What is Thin Privilege?

Thin Privilege grants folks in smaller bodies greater access to resources compared to someone in a larger body. Those with thin privilege face less discrimination in our society that unfairly equates thinness with health as well as perpetuates an “ideal” that is unrealistic for most bodies to attain.

People in larger bodies (i.e. people who wear plus sizes) face consistent, systemic oppression. They are body-shamed by individuals within society as well as within the culture at large. Our culture makes it difficult and sometimes impossible to find clothes and spaces that fit (chairs), access to effective and non-discriminatory healthcare, equal access to employment, to name a few. These are basic human rights that we all deserve, not just for people born into smaller bodies.

The term “thin privilege” is meant to highlight this systemic disparity, and to call out the fact that dignity and respect and equitable treatment shouldn’t be privileges reserved for smaller-bodied folks at ALL—they should be universal rights afforded to everyone, no matter their size.

Privilege by definition is unearned and those with thin privilege may want to deny that they don’ even have this privilege. They may say it doesn’t exist at all. Maybe they are shamed for being “too thin,” maybe they have insecurities or even hate their bodies. This might be true for many. Having thin privilege does not protect you against developing eating disorders. You can have thin privilege and also hate your body. You may even be struggling with your own eating disorder. The irony here is that you might not even feel thin. Most dieters are in constant search for this elusive feeling of “thinness” – chasing an ideal that is always out of reach. Aubrey Gordon (Your Fat Friend) says: “thinness is always distant, unattainable, a punishing standard that few feel they can meet.”

BUT what folks in smaller bodies will never have to suffer with is the constant and systemic discrimination that is targeted towards folks in larger bodies. Thin privilege protects you from the micro and macro-aggressions of our toxic diet culture. Think about when you travel and have no problem fitting into seats. Think about when you go to the doctors for knee pain and they don’t assume it’s your weight that’s causing the pain. This is thin privilege.

We want to be sensitive to comments that reinforce the fear of weight gain and further stigmatize fatness. Be mindful of comments that promote this fear. When you say to yourself or to others that: you don’t want to gain any weight or that you are afraid of “getting fat.” Think about the impact that statement has on your fat friends.

Our culture need to accept the fact that bodies come in ALL shapes and sizes, and that some bodies are born fatter than others. They are not less worthy of love and respect just because they are larger. AND, we know thin bodies can be unhealthy just as fat bodies can be healthy. We cannot make assumptions on someones health based solely on the size of their body.

Unpacking Thin Privilege:

  • You are not assumed unhealthy because of your size.
  • Your size may not be the first thing people notice about you.
  • When you are at the grocery store strangers don’t comment on the food in your cart.
  • Your access to various forms of insurance is not impacted by your size. Your premiums are lower.
  • You can expect to pay reasonable prices for your clothing.
  • You do not receive suggestions about weight loss diet from others.
  • People don’t fetishize your weight or wonder what your partner likes about having sex with you.
  • You are more likely to get a raise or promotion at work.
  • The media doesn’t refer to your body size as an epidemic.
  • You can shop for clothing in any store.
  • Your body fits in between restaurant tables.
  • Your doctor doesn’t blame all your symptoms on your weight, and suggest you lose weight.
  • People don’t mock/patronize you when you exercise.
  • Airplane seats fit you and your seatmates don’t grimace when you board.
  • People don’t judge your food choices.
  • Hospital gowns, BP cuffs, and MRI machines fit your body.
  • Chairs in public spaces fit and support your body.

 

Thanks for reading and for having the courage to do the work of dismantling our collective fat phobia and internalized thin ideals. The work of this nature is uncomfortable, so keep going and reach out for support!

Much love, Karen Louise

Resources: Christy Harrison, MPH, RDN

Hilary & Dana at Be Nourished, The School for Unlearning.

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Karen Louise Scheuner, MA, RDN

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