Scroll down on the comments on a fat acceptance/size acceptance post that mentions thin privilege, and odds are excellent you’ll find something to the effect of “But I’m thin, and I get crap too! I don’t have ‘size privilege’!”1 Those of us who have been around the fat-o-sphere any length of time have heard this often enough our eye-roll muscles are starting to look like the Old Spice guy’s abs.
But let me take a moment out of exercising my extraocular muscles to actually address this, because these protestations aren’t coming out of nowhere.
When size acceptance activists say that thinness is privileged, we are not saying that every thin person has a hunky dory lightness and sunshine life and everything comes easily for each and every one of you. We are saying that everything else in this world favors if not you specifically, then at least your thinness, and those who are thin like you in general.
Society is systemically and systematically biased against fatness and privileges thinness. That is the well-supported theorem of size acceptance and the activism of fatties like myself.
Nowhere in that succinct definition does it say that thin women never receive body policing, that thin people all hate fat people (or vice versa), that cries of “eat a sandwich!” are any less painful or more acceptable than “put down that donut!”, that thin people don’t have body image issues, that thin women never have problems getting appropriate medical attention.
Because none of those things are true. Women of all sizes are regularly subjected to body policing, people of all sizes come in an array of bigotry levels, the pain of food-based shame is not lesser at a lower body weight, all women are at risk of having body image issues (conversely, women at all sizes might have fabulous self-images), and thin women as well as fat and inbetween can have a hell of a time getting doctors to listen to and believe them.
But? None of those things disprove thin privilege. And furthermore, they all are a consequence of fatphobia2.
Body and food policing and hateful, hurtful insults are a direct outflow of the belief that there is one acceptable type of body, and all others should be shamed (through words and pseudoscience and ill-fitting, unflattering clothes) for daring to deviate from it. And at this point in time, in USian culture (and many others), that ideal body is very thin3 — though not too thin.
Here is just a small example of ways that thinness is systemically privileged: seats are made for thin (or at most inbetween) people; most clothes (and basically ALL high fashion clothes) are made for thin people; thin women do not have to worry that they will be kept out of exclusive night clubs because of their thinness; thin people are more likely to be hired, less likely to be fired, and get paid more; thin people are not told they need to buy a second seat to fly because of their thinness, else risk being kicked off the plane; everyone in power — including medical professionals who should know better — are convinced that thin people are automatically healthier, merely by virtue of being thin; and almost all major media not only disproportionately represent thin people but artificially exaggerate thinness.
That not every thin person equally receives the benefit of thin privilege — that some, as with thin people with disabilities or health conditions dismissed out of hand because a douchebag doctor declares “you’re thin, you must be healthy!”, are actively disadvantaged — only means that the system doesn’t care one whit about any individuals, regardless of their size. Thinness is privileged; this does not mean that fatphobia is universally good for thin persons.
So, my skinny friend: your pain is real. Your hatred of the system that shames you is righteous. Your rejection of culpability in the self-esteem of fat women might be just. But your declaration that you therefore are not, cannot be privileged? Is based on a faulty understanding of privilege, its functions, and what it is like to be the embodiment of fatness in a fatphobic society. The words flung at you hurt; you may not always be able to find clothes that fit or flatter you; you may have spent a lifetime wishing for (or told you were supposed to wish for) more flesh, more curves, more bust. Those things are not any less true or real given what I am about to say:
You and those who share your thinness are not held up as responsible for everything from shorter lifespans to global warming; you and those who share your thinness can expect to walk into most clothing stores and at least find something that will meet when you attempt to button it; you can see your thinness reflected in every form of major media, held up in airbrushed form (if not in your own perfectly flawed, human way) as what all others — especially us fatties — should aspire to. You are privileged in many ways that society tries hard to make invisible to you. That you might not be able to see them does not mean they are not very, very real.
Size acceptance is for you, too, unreservedly. Every woman is a real woman, curves or no; every man, genderqueer, nonbinary person is a real person. But we can’t move forward if we can’t acknowledge the power differential; we cannot get to a place where every size is accepted if we are so convinced that all sizes are now equally affected that we are unable to shift the balance. We are all balancing on a scale, with your thinness being lifted up by the weight of and at the cost of us fatties. Only by acknowledging that imbalance can we get somewhere we can all stand side by squishy-skinny-inbetweeny side.
Your pain is real. So is your privilege. Acknowledge them both, and I promise I will do the same.
- Unless there are fewer than ten comments, or the blog moderator is especially strict, or especially lucky, you’ll also find “But don’t you know fat is unhealthy??” and “You’re just looking for an excuse to stay fat, you lazy cow!” ↩
- Combined with sexism, ableism, classism, and all the other isms. ↩
- That body is also white, moderately curvy (or “womanly”, as though women don’t come in the most fabulous array of shapes) if female — and moderately muscular if male –, cis, not obviously disabled, near-perfectly symmetrical, free of overt blemishes or scars, young (but not too young), not hairy, and so on. ↩