Whenever thin privilege comes up among the general public, inevitably you get at least one person claiming they aren’t privileged because they’ve felt bad about their body too.
I’m here to tell you why that’s bunk.
Help, I Don’t Get What Privilege Is
First, we need to get on the same page regarding what privilege in general is in a social justice context. Everyday Feminism has a great definition in this article:
We can define privilege as a set of unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group.
You can be privileged in myriad ways: gender, race, sexual orientation, class, ability, and, yes, body size. Among MANY others. The areas where you are and are not privileged can intersect and take different priorities depending on situation.
For example, as a white woman, I have race privilege but not gender. In some spaces I will be marginalized for my gender, but in others my gender won’t matter as much and I’ll be privileged for my race.
It’s also not a contest. I’ve heard things like “who has it worse, a black man or a white woman?” There is no one answer to that, as it largely depends on context. When interacting with police, for example, my whiteness likely grants more privilege than a black man’s maleness. But in other situations, his maleness will matter more. There’s no way to rank privilege universally.
OK, But THIN Privilege? I Work for My Body!
Society doesn’t care why you are thin. The many things that you get with thin privilege are based on how you are perceived, or how physically large or small you are.
This means that someone who hires you for a job over an equally qualified fat candidate doesn’t know your gym routine. They just have biases — conscious and unconscious — about what your appearance implies. The designer of the airplane seat that you won’t have to pray you fit into doesn’t care if you had a green smoothie or a Pop-Tart for breakfast. It doesn’t matter if you think you are a size 8 because of yoga, what matters is that designers actually make clothes for you.
Besides, weight is far more tied to genetics than you probably think. So even if you do “work for” your body, you’d probably still be on the thin side if you didn’t.
This is usually the place where someone brings up eating disorders and people who are thin because of an illness. They’re usually trying to derail the conversation, but I do have a real answer to that:
If you’re thin because you’re sick, you still have thin privilege. You may not have ability/heath privilege or other kinds. But thin? Yup. Even within the context of medical treatment, you’re privileged. Practitioners are likely to treat you better than they would a fat patient who presented with the exact same symptoms and history.
But I’m Not Privileged, My Life Isn’t Perfect!
Privilege is complicated and messy. It doesn’t mean everything is sunshine and roses if you have it. You can be as straight, white, thin, and male as it gets and still have problems.
But your problems aren’t BECAUSE of those things. That’s the difference.
If you have thin privilege, you can still have a lot of negative experiences. But chances are they won’t be BECAUSE of your body size.
But I Feel Bad About My Body Too
I’m not surprised. The world we live in makes everyone — especially women — self-conscious. No one will deny that.
But if you’re thin, what you feel is a fraction of what your fat counterparts face.
I’m not in any way saying people of all genders and sizes don’t have a valid complaint about how society makes them feel regarding their bodies. But I am saying that if you are not fat, you don’t experience the levels of discrimination on top of it.
Fatphobia isn’t just being sad because someone said something mean. It is that sometimes, but it’s also a lot more.
It’s being less likely to be hired and more likely to live in poverty. It’s being more likely to be convicted of a crime and less likely to be taken seriously by a doctor. It’s being forced to pay more for clothes that are both harder to find AND often of low quality. It’s being constantly told from all angles not just that your body is gross and ugly, but also that it’s gonna kill you by age 40 and that everyone will laugh about it. It’s getting dirty looks when you walk onto an airplane or disbelief when you do something physical. It’s the fear of that something physical being recorded, spread online, and virally mocked.
It’s so much more than just occasional (or even frequent) self doubt.
BUT THIN SHAMING
No one — NO ONE — should be ridiculed for their body. Full stop.
But so called “thin shaming” is not anywhere near the realm of fatphobia. It’s mean, and it shouldn’t happen, but it doesn’t come with the baggage of widespread cultural hatred of fat shaming.
Plus, “thin shaming” comes from a different place. Fatphobia is visceral disgust and loathing, whereas “thin shaming” is rooted more in envy. It’s punching up. Fat hate punches down. Hard.
It might ruin your day if someone teases you for being thin. But it probably won’t ruin your life. Fatphobia can.
So yes, if you are thin, you have thin privilege. It doesn’t matter how you feel about yourself.