Thin Privilege and Fat Phobia

I spend a fair amount of time on tumblr, which means that I spend a fair amount of time hearing about thin privilege. At first I was kind of annoyed by this concept (as I think every privileged person is at each new iteration of their privilege), but I have come to understand that there are elements of being overweight that I will never understand, never experience, and that are difficult. I understand that it can affect your job prospects, and that it can affect the way that doctors treat you and diagnose you. I understand that there are difficulties being a fat person that a thin person will never experience.

But there is still something that rubs me the wrong way about many of the examples of thin privilege that people have provided to me. Partially this is because I have an eating disorder, and so it is INCREDIBLY difficult for me to view my size as a privilege, because it has come at the expense of my health, well-being, mental stability, and many of my relationships. But beyond that, many of the examples of “thin privilege” or “fatphobia” that I hear being thrown around seem to me simply to be examples of sexism. For example, many fat women have said that thin women can eat whatever they want without being judged for it. This is patently untrue, as I have been judged for eating anything that appears low-calorie, or as if I’m watching my weight as a thin woman. The problem seems to be that people feel they deserve any say over what women eat because they deserve a say in women’s health or beauty or appearance. I have rarely heard men complain about this same thing, and I have certainly seen thin women judged on their food choices, just like fat women.

I also have heard many fat people say that they have been denied medical treatment because of their size, and told that all they have to do is lose weight. Well even when I was underweight, even when I was severely damaging my health and really truly ill, doctors never looked any further because my size appeared “healthy”. Those standards of weight and size negatively affect everyone involved. They may come down more harshly on those who are fat, but many of those same problems can be traced back to expectations of women’s bodies. In one study, new healthcare professionals even professed more bias and judgment towards individuals with anorexia than they did towards individuals who were overweight or had diabetes. Each is considered a disease in its own way.

Now there absolutely are examples of fatphobia and thin privilege. The attempts to charge more to overweight individuals to fly, or the constant labeling of the “obesity epidemic” spring readily to mind. But I think that many of the problems that overweight individuals face overlap heavily with sexism and general expectations of women’s bodies, and that we should be willing to accept that some of these problems cut all ways and harm EVERYONE. 

(The featured image is me at one of my lowest weights. Lucky me, I got light-headedness and heart palpitations! Remembering that time it’s hard to view my weight as a privilege, but I’m doing my best)

5 thoughts on “Thin Privilege and Fat Phobia

  1. Barrett Vann says:

    I agree with you that it does come down to sexism and policing of women’s bodies, as well as the prevalent attitude (applied to both men and women) that thin= healthy, fat= unheathy, regardless of circumstance or nuance. Tied into this is the sensibility that beauty should be effortless, that women should just magically be gorgeous and thin, and to be seen making an effort to be that way (you, a thin woman, eating low-calorie food) is crass and tasteless. Honestly, have a steak, have an ice-cream, eat like a pig, but for god’s sake, only if you’re skinny.

    I will say, though, that while these notions are harmful to all women, fat or thin, one area of discrimination that people perceived to be overweight face that skinny people, I would imagine, don’t, is that many people are disgusted by fat people simply taking up space in public, and are not subtle about it. Whether it’s on public transit or just walking down the street, there is an ugly, sneering attitude that it’s an imposition, that ‘normal’ people are forced to put up with sharing space with these pigs.

    Of course, I say this as someone who is neither especially thin nor overweight, but more or less healthily in the middle, so any observations I have are merely that: observations, not experiences. Unfortunately, while I do think it’s excellent that fatphobia is beginning to be discussed in more open forums, it does often devolve into an ‘us against them’ mentality where, in these circles, thin people are vilified. The impulse is understandable, but as you say, it’s sexism and body policing on a larger, societal level that is so toxic, and I think often people ignore the sickness in favour of focussing on the symptoms, so to speak.

    • oj27 says:

      I think you hit the nail on the head about taking up space. Again, I think that’s heavily related to sexism too (although I think that fat men are also subject to pressures of taking up too much space), because women are expected NOT to take up space.

      But I think we can all agree that thin privilege exists on some level and has horrible little intersectional babies with sexism.

      • Barrett Vann says:

        The next time I end up having to explain something about sexism/slut-shaming/queerness/general SJ issues to my parents, I am definitely going to use the phrase ‘horrible little intersectional babies’. I think that captures the effect rather perfectly.

  2. edgyhedgy says:

    I had to think about this for a bit. Not because I doubt that it’s true, but because I grew up in a family that glorifies big people and specifically bigger women. If anything, I’ve always had a view opposite my friends when it came to dating. Extremes in either direction never seemed attractive to me because both were always explained to me as being unhealthy. Being skinny meant you were not eating enough, being “too big” meant you were either eating too much or eating the wrong things. To this day, if I had to take an inventory of the women I find the most attractive, they rather solidly built middle to bigger sized women because that’s what my mountain dwelling, field working Mexican family culture has taught me. We would say, “have a steak, have an ice cream, eat like a pig because you are too skinny,” especially if you’re smaller than a size 9.

    I say this, but I think of my mother, who is a very strong and healthy woman but (to me) very small, and her thin privilege. She’s a nurse, and the things I hear come out of her mouth when she talks about her large patients never stop shocking me. Perhaps they are diabetic, have heart disease, or something else that is easily blamed on a person’s size. When I hear her make comments like, “Well maybe if s/he stopped eating buckets of fried chicken…” always makes me mad. The “sharing space” idea definitely applies to her, and I am always left horrified by the comments she makes.

    It wasn’t until I started spending more time in queer spaces that I really picked up on body policing and intersections with sexism, culture, class… and all of your aptly named “horrible little intersectional babies.” It wasn’t until I spent time in those spaces that the obvious, and less obvious, problems were pointed out to me. It’s unfortunate because that wasn’t until I was about 18/19 years old and had plenty of time for those nasty little children to dig their greasy, dirty little claws into me.

  3. […] to one of my recent posts I figured I should post it now rather than later. I recently posted about fatphobia and thin privilege, and I got a few comments from people who said that I “just didn’t get it” because I straight […]

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