Thin priv­i­lege is real, let’s ac­knowl­edge it

Waikato Times - - Well & Good - Alana Schet­zer

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.


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.

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