Thin privilege exists. We need to acknowledge it instead of getting defensive.
“You look really good for it.”
It’s a comment that I have heard numerous times since I first started experiencing chronic pain – and my weight dropped to unhealthy levels. Since 2011, I have not been anything other than “under weight” and while the BMI model is bullshit, I know that being praised for losing weight due to agonising bouts of pain is a total mess. Our fatphobic culture is booming when people think chronic pain and illness is something to be envious of.
There’s a lot of stigma around disability though. My body is shamed occasionally because my ribs stick out, and while my illness is invisible I often look pale and not exactly the peak of health. I still benefit from thin privilege though. I experience ableism for my body. I experience ableism in how it is glorified and my pain is erased, I experience ableism when people tell me to simply “eat more” when I can’t. I still have thin privilege, even though the source of my thinness is a tonne of pain.
Skinny shaming may happen on a case by case basis but that doesn’t mean plus sized people have privilege. Privilege is about a culture, and about systematic discrimination in society. Overwhelmingly, it is plus sized people who are policed. Our culture says that overweight people are bad and that being underweight is a sign of virtue, effort and pride. Thin people just don’t experience the routine discrimination, slurs or abuse that plus sized people do so we need to stop acting as though they are the same.
“Our culture says that overweight people are bad and that being underweight is a sign of virtue, effort and pride”
Fatphobia is prevalent in society. People dress up prying and policing of people as “concerns” about their health. If you’re not a doctor, be quiet – and if you are a doctor, still be quiet. When someone wants an appointment they’ll make one so don’t give unsolicited advice. Thin privilege in society means that thin people don’t get weighed at airports, which is a completely humiliating and degrading experience. Thin privilege means rarely having to listen to lectures about your health.
Thin privilege even extends to gender. Thin people are more likely to be accepted as genderfluid or agender than plus sized people. And yet, while plus sizes are seen as either masculine or feminine and weaponised against gender, so many men, women and non-binary people are told they’ve failed their assigned gender and actual gender by not conforming to expectations about beauty. It’s especially something that women of colour face. If you’re not thin, you get little say of how you identify. There are too many people who try to do that for plus-sized people and speak over them.
Our ideals over weight have changed over the centuries but that reinforces fatphobia. Plus sized people have been used as fantasies or slammed through the ages. At any point in history, people have been willing to offer opinion on people’s weight, particularly, on plus sized people’s.
Disabled bodies do experience oppression and discrimination but privilege is often not a yes/no box, but different elements of our identities are all intertwined. It is possible to experience ableism for being thin and yet retain thin privilege. The first thing people see isn’t my disability, but a body that conforms to incredibly narrow ideals and that is a certain pass in life. Thin people do have privilege, regardless of how comfortable or happy we feel with our bodies. We need to work against that and dismantle our narrow beauty norms to support all plus sized people.