Let’s Talk About Thin Privilege

Let’s talk a bit about thin privilege. I think that it is real and a problematic foundation upon which our society rests. I think the way that women feel they need to conform to some sort of ideal is baseless, irrational and harming future generations of women. 

I mean that for the women both with and without this privlege.

Let me explain my thoughts out loud.

As someone who has varying levels of thin privilege, I think it is neccessary to explain the difference between what thin privilege is and what images come to mind when we hear “thin privilege”. 

When I hear thin privilege, I see beautiful women both thin but with curves in clothing that excentuate their figure. I see open doors, happiness and golden opportunities. I see this because I used to believe that being thin or beautiful or strong meant good things. Whatever those things were, they were good.

The feminist media I read reinforce this belief that people with thin privilege automatically have such a better life than those without it because they fall under a certain BMI. I am not saying this is untrue, but I think it’s also important to validate the experiences of those with thin privilege and understand that they have crap days. Bad things happen to them for no good reason. They are turned down for things. They feel bad about themselves for other reasons that have nothing to do with the way they look.

For example, I work in customer service. Sometimes, people are really mean. They just are. I could weigh 10 pounds or 10,000 pounds and they would still tell me I suck at making their coffee or sandwich. They go out of their way to make the people who serve them feel like a load of dung. I am not sheltered from this because of my thin privilege.

Another example, some of my coworkers and people I would consider my best friends and able to connect to others better because they play the “fat” card. I mean this not in a negative way other than it makes me the outcast because I do no engage in the way they make fun of and harass their own bodies. Becuase I do not think saying cruel things about my own or each other’s bodies is healthy, I do not readily agree with them when they attack themselves for being overweight. I do not tell them, “yea, you should really get to the gym.” I will not take the bait. My other coworkers however who are also a bit overweight themselves readily engage in this and through some sort of womanly bond, are better friends. They can connect to each other on a harmful, but more deep level.

Thin privilege means keeping a distance from people who speak negatively about themselves because I know it’s not healthy. My thin privilege is being unrelatable because I am my size. My thin privilege is not being able to talk to my friends about body insecurity because “I shouldn’t have any, I’m in shape.” 

I want to write more about this, but I have to work in 5 minutes. Help me sort this out. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I am in no way downplaying the discrimination others feel, I just wanted to get this off my chest. This is part of the thin privilege that people don’t talk about. It may not be the popular side, but it is there right along with everything else.

No questions, just thoughts.

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9 comments

  1. Really interesting and thoughtful post Ellie, (as all of yours are) …I am 50 and in ‘the old days’, saying cruel things to people, or about people re: the size of their body was really frowned upon, rude, and dis-respectful. It’s a different world these days and I think it’s so sad.

    Also, your comment about working in customer service and the mean people was spot on…it doesn’t matter your size or what you look like, some people will always want to make you feel bad. And it’s not you, your service, or their order…it’s them, it’s their life, their depression and you are their outlet. I feel sad for those people and even worse for the one that they go home to.

    • Thanks for your response Jade! I’m glad I didn’t come off as rude or resentful because that is not the case. I can only speak from my own experience and sometimes it isn’t always sunshine and rainbows.

  2. “My thin privilege is not being able to talk to my friends about body insecurity because “I shouldn’t have any, I’m in shape.” ” <– very much this. One of the things that bothered me the most during my recovery was people assuming I was recovered as soon as I was close to being weight restored, not realizing that that's the point where I was struggling the most. I couldn't explain to anyone how horrible I felt because people looked at me and saw someone who was still incredibly thin and shouldn't have any body image issues to speak of, so instead of trying to understand, they just told me to stop being ridiculous 😕 Everyone has issues that they're dealing with, and it's not right to discount those just because they logically "shouldn't" be having them.

  3. Very good points. I’ve actually never heard of the term, “thin privilege,” but it makes sense. I can’t tell you how frequently I heard things like, “You’re so lucky!, I wish I had your self control!” etc etc when I was ANOREXIC and BULIMIC… just because I looked really thin. People figured I had this charmed life simply because of my size, even though my life was torture and I was literally killing myself.

    • That is so true. I think the way people think about mental health is shifting and that can only lead to great things. Soon having self-control to an obsession will not be glamourized

  4. I think it’s important to remember that “privilege” isn’t an all-or-nothing thing. It’s not something you either have or don’t have. Privilege is inter-sectional. You can have one type of privilege but not another, and the way your various elements of privilege/lack of privilege work together do a lot towards determining how you experience the world. Additionally, just having a certain type of privilege doesn’t mean that every interaction you have is 100% positive.

    For example, as a feminist, I totally believe that male privilege is a thing. However, that doesn’t mean that men sometimes don’t struggle because they are men. A man might feel pressured not to follow his passion of dancing because of gender stereotypes, for instance, or a black man may face more discrimination from the police than a black woman would have. And, of course, men don’t all have charmed lives with high-power banking jobs just handed to them because of their sex. But I don’t think these instances negate the reality of male privilege.

    The same thing is true, I think, with thin privilege. And I think often the intersectionality with neurotypical privilege (neurotypical meaning free from mental illness or things often viewed as intellectual disabilities… I kind of made up this phrase, but I think the concept it covers is real) often causes confusion. If you have an eating disorder, you can have thin privilege while, at the same time, not have neurotypical privilege. If people think you are hard working and have self-control just because you are thin, the implication is that fat people are lazy and do not have self-control– and I think everyone who has commented here would totally disagree with that generalization. So you can still have thin privilege (the privilege of having people assume positive things about your character because of your body type) while lacking neurotypical privilege. I think most people who have experience this particular pairing would say that, in the end, being mentally healthy offers far more privilege than being thin, and I would agree with that. It doesn’t, however, erase thin privilege.

    I hope that makes sense!

  5. I have never felt that a difference in our sizes created a material barrier between me and another person. It is true, I feel more comfortable complaining about my weight or fitness when it’s a person around my size. But since weight / fitness is a pretty small fraction of what I’m interested in talking about, it doesn’t end up mattering too much that the topic is off-limits when talking to someone bigger or smaller.

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