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Thin Privilege.

Fact: Thin Privilege exists. Thin Privilege is a societal truth.*

That said, what does that mean? It means in our society people who fall under a certain body size and weight have privilege over those who do not fit into that category. Is this a cut and dry, black and white truth? Not at all. Is this saying that everyone who falls into the thin privilege category is mean or bad because of it? Certainly not. It is simply stating a sociological fact. Our culture praises, respects, and worships smaller bodies. Our culture also judges, disrespects, and condemns bodies that are larger and have “excess body fat”. That is prejudice and there is privilege. Please note: I am not saying that anyone who happens to have thin privilege, i.e. anyone in the normal BMI range, is prejudice or uses their privilege to their advantage. AND ANYONE WHO SAYS THAT IS PROJECTING THEIR OWN ISSUES AND ABUSING THE CORE STATEMENT.

These two words have been thrown around so much, and it has been driving me utterly crazy. When it broke out with this post a few months ago… I read it and felt validated. I thought, “Yes! Finally! My reality, my voice, is being heard! Now we will finally be understood and we can all work together to promote healthy and happy body image in the world!” Apparently I was wrong. People took it the wrong way. People were insulted and there was an enormous backlash. After I recovered from the shock of that, I do see their point of view. Nobody likes to be called out for something that applies to them that they never asked for.

Now I want to make an important distinction. Privilege exists in many forms. It is malleable, as are our cultural and personal views. One form of privilege may outweigh another in one situation, and be the opposite in another. My friend Jane Brazen explained this particularly well in her blog. “…just because I have thin privilege does not mean I automatically have other privileges. I do not have sane privilege. (I’ve decided to call it sane privilege because I’m still not sure that I like the language of ableism for mental health issues. It’s going to be all about crazy and sane privilege for me.) …This is what thin feminists should know about thin privilege. You can have it while simultaneously being un-privileged as a person with an eating disorder, thin because of that lack of sane privilege. Now, I’m not talking about how all women have body problems and most are always on a diet. I’m talking about people who actually have eating disorders. Who probably don’t even think they have thin privilege.”

Jane is a friend of mine from back home, though we originally met online through an ED community. Our stories are similar in many ways but one of the distinct differences is that she is naturally thin and I am naturally not. We both have struggled with EDNOS and body image issues. We both believe in sex worker activism, we both are intelligent and are drawn to academia, we are both female-bodied and bisexual, and we both come from working to middle class Midwestern families. Actually, statistically I probably had a slight privilege over her growing up economically. So… we’re both white so we both have that privilege, she has thin privilege and I do not**, neither of us has sane privilege (that always makes me laugh), I suppose we have intellectual privilege, we do not have male privilege, we do not technically have heterosexual privilege***, and I had (growing up, she probably has it now!) economic privilege.

One isn’t better than the other, one didn’t have an easier time in life than the other, it just is what it is.

I hope this clears some things up for those in the ED sphere who were insulted by the term. It isn’t an attack, and it isn’t saying there aren’t injustices to anyone who is thin. Of course women of all sizes are scrutinized and objectified by our culture. That is a serious problem and I am so glad to know so many people who are combating it. What Thin Privilege is referring to though, are the little things that often go unnoticed (except by those who are excluded, hence, privilege). There are great blogs out there who speak to this more such as here and yes, even the one that got everyone riled up. Here are just a few examples:

1. Doctors don’t chalk up every symptom you have to your size and present weight loss as a panacea.

2. You can eat in public without people judging your food choices. Likewise you can be pretty assured that no one behind you at the grocery store is looking at what you buy to “see what makes you so fat.”

3. You can be assured of seeing people your size in popular media (tv, magazines, etc.) If you are an actor you can usually be up for meaningful lead roles rather than the “comical sidekick” or be otherwise unrestricted in terms of what parts you’re allowed to play.

4. You can shop in most stores and find clothes in your size.

5. When a person flirts with you you don’t have to worry that they’re doing it to have “good politics” and can genuinely assume it’s because they find you attractive. Also, you do not have to deal with people who fetishize you because of your size.

6. Your size communicates very little to most people and is value neutral. That is, most people don’t assume anything about your values, morals, etc. because of your size.

So in closing, I wanted to address Mama V (aka Heather)’s post and video entitled, “Thin Privilege, Spare Me.”

I’m sorry Heather but I’m not going to spare you. It’s really unfortunate that you’ve let emotions override the simplicity of all these misunderstandings. I haven’t read all the comments you got, I’m sure a lot of them were ridiculous and hurtful and fueled by hurt feelings. It’s easy to get riled up on the internet. But as someone in the forefront of ED awareness and positive body image advocacy and promoting yourself and a positive role model for girls… I would hope you could see beyond all that and not be defensive and reactive. I actually agree with a lot of the points you made in your post.

Yes, everyone should stand up for themselves… though sometimes a person is just too hurt to be able to and that’s what our communities are for… support.

Of course, there is certainly no case in which one person is thought of as a loser by the entire world. And for those who feel that way (fat OR thin)… again we should support them until they find the love within themselves to see the truth.

And yes, we should not take life for granted.

I disagree with you on the points that thin privilege is not necessary to “make ones case”. Um… it is. Facts seen above.

While teaching the concept of thin privilege could be detrimental if it was railed home with hateful and envious statements against thin people… that is quite the exception. I believe children should be aware of ALL privilege… taught in a balanced manner it will produce more well-rounded adults.

And I would definitely disagree that compassion towards anorexics is non-existent. Many people see anorexia and obesity as the extreme ends of one spectrum. That spectrum of using disordered eating habits as a maladaptive mechanism to cope with emotions, stress, and self-destructive feelings. And only someone who is incredibly ignorant (fat OR thin) would harass someone suffering from anorexia about their thin privilege. That would be absurd and cruel.

As for your video…. I would really love it if you took some time to consider the concept of “sane privilege” (my friend made that term up, I don’t know how accepted it is in general, but I do know she just received her masters in sociology so she knows what she’s talking about). I relate to a lot of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters but as I said, I’m not naturally thin. There is a spectrum, you can’t look at this as a black and white “you against me” situation. I know many in the FA community probably have been attacking you in that manner, but you don’t have to buy it. It’s really not helping your cause by buying it. I love the work you do on your blog, and I bet you are a really great mom and your daughter is lucky to have you as an influence in her life. So please don’t feel like you should be “the one you all love to hate.” I really DON’T think that helps the discussion.

*The society I am referencing is the generalized mainstream propagated Westernized civilization. This “truth” is enhanced by Western popular culture.

**My BMI is overweight and I wear a size 14/XL. I also have no idea what I look like and think I’m a lot larger than I probably really am. I know that I am on the lower side technically of “Fat” (sooo subjective), but I can assure you that my life experiences prove that I do not have thin privilege. Though, there have been periods where I have been smaller (but never what I’d consider thin –lack of sane privilege acknowledgment here–) and I recognized changes in how I was perceived by society as a whole and by people in my day to day life. I probably straddle the elusive line… there are probably some thin privileges I get away with, but there are definitely others I do not and I feel the stigmatization.

***I say technically, because we both appear femme. Therefore to the outside world, we fit the heterosexual female mold. Though whenever she is out with her girlfriend her hetero-typical appearance would be void.

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  1. September 20, 2009 at 8:08 am

    I think that people get really freaked out about the topic of privilege because they think it places blame. I think that was part of what was going on in Heather’s post. But, it is NOT about blame; it’s about acknowledging reality. In our society, I have white privilege. That does not mean that I am racist, or that I think I SHOULD be privileged, or that I condone inequality. It means that I don’t have to wrestle with what the legacy of slavery has done to my community; it means I can walk into almost any salon and assume they’ll “know what to do” with my hair; it means I can walk down to CVS and buy some “flesh tone” band-aids that closely match my skin color, etc., etc. Globally, I’m even more privileged. AND, at the same time, I do not have male privilege, I do not have heterosexual privilege, etc.

    Think privilege absolutely exists. Since the age of sixteen, I have been every size from a 0 to an 18. I KNOW that thin privilege exists. I know it because I can walk into a store at the size I am now (healthy bmi, but definitely “thin”) and there are clerks who great me with a smile and often ask multiple times if there is anyway they can help. I know that at a size 16, I could have walked into the same store, and very possibly not have been greeted by a clerk, just eyed warily until I realized I couldn’t FIT into anything in the store. Thin privilege is active everyday. I know was frustrated in Heather’s blog when she said it could be deadly to talk about thin privilege to people with eating disorders. If you ask me, people with eating disorders understand thin privilege better than most people do! We KNOW it’s out there, and it’s something that we struggle with. And too often we’re told that we “just need to love our bodies” in spite of society. For me, it’s been incredibly helpful when treatment providers have been willing and able to talk honestly about thin privilege and what it means for someone recovering from an eating disorder.

    • 700stories
      September 20, 2009 at 9:22 am

      thanks for bringing up male privilege and heterosexual privilege! I just edited the post to mention that 🙂 Neither of which I have either. (Though het. privilege is easier to “pass”… whole other blog!)

      That’s interesting you talk about thin privilege with your treatment providers. I would never think to bring that up since I hate talking about body image in general. But yeah in reference to Heather… it would be reckless to try and have a conversation about thin privilege with a person in the midst of their disorder (specifically anorexia) because they’re suffering from an acute mental illness. BUT, people recover… and there are many stages and levels of recovery. But I believe once you’re on that path… you’re not quite ever the same as you were when originally in the grip of the disorder. There is more awareness, even if you can’t alway access it or change your behaviors. So yes, why not discuss thin privilege? It’s great for those of us who have been on both sides of the coin… but it can be discussed with people who have always been (and probably always will be) thin. You can’t be afraid of “scaring the anorexic” as if they’ll think they have to stay underweight to keep thin privilege, that’s pretty ridiculous. That’s accepting their disorder. That’s why people are trained to work with those with eating disorders and know how to talk to them.

      I could probably go on forever, haha.

  2. Synna
    September 20, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    Hi, I followed your link from WATRD. Thank you for your excellent analysis of thin privilege!

    I think that the issue here is MamaV taking the idea of thin privilege so personally, as a personal affront to her existence instead of seeing it as another construct of society that influences us all, for better or worse.

    • 700stories
      September 20, 2009 at 10:50 pm

      Hi Synna, thanks for reading! Yeah I agree, and I hope she sees it really isn’t personal.

  3. Zenoodle
    September 21, 2009 at 8:12 pm

    Also followed you here from your WatRD link — and really think you have done a lot of nail-head hitting! Thanks for putting stuff so well! 🙂

    • 700stories
      September 21, 2009 at 8:37 pm

      thank you!

  4. September 22, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    Hello! Thank you for your post, and for your comments on my video/post. I will follow up “sane privilege,” great concept and I feel very relevant (you didn’t post links, can you send them to realdealgirls@gmail.com?)

    One important point is that I am not doing this for me. I am doing this for my daughter, my Girl Scout Troop fourth graders just headed into puberty, and for the girls with ED’s that I have grown to love through the mamaV blog. They are the next generation that my life, and this passion revolves around.

    I see how it appears that I am “personally hurt,” but that is really not the case (I am a forty year old mom, my life revolves around my kids, husband, and parents, and not around myself, my body or my looks anymore –thank God for that — I never want to go back to that place). As someone with EDNOS, I am sure you can relate to that, it took me a good 6 years of therapy back in my twenties to get a grip on this reality!

    Anyway, thank you for caring, and for expressing your very valid viewpoints on this. This is all so very important you know? Even all the frustration and aggravation with each other is so important, and I think very worth the pain!

    Respectfully,
    mV

  5. September 23, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    Just wandered over here from WATRD. Great, great post. I love the idea of sane privilege. Some seemingly simple decisions or outings can be so fraught if one does not have sane privilege.

    Overall, great. Thank you for contributing to the conversation.

  6. julesyparker
    September 25, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this post – very challenging and real. I have learnt so much about thin privilege in the past few months and still consider myself to be learning. It clearly is something that does exists as plainly as does fat discrimination.

    One thing that I am trying to come to terms with though, is the at times vitriolic and very personalised way some people write and respond about these issues. I can totally appreciate that things are incredibly personal to some people, but in many cases I’ve seen it presented in such a way that ‘damns’ the ‘other side.’ I’m such a softy I guess that I would love to see as many of us work together as possible to understand the perspective of another. I’m not sure if it’s possible but I’m trying.

    Thank you again for the post which I think is great. Look forward to checking into your blog often.

  1. September 23, 2009 at 6:41 pm

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