Time to call out another privilege……

// 30 April 2009

And of course the privilege I am speaking of, is Thin Privilege. Edited to add: Anji from Shut up, Sit down, has also blogged about Thin Privilege, and you can find her post here I have to say, I agree with everything she says, and she does a far better job of getting her point across than I do!

Thin Privilege, is, in my opinion, one of the worst forms of privilege. None of them are ok, at all. But thin privilege is a little harder to discern, a little more insidious, a little harder to fight. I’m happy to be told I’m wrong- I don’t want to play the ‘X oppression is worse than Y oppression card’ here, or deny the damage done to individuals and groups by other forms of privilege.

It’s just that Thin Privilege is so unbelievably socially acceptable, that even the government are in on the act. We don’t as a society accept racism, or sexism or homophobia. We, have, in fact got laws against them. There is however, no law that protects fat people from discrimination. There is no law that says I can sue my employer because my colleagues regularly and routinely interrogate my choices of lunch, and berate me for ‘not being good’. I am 25 years old, and the people in my office tell me I am not being ‘good’ because I ate a fricking sandwich.

I can take action if they disparage my heritage. I can take action if they disparage my gender. I can take action if they disparage my sexuality. I am protected in law, at least from those things. I can do nothing when they disparage my weight, and make jokes about fat people, or comment on how lazy and stupid a fat person must be, and comment that they couldn’t possibly care about themselves. There is no law to protect me from this. I have to accept their hideous and cruel behavior, because somehow, the fact that my body type is not an accepted norm means it is ok to ridicule, bully and mistreat me.

And when I complain, they tell me that it is because they are trying to ‘help’ me, and that their actions are for my own good.

I know, I am not the only fat person who experiences this. I know from speaking to other people, both online and offline that this is common. There seems to be this notion, this idea that thin = good and fat = bad. Some of the comments I have seen on this blog have borne this out. No matter how liberal or progressive, or devoted to equality someone is, it appears, that there is nothing that stops a thin person from exerting their privilege over a fat person, and reminding them that thin= good and fat = bad.

This is my last post in my guest blogging stint here on The F Word. I want to use it to remind you all of this- when you check your racial privilege, or your gender privilege or your class privilege or your able privilege, please check your weight privilege too. Are you about to trot out something about ‘obesity is a drain on resources’ or another one of those well know fallacies about weight?

Are you about to comment that someone should eat more fruit or exercise more or restrain themselves more, in order to comply with your image of a bodily ideal? Before you do that, think, for a second about what it is to live in a body that society hates. Think for a second, about what it is like to walk into a room, and have every single person in that room assume that are lazy, stupid, unwashed, unattractive and that you have no confidence or self esteem. Think what it is to be told daily, everywhere you look, and by people you speak to, that you would be better, could be better, indeed, that you SHOULD be better- if only you tried harder.

And when you think that, and take that second, check your Thin Privilege, and remind yourself that EVERY BODY is a person, and as such, has a value and a worth that extends far beyond their physical appearance.

Comments From You

Jennifer Drew // Posted 30 April 2009 at 11:22 pm

Actually our patriarchal society is all about controlling women and one very effective way is to promote myths concerning supposedly ‘ideal body weight.’ Women who are naturally thin are often told they must be anorexic whereas women whose bodies do not fit male-defined definitions of female bodies are told they are too fat.

Take a look around are men told they are getting too fat from drinking too much. Are men constantly told their bodies should weigh an ideal weight because physical appearance is the only thing which qualifies men as being male? I haven’t seen it. Take a look at who has power and who does not. Men still dominate politics and last time I checked most countries’ leaders were still male and no they all do not look like Adonis.

So, keeping women constantly worried about their weight is a very effective way of maintaining the status quo. I recommend reading ‘Body Work’ by Sylvia K. Blood. Ms. Blood explodes the myth of ideal body weight etc.

Reason why so many individuals consider it their right to tell certain women they are eating too much or too little is because patriarchal propaganda works so well. Also, don’t forget constant media propaganda promoting the myth ‘because we are worth it.’ Worth what? Starving oneself just so a woman can conform to patriarchy’s standard of physical beauty.

News flash – women are not all ‘one size’ but you would never know it from the media or advertising. Remember – the core reason for all this promotion is money, because it is pharmaceutical companies and the beauty industry which is making huge profits from lies patriarchy tells.

Sabre // Posted 1 May 2009 at 10:03 am

Execellent post. It’s a difficult topic because one one hand there is an issue of privilege but on the other, I do think obesity as a widespread feature of a population is a bad thing for health resources and in many cases for the health of people. That issue can’t be ignored.

But people have got too used to spouting off about obese people draining the NHS and I often find myself reminding people that smokers are also a huge drain on the NHS and there is much less shaming there. It’s basically ‘fattism’ disguised as logic. I’m also totally dismayed when I hear that airlines want to charge fat passengers more or when people moan about people taking up too much space on public transport. It’s as if those bodies have less right to occupy physical space which is ridiculous. Would we treat a very tall person the same way? No. So again it’s ‘fattism’ disguised as logic.

Could quite happily go on ranting here. If ‘fattist’ or any of my other comments are offensive I apologise. I’m probably as guilty as anyone of exerting thin privilege (although I’m not even thin!) I sort of understand the issue as I was pretty chubby at school and considered myself the fat kid until college. My boyfriend however has always been thin and athletic and he is TERRIBLE with thin privilege. He really doesn’t get it and wraps his fattism in the concept that healthy is good, and slim is healthy therefore fat is evil. It makes me sad to know that if I became really overweight he would have a problem with it.

eleanargh // Posted 1 May 2009 at 10:09 am

Thanks for writing this – I was lying in bed this morning thinking about my privileges, and the list is looong, included thin privilege. I was thinking that it feels one of the less damaging (compared to white /middle-class/cisgender privileges), if I was going to put them in a ridiculous hierarchy, but exactly the fact that I *have* the privilege means *I* don’t get to declare to what extent I benefit from it.

I’m sorry your colleagues doesn’t take your complaints of harassment seriously. My employer does have a code which includes the responsibility to prevent and eliminate harassment and bullying based on appearance, although I don’t know whether it’s actually been used to any effect. Your post reminds me to consider size privilege when discussing our planned new Dignity At Work policy with my employer – thanks.

katrina // Posted 1 May 2009 at 10:16 am

I’ve never heard this called thin privilege before, and one reason I hesitate to accept the epithet is that fat hate is held over every woman’s head and it is very much tangled up with woman hating.

If you don’t see fat hate it’s because you’ve internalised it: it’s not because you’re free from it by virtue of being thin. Plenty of women who are normal-sized or thin think they’re fat and it’s easy for them to find people who will readily agree.

I feel I can vouch for that because I’m a thin 40-year-old woman who’s never been even slightly overweight.

While I get far more approval for my figure than for anything I’ve ever achieved or any good I’ve ever done, people feel free to tell me not to eat so much, that I’ll get fat, etc etc.

I could tell a million little fat-hate stories, but I know that every other western woman has had the same experience or much, much worse.

Jackie Bather // Posted 1 May 2009 at 10:40 am

It is rare to read an article about this issue, so good on you Suzi for raising these points.Well, it’s all about male control of women, isn’t it …same old tat…trying to keep women to a size and shape which men have deemed acceptable, in our culture.It is an intrusion into our personal space,to have to listen to inane comments about eating a sandwich etc. and it is simultaneously a reminder that we are not equal as a sex, so comments can be freely made in this way.Sure, there are ample men too, and I am not saying that they receive no jibes, but most of the weight loss industry is squarely aimed at women …just look at the TV ad’s “I only ate one cornflake a day for six weeks and I’m now 10 kgs lighter “…then the camera zooms to a thin female smiling vacantly.Women join in this tat because they have been brainwashed to do so.Don’t you think that all these people need to get out more and get a life, Suzi ?

Rhona // Posted 1 May 2009 at 10:54 am

You’re absolutely right when you talk about the perception that thin = good, fat = bad.

I am a fairly average size 12, but I am tall and long limbed, so look slimmer than I am. I am bang on my ideal weight and BMI (for all the good that that means), yet recently – following a rather stressful period – I lost about a stone, making me UNDERWEIGHT.

I lost count of the number of ‘compliments’ I received for my weight loss, although I wanted to shout: “But I feel rubbish! I’m tired, I’ve got no energy and my head hurts! How can this be a good thing?!”

Today, I read an article about the increase in eating disorders among pre-pubescent girls, which horrified me.

However, given the insidiousness of ‘thin’ propaganda and weight loss messages around us, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised…

hmc // Posted 1 May 2009 at 11:29 am

As a former sufferer of anorexia, I can say that I find the whole food as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ thing equally distressing. I can’t count the number of times people have commented on what I am having for lunch (particularly at work, offices seem to be the worst) along the lines of ‘oh you’re so good’, ‘I wish I was as good as you’, ‘don’t you ever eat anything bad’, ‘come on be naughty’ etc. I have even had quite a few people warning me, when I have just taken an hour working up the courage to have a sweet out of the pack someone has brought in to share, ‘ooh, you’ll get fat if you eat that!’ or ‘you shouldn’t eat too many of those, you know, you’ll put on weight’. Random people I don’t even know have commented on what I put on my tray in a canteen at lunchtime. It is as though just because I am woman people feel they have the right to police what I am eating. The fact that people could go on about how ‘healthy’ and ‘good’ I was (even when I was very underweight), just shows how sick and twisted the whole thing is. Having the ridiculous idea that ‘fat=bad’ drummed into us every day is not helpful for anybody.

Ellie // Posted 1 May 2009 at 12:30 pm

Hey Suzi,

First off I think this is definitely an issue that femninists should be attending to closesly as body size is of course hugely related to beauty standards at both ends of the weight spectrum. It would be great to see this addressed more in blogs and the media.

However I dont think it’s an issue that can be tackled outside of this framework with much success. Current discourse on body size posits it as a problem with a solution, and the best way to solve a problem is to look at the cause of the problem.

A lot of people see body weight as a matter of choice therefore the cause is the individual’s impulse control, laziness, lack of self-esteem, etc. and this choice factor legitimates the harassment people receive. I for one don’t think this is going to be an easy aspect of the issue to change because to some extent choice is a factor and will therefore crop up in any conversation that focuses on why people are over or underweight.

Therefore, it seems the most productive way to address the issue is either from a feminist perspective, bringing in the structual oppression of gender, and perhaps class and race, or from an ethical/empathy perspective.

The latter would either be basically be akin to taking nationwide, possibly legislative action, against interpsersonal bullying which I think would beperceived as the state intefering too far by a lot of people (not to mention the impracticalities of polciing this), or to have prejudice against over or underweight people become so socially taboo that it only rarely occurs.

The problem with the social taboo aspect being that, because of the current discourse of weight being a health issue, harassment about your weight can be interpreted as ‘concern’ about your health or psychological wellbeing – this issue is entirely muddied by the fact that being under or overweight often is precipitated by mental problems such as anxiety or depression, and actually can lead to health problems. Therefore any debate around the social taboo proposal would inevitably get sidetracked back into this problem-cause area, rather than focussing on the actual effects of harassment on individuals.

In conclusion to a very long, possibly muddled post (I’m at work and keep getting interupted), it seems to me the most effective way to tackle discrimination and harassment due to body weight, is to addresss the problem from an intersectional feminist perspective.

Rose // Posted 1 May 2009 at 12:53 pm

As someone who was once 5’6” and 6.5 stone, weak, grey, constantly cold, and unable to stop shaking, being told how ‘lucky’ I was to be so thin, and openly and contantly being refered to as a ‘bitch’ by people ‘jealous’ of my weight, I have to disagree with the tone of your blog.

Thin is not a privilege. Because of my metabolism, for me it is a daily struggle for health. And I do get judged for it. People who don’t know me are shocked by the amount I eat, and don’t shut up about it, again, calling me a ‘bitch’ for being able to eat so ‘freely’.

People who do know me think lowly of me if they see me eating a small meal.

People see my weight, and look down on me for having an eating disorder – that I don’t have.

People assume I’m weak, and can’t look after myself – and again, they’re helluva wrong.

Food in shops has the fat removed, and they call it healthy, but that common goal of weight loss is detrimental to my health. So, where exactly is this privilege of mine?

I can’t help but think that perhaps the privilege is having a ‘healthy body weight’, frankly, I wouldn’t begrudge anyone that.

Kay // Posted 1 May 2009 at 2:30 pm

I completely agree. I have been a size 8 and I am currently a size 18. When I lost weight (by giving up eating, and exercising for four hours a day, while partaking in some sever self -harming) I was treated as though I’d found the meaning of life. I was complimented and asked for tips on how to lose weight.

Incidentally saying, “Have a mental break-down, give up eating and take up smoking, learn to live on cups of hot tea.” Is NOT what your friends want to hear.

Now that I eat again, am happy, successful, and only make it to the gym three times a week: I am a pariah. Friends instead ask if I’m “OK”, and gently suggest that I might want to consider dieting.

Ah, Irony.

Qubit // Posted 1 May 2009 at 4:10 pm

How much different do you think the response would be if you were a man? While I think the prejudice against fat people extends to fat men I am not sure whether such vocal criticisms of what they eat would be made to their faces.

I know it is overly personal but given your co-workers consider you ‘bad’ for eating a sandwich what do they eat? Also what do the expect you to eat (I am guessing they advice you on that) and where do they get their advice from? It strikes me as strange to make comments to someone’s face about what they eat as well as being incredibly inappropriate.

I can’t help thinking that part of the problem is diets which encourage the loss of weight but not necessarily a healthy balanced meal. I think that the repeated printing of such diets implies that low weight is a better sign of health that an actual healthy diet and lifestyle. Do you think if diet pages in magazines and newspapers were replaced with health pages encouraging healthy meals and exercise whether you needed to lose weight or not the obsession with being the right weight would lessen?

Kat // Posted 1 May 2009 at 4:36 pm

Yes but…..

gender, sexual orientation, ethnic origin, physical ability are all traits that a person is born with, or becomes involuntarily. Weight…well…isn’t. I’m not being ‘sizeist’ or abusing my ‘thin privelige’ (right now I’m far from thin) and I understand exactly what you are saying, it’s awful, society tricks women into thinking that eating is a naughty indulgence…but people who think the way you describe are just a bit dense – it’s no exactly ‘thin privelige’…

Jane // Posted 2 May 2009 at 1:10 pm

I rather agree with Rose here. I’m thin and my metabolism means I can seemingly eat whatever I want, whenever I want, without putting on weight. I’m so tired of others constantly telling me ‘how lucky I am’ that I am thin, or ‘skinny’. I’m constantly told how I should eat more, that I’ll risk being frail in my old age, etc.

So, this ‘privilege’ cuts both ways I feel.

Jehenna // Posted 2 May 2009 at 1:56 pm


Yes but…..

gender, sexual orientation, ethnic origin, physical ability are all traits that a person is born with, or becomes involuntarily. Weight…well…isn’t.

Whose weight isn’t? There are lots of reasons why weight can get out of control either up or down, including illness (both physical and mental). Is that still voluntary?

CMK // Posted 2 May 2009 at 2:10 pm

I don’t know if people tell male politicians to lose weight – I’ll bet they do though – but I know Vladimar Putin went to great lengths in having his shirtless pictures doctored to make his gut look less like an overhang and more like a six-pack….as one of the most powerful people in the world he thought it was important to how people perceived him.

How we look is often an indicator of how we feel emotionally or physically. More importantly, changes in how we look are a much bigger indicator and I see nothing wrong with individuals discussing these things in an appropriate way. e.g. If a friend suddenly lost a great deal of weight I would be concerned. are they ill, are they ok?

But, as with every privilege, it works both to the benefit and the disadvantage of those with the privilege. This privilege is misnamed, I don’t know what it should be, but more so than most, this name is wrong.

Turn Your Back On Page 3 // Posted 2 May 2009 at 4:08 pm

‘Skinny’ & miserable. ‘Fat’ & happy.

If you are ‘skinny’ & miserable you are not likely to be as productive as you should be. You might be tired, run down. You might be constantly worried about food and body image. You might be constantly exercising. Basically all the ingredients that equal being distracted from important things like educating yourself, empowering yourself and changing the world.

There is a reason the government do not ban the magazines etc. that perpetuate the idea that women should be skinny.

Funny, I noticed when I wrote this on my facebook page I used the word ‘large’ instead of ‘fat’. However, was quite happy using the word ‘skinny’ because of course that’s a complimentary description when actually it should be equally as derogatory or the term ‘fat’ should be equally as complimentary.

It’s disgusting how conditioned we are.

SarahMC // Posted 2 May 2009 at 7:30 pm

Pilgrim Soul and I discussed this in a post at our place a little while ago.

She also did a follow up.

I am glad this topic is making the rounds.

Qubit // Posted 2 May 2009 at 8:43 pm

Being thin myself (although unlike Rose without illness) I have had people make comments about me not eating enough . However I think this isn’t actually to the same level as the prejudice experienced by fat people. I find it uncomfortable but in general I am free to do as I wish without being judged.

For example today I went to a fast food restaurant and wasn’t given any odd looks for going in, nobody assumed that my diet was generally bad and I had no idea about nutrition, they just thought I was treating myself to some unhealthy food.

When talking about prejudice we can talk about how much people comment on what we eat and this almost directly overlaps with sexism. However there is also the attitude of society. This isn’t just comments but the way judgments are passed against fatter people for doing things that are fairly normal. The lack of freedom we grant people and the odd looks we give them.

It is hard to say I am privileged for being able to go to a fast food joint without being judged because society shouldn’t be like that but I think I am.

I understand fast food is not the major problem but being judged constantly, for example in the supermarket, job interviews or even just walking down the street. However these small examples often highlight issues I have noticed.

The main incident I recall was when attending a university night line course the speaker commented that a (face to face) councilor couldn’t be dramatically overweight as this would mean nobody would have faith in them. This was said despite the fact a person clearly in his view (who he was aware of) was both overweight and interested in becoming a student councilor.

I think it is worrying that fat prejudice is considered acceptable. Whether or not you believe people can control their weight, whether or not you believe their are health risks for the majority of careers weight doesn’t affect performance and in employment this should be the issue. Similarly we shouldn’t pass snap judgments on people just because they are overweight. We don’t know why nor is it really any of our business.

Anne Onne // Posted 2 May 2009 at 9:40 pm

@ those who are thin and experience problems: It’s not easy being thin. People feel like they own your body, that they can make any commentary and go on about how enviable your physique is. I know women who are healthy and thin have trouble being constantly thought to be anorexic, and women with real eating disorders find it a nightmare to be told they have a body to die for when they are trying to recover from a very serious condition.

Society makes sure that it’s not easy being women, full stop. This author wasn’t intending to suggest that thin women have no problems, whether related to their weight or health or how people see them or otherwise, but that society still at core values thinness and punishes fatness.

I still think that being thin is a privilege in the same way that having big breasts is a sort of privilege. It doesn’t exempt you from unwanted attention or criticism (big breasts = small brained sex-object here for male use, for example). It’s not fun having very large breasts or being thin, because people assume you’re starving yourself or are ‘unnatural’ or trying too hard to fit in. People tell you that you’re lucky, and as a ‘desirable’ person your body is public property, that because you fit the standard your aim in life must be to make yourself desirable and be given attention by men.

This is particularly a problem for very thin women, because society codes beauty as meaning we should be as thin as possible,therefore the thinner you are, the more enviable you are. Very thin women do get a lot of annoying attention, and I don’t want to deny your experiences of how nasty it is to be on the receiving end of them.

Only, to point out that the only thing socially worse than being seen as ‘desirable’ is being seen as ‘undesirable’. It is not pleasant to have people constantly remark in a way they believe complimentary, which you find isn’t, but it is even harder to deal with people being openly repulsed by you. Of course, very skinny women can be on the receiving end of ‘skinny women aren’t real women’ hate. It’s just that criticism against fatness occurs against more people, at more levels. It’s not just the outliers being criticised and told what they can and can’t eat (something thin women don’t have to deal with to such an extent), but any women seen as ‘fat’ by social standards.

I don’t think the point is that very thin women aren’t hurt. They’re hurt, just like the patriarchy hurts men, probably more so. But the problems that thin women face don’t change the social bias against fat people, pressuring all of us to want to be skinnier, that we can never be skinny enough. They don’t erase the open contempt many fat people face, that they are not supposed to be attractive, and that they must definition be unhealthy, and skinny people must be healthy.

It is definitely more complex than thin = good and fat = bad, but the overwhelming trend certainly values thin more than fat, and therefore punishes fat more than thin.

We’re soaking in a world of perpetual diets, where women are expected to constantly diet (which, BTW totally screws up your metabolic pathways) and feel guilt about eating.

Thin privilege could be more appropriately named ‘socially acceptable weight privilege’, because very skinny women do get hassle for being ‘unnatural’ or ‘making us all feel bad’ as if it’s all their fault. It’s entirely unfair, and they do get told to eat more and that they are damaging their health and that they shouldn’t diet so much.

But the thing is, fat people get it even worse. Though thin people may be subject to very problematic comments and behaviour, that quality is valued by society, and there will always be those who defend and complement it. Fat people get very few allies in their corner defending their looks or health or their right to eat whatever the hell they want, even if it IS fattening. It’s assumed that they MUST want to cut down on food.

However, I still think thinness, like big breasts, is a form of privilege, in that it exempts a woman from having that extra pressure, that extra hassle of people’s reactions telling you you’re not attractive or loveable or worth as much as someone else. Someone who is very skinny or has very big breasts will be seen as a ‘freak’ and trying too hard (there was an excellent article here by a guest poster I think about big breasts) so it’s more complicated than skinnier = better and big breasts = better. But in the end, the general social trend awards both these things points, and makes everyone be judged by that standard.

I’m not sure being of a ‘healthy weight’ is a privilege, if thinness supposedly isn’t. Being a ‘healthy’ weight doesn’t mean you aren’t considered ‘fat’ by the media and other people. Let’s not forget that the women we see in the media don’t often look like women who have a ‘healthy’ BMI typically. To take out my tiny violin for a second, I might only be a size 10 or 12 so ‘healthy’, but I certainly look nothing like most of the women in the media. A ‘healthy’ sized woman is still seen as needing to lose weight, after all. If there was nothing shameful about being that size, then models would be allowed to be such a size without being called ‘curvy’ or ‘plus sized’ or ‘big’. Evidently, even this relatively thin weight is not thin enough.

This isn’t to say ‘healthy’ sized women don’t have privilege, it’s to point out that they do. We all suffer, whatever size we are, but I can’t pretend that I suffer the same discrimination,the same judgements as someone who weighs a lot more than me. Admitting that fat people are discriminated against doesn’t negate how the media makes me feel, how society’s standards view me (ie not skinny) or how some women may consider me enviably thin, whilst others think I’m fat. It doesn’t negate how individuals annoyingly treat me, or how I’m expected to diet, or are seen as not eating enough. It means recognising that whilst society gives me issues about my weight, it gives obese women far more issues, and hurts them far more than it hurts me.

If I find it hard to look at images of very slim, obviously airbrushed women, what must it be like for one who is size 32? If I find it hard to find clothes that I like in my size, what is it like for her? If I feel society views me as fat, what must she feel? If I find social pressure to eat a certain way and behave like a woman should behave, what is she feeling?

I don’t know if I’m explaining this well, I’m sure The Curvature does a better job, so check it out.

Renee // Posted 2 May 2009 at 11:05 pm

Though you claimed a desire not to engage in the oppression olympics when you made this statement, “We don’t as a society accept racism, or sexism or homophobia.” that is exactly what you did. Simply because some laws exist about the aforementioned does not mean that such behavior is not tolerated. Have you forgotten how quickly Thatcher was rehired by the BBC, or the regular racism engaged in by the royal family?

Racism and sexism are very much tolerated and you are not going to score points for fat acceptance by pretending that these problems are solved.

KJB // Posted 3 May 2009 at 1:12 am

Re: those saying how this is intensified for women, I totally agree.

The way that weight-loss in women is greeted is definitely disturbing, especially by other women. They might as well go ‘Oh, well done! You’ve brought your unruly and uncanny female body under control! You’ve sanitised it! You’ve infantilised it! Now it’s less disgusting and unnerving to mainstream society!’

Although it’s only the appearance of bringing it under control, because as Jehenna said, there are many things which can affect weight and body shape. Furthermore, why should we be made to control our bodies? It drives me mad.

I don’t know if I really understand ‘thin privilege'; I’m sure I’ve probably been guilty of it previously. I don’t assume that thin=healthy though, as my sisters taught me from a young age that that’s a dangerous assumption to make.

Yeahhh… now that I reflect on it some more, there’s a DEFINITE gender element to this whole thing. I notice that the rare times that men’s bodies are criticised by the likes of Heat, it’s usually when they’re former heart-throbs, who’ve gained a bit of weight.

Of course, that means their bodies are softer, they may have ‘moobs’. Gee, man-boobs… the familiar spectre of effeminacy rears its head again. They are effectively being criticised for falling out of the rigid definition of ‘attractive male’ that Heat would have them conform to… by becoming more ‘feminine.’

Along with Femail, gossip mags need to go to feminist hell. :-P

But to conclude this rambling rant, I do think a focus on healthiness is no bad thing… if only the govt. et al would just go about it right *sigh*.

Victoria // Posted 3 May 2009 at 1:16 am

The idea of “thin privilege” seems far too clear cut to me. Having been both over- and underweight during my adult life, I’d agree with others who point out that thin women don’t ever really get to relish the “privilege” of being the right size – you’re encouraged to feel rubbish whatever you look like. Ever since pseudo-feminist discourse was hijacked simply to sell things, feeling comfortable in your own skin is presented as some kind of betrayal of the sisterhood. If you don’t have “wobbly bits” to stress over or do and just don’t care, you don’t belong. So you’re damned whether you internalise the prejudice or not.

That said, I would argue that what Rose and Jane suggest seems untrue to me. After I had my first child, I had an overactive thyroid and got very thin and yes, people commented on it a lot more than when I was overweight in my early twenties. But I think that’s because overall being too thin is still forced on us as an ideal, so people think it doesn’t hurt as much to criticise others for their thinness. And having had being overweight to compare it to, I’d say yes, it doesn’t hurt as much. Someone being direct and calling you a skinny bitch is utterly wrong, but it doesn’t grind you down as much as the barrage of disapproval directed at all overweight women, all the time, even when no one says anything to your face. It’s there in everything, every advert you see, every TV programme you watch, every magazine you open, every shop you go in… While this shouldn’t be a “who’s got it the worst” competition, as a now-too-thin but ex-too-fat women I think it’s extremely hard for people who aren’t subjected to it to realise what it’s like to be bottom of the pile in a world where, yes, every woman gets treated in an unacceptable way regarding her weight, regardless of what it is, but some don’t even get to experience the psychological and physical space to feel apart from this treatment, at least now and then — when you are so far down the scale of acceptability, the pressure is just too much.

david abstract // Posted 3 May 2009 at 2:43 am

Yet another addition to my list of privileges – not only male, non-visible ethnic minority (I pass as “White”) middle class, cis-gendered, heterosexual, and… thin… apparently. I tell you – I feel sorry for people who don’t have my priviledges. My life is day after day of the black dog nipping my ankles, without all those institutional advantages my life would probably be unbearable….

Frances // Posted 3 May 2009 at 3:26 am

I’m another fast metabolism person here, and I also agree with Rose. There’s nothing amazing about the privilege of being poked and prodded, told how “lucky” I am and struggling to find clothes that fit. I’m not even that thin! When I complain that shops don’t make my size, all I get met with is a lot of eye-rolling, that’s great, but it doesn’t get me clothed any more than it does the hundreds of other girls who don’t fit the clothes.

I’m still thin enough though to get my food choices stared at and for strangers to think it’s totally acceptable to tell me to eat more. This isn’t a great privilege. The line that women must tread to be considered “sexy” and “desirable” is impossibly narrow and ever-decreasing, You need only pick up celebrity magazines to see celebrities being picked apart for falling too far to one side or another.

This divisive talk of “fat” or “thin” serves to further the sense of competition with other women we are taught to develop and to further divide us. Surely the issue is that the standards for what is supposedly a normal female body are so freakish and so rigidly enforced that nearly all of us fall outside of them at some point or other (and I have, at both sides of the spectrum, and I’m honestly not sure where I felt more judged. Probably at the “fat” end).

i’m not so sure this should be addressed as an issue of privilege but rather as – who the hell is feeding us this crap, why are we buying into it, and who is gaining? Fat or thin, at the moment nobody feels like they are coming out ahead.

polly styrene // Posted 3 May 2009 at 9:43 am

Ouch! I’m sorry you’re working in such a toxic environment.

Ellie is completely correct about the ‘health’ aspects of weight muddying the waters, but what is interesting is why people feel it is legitimate to address other’s ‘health’ anyway. In the context of this it’s a complete red herring. If the people bullying you were worried about your health they wouldn’t be bullying you. Because the stress is very harmful to your health.

The other point of course is that there is no straightforward causal relationship between weight and health problems in any case. There’s a correlation between weight and health problems but that’s not the same. I’m perfectly prepared to alter my diet if I personally have a health problem or am at risk of one which is diet related. But the point is that’s an individual thing -there are a lot of thin people who aren’t healthy either.

Jaime // Posted 3 May 2009 at 10:25 am

I don’t think this is thin privilege, it’s just the way certain women think and choose to express themselves, identifying one body shape/size as a problem is not helpful to anyone.

General bullying regarding eating habits I’ve seen in offices seems to be from women who have issues with their weight already and project all their feelings onto other women including those in their own circle of friends. It’s not bullying out of hatred for a particular person, it’s just the way they think about women, themselves included.

calyx // Posted 3 May 2009 at 11:12 am

Gee, it’s yet another post about fat oppression derailed by so many complaining How Hard It Is To Be Thin. *yawn*

Guess what, this is not about you. One of the features of privilege is that you DON’T understand, DON’T see the full extent of oppression, and DON’T fully accept what it’s like. That is obvious in the tone of your answers going on about how hard it is to be you. Why don’t you just tell the poster that her experiences aren’t that important?

We’ve got a LOOOONNGG way to go, clearly.

Rachel // Posted 3 May 2009 at 2:09 pm

Loving how this thread, even though they’ve got very pertinent ideas regarding other times of body-control by the patriarchy, has been taken over by thin women.

In my mind, this is a manifestation of thin privilege. It’s a bit like men who go ‘but what about domestic abuse regarding men???’ They may have very interesting, provocative, eloquent, heart-rending points but at the end of the day men are so used to seeing themselves at the centre of the action they find it difficult to take a back seat when talking about someone who does not have that privilege.

We all know that positive portrayals of fat women in society are hard to find, and I was excited just for once to find a thread of women like me.

I know your lives may be made more difficult by your thinness but one of the privileges you have is the ability to co-opt any discussion of the privileges you have into centring around you and your pain.

When is it our turn?

When do we get our safe space?

When do we get to vent our frustrations with people like you?

I feel awful trying to explain this to my thin partner (who also has a large chest, while I don’t. The positive images of ‘curvy’ women in the media who are WITHOUT EXCEPTION also women with full chests and round bottoms, unlike myself, is another rant entirely) but thin people and fat people have such different experiences.

SarahMC // Posted 3 May 2009 at 2:24 pm

Are people afraid of their bodies turning into yours (i.e. fat)?

People spend countless hours and loads of money trying to get thin, not fat. Late night commercials advertise magical potions, new exercise equipment, and wonder diets that will help people LOSE weight, not gain it.

Do people perceive you to be lazy, stupid, weak, out-of-control because of your weight?

Are your attempts to present yourself as sexual met with disgust? Do you expect your weight to be the primary determining factor in whether people find you attractive?

If you are not fat YOU HAVE PRIVILEGE.

Sophie // Posted 3 May 2009 at 4:57 pm

This post bothers me; it is sweeping generalisations such as those in the post and comments which put people off identifying themselves as feminists and which help to perpetuate widely held stereotypes of feminists, making the whole idea of feminism very unattractive to many women who would benefit from it.

I think demonising exercise as something those with ‘thin privilege’ do to remain ridiculously tiny is dangerous; we all need exercise to stay healthy. And I think the idea that the government is against fat people is absurd, wanting people to be healthy is not being ‘sizeist’.

I’ve been pretty much at both ends of the spectrum in terms of my size. I’ve been just under 2 stone overweight, and I’ve suffered bulimia, and awful self esteem, which led to depression. My bmi is now 23.7, but my weight no longer controls my life, I eat healthily, admittedly I’ll probably spend as much time as possible exercising when I finish my exams, but that’s because I enjoy exercise, I like being able to run and not lose my breath.

Ultimately, I think it’s about health and fittness. If you’re 4 stone overweight, doing no exercise, you won’t be fit or healthy and will run the risk of CHD etc because the human body is designed to walk 15 miles a day. Equally however, if you’re 4 stone underweight, running a few miles a day on a virtually empty stomach, you will also run the risk of a heart attack because the body isn’t designed to be so strained.

I think for me as a feminist, my ideal would be for appearences not too matter, whether you’re thin or fat not to be a statement but for everyone to be focused on being healthy, because if children today only see the media telling them to starve themselves and the obese telling them it’s o.k to be overweight, where are they going to learn a healthy relationship with their bodies ? And learn that everyone needs to be healthy, whether you’re 8 stone or 16 stone.

Chris Morris // Posted 3 May 2009 at 5:57 pm

There is no disadvantage at all to being a thin man. Thin men have some privilege over fat men. If thin women’s privilege over fat women operates in a different way, because the presence of sexism changes things – especially the general obsession with telling women how they ‘should’ look – that doesn’t imply the existence of “thinphobia”.

Privilege can have apparent disadvantages that don’t imply the existence of another privilege in the opposite direction: consider men complaining about ‘the burdens of chivalry’.

alice // Posted 3 May 2009 at 6:11 pm

I think in general, Britain has a problem with discrimination altogether, which results into bullying and so on. The more you read about it and experience it, and the more you realise that no justice or law against it seems to make a difference, the more frustrating it gets. I like to have rants about discrimination but my experience in Britain has taught me that things always get swept under the carpet. It does not matter. It is a disgrace generally. You either have to be the right size, race, gender etc… Maybe the whole world operates like that and i am not aware but it is a disgrace the way the British sysytem as a whole deals with discrimination.

Qubit // Posted 3 May 2009 at 7:44 pm

I don’t think this is about exercise. I think the modern definition of a healthy life concentrates more on thinness than health and this is obviously a problem. You can be thin and unhealthy! Similarly you can be fat and healthy.

However as the diet industry promotes thinness over health (how healthy is only having a milkshake for breakfast and lunch or cutting carbs from your diet?) we are implying that thin is good, fat is bad and that it is not unreasonable idea. This is a dangerous attitude because we are ‘justifying’ a prejudice in the name of health and concern.

I don’t think it is implying exercise is something only carried out by the thin minority but the point of exercise is to be thin. The point of exercise should be for enjoyment and health. This shouldn’t exclude the overweight from exercise nor should it mean that exercise is pointless if you don’t lose weight.

I do believe thin privilege exists and needs to be challenged. I think it is important to note and challenge our own prejudices and reactions. If we can challenge the privilege in ourselves then we can make a small amount of change to society.

Jen // Posted 3 May 2009 at 8:27 pm

Though you claimed a desire not to engage in the oppression olympics when you made this statement, “We don’t as a society accept racism, or sexism or homophobia.” that is exactly what you did. Simply because some laws exist about the aforementioned does not mean that such behavior is not tolerated. Have you forgotten how quickly Thatcher was rehired by the BBC, or the regular racism engaged in by the royal family?

Racism and sexism are very much tolerated and you are not going to score points for fat acceptance by pretending that these problems are solved.

I was going to say something similar. I hope everyone here can tell the difference between hundreds of years of slavery and having someone criticize your sandwich.

Also, having been to Eastern Europe and poorer countries, people tend to have “thin privilege”, however that tends to be because they can’t afford much food.

That said, there is also a huge class element to being overweight in the UK, because the food that is available to you if you’re poor is generally terrible, so being healthy is very much one more thing that well-off people can feel good about, hence the morality around food, some being “naughty” and “healthy”, some junk foods being feminized also (chocolate, cake, etc.), and well, it’s very complex. I’ve certainly known people who can’t afford to eat more than once a day, but they’re still overweight because of what it is they’re able to afford. I’d like to see some discussion of this – I think it’s certainly more serious than having one’s sandwich criticised by one’s colleagues, as well.

And actually there are types of discrimination that fat people suffer that Suzi doesn’t mention, for instance the belief that they’re less entitled to health care because they’ve somehow brought it on themselves.

That said, much like Sophie, I’m uncomfortable with the sweeping generalisations in this post, and especially with the fact that former sufferers of eating disorders are coming into the thread and being condemned for their body weight. That’s really, really not on.

In fact, in general, making sweeping generalisations about women based on their weight is not on, whatever the weight. And, on reflection, no, I’m not going to tell you if I’m fat or thin, because it should be irrelevant to what I can bring to the argument. But most people have little choice in what they eat or don’t eat, and how much time they have for exercise or anything else, so leaving size out of it for a moment, being healthy and being a healthy weight certainly shouldn’t be a privilege, it should be a right.

SarahMC // Posted 3 May 2009 at 9:50 pm

People with anorexia and/or bulimia try to get/stay thin, not fat. Because thin is preferable to fat. Just think about it before you claim that thin people are just as oppressed as fat people. How often do you, as a woman, get the message that you need to gain weight, rather than lose it? Yes, we are all held to an impossible standard, but some of us are objectively fat. And fat people are treated like subhumans.

Rose // Posted 3 May 2009 at 9:53 pm

@ calyx

The first line of the post is

‘Thin Privilege, is, in my opinion, one of the worst forms of privilege. ‘

I would therefore say that it is entirely relevant to discuss whether or not being thin is actually a privilege.

More genrally, no matter how far I am down the thin scale, people are always trying to tell me why they’re better than me. I’m thin, but that means they’re strong, bigger breasted, they eat what they want, they’re prettier (they’re ears don’t stick out as much, or whatever), they’re better at ‘whatever’, people care about them for who they are, and now, because they get what it is to be judged for their weight.

So, clothes don’t fit, I’m asssumed to have some sort of mental problem, I’m overdosed everytime a doctor percribes me medication, and people assume me to be the ‘easy victim’ in the street. Lucky me!

The problem isn’t that some people are fat and some are thin, and its definitely not that some are healthy, and go to lengths to stay healthy. Its the idea that womens bodies are simple stories, that can be easily judged – or, indeed, that a womans worth can be calculated by looking her up and down.

This blog has been abit of a ‘I hate sun burnt people, because they look like they’ve been on holiday’ – with no mention of working out in the fields.

Lily // Posted 3 May 2009 at 10:10 pm

I’m very sorry for everyone who struggles with weight or health issues, thin or obese, but – and I say this as a very petite woman – I must agree with the ones who say that the privileged simply cannot understand the full extent of their privilege.

Being told ‘what a lucky bitch you are’, or on the flipside that ‘real women have curves’, or having strangers tell you to ‘eat a sandwich’ when you’re eating a salad in a restaurant, or having your friends call you ‘anorexic-looking’ to your face (all of which has happened to me)… all of that is NOTHING compared to the discrimination and guilt-tripping overweight people – even slightly overweight people – go through on a daily basis.

I don’t know if I just have thick skin, but I’ve never taken offence at being ‘criticised’ for being thin. I’ve never felt BAD about being thin. Sure, not everything about being skinny is good – I feel cold really easily, and I’m constantly afraid of osteoporosis despite eating well, etc. (And have very little in the way of boobs, but that’s another kettle of fish!) But, seriously? Read a magazine, go shopping, or just walk down the street in a slinky summer gown: the only message I hear loud and clear, all over the place, is that being thin is a good thing. Whereas the negative messages about being overweight are balanced by virtually no positive messages at all.

I don’t know what the solution is, but I wish (us) thin women could stop treating snarky comments about being underweight as if it were exactly the same thing as snarky comments about being overweight. Neither should be anybody’s business, but the same thing it is NOT. Suggesting as much seems rather uncomfortably reminiscent of ‘what about teh thinz’.

Jen // Posted 3 May 2009 at 10:26 pm

People with anorexia and/or bulimia try to get/stay thin, not fat. Because thin is preferable to fat.

It’s really not that simple. And it’s still a problem that women with eating disorders are coming in and being told “typical! you’ve got thin privilege!”

I think there are loads of things we could be discussing here: the class issues I mentioned, the fact that fat people are assumed to have got that way because they ate all the pies (and that they ate all those pies because they were naughty), a lot of healthcare issues (why is it immediately necessary to bring up the question of whether they’re a drain on the NHS, for instance)?

It’s not a question of who has more privilege, obese people or people with eating disorders. I think this sums it up:

The problem isn’t that some people are fat and some are thin, and its definitely not that some are healthy, and go to lengths to stay healthy. Its the idea that womens bodies are simple stories, that can be easily judged – or, indeed, that a womans worth can be calculated by looking her up and down.

I think if it wasn’t an issue to do with appearance, also, we wouldn’t be bitching each other out over it quite so much. And there are reasons also why in debates, particularly over appearance, this always happens, women seem pathologically incapable of sympathising with each other.

Also, I feel I should continue to emphasize that the “racism isn’t acceptable but people feel they can criticise my sandwich choices!” line was pretty damn bad, whatever other points were made. Why is it that it took a high-profile Woman of Colour blogger to point it out? Did no one else even think that was a bit off? To be honest, I wasn’t even going to dignify this post with a comment, but since Renee brought that up, I felt it should be seconded.

Linda // Posted 4 May 2009 at 1:57 am

Even the textbooks back you up- some straight quotes I came across a bit ago in Social Psych (David Myers):

“Weight discrimination, in fact, exceeds race or gender discrimination and occurs at every employment stage- hiring, placement, promotion, compensations, discipline, and discharge” (Roehling, 2000).

Also, pretty much a reiteration of what you said:

” *In experiments where some people are made to appear overweight, they are perceived as less attractive, intelligent, happy, self-disciplined, and successful” (Gortmaker&others, 1993; Hebl and Heatherton, 1998; Pingitore& others, 1994.)

Jane // Posted 4 May 2009 at 8:54 am

SarahMc: are you seriously trying to suggest that anorexic people might somehow be ‘privileged’? Because that’s what it reads like to me.

polly styrene // Posted 4 May 2009 at 9:14 am

Sophie I agree with you that exercise isn’t something only thin people do, I do far more exercise than my friend who’s a size 10 and complains if she has to walk 50 yards.

However (and not specifically directed at you, because it’s a widespread attitude in society) I think we need to examine statements such as ‘we all need exercise to stay healthy’, a bit.

First of all I don’t see why somebody’s health (or the lack of it) should be anyone else’s concern.

Secondly ‘health’ is related to a lot of things that are outside a person’s control. Statements about ‘health’ as some kind of virtue can be both ablist and classist -and some people are physcially unable to exercise.

Suzi FemAcadem // Posted 4 May 2009 at 11:38 am

I have to apologise- firstly that it’s taken me so long to reply to all these comments- I’ve been very busy with family stuff over the weekend.

Secondly, I have to apologise for my comments about X privilege being worse than Y privilege, and for stating that weight discrimination is worse than racism/sexism/homophobia. I was naive in my assertions that nominal legal protection from certain discrimination equates to actual protection from discrimination.

The point I was clumsily trying to make was that weight discrimination is so ingrained into our society that even the government and health services join in. Regardless of the actual state of health of any individual we are told that obesity is an ‘epidemic’- a word used to describe the rapid and prolific spread of a disease. Fat is not a disease. Body shape/size is not a symptom of ill health. We are told in health campaigns that if only we ate less, exercised more- exerted greater self control we would be thin, and thus healthy. Wherever we look, it is put across to us that thin = good, and fat= bad. My point is that our lawmakers, schools, health institutions and establisment, join in on propagating these viuewpoints, and as such Fat Hatred has become an acceptable discrimination, in which we are all encouraged to participate for the ‘wellbeing’ of the citizenship.


sianmarie // Posted 4 May 2009 at 12:47 pm

“People with anorexia and/or bulimia try to get/stay thin, not fat. Because thin is preferable to fat. ”

this comment shows a degree of ignorance that is completely and utterly offensive. to suggest that eating disorders are this clear cut and black and white is just as offensive as any comment that is “fattist” or equating fat with “bad” and i have to admit i am shocked to see it said on this site.

Suzi FemAcadem // Posted 4 May 2009 at 12:57 pm

Hi sianmarie,

I allowed the comment you quote about eating disorders because I think it does have a logical and valid basis. You are quite right to say that eating disorders are not as black and white or clear cut as this. However, the sentiment expressed is a huge part of why eating disorders which cause weight loss (anorexia/bulimia) are so prevalent. We cannot deny that the message that fat is unhealthy, unsightly and unattractive, not mention socially deviant, feeds into the many roots of weight loss based eating disorders.


Charlotte // Posted 4 May 2009 at 1:56 pm

“People with anorexia and/or bulimia try to get/stay thin, not fat. Because thin is preferable to fat. ”

I’m pretty appalled by this comment too, so much so that I can’t really bring myself to respond directly, other than say I agree with what others have written in response to it.

However, in response to Suzi:

“You are quite right to say that eating disorders are not as black and white or clear cut as this. However, the sentiment expressed is a huge part of why eating disorders which cause weight loss (anorexia/bulimia) are so prevalent. ”

I just have to correct a few issues with what you said here:

– bulimia quite often doesn’t cause weight loss, a large number of bulimics don’t lose very much/any weight and often goes undetected much longer as a result;

– what about binge eating disorder which is just as prevalent as anorexia and bulimia but is not a “weight-loss” ED;

– furthermore, it’s widely understood in ED treatment that these 3 main types of EDs are very similar in their underlying features and even a lot of the behaviours towards food. People with the different disorders share many similar psychological features and issues. Also, most people with an ED will not have only one type of ED but throughout their lives will shift between different diagnoses e.g. from AN to BED. Whilst I agree that there are a lot of social contributory factors that facilitate the development of EDs, I don’t think it’s as simple as you make out, there aren’t clear distinctions between “weight-loss” EDs and, uh, “non-weight-loss” EDs. They’re all just slightly different manifestations of a very similar issue, and I don’t think it stands that a) “weight-loss” eds are more prevalent, or b) anything to do with a “thin privilege” that supports this.

SarahMC // Posted 4 May 2009 at 1:58 pm

“We cannot deny that the message that fat is unhealthy, unsightly and unattractive, not mention socially deviant, feeds into the many roots of weight loss based eating disorders.”

Pretty much.

Women don’t make themselves sick trying to get fat.

polly styrene // Posted 4 May 2009 at 4:19 pm

There’s plenty of research which supports the idea that fat people generally, but especially fat women are discriminated against in employment. For example


“Researchers also discovered that overweight workers were routinely stereotyped as ‘possessing negative personality traits’, and ’emotionally impaired’.

They were often considered to be lazy, out of control and dirty. However, it was overweight women who elicited the most negative reactions.

A UK survey in 2007 for Personnel Today magazine revealed 93 per cent of human resources professionals would give the job to the thinner person when choosing between two candidates of equal ability.

Other evidence showed obese women typically earned less than their slim counterparts.”

Jen // Posted 4 May 2009 at 4:57 pm

The point I was clumsily trying to make was that weight discrimination is so ingrained into our society that even the government and health services join in. Regardless of the actual state of health of any individual we are told that obesity is an ‘epidemic’- a word used to describe the rapid and prolific spread of a disease.

Well, you say “society”, I think we need to get geographical here – obesity is widespread mostly in the US and UK, two of the richest countries in the world. There are parts of the world where it’s considered attractive to be overweight because food isn’t easy to come by, and you’d need to be able to afford to be overweight.

This is quite different in the US and UK, because of class factors which prevent people having access to healthy food – I think getting fat is a side-effect of all the other malnutrition that kind of diet produces.

As for words like “epidemic” and so on, I agree it’s sensationalist, and there is a kind of morality around body size that is unnecessary and probably does more to exacerbate the problem in the long run. This wouldn’t be the case if it didn’t affect people’s personal appearance, and I think what we’re not discussing here – this conversation always seems to turn into “they want women to be thin and beautiful!!!” – is that the diet industry would not profit from all women suddenly becoming thin and beautiful overnight. Ever wondered why the Cadbury’s Creme Eggs come out every January at the same time as all the “good resolutions” weight loss stuff? The beauty industry, the diet industry, etc. benefit from women’s quest to be thin and attractive.

Although really, living in the UK, it’s a situation where people either become overweight or obese completely against their will, would prefer not to be, but don’t have the opportunity because they can’t afford good food – or else there are people who just can’t afford enough food to get fat.

So, I think “calling out” thinness as a “privilege” is itself a symptom of living in one of the most privileged countries of the world.

I think everyone has had comments of equal magnitude as your sandwich comments whenever there’s been anything remarkable about their weight, either going down or going up.

katrina // Posted 4 May 2009 at 5:49 pm

SarahMC, you’ve written the same things three times: women do not make themselves sick trying to get fat.

I would have hoped that if you could see that then you could see that fat hate doesn’t only affect fat people.

The other thing you’ve overlooked is that not all women are western women.

Young Mauritian girls are forced to swallow their own vomit by older women trying to fatten them for marriage. More information here:


Louise // Posted 4 May 2009 at 6:34 pm

Just a quick point – privilege is about the attaching of social worth, esteem and value to some arbitary distinction between people. Here it’s about body size. “Thin privilege” means that thin is accorded worth, esteem and value. It doesn’t mean it’s easy, it means it’s seen as more valuable.

An analogy – as a passes-for-white woman, I have white privilege. As an aware white woman I sometimes find it difficult to accept both when I am reminded of my privilege in cases where I had missed it and at other times it’s difficult “make peace” between my desire to challenge the according of status to my percieved skin colour and not constantly battling (and that in itself I know is a privilege).

But white privilege is not a judgement of me personally, except in how I collude within a white supremacist society called the UK. It’s a statement of the power and value accorded to some characteristic of mine.

Thin privilege works the same way. It’s hard to be called out. It’s hard to acknowledge it.

As for being overweight being chosen – yeah right. As a disabled woman who frequently has limited mobility I’d love it to be as simple as getting off my fat ass and going running. Truly I would – I went from being a women’s and under 19s championship cyclist (who also did swimming, martial arts, badminton, clubbing and walking on a weekly basis) to being barely able to walk some days, often I move only on painkillers. Lets remember that sometimes alongside thin privilege comes ablism and bodily privilege. And I call it out here.

And don’t tell me I am a “special case” amongst fat people – ‘cos you don’t know other people’s histories and you can’t make that judgement.

Vix // Posted 4 May 2009 at 8:46 pm

I’m struggling a bit with getting my head around this post and its reactions put together. It does make sense to me in a lot of ways to talk about ‘thin privilege’ (if we’re limiting it to the societies where there is a lot of ‘value’ being placed on being thin in the media, general discourse, etc, though obviously being thin would *not* count as the privileged position everywhere the world over). I get it because I’m currently what I guess would be called ‘average’ or ‘healthy’ and thus, as a rule, a the moment, I don’t get pointed at in the street/made to pay more for flying on United Airlines etc, and I have seen people who are bigger than me get *much* more flak. I’ve also been on the receiving end of a lot of flak at other times… why? Not just for reasons of people being mean to me for being ‘thin(ner) or average’, but because I have not always been the *same* size. I think what’s bothering me a little about this issue, especially as it appears in several of the comments, is the way that a lot of people seem to be arguing that even if you get abuse for being ‘thin’ (for whatever reason) you are still ‘privileged’ and as such don’t get to have the same kind of say in the discussion. Why are extremely valid and important debates about sizeism and people thinking it’s ok to make judgements on people and their lifestyles (usually based on lots of misinformation about weight and health stuff) being cast into a story of binary opposites, fat vs. thin? Why do som posters feel thin women are ‘co-opting’ and that non-thin women need to butt out of their space? I genuinely don’t get it, not least because what is pushed forward as an ‘ideal’ changes all the time. And that’s not to say I don’t realise fat/overweight/bigger (I don’t know what word to use – if I was posting at Kate Harding’s excellent website I would just say ‘fat’ – google for her blog if you haven’t seen it, because it’s amazing) face discrimination. I do think this discrimination is disgusting and I do think it should be illegal to discriminate on the basis of weight and appearance (whatever the criteria under these categories are in play in a particular situation).

Some people stay a similar size for their whole lives, some don’t; some actively try to intervene with their size, some don’t. Like some other posters, I have been at several points on the ‘spectrum': underweight (through flipping between various combinations of anorexia, binge-exercising and bulimia) overweight (by about 2 stone on a small and short skeleton) and several points along the middle. Some of the time I was ‘overweight’, it was due to binge-eating. Some of the time I was ‘overweight’ I ate reasonably free of disordered-ness . Most of the time I was underweight/thin I had an awful relationship with food and exercise. Most of the time I was somewhere in the middle, I had an awful relationship with food and exercise. All of these times I came up against different forms of abuse. When I was too thin, I was alternately praised and abused; in fact I consider praise of my anorexic self by people who knew me and surely ought to have realised it wasn’t normal to eat 2 apricots for a main meal and not worthy of praise but worry to have been a form of abuse in many ways). When I gained weight (varying from ‘in the middle’ to ‘overweight’ I was also variously praised and abused. However, I was pretty much the same person. Why should anyone assume that because I am seen to have a degree of ‘thin privilege’ now that I don’t know what it is like not to have this? Also, why should anyone look at another person and make a judgement about their lived experience based on their size and their appearance more generally? I think I’ve figured out the reason that a lot of the comments here upset me, and that’s because it seems to represent people, feminists, dividing themselves over something which is not as simple as an ‘either/or’ situation. It surely can’t be helpful.

I accept that I have white privilege, able privilege, and a lot of other privileges besides, and I have been trying really hard to pay proper attention to these and what they mean – excellent articles on here and other blogs and sites have been brilliant for making me think about these, and I hope they continue to do so. I also accept that whatever other pain was going on behind the scenes, significant parts of society would probably have judged me differently at different times as I traversed the ground between the states it currently perceives to be ‘thin'(=good, possibly healthy, possibly unhealthy and possibly to be jealous of) and ‘fat’ (=bad, but possibly ‘more healthy than before’, possibly ‘less healthy than before’, etc). But something about the way that ‘thin privilege’ is being presented here doesn’t sit right with me. Is it possible that by pitting ‘thin’ as a category versus ‘not thin’ in this way is, to an extent, buying into the problems underlying why a lack of / not getting as much of the same kind of hassle for being a certain size/size range exists? Because truly, an enlightened society might just think that it’s ok to be any size, really cool to be healthy at every and any size, and totally ok (as in should not be judged for or be discriminated against) to be not so healthy or even unhealthy at any or every size?

Ok, so I’m not sure if all of what I’ve written makes the sort of sense I wanted it to… the message I’m trying to put across is that I think when you polarise on an issue like this, where people really do move around all parts of the spectrum, over many times over the course of their lives, it is incredibly unhelpful for people to sit in camps trying to outdo each other on terms of who thinks who is more or less privileged or oppressed, isn’t it? At the very least, aren’t we all oppressed by the idea that there even could *be* an ‘ideal size’ (whether fat or thin), and couldn’t we try to come together over this issue, rather than snarking at each other? After all, I think Adverts for slim fast now are just as dictatorial and awful as those for ‘fatten-u food’ supplements at the start of the 20th century, and as Katrina pointed out, there are women in various parts of the world currently being encouraged to believe that thin is the antithesis of a privilege to be chased.

Vix // Posted 4 May 2009 at 8:51 pm

Argh. That should read ‘Why do some posters feel thin women are ‘co-opting’ the debate and need to butt out of their space for non-thin women?’ Not how I wrote it in the totally ungrammatical rubbish way the first time!

Lara // Posted 4 May 2009 at 9:12 pm

I’m not sure if ‘thin privilige’ exists?! When men lose weight they aren’t congratulated in the same routine manner women are, and larger shaped men aren’t treated like social anomolies. It’s only women whose shape is under constant scrutiny above all else.

Also – often larger women who lose weight are often berated for ‘letting down the side’ as if every woman who loses weight is unwittingly falling victim to some social machine. I don’t know if the notion of ‘thin privilige’ is healthy, really, as it will almost certainly never be applied to men. Women’s bodies are already utterly ridiculous amounts of scrutiny already, without this added dimension.

polly styrene // Posted 5 May 2009 at 8:22 am

What Louise said.

Privilege is not a matter of having a certain characteristic, but being treated more favourably by society with no good reason as a whole because of it. There’s no doubt that fat people generally, but fat women specifically are disadvantaged in the UK – see my last comment about employment discrimination.

And yes the preference for thinness is culturally specific to this country and this period in history in this country. Privilege in a political sense is something that could be eliminated by wider society if it chose to do so. But fat people are still discriminated against in this country now.

Being “white” is only a privilege in a racist society. Not being fat is only a privilege in a society which discriminates against fat people.

And seconded (and repeated from my earlier comment) what Louise said. It’s extremely ablist to constantly emphasise health as a virtue.

Kez // Posted 5 May 2009 at 10:06 am

Turn Your Back on Page 3 (above) says the word “skinny” is seen as complimentary, whereas “fat” isn’t. This is true, but I think it is a recent development. “Skinny” and even “thin” didn’t used to be regarded as good things to be (I’m not talking about very long ago, either) – those words had the taint of being unhealthy, bony or unwomanly. “Slim” was what people wanted to be, not skinny.

It’s fascinating that in very recent years the mood has changed so much that we now have legions of how-to books called things like (forgive me if I have this slightly wrong) “How to be a skinny bitch” and “I can make you thin”. Or that a comment like “you look thin” can be perceived as a compliment rather than an expression of concern.

Kate // Posted 5 May 2009 at 10:28 am

I’m struggling to agree that thin privilege exists. Maybe that’s because I’m so god damn privileged and have a long way to go before enlightenment.

Or maybe it’s because when I joined the gym and was found to have a BMI of 20 the gym instructor suggested I should put down weight loss as one of my personal goals.

Maybe it’s because I now feel guilty and self-loathing if I don’t go to that gym as often as I feel I ought.

Maybe it’s because still after ten years, and many of what I would term as being over an eating disorder, my default reaction to extreme stress is still fingers down the throat.

Maybe because the small bust that is inherent to many naturally, “privileged”, slim bodies is the antithesis of the feminine ideal and I didn’t exactly feel privileged when a colleague suggested an ex-boyfriend get me a boob job for my birthday.

A post above claimed it was a feature of privilege not to recognise that you held it. True, but that shouldn’t blind you to the fact that it’s also a feature of a flawed theory. As far as I’m concerned any benefits I derive from being “thin” (and I’d never describe myself as thin but I recognise I fall within it for thin theorists) are actually extensions of the patriarchy, as is all the attendant self-esteem issues that the thin theorists are so quick to sideline. All women’s bodies are held up to scrutiny and most women are encouraged to hate themselves. Being smaller than others hasn’t given me a get out opt-out for this.

Jen // Posted 5 May 2009 at 10:34 am

An analogy – as a passes-for-white woman, I have white privilege. As an aware white woman I sometimes find it difficult to accept both when I am reminded of my privilege in cases where I had missed it and at other times it’s difficult “make peace” between my desire to challenge the according of status to my percieved skin colour and not constantly battling (and that in itself I know is a privilege).

But white privilege is not a judgement of me personally, except in how I collude within a white supremacist society called the UK. It’s a statement of the power and value accorded to some characteristic of mine.

I see what you’re saying, but I don’t think the two are comparable. I mean, with racism – we’re talking about centuries and centuries of slavery, beatings, torture, murder, rape, geographical displacement, colonisation, exploitation… I don’t even mean in terms of which form of oppression is worse than the other (if you want to speak in such simplified terms, although if there was going to be an “oppression olympics”, I personally think racism would be guaranteed a medal or else we’re all complete douchebags; but I think we need to stop talking about who has it easiest for the moment, as it gets you nowhere), but they are completely different things.

It’s a different relationship: at no time have thin people, because they are thin, declared natural supremacy over fat people in order to chuck them on a boat all chained up to take them to the New World and make them harvest sugarcane.

Although women’s bodies and their physical and mental health are directly exploited for profit by companies that make beauty products, that much is true, but it’s a very different relationship – with racism, you’re talking about the relationship between white people and the people they used as their tools – like pieces of machinery or something – and as a natural ressource, with all the ideology to support that.

Whereas with what we’re talking about here, it’s the relationship between cosmetics companies (among others) and consumers. It’s not even a case of fat vs thin, chances are there are quite a few large women on those boards of directors (I’ve certainly had quite a few large female bosses – both tall and broad and generally physically imposing -, whereas at my own level I would agree that slimmer colleagues probably have an advantage, I think as you get higher up the ladder more masculine criteria seem to apply – although that’s just my experience)That’s very important to understand, because a lot of feminism now seems to try and harness the power of women as consumers – whether it’s centering your activism around sexism in advertising, or just being happy because women have more purchasing power these days. We’re far too eager to see our position as consumers as being a form of power, and, as our attitude to fat and obesity shows, that’s a huge problem: instead of seeing the class prejudice (that Polly and I keep pointing out) or the invisibility of disabled people in this whole debate (that you have pointed out), we’re bickering over which women have it easier.

However, I don’t think it’s useful to divide all this into types of “privilege”. That’s not even what “privilege” means, and it’s in cases like this where you see that the over-simplified intersectional approach really fails.

You mention that being thin has more value in our society than being fat. Well, what kind of value are we talking about here, exactly? Because, considering women are the ultimate commodity, the largest consumer market, and even to ourselves, our physical appearance is often an important part of our capital (quite common for French cosmetics advertising to advise you to “make the most of your beauty capital”, for instance), can it really be called a privilege? At the end of the day, that “value” that thin women have doesn’t really belong to them. It just makes their position that little bit more immediately comfortable, and I think it should be mentioned that muscles are not considered desirable either – for every sporty woman, there are loads who are physically annihilating themselves in the pursuit of beauty, eating a terrible diet, and trying not to walk too much in case they get big calves. And minor eating disorders are probably a lot more common than is immediately apparent. Just, sometimes these problems will make themselves apparent and sometimes they won’t.

So, I really don’t think seeing it as thin women oppressing fat women or having it easier somehow isn’t a very useful, or very compassionate approach in this case, nor is it one that is conducive to changing things.

For a start, I think we need to reduce what we’re looking at to the perception of fat people in the UK, and not assume this is universal, then maybe we can get somewhere – the more variables you have, the more easily you can analyse something, after all.

Lindsey // Posted 5 May 2009 at 12:18 pm

Part of the insidious nature of “thin privilege” is that if you have it you’re supposed to enjoy it and if you don’t have it you’re supposed to want it. I think this is what’s sparking off some of the arguments.

Not that I want to dredge up the race comparison again but here goes: as a white person I have white privilege, but it doesn’t mean I go around saying how great it is to be white, or how sorry I feel for non-white people. Most sensible people would recognise that as racist, just as saying similar about overweight people would be “fattist”. In an ideal world both race and size would be irrelevant, but until then, we have to accept that they exist no matter what our own positions are or how we feel about them.

Rose // Posted 5 May 2009 at 10:44 pm

From the amount of comments either way, I would say that if you’re really insisting on the existance of ‘thin privilege’, then maybe you need to look into the possiblity of ‘fat privilege’, and by that I mean, if there’s one, there’s both. (If you don’t see it, maybe you’re blinded by your own privilege…… blah, blah, blah.)

Personally, I would say neither, as it just seems to be a way of pointing out the social pros and cons of being on either side of social expectation. At which point you need to challenge the expectation, not those who meet it, (they’re not all that privileged, they’re just as watched, judged, and pressured as the rest of us).

Anne Onne // Posted 5 May 2009 at 11:52 pm

@ Rose: because there’s ‘female privilege’ if there’s male privilege, ‘black privilege’ if there’s white privilege, etc.

Maybe ‘average sized privilege’ would be a better term, average meaning someone acceptably thin, but not seen as ‘too skinny’ in society’s ever changing ideals. ‘Average’ itself is considered ‘fat’, which makes labelling this all difficult. maybe ‘socially acceptable body weight privilege’?

This thread has too many different tangents to reply to all of them, and I don’t agree with everything in the article, so maybe a summary.

Look, society hurts thin women, true. It also hurts men. Yet few of us would say that there is no such thing as male privilege just because the patriarchy hurts men. And it does. It tells them they have to be tough, that they are not manly (and therefore not far enough from the nasty feminine) enough, etc. Yet, despite all the truly nasty things about being male, overall as a balance, society benefits men more than women.

Same with thin women. It doesn’t mean thin women feel thin or happy or like they’ve reached some ideal, because we can never be perfect enough. Just like men don’t feel that they have reached the epitomy of personhood because they have a dick or manly muscles or whatever. The fact that as thin people we still have issues, still don’t feel perfect enough, doesn’t mean that those who deviate from the ideal FAR more than we do don’t suffer more .

There is a lot of privilege floating around, and a lot of people that need to check their privilege. We really need a Thin Privilege checklist to put things in perspective here. I have found an average size privilege checklist and this post at Kate Harding’s by Volcanista is quite good, I think.

And it is hard to realise when we have privilege, because we don’t notice it, and most importantly, because our lives are not without pain or oppression. Even as white people we feel the pressure to be tanned, or be really pale, or have no freckles, or avoid having veiny skin or whatever. That doesn’t mean we don’t have any white privilege or that it doesn’t exist.

The terms ‘thin’ and ‘average’ and ‘fat’ are all dependent on the society in question, and the standards at that time, and nobody is without problems in the kyriarchy. But it simply isn’t equivalent to argue that thin women and obese women, for example, have to deal with the same amount of backlash against their weight.

polly styrene // Posted 6 May 2009 at 7:53 am

Kate (and everyone else) the fact is that in this society, at this time, it’s acceptable to discriminate against women who are fat. That is what is meant by saying that being thin is a privilege.

It’s not saying that women who are are a “normal” weight aren’t often under pressure to be thinner, or that some thin women don’t have eating disorders (and some don’t I used to be a natural size 10 without dieting at all when I was younger).

The fact that there is a constant pressure to lose weight on women who aren’t overweight by medical standards just shows how bad the situation has got. The point is that someone who isn’t fat, for whatever reason, still has an advantage in for instance, being less likely to be unemployed, and to earn more if they are in employment.

I’m a lesbian and I wouldn’t be heterosexual if you paid me a million quid. For me in my life, it’s a distinct advantage. That doesn’t mean that heterosexual privilege doesn’t exist. A privilege is not the same as something that’s a personal advantage, it’s a class of people being treated differently by society for an irrelevant reason.

Rose // Posted 6 May 2009 at 12:24 pm

@ Anne Onne, I’m not saying thin and fat privilege, just for balance. Im saying that fat women have privileges over thin women in some areas, and I’m not just talking about it being far more socially acceptable to insult thin womens appreances, theres also the not so airy issue of fat women being far less overdosed by standard medical doses (designed for men).

If you want something work related, then how about the assumption that thin women are thin due to mental problems, or, indeed, that they’re sickly little creatures – neither of which helps employment. Larger women are referred to as being more ‘robust’.

Plus, they get described as womanly, or motherly, as opposed to ‘flat chested sticks’.

Apart from that, its medically safer in many ways, including if you think about how easy it is to get perminent organ damage by being thin.

And, for the record, my next paragraph started by saying that I don’t believe that either actually amounts to a privilege.

Another thing that concerned me eariler in someones post was the idea that desiring health was an abilist thing to do. Firstly, being healthy is a good thing. Secondly, many disabled people are healthy – and indeed, some are highly competitive sportspersons

Janine // Posted 6 May 2009 at 8:58 pm

I think that some people are a bit overly defensive about having thin priviledge, but the thing is, it’s not a comment on how you act upon it, its just a statement. Its also not something you have to be ashamed of, since you cant help it. It isnt saying that thin women do not have problems of their own. Having it doesnt automatically mean that you are prejudiced against fat women.

But discrimination against fat people is a separate issue from the problems thin women face and sometimes it does feel a bit like when you’re having a discussion about feminism and some guy chimes in going: “Oh but men have it bad too..”

It’s like, well yes but that doesnt mean our issues arent worth discussing or that by discussing them, we are trying to discriminate against men. Of course not!

Polly Styrene // Posted 6 May 2009 at 9:12 pm

Rose, saying ‘being healthy is a good thing’ IS a an ablist statement, not because everyone with a ‘disability’ is unhealthy, but because people don’t choose whether or not they’re healthy.

Many people with disabilities or illness can’t exercise. It’s not a matter of choice, and to say ‘being healthy is a good thing’ is saying there’s something inferior about them as people.

Anne Onne // Posted 6 May 2009 at 10:54 pm

Im saying that fat women have privileges over thin women in some areas, and I’m not just talking about it being far more socially acceptable to insult thin womens appreances, theres also the not so airy issue of fat women being far less overdosed by standard medical doses (designed for men).

And women of colour have more melanin so are less likely to experience sunburn. They might get told their skin tone is lovely. White women are often expected to tan. That doesn’t negate the many ways which overall benefit white women, just as being thin having some negatives doesn’t negate the ways in which society as a whole values thin at the expense of fat, and punishes fat people more than thin people.

Medical doses are a problem because of many factors (genes, mainly.), and formularies exist to help medical professionals dose individuals regardless of weight. The medical establishment and its standards are, indeed, skewed towards white male bodies of average size, but this doesn’t do very large women more of a favour than very slim ones.

If you want something work related, then how about the assumption that thin women are thin due to mental problems, or, indeed, that they’re sickly little creatures – neither of which helps employment. Larger women are referred to as being more ‘robust’.

Plus, they get described as womanly, or motherly, as opposed to ‘flat chested sticks’.

As opposed to fat women, who never get told they ‘don’t have the image’ for work in the public eye, that they are frumpy, that they are unhealthy or are killing themselves or shouldn’t eat. That they can’t do a job. I agree, some people think very nasty things about thin women, like the assumption all thin women are anorexic. The ‘real women have curves’ narrative is particularly nasty, suggesting that women who aren’t ‘curvy’ (which, BTW most of the time seems to mean very thin with big breasts) aren’t attractive or aren’t women. It’s nasty, it’s unfair, and it needs to be addressed. But just like feminism would help men, too, fat rights and an end to weight obsession would help thin women. The aim of people arguing against discrimination against fat people isn’t to deny that the lives of thin women can be hard, or to suggest they don’t face some discrimination because of their weight (rather like men’s gender roles can be a problem), but that women shouldn’t be judged by weight, full stop. That health and weight are not always linked, and that women own their bodies, and have a right to be as big or small as they want. It’s just that, as current gender norms mean that overall women are worst affected, current social attitudes to weight mean that fat people are worst affected.

This still doesn’t change the fact that the social narrative values thinness, even when it actually is unhealthy. That recovering anorexic women and women with serious illnesses who have lost a lot of weight get told they have an enviable figure and asked how they keep so thin. That even average sized people

And, for the record, my next paragraph started by saying that I don’t believe that either actually amounts to a privilege.

I know. However, I disagree, and wanted to point out that whilst both fat and thin women are seen as public property and scrutinised, I believe that the way society values thinness over fatness makes it impossible for there not to be a privilege gradient, just like society valuing maleness over femaleness means there is a privilege gradient benefiting men overall. Short men, for example, are treated unpleasantly. That doesn’t mean they don’t have privilege over women.

Another thing that concerned me eariler in someones post was the idea that desiring health was an ablist thing to do. I’m not sure where anyone claimed wanting health was ablist. However, the assumption that fat people just aren’t trying hard enough, or that everyone can easily exersise, is ableist. Some differently-abled people can excersise, or have the support to. Some don’t. People see someone who is fat and think that they know all the reasons why. Because they must be stuffing their face

Wanting to be healthy is good. Unfortunately, society rarely actually talks about being healthy. To many people. ‘healthy’ is a code word for thin and fuckable. and Thin and fuckable are interchangeable with healthy. This is wrong.

Kez // Posted 7 May 2009 at 10:16 am

Polly Styrene, I don’t think that saying “being healthy is a good thing” has anything to do with suggesting that people who do experience health difficulties are “inferior” in any way. Surely, everyone would prefer ideally to enjoy good health, especially those who know only too well the toll taken by the lack of it. It is not discriminatory to say good health is preferable to ill health – it’s what any health care system is based on. It makes no reflection on the relative value of individuals who may experience chronic illness and/or who have disabilities.

That is not to say people with disabilities are not discriminated against. Quite clearly, they are. But to say that “saying health is a good thing is discriminatory because it suggests some people are inferior” is not the same thing. Health is, objectively, a good thing. It makes life better than ill-health. Anyone who experiences chronic pain, discomfort and inconvenience due to health issues will confirm this.

Lindsay // Posted 7 May 2009 at 7:50 pm

An interesting article, and I’m still not sure where I stand, however, the oddest thing happened to me this afternoon.

My boss asked to speak to me privately. “Are you ok?” he asked. “I’m fine” I replied, somewhat confused to the source of his concern. I have not been acting out of sorts. “It’s just that I’ve noticed you’ve been eating a lot the last couple of weeks, I tend to comfort eat when I’m feeling low”. I responded that I have just been eating lunch at my desk (which I actually do every day, not just recently) and that I am fine – I wanted to extricate myself from this awkward situation as soon as possible.

I’ve had a bit of time to digest this (no pun intended!), and my main feeling is, well, fury! Why is he checking out how much I am eating? What the hell has it got to do with him? I genuinely haven’t been eating any more than usual, and am quite shocked at his comments, not only because they are, at the very least, inappropriate, I also wasn’t aware people were spying on me eating my lunch!

I feel like this incidence does reflect the point made about fatness being indicative of something wrong, and people having a sense of entitlement to poke their nose into the gastric affairs of fat people.

My boss is notoriously tactless but essentially well meaning, and I am comfortable enough in his presence to speak my clout, but I felt an absolute aversion to justify my lunch-eating to him, or really dignify his outrageous probing with anything more than a cordial rebuttal. I think his comments about food were intended to be “matey” and kind rather than mean or intrusive (although why he thought there was something wrong with me is still a mystery to me!). I may pick him up on it tomorrow, or I may just leave it, I’ve not yet decided.

I am slightly reluctant to provide the following info, but I think it adds a further diminsion of madness to these events – I am not fat. I am quite average, and certainly healthy/happy. As a matter of fact, I have noticeably lost weight recently (inadvertantly). Why did my weight loss not prompt concern, if my percieved sudden appetite did? I can only assume because losing weight, as others have said, is considered positive, even when potentially unhealthy.

My boss on the other hand is quite overweight, and admittedly follows an unhealthy diet. I don’t mention this to make some “those in glass houses” type point – (though I’m not “fat” at the moment, I have been bigger in the past, and I’ve never been actually thin, so don’t feel that I qualify as having thin privilege [though certainly have body confidence priviledge], and I have nothing against fat people, genuinely) – I think this simply adds a strange dimension to this weird occurance.

Reading that back, I am none the wiser as to what it was all about. Perhaps thin priv has nothing to do with it – it was simply an example of a middle aged man feeling entitled to question the personal actions of a young woman. I just felt the “diet observation” angle was relevant and…creepy.

Cathy // Posted 19 May 2009 at 10:23 pm

The tone of Suzi’s didn’t seem right, since I know sexism and racism are so prevalent that they must be tolerated, but after reading the apology/clarification, I feel better about it. The comments are, for the most part, very illuminating. I especially appreciate Frances’ point about how this is pitting women against each other, in a divide-and-conquer way. The patriarchy wins whenever women fight over the few crumbs left for us.

Also, Anne Onne makes excellent points about the privilege gradient (the short man is a great example), which makes some people resist admitting that the privilege exists. My husband is short, and he believes that his height is more of a disadvantage than being black! He really hasn’t thought that one through, but clearly his white privilege has blinded him.

I agree with all the commenters who point out that remarks about size and food choices are just another way of making sure women know that our bodies are public property, and therefore up for critique – even when it is done by other women, who are unknowingly doing the patriarchy’s job for it.

katrina // Posted 22 May 2009 at 7:50 am

I’m annoyed with myself for getting so annoyed about the label “thin privilege”, but it’s been nagging me since I read the original post, and I don’t think anyone’s pointed out that so-called thin privilege can be and often is taken away when a thin person has to take certain drugs, or works long hours in an office for years, or has children or just gets older. In that way it’s very different from the privilege bestowed by being white or male or from a wealthy country or a wealthy family.

The other way it’s different from those privileges is that it’s not invisible to the thin person. Western women are taught to be afraid of getting fat. No matter how thin you are, someone will always be around to tell you you could lose weight, or at least tell you not to eat that because you’ll get fat.

As other posters have pointed out, it’s about reminding women that their bodies are public property, and you can never be get thin enough to escape that.

That’s why the term “thin privilege” strikes me as ill-thought out and jumping on the pointing-out-privilege bandwagon. What’s wrong with “fat hate”, as used by those wonderful women at Shapely Prose? It cuts to the chase and perfectly describes the irrational viciousness of those who would deny health care to anyone with an unfashionable body mass index.

Rosa // Posted 10 June 2009 at 3:57 pm

I think this is always going to be a heated topic for women because women’s bodies are always under fire no matter how beautiful they are.

Like many of the other commenters have said here, I’ve also been called “bitch” for being thin and experienced resentment: it hurts. I can imagine that extremely beautiful women are are target for negative and scary attention from men and contempt from women too. But that’s not the issue being raised in this entry.

Someone here said that their thinness wasn’t a privilege because it was just their metabolism and genetics. You could apply that argument to being white or male; it’s so obviously and hopelessly flawed that I won’t even go there.

I don’t think people – men or women – are very good about talking about fatness or thinness. I remember a women’s message board, for example, I used to visit almost everyday. A woman started a thread about how she didn’t like her body because it was “too thin” and that she didn’t feel like “a real woman because real women have curves.” What do other people think? How do you feel about your body?

I related to her a lot – I don’t feel like a “real woman either” whatever that is – and thought it could spark a good discussion. Unite, sisters!


I was amazed at the responses from this usually friendly and supportive community: people told her dare she make such a post? Don’t you know what I’d give to be thin? It’s an insult. And so on.

The woman ended up leaving the forum saying many times the comments stung her so badly she was in tears.

Our bodies are always going to be a hot issue because women’s bodies are judged relentlessly and harshly 24/7. But we have to talk about it without further attacking or pressing each other’s buttons. Ultimately I don’t think it’s about fatness or thinness, it’s about what’s currently the ideal and woe betide you if you don’t fit it.

Rosa // Posted 10 June 2009 at 7:01 pm

Okay, one more comment as this discussion has been on my mind for a while 8)

I think we have to be careful not to be too simplistic and not to make sweeping statements.

Suzie said that “Fat is not a disease. Body shape/size is not a symptom of ill health.”

It’s true that fat isn’t a disease, but it’s wrong to blankly state it’s not a symptom of ill health.

I’m disabled and have been for eleven years since my eleventh birthday. I’m disabled because I’m very ill. Connecting with other young ill and/or disabled people naturally became important and over the years I’ve come to know many people who are fat BECAUSE it is a symptom of their particular ill health.

I point this out not to nit-pick, but because I don’t want disability issues swept aside so fat people aren’t associated with us. I have a friend, let’s call her Judy, who goes to university. Her disability is mostly invisible apart from one symptom: it makes her fat. She can’t walk far and finds walking upstairs hard, so she uses the university lift.

One day while Judy was in the lift a woman carrying boxes turned to her and said, “Excuse me. This lift is for disabled people or people carrying heavy loads. You’re not disabled and the only heavy load you’re carrying is your own fat. Don’t be so lazy and use the stairs: maybe if you did you wouldn’t be so overweight. It looks like you could use the exercise.”

I’m sure you can imagine how painful this was, for many reasons.

It’s both an example of Fat Hate and an example of people’s ignorance about disabled people (I have a never ending list of cracking stories of disable-ism if you ever want to hear them). I understand the point Suzie is trying to get across, but disabled people are often seen as somehow contaminated: Don’t distance yourself from us! If fat discrimination and disability discrimination cross paths, please don’t ignore it.

Fat people aren’t less than thin people, but ill people aren’t less than healthy people either. People who are fat because they are disabled shouldn’t be left behind or ignored, especially because eventually it will smack of able-ism.

Again, I understand the sentiment you were trying to get across and I don’t believe you were being disable-ist exactly. I also understand that “health” is far too closely associated with thinness and that needs to be changed. But I also knows what it feels like to be on the receiving end of comments associating illness and ill people with badness and a bad image.

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