Can We Kill the Privilege Denying Please?

Published September 12, 2012 by Fat Heffalump

Yeesh, thin privilege is just rampant isn’t it?

Before we continue, if you’re not sure what thin privilege is, don’t expect me to educate you on it.  You’ve got access to the internet, you know what Google is, clearly you have enough literacy to read this blog, so you can go and educate yourself on the subject.  And if you think it doesn’t exist, then you haven’t educated yourself enough yet.  I’ll still be here when you have, no need to hurry, but please, don’t waste my time and that of everyone else reading this blog in arguing it in the comments.  NOT GONNA HAPPEN PEOPLE.

I will throw you a bone though and share this link with you: with particular attention to this post please.

So, after getting a message via my Fat Heffalump FB page last night asking me to recommend fat acceptance blogs for women who are “not obese” (after all, who wants to have to look at and hear from those ICKY FATTIES, EWWWWWW!) and then got shitty at me when I told her she was being incredibly offensive, thin privilege has been at the front of my mind.

Today this article was published on the otherwise excellent Lip Magazine.  I don’t normally link to bad stuff, but Lip is usually so very good that I’ll give it this time.

First off, let’s acknowledge how transphobic that image is at the header of the article, and I won’t get started on that topic, we’ll save that for another blog.

What I really want to talk about is how INCREDIBLY privilege denying the piece is.  I was going to comment on the article but I think it needs expanding upon, so here we are.

Yes, I agree, the “real women” trope should die in a fire.  Besides, I’m not curvy, I’m fucking fat.  Big ole fat, fat, fat, Fatty McFattersons.  I don’t have “curves”, I have rolls and lumps and thick bits and chunks.  I’m just as real as any other woman.

Yes, I agree, nobody, thin, fat or in-between should be judged on their body shape or size.

But I have a real problem with how the author has framed this as supposedly unacceptable to comment on a fat person’s body.  To quote:

“Why, though, is it OK to tell someone that their natural shape is too skinny, but not that they’re too fat?”

I’d like to call bullshit on this particular assumption.  As a fat woman, not a day goes by without my body being used as a representation of greed, laziness, gluttony.  Not a day goes by without my body being held up in the media as an “epidemic” to be cured/prevented/eradicated.  Not a day goes by without someone making some kind of rude statement about my body.  Every day I deal with complete strangers calling me a “fat bitch” (or worse), people spitting at me, throwing things from cars, supposedly respectable adults making comments about how I am “disgusting” because I have a fat body.  Doctors refuse to treat fat patients, insurers refuse to insure fat customers, we are kicked off flights or forced to buy second seats, we are discriminated in the workplace, vilified by the press and generally just treated as less than human.

It IS totally culturally acceptable for people to judge fat bodies, but not just judge them – vilify and demonise them.  In fact, I’d go so far as saying it’s currently culturally mandatory – because look at how people react when fat activists dare to stand up and say “No, I am a human being and deserve to be treated as one!”  The amount of vitriol and hatred any visible fat person gets is testament to that.

Thin bodies do not get this kind of social stigmatisation at a systemic level.  So PLEASE do not imply that it is “not ok to tell people they are too fat” – when it is EVERYWHERE in our culture.

This is not a matter of thin vs fat.  It is a matter of reclaiming our bodies as acceptable no matter what size or shape they are, and getting rid of tropes that label one type of woman as more real than another.  But until fat people are treated as equal human beings to not-fat people, thin privilege will always exist.

29 comments on “Can We Kill the Privilege Denying Please?

  • Hi Kath!

    This is the first time I’ve commented here, though I am a long-time lurker. 🙂

    First of all, I absolutely that it is MORE than culturally acceptable to make disparaging comments about larger people. It is absolutely rampant, both online and in real life. Here in NZ, one of our major newspapers allows one of our ex-politicians to write opinion pieces for them, which have describe fat people as “hippos” and “heaving mounds of flesh”. And the Press Council didn’t bat an eyelid. On our major national news site, they ran the article about Cat Pause and the Fat Conference- and some of the comments it attracted were absolutely VILE. And the site took none of them down. I

    n real life, there are no provisions in our law that prevent discrimination based on body size. A mate of mine was barred from entering a club because of her weight- and when she complained to our Human Right Commission, they said there was nothing they can do. I’ve been discriminated against at work because of my weight. I complained about it, and nothing was done.

    So yes, it is absolutely bullshit to say that it’s culturally not OK to call someone fat. You only have to switch on your computer and, in some cases, walk down the street (yup, I’ve had disgusting comments from complete strangers as well) to see that. And why is it acceptable? Because we “deserve” it, supposedly. It’s awful, and it’s not fucking fair.

    I can kinda see what the author of that article is trying to do. I agree that disparaging comments about ANYONE’s body are not on. I have naturally very slim mates who have their families, doctors and complete strangers telling them they need to eat more. No matter what they eat, their weight stays the same. Basically, it shows me that if you’re a woman, you can’t win. Anything greater than a size 10, you’re fat. If you’re thin, you’re worthless cos you’ve got no boobs. There’s no winning.

    But yeah. There was definite thin privilege in that article. And it’s not right. Do you plan on contacting the author and calling her out?

    • Nope, she’s a big girl, I’m sure she can find it. This is a big enough platform for calling out thin privilege. I’m only interested in hearing from the author of the piece if she is willing to examine her privilege and acknowledge that she has erased the cultural vilification of fat people anyway.

      Nobody is suggesting that body policing doesn’t happen to a variety of shapes and sizes of bodies for a variety of reasons. This is not a zero sum game, one can have thin privilege AND still experience body policing. What I am highlighting here is the author’s denial of the very real systematic vilification of fat people. Again, not until that is completely eradicated can we consider thin privilege a non-issue.

      • I don’t believe thin privilege is a non-issue at all. Dude, I experience it every goddamn day. I definitely sniffed out the author’s denial of it. I was just pointing out that the no-win situation for women was really depressing.

  • I’ve been thin. I’ve been fat. Yes, the body policing is still there for the thin, but back when I was thin every single time I turned on the television or opened a magazine (this was pre-internet Dark Ages, so email didn’t exist) I wasn’t told to eat a sandwich. I didn’t see article after article printed about how to gain weight in order to be happy, successful, and loved. I wasn’t ever thrown out of a clothing store for not being able to fit the clothes – even plus size establishments. Sure there was the occasional comment, but mostly it was about being careful so I wouldn’t get fat.

    Now? I’ve had complete strangers oink at me, moo at me, scream ugly comments about my body at me from across the street. I’ve begun dreading any need to fly for fear I might be told I need to buy that second seat on the plane that I can’t afford in the first place and that might not even be in my vicinity. I can’t open my email without seeing an ad for a diet plan, product, or guru. I actually heave a sigh of relief when the ad for my free account is for car insurance… and I don’t drive. I’m actively afraid to go see a doctor when I need to, because so many will insist that any ailment or injury a fat person is suffering from will magically disappear if only they lose weight. Fewer and fewer brick and mortar stores carry clothing in my size – and I’m only a US size 18/20 in most lines. Good luck finding anything at all to try on for fit or style if you wear a size 24 or up!

    Sure ‘eat a sandwich’ is a nasty thing to say. It’s never good to police people’s bodies. Sure the ‘real women have curves’ trope deserves to die a rapid and unmourned death.

    But I’d sure as hell take it over my TV being filled with Jillian Michaels and Dr. Oz screaming that I’m going to die next week because I can’t put down the imaginary cheeseburger, my email telling me to hurry up and buy Sensa so I can start living and stop being so disgusting, doctors choosing arbitrary weights above which they won’t treat patients, random strangers assuming they know my food and exercise choices by looking at me – and having those assumptions backed up by every health article they read and talk/medical show they watch, the First Lady actively waging a war on my body type, the fear of being declared ‘too fat to fly’, AND all the casual comments people make about how they’d rather die than be fat.

    It’s sort of like deciding whether I want to squish the annoying ant or the giant, aggressive poisonous spider first. I don’t want the ant in my house. It’s not fun and it’s not good for me. But it’s not likely to kill me.

    Body policing of the thin is not good. It’s bad. It shouldn’t happen and I’ll be happy to say that anytime, anywhere. But you know what? It’s not going to kill me. Anti fat prejudice has bodies attached. Actual dead bodies. It’s responsible for no end of lost productivity, misery, shame, and cruelty.

    Oh, and ‘real women have vaginas’? Really? Can you make it any clearer that the real dead bodies of transphobia don’t matter a rat’s ass to you? Because being beaten to death isn’t as bad as being insulted, is it?

    There Are No Words.

  • Wow, is it possible to have a discussion about thin privilege — even in fat positive spaces — without some kind of comment reducing its oppressive impact by noting that ‘skinny people get called names, too’, and either staging or assuming the false dichotomy of ‘calling out thin privilege’ = ‘ignoring other forms of body policing’?

    It’s just another way to continue to promote the viewpoint of thin people and marginalize fat people, whether intentional or not. It’s something that’s crept into fat acceptance conversations from several years of people trolling fat acceptance blogs about the ‘real women have curves’ BS that I’ve never seen a serious fat activist agree with. The straw man of fat acceptance = skinny bashing needs to go up in flames. It’s a derail and a silencing tactic, period.

    As for the quote — there’s nothing fatphobes won’t do, or convolutions of logic they won’t create, in order to justify their burning need to hate fat people. So many people desperately must see fat people as less than and inferior to them to assuage the guilt that perhaps they do have unearned privileges in their life based on nothing more than their defined clavicle or the space between their thighs.

    Hence you get articles like the one you linked from Lip, desperately setting up false dichotomies with which to frantically beat straw men and dead horses.

    And wow, that image is super transphobic. Guess sticking up for the skinnies was more important than intersectionality or understanding a damn thing about social justice.

    Thin people don’t have to think about how there’s a very real war against fat bodies and transpeople, they only have to think about their hurt feelings when a marginalized group like fat women who have been de-sexed and over-sexed, made negatively hyper-visible and positively invisible, and de-humanized for decades strikes back with a little righteous, though misplaced, anger. <– This is thin privilege

    • You know, the author’s response was to even further deny her privilege and claim that she’s trying to help ALL women. GAH!

      And you wouldn’t believe the contortions that some commenters I did not publish here went to in an attempt to deny thin privilege. Oh actually, Big Liberty you WOULD believe them, but many people wouldn’t. I had them coming at me with pseudo-academia, emotional blackmail, and of course the old “but ALL people get hated for their bodies” schtick.

      And I even got another commenter telling me that she wanted more fat spaces for “small fats”. What, is it too revolting to hear it from we big fats?

  • Thin privilege does indeed exist. Beauty privilege also exists. And race privilege exists. I’ve found myself feeling relieved at times that I don’t have to include the struggle of being a member of a minority race with the other strikes that this society has declared against me. I don’t like the fact that I have privilege for being Caucasian, but the fact remains that I do. I hope that one day there will not be a race privilege, a size privilege, a beauty privilege, or an ability privilege.
    I don’t know if that made any damn sense. I hope it did. In a roundabout way what I’m saying is that privilege exists in different contexts. People who have the privilege can join the fight in trying to eradicate it, or they can get defensive. I’d rather join the fight.

    • It does make sense Cie, I understand that you are referring to intersectionality, and how they play against or within each other. As a fat woman, I am marginalised, but as a white, heterosexual, ci-gendered person, I have privilege.

  • I hate it when the “thin people deal with bullshit too!” invades fat-positive spaces.

    While all body-shaming is horrible, a majority of thin people still have that privilege indoctrinated in them to the point that they can’t possibly comprehend what fat people go through and HOW it’s possible.

    To draw a parallel, there’s a huge debate going on in the independent game development scene right now about Steam’s new Greenlight service. It was free to send in submissions but then they got overwhelmed with joke ones or questionable content and rather than putting in a moderation queue, Steam decided to charge developers $100 to submit their games, with the proceeds going to charity, to show who’s a “serious developer”.

    I was astounded at how many people seriously *could not fathom* not being able to pull up $100. They talked about things like not being able to afford going to a convention one year, spending too much money at a bar one night and spending less the next time….not knowing what it’s like to REALLY be poor, where $100 will determine if you’re going to eat or not for the next two weeks. If you’ll still have a roof over your head.

    I find the privilege indoctrination to be the same here, just like with the people who can’t comprehend not having $100 to submit your games– except replace the bits about bars and conventions with things I’ve heard my thin friends say like “Thin people have a hard time finding clothes that fit too!” and “People say dumb things about my body on the street, too!”
    Those things are horrible, yes. I fucking hate street harassment. But they haven’t received death threats from random strangers for their body type, like I have. They don’t have these douchebadgers making comments about their fucking food in public, like the time at my college’s cafeteria when I was trying to decide what fruit to buy behind the counter and the cafeteria worker said “Bless you!” with this great big smile. Yeah, do you say that to EVERY student looking to buy fruit and not a cookie, or just the fat ones?

    Per the “finding clothes” one…I saw something in that This Is Thin Privilege tumblr that TOTALLY resonated with me– “thin privilege is being able to go shopping with your friends without them pressuring you to try on clothes you know won’t fit.” YES, THIS. That used to depress the living shit out of me so much in middle and high school, that I’d be in a local goth shop or Hot Topic and cajoled that SURELY the XL would fit me…as an adult, I’m not depressed about it, butangry that these clothing companies don’t seem to think my dollar is as worthy as thin alt folks’ dollars are.

    It’s just that even if they do have a hard time finding “clothes that fit”…uh, NOT the same level guys. I live in NYC, a shopping capital of the world, yet there is a fucking dearth of places for me to buy clothes from, tastes non-withstanding.

    If someone really can’t comprehend the situation AT ALL, that’s how you know they have privilege indoctrinated within them.

    • ‘I hate it when the “thin people deal with bullshit too” invades fat-positive spaces.’ Couldn’t agree more Rachel! I also don’t see how they can think that only they get bs or insults in regards to their bodies. I’d like to know where they are living so all of us fatter women can move there so we don’t have to deal with the insults, condescension, and body moralizing that goes on where the rest of us are living. Perhaps they are just so blind to their privilege that they don’t see it, but I’d like to know how they can’t see the constant stream of messages in society that tell us that ‘fat = bad’. When she talked about there not being any ‘groundswell of support’ for the size 8 woman, I had to laugh. That would be like straight people looking at gay pride parades and gay bars and whining that there would never be any support like that for heterosexuals. When you have the privilege you already have much more support from society than those that aren’t. I also hate the transphobic image at the beginning of the article. Although I should say it totally set the tone for the piece, it starts of with a privileged, whiny, completely out of touch and utterly insensitive tone and stays there the whole time. I do agree that no one should get harassed about their body, but claiming that only thin women with more socially acceptable bodies get this is completely wrong.

      And as far as that woman wanting fat acceptance blogs from ‘non-obese’ people is just completely stupid and offensive. Totally matches the article though, in that it was privileged and out of touch with reality. I’m glad you made something great (this entry) out of it all though.

    • Ahh the “it’s hard finding clothes” bullshittery. I called a colleague out this week for that very thing. She looks like someone you’d find on the cover of a fashion magazine, but she complained to ME that it’s hard to find clothes. I simply said “Are you serious? You have what, 300 stores to choose from if you walk down the mall and you’re complaining to someone who has three in the WHOLE CITY?!”

      To her credit, she did respond “Damn, that was a really stupid thing for me to say to you, wasn’t it?”

      • Yep. Someone I used to hang out with annoyed the living crap out of me by complaining about how “clothes have gotten too big these days” and how she can’t find sizes 1 and 0 that actually fit her correctly.

        I don’t know if that’s an actual problem– all I see are 1s and 0s on sale racks! And walk into nearly any given store, it’s relatively easy to find those sizes…it’s not like going to a small store and finding their measly “plus” section shoved in the back near the supply closet, or going to a department store and it’s somewhere between the corporate offices and receiving department or even for a store that huge, you get snootily told they “don’t carry plus”.

        As much as I love buying things online and buying/selling/trading on ebay, I really wish there were more places I patronized that had retail stores in NYC so I could at least try things on,

  • Great post, Kath! It resonates strongly with me, because I’ve griped about it before, as it relates to Shakesville, a blog I normally adore. Privelege, unravelled and in a knot?.

    I especially liked this:
    It IS totally culturally acceptable for people to judge fat bodies, but not just judge them – vilify and demonise them. In fact, I’d go so far as saying it’s currently culturally mandatory – because look at how people react when fat activists dare to stand up and say “No, I am a human being and deserve to be treated as one!” The amount of vitriol and hatred any visible fat person gets is testament to that.

    And finally, I love the purple hair! Mine was purple until last June, and I miss it! But I went back to school, and having a purple hair a boring upper middle class suburban housewife didn’t phase me, but the thought of standing out in a crowd at teh local community college did! Anyhow, I love that colour, and it looks fabulous on you!

  • Hi Kath. Thanks for taking the time to write such a thought provoking blog off of the Lip article. I was only very recently (as in, the last few days) exposed to the concept of thin privilege and have spent several hours on the thisisthinprivilege tumblr shaking my head at my past ignorance. One common thread does seem to be the unstoppable urge that some thin people have to go onto these spaces and ask (or demand) that thin people be given kudos for putting up with the body shaming that they too can experience. This is the height of arrogance and it boggles my mind that these people feel they’re entitled to shoulder their way into a space designed to support a marginalized group, and loudly bemoan their own privileged status. (And frankly, I don’t care how offensive it is when someone tells me to eat a cheeseburger, there is no goddamn way it’s as damaging or hurtful as someone mooing at a fat person on the street.)

    As a thin person, I NEVER was aware of the struggles and f*cked up experiences that fat people have thrust upon them by utter strangers or close friends or even family. I took for granted the size of my body and it selfishly never crossed my mind that my everyone didn’t have my experience with the world. So I applaud you and thank you for adding to the gradually expanding pool of information that rigorously examines thin privilege.

  • So this is perfect timing for me. I was just on a message board where a bunch of people had shown up to insult a young actor who is a smidgen shorter than the average Western culture adult male – I pointed out that he has no control over his height and he is talented so who really cares about his physical stature?

    The next comment replied to me:
    I totally agree! Why is it that we are not allowed to insult actors and actresses who are overweight through fault of their own gluttony and sloth but it’s a-okay to be mean to people who are short?

    Ummm…no. First off, since when has it ever been culturally unacceptable to insult anyone’s weight? Where is this magical place and when can I move there?

    I know that short people/ thin people are sometimes insulted based on their appearence. I get that. But nobody has even told them “Gee, you are too thin to fly on this plane, or Gee, I can’t treat your condition until you gain weight. You being thin is most likely what’s causing the issue anyway.”

    And that person who asked you for some fat acceptance blogs for those who are not fat – WHAT? That’s like saying “I want to read a racial equality blog written by a white person – not a minority.” Are you for real?

  • Hey again, guys.

    Just wanted to clarify a few things. First off, I was absolutely not intending to invade a fat positive space by defending the poor thin people who get their fee fees hurt. These fat positive communities have saved my life- so the last thing I wanted to do was bring negativity in here by denying that thin privilege exists and it’s oppressive effect on fat people. The absolute last.

    My comment wasn’t meant to draw attention to the fact that very slim people experience body policing- the “Lip” article already did that (or at least that’s clearly what it intended to do). What I was trying to get at was the reality is that women can’t appear to escape body shaming, no matter their size. I agree with Kath that the article was extremely problematic in it’s denying of thin privilege and I absolutely could not stand her use of the phrase Curvy Army. But, I am always struck by how rampant body snarking really is- those Facebook memes saying things like “when did this become hotter than this?” are an example – and I think it’s shit either way. It was more a comment on our hypocritical and misogynist culture than anything else. But, clearly that came across poorly. 😦

    I know full well that thin privilege exists. Just as heterosexual, white, middle class, able-bodied privilege exists. In my first comment, I gave a few examples of how it is absolutely culturally acceptable to make disparaging comments about fat people. I see it all the time.

    Thin privilege has affected me in several ways. I was treated like crap by male colleagues in two different jobs- but the same colleagues were absolutely lovely and adorable and charming to the women in the office who were slim and pretty. I have a male friend (who is fat himself) who is a semi-professional photographer, and I once asked him if I could be a model for him- and he gave me a look as if to say, “yeah bloody right”, and continued to make plans for a shoot with our (thin and very attractive) mutual friend. I’ve been involved in drama for years, and have never had a leading role- those all went to the thin chicks. I’m a trainee journalist at the moment- yet I’ll probably never be able to go for a role in TV journalism, even though I’d someday really like to go into doing investigative/current events programmes. I could go on.

    So…my comment was not intended to derail and silence anyone, or deny thin privilege exists. I know it does. And, as a member of the FA community, I will continue to speak up for those who fall victim to it. People like myself. So, massive apologies for offending or upsetting anyone.

  • It’s about respect, that’s all there is too it.

    And those who deny privilege of any kind are not affording the rest of humanity the respect they deserve.

  • This is such a terrific post. It reminds me of a discussion I had with my husband over this article:

    It’s about male rather than thin privilege, but it did make me consider the issue of denying privilege. My husband said that he often felt the same way as the author (that he wasn’t always taken seriously in professional contexts, etc.), to which I replied yes, but it’s not a systemic problem. His feeling that way from time to time is not the same as a woman’s daily reality. I was surprised that someone who I think of as fair and enlightened should struggle to grasp this.

    It reminded me then I need to make sure to check myself, so that I recognize how I benefit from being thin and white. I think the issue is that he felt he was being *blamed* for his privilege, but it’s not that at all–of course he didn’t personally create a system of inequality from which he benefits, but if he can’t recognize that he benefits from it, then he (or me, or anyone else who experiences privilege) only ends up perpetuating and reinforcing that system.

  • 1. Fantastic post! People have honestly already covered everything I was going to say so I won’t comment further on the topic except to say that thin privilege is absolutely rife in all areas of life. You may not be consciously aware of it all the time but you only need to turn on your TV or walk down the street or browse Facebook or read the news for five minutes for see how it is manifested.

    2. I have a question which you are of course not obligated to answer if you don’t want to: I am wondering why the image at the top of the article is transphobic. I know what transphobia is, and I am thinking the answer is something to do with the fact that Barbie dolls are a representation of cis-gendered female-ness if that makes sense, but I’m not really sure. Also what would be a better image to use for an article of that nature that isn’t transphobic?

  • When I (thin) hear other thin women complain about body policing etc., and denying thin privilege, I always say “ok, think about every negative body policing comment you got during the last year. NOW imagine getting as many comments one one day, every single day of your life – then you (and I) can perhaps roughly imagine how fat people are treated.”

    I think it is very important that all women stand together against every kind of body shaming – but I really can’t blame fat folks for fighting for their own cause first. And no, you don’t have to add “thin women have problems, too” to every article, blogpost or whatever. I’m not even mad if some fat people starting their way to body acceptance have problems with people like me – a fat friend of mine even said that it’s hard for her to see me as she’s struggling with her self acceptance and seeing me literally pains her. I just tell her that she’s beautiful and I hope for her that one day she can just believe me and think so, too, without answering “yeah, well, for YOU it’s an easy thing to say – you’re thin!” Seeing her pain, who am I to be angry about that?

  • Kath, thank you for this. It seems this just needs saying, over and over.

    Today I (perhaps foolishly) got into a row on Facebook over this very issue. Jezebel shared a post about some recent research that showed that fat people with certain chronic diseases survive longer and in better health than thin people with those same diseases. The comments were mostly along the lines of ‘that can’t possibly be true’. Someone helpfully posted a link to the Thin Privilege site you mention. A number of people immediately kicked in saying it was ridiculous, there’s no such thing as thin privilege, and so forth.

    I responded that they demonstrate the point exactly, and that (paraphrasing myself here) if you feel slighted when a previously stigmatized group of people starts getting the decent treatment you’ve always taken for granted, then yes, you do need to ask yourself why you feel that way.

    Whereupon a Russian gentleman – who was once, apparently, fat himself, but through ‘hard work’ is now thinner ( almost certainly temporarily, but I don’t think he’d accept that) – laid into me accusing me of being ‘whiny’ and ‘faux-disenfranchised’. That he wasn’t keen on the idea of privilege anyway (hello, alarm bells, can you say ‘bigoted about other things too but knows he can’t show it’?), but that unlike black people and gay people, fat people couldn’t invoke privilege because we ‘choose’ to be fat. That he didn’t hate me for my size, because, his actual words, he wasn’t fucking me and wasn’t my doctor (like either of those criteria would give him that right anyway?) – he simply couldn’t respect me because I’d dared to point out that fat people were treated worse than thin ones. And his latest comment suggests that I and other fat people create our own inferiority by suggesting that then people have privilege.

    Whew. Excuse me while I go disentangle the logic. As I said to someone else on FB earlier, sometimes I just need to stop poking with the stick, put the rock down and walk away…

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