Thin privilege is real, let’s acknowledge it
In the past few years, the world has finally started to wake up to the socially constructed ways in which some people are given an easier ride through life than others.
Male privilege acknowledges how being a man means earning a higher wage than women, not being discriminated against because of their gender, and being far less likely to be sexually assaulted. And white privilege recognises the ongoing discriminations faced by people of colour in job opportunities, safety and every other part of life.
But what about being thin? Is there an advantage, a privilege, associated with being slim in our society? It seems that yes, there is.
The ‘‘thin’’ in ‘‘thin privilege’’ is not about being supermodelskinny but being at a weight that means you are not subjected to judgment and harassment from strangers. It means that you can go into almost any clothes shop and find something that will fit. You can eat a hamburger in public without people clearly judging your decision. You can wear something figure-hugging without people sniggering.
Australian academic and body positivity advocate Jenny Lee says women are especially vulnerable to this type of rhetoric because ‘‘women are still valued for their beauty first and are socialised accordingly’’.
‘‘When I speak about thin privilege, I am talking about the advantages that thin people in Western culture experience, such as being assumed healthy and having a wide array of clothes available, as well as a body that aligns with dominant ideas of what is attractive,’’ says Dr Lee, who teaches gender and literary studies at Victoria University in Melbourne.
‘‘It’s time to acknowledge thin privilege the way the Left has acknowledged white privilege, class privilege or straight privilege. As a white middleclass person, albeit with working-class roots, it is worth noting here that I can’t speak for all fat women, and I have barely been able to touch on the prejudice that fat people of colour experience.’’
The conversation around thin privilege got a kick-start when US blogger Cora Harrington wrote a series of tweets explaining what it is and how people can benefit from it, even if they don’t think of themselves as thin.
‘‘No one groans or rolls their eyes when they have to sit next to me on a plane or a bus,’’ she tweeted in July. ‘‘In fact, no one comments on my body at all. The ability to move through life without people insisting you need to be a smaller size . . . if you don’t have to think about that, it’s privilege.’’
Society has long determined that overweight people are not only flawed but also fully responsible for their weight gain. That being ‘‘fat’’ is simply deemed to be a failure caused by nothing but greed and gluttony, a byword for laziness, being undisciplined, greedy and unintelligent.
Noortje Van Amsterdam, from Universiteit Utrecht in the Netherlands, says the social construct of people’s bodies has declared that slim people, especially women, are the ‘‘norm’’ while ‘‘fat’’ people are a ‘‘deviant’’ of that.
There has been broad debate over exactly what ‘‘thin privilege’’ is or whether it even exists.
Some people who are naturally petite have rejected the term, saying that they too are forced to deal a constant barrage of faux-concern, including being told to ‘‘eat something’’ or questioned whether they have an eating disorder.
Another take on the label is that it’s not so much that thin privilege exists but that ‘‘fat inconvenience’’ does – a sort of social tax that bigger bodies have to pay, whether it’s the lack of choice in shops to buy clothes, or nasty stares and under-thebreath comments from aeroplane neighbours for taking up too much space.
Whatever you want to call it, there is undoubtedly a series of hardships that bigger people face, most of which are socially constructed as a way to control and belittle them. If we can create it, then we can unmake it.