Tuesday, February 5, 2008


A while back, I posted about thin privilege. I've had at least one person try to deny thin privilege by saying essentially, "Just because you are discriminated against, doesn't mean that I benefit from it."

Many of you just had the logic circuits in your brains overload. For those who don't get it, though, I will try to explain privilege, and how it affects everyone, for good or ill.

If the world is predominately run by people who regard a characteristic (in this case, fatness) as a reason to not hire someone, throw rocks at them, give them bad service, or otherwise treat them badly, then the people who do not have the characteristic (thin people, in this case) directly benefit from this situation by having reduced competition in all things. Thin people get included, while fat ones are excluded. If you don't consider being included in the "possible employee" pile of resumes to be a benefit over the people whose resumes go into the circular file based solely on the fact that they are fat, then I'm not sure how much plainer I can make this.

You also benefit by not having to carry the burden of being discriminated against based on your weight. If I need someone to believe that I am hardworking, smart, efficient, or experienced, I have to work twice as hard, because I first have to overcome the immediate perception that fat people are the opposite of those things. It is also believed that I am not entitled to desserts, or sometimes food of any kind, or taking the elevator, or being in a wheelchair. A thin person who is using any of those things is not questioned, while a fat person is judged negatively for doing so.

I'm not telling anyone that they should feel guilty for being thin. I am suggesting that we should work toward a more just society, and that starts with the individuals. When you find yourself in a grocery store, and you see a fat person using a motorized cart, think about your immediate reaction. Lots of people think, "Maybe if they would walk, they wouldn't be so fat." Some of them even say it, usually as anonymous online forum participants. Stop yourself, if you think that way, and consider the fact that you don't know that person, you don't know their history, and it isn't fair to judge them. Think about whether you'd judge a thin person the same way. Then ask yourself why a thin person is assumed to have a real disability, while the fat person is judged as lazy, and too stupid to know that walking is "healthy"?

Keep yourself honest. Be aware of the way you think, and aware of the things you may or may not gain from your privileged status as thin, white, male, wealthy, or whatever else gives you that advantage.


notblueatall said...

Yes! I had a best friend for 16 years (long story, we don't talk much now)but she's a size 7 I'm a size 28/30. She would always go into LB with me and complain because the clothes were cute but not in her size. One time I finally went off and told her she shouldn't feel that way because she can go into any store and find clothes and I can't! But we talked it out and as it turns out she too is discriminated against. People walk up to her on the street and tell her to eat a cheeseburger! She's tall and thin and people assume she's anorexic...she can eat like a champ, she just has an amazing metabolism. Yet she longs for more curves! So I think no matter which end of the spectrum you're on the grass is always greener. It all comes down to body image and outsider judgement...it sucks, but this is where we are as a society.

Heather said...

It's so ridiculous the way people seem to think that we WANT to be fat. The woman in the motorized scooter at the grocery store doesn't get off on people staring at her, judging her, huffing at her for getting in people's way. Thin society seems to think fat people are this way on purpose. No one would choose to be stigmatized by society at large and only the mentally incapable would think otherwise.

Harpy said...

I think many people are invested in the idea that fat people live a life of eating mounds of all those "forbidden" treats, that's why they're fat obviously (to them) and never doing "boring" exercise. And they're actually jealous of this mythical person that lives some kind of no-worries life of indulgence and self-gratification and pleasure, yet so afraid of being fat that they can't let themselves enjoy a piece of cake or a no-gym day without guilt. Thus the hating and othering of those they think are not behaving as they ought.

Anonymous said...

Very good article. I find it annoying too when thin people fail to see how size-bias is working in their benifit.

Or how their slight experience of being stigmatized, which of course is blown-up into a huge major ordeal by them, cause how dare someone judge them. Is a result of size-bias. People wouldn't be telling thin girls, "hahaha, go eat a cheesburger!" if fat people didn't have to live in a society that hates them so much.

It's not about saying thin people should be heavier. It's saying, stop complaining when you're getting every damn thing handed to you on a sliver platter, just because you've managed to maintain the right weight.

Vive42 said...

i love this post. i have a ton of thin guilt and am hyper aware of the differences in how i remember being treated when i was obese to how i've been treated while thin.

for me, the worst moments are when i'm in some way being included in a thin-people's conversation about fatness by people who don't know i've spent more time in my life obese than thin. i do always say something about whatever stupid fat-phobic comment they make but it doesn't completely mitigate the guilt!

aebhel said...


I'm a skinny person. I hit a growth spurt at 14 that left me, for a few months, 5'7" and about 90 pounds--you can bet that people called me anorexic. And yes, it sucked. But the thing is, as violet_yoshi said, if our society wasn't so freaking obsessed with fat there would be far fewer instances of anorexia and thus far less of a reason for people to assume that I was anorexic. And I can't imagine how astronomically more life must suck for someone who is constantly harassed for being overweight.

I think the thing that makes people bug out about privilege is the notion that granting other people rights is somehow going to make their rights disappear. The thing that skinny people need to understand is that we're not being asked to hand over our rights to food, to our children, to equal treatment and consideration by doctors and employees. What we are being asked to do is hand over our unfair advantages in all of those areas.

(I don't have anything on my blogger account; I just created it to comment on other peoples' blogs. I do have a livejournal, though, if that's an acceptable substitute.)