Body Talk
Body Talk

My Thin Privilege

by Katy Preen 3 years ago in body

Turns out being small can make you mighty.

My Thin Privilege

As with all topics discussed openly on the internet, the Thin Privilege argument has descended into a battle in which a side must be picked. You're either pro-fat or pro-skinny, and there's no middle ground. Well...

That's not strictly true, but there's not much room for nuance. But don't worry, for I, a skinny person, am about to lecture you on Thin Privilege.

IT EXISTS.

Whoa, what happened there? I should be defending the corner of the despised skinny woman, the oppressed majority, the Randian starlet sidelined in favour of the wholesome Plain Jane. But no, I do recognise the benefits my slender frame offers me, and attempts to deny it would be delusional.

It's not a thing that benefits me in all ways and at all times, and of course things do go wrong in my life that my tiny waistline cannot save me from. But that doesn't mean I face systemic oppression because of my weight, or lack of.

It turns out that life, like arguments on Twitter, is far more complicated than a binary selection. Of late, I have become a lot more involved in issues of social justice, and more willing to listen to the voices of those affected in ways that I would not be. I also draw on my own experiences of discrimination based on my sex, gender presentation, social class, & age, and I know what it's like to encounter prejudices that others can't see. So when I hear that a marginalised group has a problem, my first reaction is to empathise, rather than jump on the bandwagon of minimisation and denial.

I do get comments based on my thinness, true, but that's not good enough evidence to say that I have it as bad as larger people. Even if someone is being critical of my weight, that statement is made in the wider context of thinness being a desirable thing in our society, even if it's unhealthy. I may get comments made based on jealousy, concern-trolling, or if a real-life skinny person is needed to illustrate a point, but none of these things harm me in the long run. Sure, they may seem rude or too personal, but I will get over it. I'm not consistently made to feel like my body is a problem, and I've never been denied opportunities due to my thinness. It happens for other reasons, but my weight is most definitely not the issue here.

It is worth noting, because someone is bound to point it out, that thin-shaming is a real thing. It's spiteful, harmful, and something that's ingrained in some people's minds. But it is a specific problem that is part of the wider culture of scrutinising women's bodies — as is fat-shaming — and it can exist alongside thin privilege. And there's no such thing as “fat privilege,” so my team is already one up before we start.

Ultimately the problem is other people, the very same who don't see that it is a problem. However, we have evidence that demonstrates that thinner women earn more on average than fat women, and the numerous stories (like this one) of absolutely disgusting treatment of overweight people by complete strangers are just incredible — I have never been treated like this because of my weight, and even if I had, I doubt it would be a regular occurrence.

I don't have to put up with bullshit on planes, I was never the last to be picked in sports, and no one's ever refused to sit near me while I'm eating. The fat kids at school got picked on really badly, and while kids will find anything to pick on if they really want to, the fat kids had it the worst.

And about my health? Well, I feel reasonably happy with it, and I know that if I'm sick, my weight won't be the first thing on the list of contributing factors. Although it's not anyone's business except me and my doctor's — and it's just not the same for fat people. Everyone's got an opinion on their lifestyle choices and general health, often wrapped in the guise of concern for the burden on healthcare services or that they might be setting a bad example to impressionable youngsters. Okay, there are issues with society's perception of what is overweight and what is not (our waistlines, and perception of the change from average to above-average, have increased over time), but this is not the fault of individuals, or the body-positive movement. It's simply because our lifestyles are very different to those of, say, 50 years ago.

All of us: fat, thin, or somewhere in-between, are consuming more and burning off less calories on average. It's not because fat people want to be accepted in society, or because you saw a fat person once and suddenly your aspirations changed overnight. It's because we're more likely to be involved in sedentary work, our lives are more erratic with less time to eat properly, and household chores are no longer physically demanding. And that's just the first three reasons I could think of. I could elaborate further on the prevalence of illnesses that encourage weight gain, or the social problems that contribute, but you get the idea. Obesity is a consequence of societal factors, not the other way round.

And one more thing regarding health: a fat person is still going to be fat, with or without anyone's approval. Even “words of encouragement” will just make someone feel uncomfortable. And fat people aren't silly. They do know that they're fat; they don't need reminding of this fact.

You know what else? Some people do want to sit on their arses all day and eat cake. Well, it's their choice. They know it's not great for them (again, fat people aren't stupid!), but we all make trade-offs in our lives, and none of us are saints. No one cares what you think about someone else's body. Keep it to yourself — honestly, it's a bit creepy that you'd even go there.

So yeah, my body type gets a free pass where others wouldn't. And sometimes people are mean to people of my size too. But we have to put it into perspective. What is the overall direction of most of the obstacles and hate? Because I'm just not seeing the barriers in my path that I'd expect if the balance was equal. By all means, love your own body. But don't forget to also own your privilege.

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Katy Preen
Katy Preen
Read next: The State
Katy Preen

Research scientist, author & artist based in Manchester, UK. Strident feminist, SJW, proudly working-class.

See all posts by Katy Preen