not a sure thing they’ll have something that fits, let alone something that fits that I want to put on my feet.

    A couple years ago, I was out and about one summer’s day with Mr. Twistie, when my sandal broke. We were right next to a huge shopping mall so he said we could take a few minutes and find me a pair of sandals. I knew it wouldn’t be that easy, but I needed something on my feet, so I agreed.

    In this huge mall there were three department stores (a Macy’s, a JC Penny, and a Sears) as well as no less than seventeen speciality shoe stores. In the entire mall, I could find two pairs of shoes I could try on. One pair, the one at Sears, was a pair of white nurse’s bucks (not what I wanted when the day was over a hundred degrees in the shade, even if I hadn’t considered them hideous!) and the other, the one at Payless Shoe Source, was a pair of transparent, glittery, hot pink platform high-heeled sandals with glittery hot pink ribbons that tied up the leg. I don’t do pink, I don’t do platforms, I don’t do high heels, and it would have to be a very specific kind of glittery that this pair of shoes wasn’t before I would put it on my feet.

    Basically I could make my feet look like they belonged to a nurse or to a low-rent disco queen, and while I am happy that both kinds of shoes exist for those who need or simply want them… they were not for me.

    When I wrote about the experience at Manolo for the Big Girl, I got a lot of comments about how I should have just bought my shoes through mail order sources. That entirely missed the point that a) I needed shoes RIGHT THAT INSTANT, and b) it shouldn’t be so damn hard to find a reasonable pair of sandals to even try on to see if they fit with that many shoes in the mall. I don’t buy shoes through mail order, anyway, because of my ridiculously high instep and extreme style pickiness. I hate going through the hassle of returning things six times to get one thing to wear, and I know that’s what’s going to happen with shoes for me. Add to that, there was the humiliation of walking into shoe store after shoe store and asking if they carried anything in wide widths only to be stared at like half a caterpillar in a sandwich as I was told ‘no’ over and over again.

    That’s what buying shoes has been like my entire life. As a child, every year my parents would gird their loins, take me to the one store in town that sold wide width shoes, and buy me the first pair that actually went on my feet and didn’t make me burst out in tears.

    But when I was thin, any problem finding clothes for me was based around my very specific taste issues. Occasionally needing something hemmed, that was no big deal. Getting frustrated because everything was pink and I don’t wear pink, it was annoying but eventually there would be something blue or purple or orange or even just grey that would make me happy. Even if I wasn’t wild about what was going on in fashion right at that moment, I could go anywhere and try on anything I thought I might like to wear.

    Every time I tried on shoes, though, I got why my mother opted out and made all her own clothes. Just like my experience with the mall all those years later, there was one store where she could try on a couple racks of clothes she wouldn’t be caught dead in a ditch wearing.

    If I ever win a huge Lotto jackpot, the first thing I’m going to do is find myself a custom cobbler and put him/her on retainer so I can FINALLY have the shoe wardrobe of my dreams. Dammit, I’ve been waiting fifty years.

    Then I might look into a custom haberdasher. If only because the word ‘haberdasher’ is so fun to say.

    1. Twistie, Sweetheart, I am ROLLING. ROLL. ING. I rarely laugh myself to tears, but your story sent me right through that and into peeing. LITERALLY (and yes, I know what literal means). My sides and stomach HURT.

      Three phrases:
      low rent disco queen
      half a caterpillar in a sandwich
      gird their loins

      I LOVE you, Girl. Don’t you never, ever change. *smooch*

      1. Helena, sweetie, I’ve been precisely me for half a century. I have no plans to change at this point.

        I’d say send me the cleaning bill for your undies, but, alas!, I am stony broke. You’ll have to make due with my hopes that you had a plastic seat cover at the time.

        1. I was going to say you got me crying. I have similar problems, not because I’ve got squares on my legs, but because they’re the biggest size feet of the women in my family. I’m petite (good luck finding anything in xp sizes, I found one pair of xp pants, once), and my feet are size 9 american, in D width. My mom has wide feet too, but at 7.5, and we know that the D widths get saved by the workers for their friends or the shopaholics who come in all the time and zap them up.

          I think my feet are growing too, when are feet supposed to stop expanding? I’m 30.

    2. I don’t think my feet are quite as bad as yours, but I also have shoe issues. Birkinstocks work for me but they don’t scream *SEXXY*.

      1. I love me some Birkenstocks. I started wearing them more than twenty years ago when I worked in a bookstore with a horrible floor. My first week, I figured out there were two kinds of people who worked there: those who wore Birkenstocks, and those who went to the chiropractor three times a week.

        Luckily, Birkenstocks always fit.

        But every twice in a while, I want to look sexy, or like I know something of what’s happening in the fashion world, or… well… not QUITE so crunchy granola. I’m as sorry I missed Woodstock as the next girl who was six years old when it happened, but that’s not all there is to me.

    3. LOVE you Twistie!

      I, too, will have to look into hiring a haberdasher just for the word.

      The rest of your writing–I look forward to Ragen’s posts and your replies daily.

            1. I’m with you Helena, I’d read anything by Twistie!
              As for your “paltry” blog (I hear DHP saying paltry there) if you don’t feel comfy sharing it’s link here, message it to me on FB… I’m the Rolls group.

    4. I work in health care and I primarily wear Crocs at this point. I don’t care what anyone says about the way they look, they have drastically improved my foot problems.
      I also have a spade-shaped foot, wide in the toe and narrow at the heel. I’ve never been able to wear “cute little shoes.” Of course the fact that I’m an absolute klutz and would kill myself in anything with a heel doesn’t help.

    5. My feet are a 9.5EEE or maybe even 9.5EEEE. They’re nice feet, but they’re rather paddle-shaped. I can wear the fleece-lined Crocs comfortably, but I much prefer sandals and other shoes I can just slip into without wearing socks.

      But although I’m a professional, I’m relegated to wearing the $10 beach-y flipflops from Kmart or the like because I can get my feet into them. Otherwise, I would have to go barefoot (which I would actually prefer). So what am I supposed to do about it?

      I keep thinking that there must be an elusive store SOMEWHERE that carries cute shoes for people with super-wide feet, but I haven’t been able to find it yet. I mean, heck, even a store that caters to drag queens might be adequate, because men tend to have wider feet than women.

      Push comes to shove, if my job ever depended on me wearing good shoes, I would have to shell out the $1500 to have a last made of my feet and then pay out even more to have custom shoes made for me by the only custom place I’ve been able to find: Oliver Moore Bootmakers in New York City. There HAS to be a better, more affordable option though, right? But the frustration and hopelessness moves me to tears.

      1. The most recent pair of shoes that I got is from Naot, an Israeli shoe company that makes inserts out of trees that grow in Israel. When the inserts wear out, you get a refill. When I was there in the summer a few years ago, all that was available for women’s were sandle type things, and I don’t like sandles or anything where my feet are exposed. I personally think feet are ugly things.

        I did try on some mens business-y shoes and they fit perfectly. Maybe for us extra wide feet, men’s are the way to go? I personally like these better than all the others that I’ve gotten, and will consider getting other men’s shoes in future.

        Does anyone know if the men’s widths are measured the same as the women’s?

        1. I agree that all feet are ugly. As to the sizing of men’s and women’s shoes being measured the same way, what kind of crazy talk is that? I don’t know for a FACT regarding shoes but in men’s clothing, size usually reflects an actual measurement while women’s wear seems to be sized with some kind highly arbitrary “fuckability score.”

          Some of the plus-sized women’s designers have REALLY pissed me off by assuming shame upon me so that they can magnanimously “absolve” me of it with a completely different scoring formula. This is just my personal interpretation and opinion, but when I see something that fits me in a size 8, that’s as good as saying, “size 22 is just too icky to be contemplated but because we UNDERSTAND your shame and insecurity, we’ll let you have an 8 without having to lie your fat ass off just to fall asleep at night.” Aside from the obvious insult implied, I consider this tactic to be compelling proof that women’s sizes are little more than a personal judgment pulled out of somebody’s ass.

  8. If you’re short, it can be difficult to find clothes that fit…but no one will think you’re lazy, lacking in discipline, or otherwise “to blame” for your shortness.

    The Blame ‘n’ Shame Factor, in other words, is what makes the difference.

    1. Yes, exactly! I admit I hate it when the salesperson says, “But you’ll have to shorten it.” HELLO!!! I haven’t been short (really short) all my life without noticing this.

      But we short people who wear straight sizes have little to complain about compared to our bigger sisters.

  9. You say that the people who say these things may be trying to sympathize by empathizing. I have another perspective.

    I am a former fat person. I remember all the social shame that is piled on people for ‘not fitting’ into clothes when you go shopping. Countless weight loss stories recount how, ‘now shopping is fun, and not horrible.’ And I bought it. I felt that shame that I didn’t fit.

    Now, when my fat friends tell me ‘that store doesn’t have clothes that fit me,’ I remember my own shame and I panic. I do not want my friends to feel that shame.

    I will do that thing and recount how I am tall and unable to find certain clothes that fit. I don’t do it to minimize their experience, but I want to minimize the pain they may feel at ‘not fitting.’ I want to say, ‘it’s not that you don’t fit. It’s the fashion industry that doesn’t fit real people.’ I don’t want my friends to feel ‘othered’ by some stupid clothing store.

    I see that tailoring clothes isn’t the same as not being able to find any in the first place. And I am probably doing the wrong thing. And my friends are adults and don’t need me to protect their feelings. But we all tend to ‘mother hen’ one another.

    1. Maybe you could say “Oh that sucks, let’s think where else we could go” instead of talking about your tall struggles though? That’s what I’d like as a fat person and friend of many. I don’t want consolation (number one pet peeve being that “you could still shop for accessories!” thing), I want recognition and consideration.

  10. I’d like to point out that it really is hard to understand how difficult/horrible a situation is until you have lived it. I know what discrimination feels like as a woman, but not as a black person or a black person. I’m a thinner fat person, so I don’t deal with all the stuff many of you do.

    I really didn’t see how much of a hassle life can be for my wheelchair-bound friend until I started hanging out with her. Even so, I’ve never tried to go into a restaurant only be told it isn’t handicapped accessible and be offered to be served outside.

    While I’m not excusing thin or any other kind of privilege, it is really hard to understand something you have no experience with. I try to learn from my friends, but even so, I know I’m not getting the whole picture.

    I’ve learned to just say, “That really sucks” when one of my friends relates an incident, so maybe suggesting that to your close friends who are trying to empathize will help.

    1. I like that phrase, “Thinner fat person”…makes me think differently.

      I don’t know, I wouldn’t be offended if a short friend was trying to share misery by saying she had to hem her pants. Maybe I’m just so used to it that it would slide off. I wouldn’t look at the words but the intent (which just doesn’t seem malicious to me). And getting things professionally hemmed IS expensive, as is getting things altered. For ANY body type (I had to get 2″ lopped off my dress black choir gown, a horrible symphony of swishy black polyester…ran me 20 freakin’ bucks).

      And it IS hard to get Petite clothes to fit one properly. Just like all plus-sized women are shaped differently, clothing makers tend to lump Petites into the Tinkerbell body type: slim shoulders, no boobs, wasp waist…when, from what I can tell, it’s just 5′ 3” and under that qualifies one as Petite. Hell, when long tunic tops were all the rage, I bought stuff in Petites because those tops all hit me mid-thigh…very unflattering. And I’m a broad-shouldered, big-titted woman.

      I think of “thin privilege” as being more of the “I am thin therefore superior in all matters of eating and body” attitude, the whole, “Well, if you ate and exercised like *I* do, you wouldn’t look the way YOU do. DUH.”

      Thin people can’t find clothes just anywhere. When I was a lot more slender than what I am now (read: when I was starving myself on the JC diet which was actually doing damage to my heart), I still had a hard time finding things that fit me. And I was a 10-12, the size that stores stock most. I had a TINY waist but very full hips and thighs…and I’m short-legged. And I still had a very hard time finding jeans. It just isn’t that easy.

      1. Yorkie – *fist bump* I am also 5’3″ with broad shoulders and big boobs. My main difference from you is I have narrow hips and with my bigger tummy, pants always slide down til I look like a gangsta wannabe.

        Being petite and unslender is a major pain in the neck. Made more complicated by the fact that I love cotton fabrics. *sigh*

        I think the whole clothing industry needs a major overhaul.

        1. You freaking said it, Toots.

          Y’all ever watch What Not to Wear? I enjoy watching the show, but the one thing that irks me every damned time is that they always put the women in these awful satiny or crepey or rayon clothes with jackets. This is what constitutes business professional nowadays and I WON’T HAVE IT. I loathe most “drapey” fabrics because if they’re affordable they’re man-made and I sweat profusely leaving dandy stains, or if they’re not man-made they’re hella pricey and I can’t afford it. Not to mention I refuse POINT-BLANK to wear a jacket. Will not do it. I cannot abide having my arms restricted. No, no, and no again. Jersey knits are God’s gift to me. I love them. I also love cottons and other types of knits. Why are these not considered “professional”? Who decided this? The “professional” clothing I find in my size is often terribly uncomfortable for me. I’d rather change careers than spend my life in miserable clothing.

          And that’s BEFORE we even get started on bloomers and such.

          1. I refuse to wear jackets because they also restrict me, and I have very broad shoulders. I look like Frankenstein’s monster in them. Luckily, the office I work out of is in a school so corporate business attire isn’t required. I can even wear sneakers. You can be comfortable and look professional at the same time. And forget satin shirts as well. They are usually cut very small bust-wise and that’s not comfortable at all when you’re very top heavy. I also get hot quite easily and can sweat at the drop of a hat like you as well, and armpit stains aren’t attractive.

  11. Was the petite friend suggesting that her clothing problems were worse than her fat friend’s problems, or was she just trying to empathize? I can’t really get behind belittling someone else’s troubles just because my own may be more severe. I remember working as a manager in a department store back in the day; both fat girls and short girls had regular crying jags in the juniors fitting room because the fashionable clothes didn’t fit them. And if they were both short and fat? Totally screwed. Both petites and plus were full of “old lady clothes”. Maybe the petite teens had a more attainable solution, but none of them would have cried in the first place if the buyers had understood that people come in all shapes and sizes.

    To give a different example, I’m an African American female. Some of my friends are gay. I would never say “Hey, I’ve been in EXACTLY that situation, in fact, I think I’ve got it worse!” But what’s wrong with saying “Hey, that’s rough, discrimination sucks, I can empathize”? I’d rather my friends didn’t feel totally alone. Besides, the examples of what was wrong with institutionalized racism are great ammo for arguing against institutionalized homophobia.

    I know there are stores out there that have expanded their clothing selections in petite sizes and found success. If there’s anyone out there who’s got influence with those stores, that argument could be used to get better selection in plus sizes. It’s one thing to say that most American women wear plus size clothes; it’s quite another to point at actual increased dollar figures when you’re talking to executives and buyers. Instead of playing the “more oppressed” card, we should use other people’s empathy to create more solutions for everyone.

    1. Your quote: “I’d rather my friends didn’t feel totally alone,” hits home with me.

      This sentiment is why I do the thing and say “oh, I know. The pants are always to short for me.” I don’t want to minimize their frustrations. It’s just that the fashion industry ‘others’ people by making it seem like people don’t fit properly. When the truth is that they don’t make clothes for different body types. I feel like if I point out the fashion industry’s failings, then my friends wont feel as if they ‘failed’ by ‘not fitting’ a product. The industry failed by not fitting its customers’ bodies.

      It’s not like I feel my experience is comparable. I don’t get scorn from store attendants because I’m too tall to fit their pants. I get apologies and acknowledgement that the clothes fit only a few body types. Every customer who ‘doesn’t fit’ should get that acknowledgement.

  12. Sometimes I enjoy discussions and arguments about thin privilege from a standpoint that leans more towards an academic style—unpacking the concepts separately, noting risks, exploring assumptions, and so forth—but I have come to realize that there are constructive contexts and potentially damaging and hurtful contexts in which to advance an assortment of nuanced perspectives about thin privilege. Of course, sometimes I still misjudge situations and contexts (re: appropriateness of commentary direction, etc, given a particular context.)

    I hope this isn’t one of those times. My main point follows: the depth of pain and suffering resulting from fat bias and/or thin privilege is sometimes (too easily) overlooked or minimized by well-meaning people of all sizes. There were times in the past (rare, thankfully) when situations and remarks struck me so deeply and unexpectedly that I literally could not speak. Once, for instance, as a nursing student with a tendency to voice my opinions on social and political issues (a frowned-upon violation of an unwritten social norm for nursing students at my school), a professor launched a contentious class “debate” about the so-called social/economic costs of “obesity” (not costs related to bias or stigma, mind you). Similar discussions had tentatively and briefly come up, on previous occasions. But this was different, very ugly and raw. Before I could absorb what was happening, I became (unambiguously) identified as the representative speaker for all fat people (based, I assume, on my age, my perceived reputation, and my size.)

    I became mute, almost immediately. And the more that others prompted me to speak, the more impossible it became for me to utter a sound. I don’t know what my classmates and prof assumed about my silence. I experienced that whole social environment (nursing school), from that day forward, in a profoundly altered way. My awareness of feeling oppressed seldom left me. At the time, and for years afterwards, I didn’t (couldn’t) even think about the experience in relation to thin privilege. Until recently, it was too painful to acknowledge.

    Anyway, I hope it’s okay if I offer a link here to the “thin privilege checklist” that has helped me the most, in terms of recognizing and being able to validate the severity of bias, discrimination—and privilege—based on body size.

  13. Aargh the pants thing! My fella is super tall and super skinny so he has a hard time with them too which he always mentions when I lament about finding things that fit… except hun, nobody’s scolding you for not fitting into them! I would be ecstatic for a pair of jeans that fits well. Nothing makes me feel worse about the way I’m shaped than shopping for clothes.

    I carry most of my weight in my middle, and not spread all around my middle, mind you, but pretty much all right in the front. Some days it doesn’t bother me, in fact some days I feel kind of elegant looking, and certainly it makes me lucky indeed with regard to issues that plague other fat folks of a similar weight and height to myself who might carry it differently– I still fit in most seats, for example.

    Other times I feel like it is the most awkward, horrible way in the whole world to be shaped. Ever read those stupid magazine articles that talk about clothes for different shapes and make little names for them based on fruit or whatever? Yeah basically what every single one amounts to is “if you’re an ‘apple’ you’re pretty much screwed.” Oh, thanks. Helpful, that. All I wanted was for you to tell me where I could buy pants that fit around my waist (better yet, sit low around my hips so they’re underneath the part with the most girth) and yet don’t have a mile of spare fabric in the crotch and/or butt area.

    Had one pair that fit all right (a bit high for my taste but at least they stayed in place!) only they were really long and I had to keep rolling them, thought “this is ridick” one day and went to hem them, botched hemming them so badly that I had to turn them into shorts. Normally I’d laugh at something like that but this was my pair of jeans I didn’t have to wear a belt with to hold it up (and how funny that a fatty should have their trousers falling down all the time but I tend to solve my dilemma by getting pants a size too big and wearing a belt)… I was devastated.

    I love my broomstick skirts but I like jeans or dress pants for ease of movement in certain situations so my long skirts aren’t appropriate all the time! Trousers are The Holy Grail for me re: accessibility stuff.

    1. I also have the apple shape. I also struggle with pants. You are right, the apple shape is pretty much ‘screwed’ unless they manage to be a thin enough apple. I say this because when I went looking for examples of clothing on apple shapes, I was shown some pretty darned thin people that certainly don’t have my issues with pants and other clothes.

      I also f*cking hate that we are automatically ‘unhealthier’ because of our shape. Like we have a ton of control where our fat likes to live.

      Oh right. We are supposed to diligently exercise to keep the evil fat at bay.

      1. And well screwed we are if we diligently exercise and still the evil fat hangs around.
        Then we are supposed to starve to the point of fainting to keep the evil fat at bay.

        1. Oh yes. Control our food and exercise about an hour a day. I can do that for maybe a year then it falls apart. I’m glad to let go of that because I can’t make it work long term, and frankly, I don’t want to.

          1. So much yes to both of you. All those sit ups I was urged to do so I could somehow magically get rid of that “terrible flaw” when I’d “otherwise be so pretty” made my tummy pretty strong– but they didn’t make me thin, so I stopped.

            I wish I had known then what I know now, I might be able to break rocks on my flabulous abs by now. XD But at least now when I do stuff, it’s because I want to have fun or feel good rather than because I want to please other people re: my looks.

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