Thursday, 19 February 2009

Is thin privilege illusory?

An immediate reaction to a word can be instructive.

When I first heard the use of privilege, to represent an unfair societal advantage, I baulked at it.

I knew what it was getting at, it wasn't that it was wrong. But it also felt like the emphasis was unbalanced. As it emphasises what you gain over what you lose.

More than anything else I can think of the term 'thin privilege' exhausts the idea of privilege

Does it actually exist?

I have to say, I cannot see any tangible gain over and above what you would lose in trying to cash in on your privilege.

It may give some extra leeway in being treated badly in some ways, but the absence of being downgraded, is not getting something you don't deserve. It's just the other person is not getting what they should expect. Getting out of some ill treatment, in itself, is not my idea of privilege.

Reaching for the tantalising prospect of the appearance of superiority for merely being thin, automatically loses you something more precious, the feeling that as you are, you are wholly worthwhile.

If we are not born with high self esteem, we are at least born with the absence of it occurring to us that we should dislike ourselves. We are thoroughly absorbed in the business of our continuing survival. By default therefore, we feel worthy of that survival.

Being able to reconnect with that feeling would be seen by a lot of people as a huge rise in their self esteem.

There is no privilege to being thin, apart from the absence of fat shaming and even that has gone down the swanee, because going along with the shaming of others, is what prepares you to be shamed and ashamed yourself.

You have been both cheated and corrupted.

One of the greatest barriers to invoking shame in someone, is them not feeling ashamed of themselves.

The thin shaming of today anyhow is really just fat shaming in disguise.

Body shaming perpetuates the idea that women should expect to account for their bodies at all times to anyone with the impertinence to demand it of them.

The only real win is to dispense with both the fantasy of wining because you're thin and the reality of losing because you are fat. Both must go, along with any idea that anyone should have to apologise or explain being thin.

As far as I can tell - thin privilege as a privilege where you gain more than you lose; doesn't exist.

Anything that sells you false superiority also unwinds the idea that as you are, you are good enough, needing to pretend you are 'better' means you cannot just be. Even if you do not consciously notice this loss, you will be aware of it at some level, you will chase and try and make good on it.

Knowing that if you become in any way like the bad other, you will be subject to the same a they're getting, is upsetting and unnerving.

That is why many wise slim people would touch 'thin privilege' with a ten foot pole. The illusion is all around, but they instinctively know better.

Join in.


  1. I don't think that thin privilege is necessarily saying that thin people are better than fat people. But thin people don't face the level of discrimination that fat people do. Thin people don't have to worry about where to find clothes (unless they're really thin), they don't have to worry if their ass will fit in any particular seat, they don't have to worry that while walking down the street someone in a passing car will call them nasty names or throw garbage at them, they don't have to worry that when they go to see a doctor that doctor will blame their malady on their weight, just to name a few of the things they don't have to worry about. I don't know if that's a kind of privilege or not, since it's not something they earned, but is just ceded to them because they happened to have the genes that don't make them fat, but it does make their life easier than mine. This is not to say that there aren't morons out there who will make fun of thin people, but it's not as accepted to make fun of thin people as it is to make fun of fat people and put them down (just look at any newspaper or magazine or movie or TV series, examples of fat-phobia abound, and examples of thin-phobia are practically non-existent).

    1. Your points are valid, save for one. Thin privilege is not always unearned. You don't know the efforts of some to remain fit and, thus, slim. That shouldn't be undermined by genetics.

      In fact, people with bigger bone structures have it better. They can get away with weight gain whereas just 4 pounds are really obvious on those with small skeletal structures : )

      There really ought to be large bone privileges, since those are unearned : )

    2. Can I say many fat people DO know the efforts some use whilst being slim. Know in part why? Because many FP are aware of how much effort they've put in whilst remaining fat, sometimes very. It is people like you who do not realise this, your way of thinking automatically dismisses the notion of fat whilst expending huge amounts of energy and/or starving.

      The term "privilege" as applied here is never earned, or it wouldn't be deemed thus.

  2. Hello Vesta,

    I suppose I was considering thin privilege from an ideological more than a practical point of view.

    Your points are well made and noted, but in their own way show exactly why the thin privilege notion doesn't quite hang together.

    A lot of what you ascribe to the fat experience, doesn't apply to some fat people and being thin will not prevent you from same or similar experiences.

    As you said yourself, clothes and seats can be just as much of an issue for the very thin as fat people, specifically or in general.
    Thin people can find sitting in seats really uncomfortable due to their lack of padding.

    I get the feeling that differences in the fat exp, are a bit taboo.

    It's for this reason that I can't say that your experiences are specifically fat.

    As for the streets, I'm sure as a woman, you know that in itself can bring unwanted and intrusive attentions in the street. Race can also expose you, most black people know about the acceleration that sometimes occurs when you cross in front of certain cars; even to this day, I still feel slightly nervous going across a zebra crossing, even when the driver is not white!

    I've also had actual things thrown at me, as well as abuse. In fact recently, I actually had to laugh, because I couldn't work out if the woman was calling me a black bitch or a fat bitch. I wasn't quite sure which would have offended me more, not because of intrinsic offensiveness , but which one would have been more raw!

    It's not that I don't know about fatter people having to put up with a lot going about their business, just that thinness doesn't obliterate the things you speak of so cannot quite be counterpoised with it.

    As for doctors, I also don't worry about them blaming me for my weight, I'm lucky, so far blessed with good health as have indeed a lot of fat people, so I've rarely needed their services.

    When I've gone and been weighed, I couldn't give a rat's arse what they think about my weight and I'm happy to let them know if they want to push it. I certainly am not the slightest bit worried about what I think is inevitable, medical history shows, they always have a current McGuffin, that they blame everything on.

    But I do recognise that it is a worry for others and that they like you have exposed to more sustained attacks.

    I'm just not sure how much of this is intrinsic to being fat as it is intrinsic to how they treat you when they have a certain view of cause and effect.

    All in all, I'm not at all dismissing what you've said, just trying to illustrate the problems with some of the categorizations we've adopted. They need a bit more working out.

  3. learned a lot