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Why Being Thin is not a Privilege

Why Being Thin is not a Privilege
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Certainly being overweight can make life more difficult for some individuals, but declaring the state of being thin as a privilege is inappropriate and dismisses the efforts of many people who work to achieve a healthy weight.

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I don't like the thin privilege idea because it sort of pits one group against another. You've made a lot of valid points here. Another issues is that self-esteem issues and judgement aren't reserved solely for those who are fat. If someone isn't obsessed with their weight, they're likely worried about some other flaw. If they're thin, people are just as likely to hurl insults about their weight at them. I can pretty much promise that for every fat person who has been referred to as a large animal, there's a skinny person who has been accused of having an eating disorder or called a bag of bones.

01/09/2012
Doghouse  

While I don't necessarily disagree in principle with the article the tone of it really riled me. In fact in riled me so much here I am writing about it when I could be eating a pie. Or going for a run. Or whatever.

What's wrong with the tone? It reeks of the sort of privilege that it's supposed to be aware of in different cases but apparently misses in this case. And I'm sorry that's not the most readable sentence in the world but it's quite a convoluted idea. Acknowledging some privileges and denying others.

What I'm driving at is that for some people being thin is easier than for others and that's not me crying on behalf of all the chubby folks who simply cannot be arsed to put any effort into diet and exercise, that's just how it is. Sure if you've got the time and control over your lifestyle, and yes often money, you can make better choices with diet, you can find the time to exercise, but not everybody has that control. Now of course just because you don't have control of your life does not mean you have to reach for the cream cakes all the time and plenty of people, even in the worst circumstances, could do better with their health. However the idea that everybody has the same level of control over their body type as anybody else is laughable. For some people being thin is easy, for some people being thin is hard, for some people it is simply not worth the amount of trouble it requires.

Just because something might have taken a lot of work doesn't mean it's not a privilege. Wealth for instance, you can earn it, you can be born with it, it still amounts to a privilege. One of the staples of conservative arguments about wealth is that anybody can work hard and make money, we all know that is not true. It's a bit of a strawman but the same holds true here, not everybody for whatever reason, can diet successfully.

Like any privilege though it's not something to be ashamed of. Don't try to pretend it is not what it is, own it, enjoy the benefits without exploiting them. Being privileged doesn't make somebody a bad person, like most things in life it's what you do with it that counts.

I get where the author is coming from, I've lost a lot of weight in the past, and one of the immediate results was that I lost a hell of a lot of sympathy for the overweight. The thinking being, if I can do it, why can't they? Simple reason is that there are all sorts of reasons why somebody can't, often the same reasons I put it off for. What matters is appreciating the value of what you've got for whatever reason you've got it and recognising that just because you can do something doesn't mean other people can.

Also referencing starving Ethiopians in a blog about first world body image hang ups? Seriously? That's like complaining about all the free nuclear power the people living in the Fukushima zone have been getting. It's Not Nice. When you're posting about food and diet in relation to very first world body issues you have absolutely no business referencing people for whom food is a survival issue. It's an inappropriate reference bordering on the repulsive.

01/09/2012

Hi Doghouse! Right up until the last paragraph, which I'll get to later, I have to say that was an incredible nuanced and smart response.

You covered A LOT of the issues that I struggled with before writing this - right down to "is wealth a privilege if you earned it yourself?" I think one of the reasons I struggle so much with the very concept of privilege - and probably come across as an arrogant ass as a result - is because far too often it's used as derailment ("Check your privilege") or to undermine somebody's hard work and achievements - like becoming wealthy, or getting thin, or whatever. It's a pity because the more I communicate with people in this community, the more I am starting to ("starting to" being the operative word) get where they're coming from.

But the crux of my argument - which I stick to and remains valid - is that because you are not born thin, and generally have some potential control over your weight (to a greater or lesser extent) "thin" is not a privilege in the same way being white, or straight, or male is. In fact "thin" is merely an extension of some of those privileges (white people have better access to food, education and exercise. Men have a higher metabolism.) It's completely incorrect to label "thin" a privilege. It's not.

That being said, I take HUGE exception to that last paragraph. I think it's "repulsive" that you can honestly want to sit here and talk about a problem that exists purely as an extension of our INCREDIBLE western privilege without taking a moment to think about the seriousness of that fact. We all should stare long and hard at a picture of a starving Ethiopian EVERY time we sit down for dinner, to give us some fucking perspective. (Perhaps that would cure America's obesity problem overnight.)

The fact that we Americans have such easy access to delicious, high calorie food generally comes at the cost of causing people hardship and possibly even starvation overseas.

We're sitting here in our disgusting ethnocentric way, complaining that poorer Americans only have access to fast food, neatly ignoring the fact that the meat from those $1 cheeseburgers came at the cost of hacking down South American forests, displacing the tribe that lived there.

We bitch about how kids grow fat eating chicken nuggets, ignoring that fact that the land used to grow the soybeans to feed those chickens could have been used to grow rice, or crop, and as a result the people living next to that field in some distant country are going hungry.

Do you really NOT get it? We're complaining about the fact that America is literally eating itself to death while at the same time our poisonous food is causing others to starve. It seems you want to talk how unfair all the perceived "privileges" of being thin are, but are worried that opening your eyes and looking at the big picture outside of the American borders might make you lose your appetite.

The rest of what you wrote was great - but for that last paragraph you should be ashamed of yourself.

01/09/2012

Go fuck yourself. Seriously. This is such busted nonsense that it doesn't even merit a proper rebuttal.

01/09/2012

Lillian - my points in a nutshell:

1: Thin people enjoy advantages larger people don't.
2: But being this is an extension of other privilege (white, class, color) not a privilege in and of itself.

How exactly is that "busted"?

01/10/2012

Oh, its busted in many many ways Roland, and I'd need a blog post to explain it all (no really my comment which I'm now calling "Roland post draft one" exceeded the word limit) but here are some excerpts:

“But being this is an extension of other privilege (white, class, color) not a privilege in and of itself.”

No there is no be independent of other privileges clause anywhere. In fact, the exact opposite is true in modern sociological thinking which focus on intersectionality, multiple simultaneous identities, interlocking systems of oppressions this is not only not an insightful critique it is to be expected. Social structures are complex, interlocking and extensions of one another therefore privilege structure are also complex, interlocking, and extensions of one another.

More evidence that you don’t understand what the word privilege means in a sociological context. You say it is one of the last

“socially acceptable forms of discrimination”

This means that some group in the equation is in fact experiencing privilege. The point of privilege as a sociological concept is to “study up”. Instead of asking how groups down in any given power structure are disadvantaged by discrimination, the concept of privilege asks us how groups up in the power structure benefit from the discrimination of others. If their exist a socially acceptable form of discrimination against a group their exist privilege they are two perspectives on the same issue.

01/10/2012

Namelesschaos - that's actually a REALLY fascinating perspective on the issue. You actually nail something that challenges my argument - I claim that "thin" is not a privilege in and of itself, but you're right to point out that some people are bullied only because of their weight. According to my argument, if weight isn't the privilege - if it was just an extension of white or class privilege - that wouldn't be the case.

But saying that, and if what you say about social structures and the notion of privilege being so complex, the very notion of privileges like "thin" become somewhat meaningless; and privilege basically extends to anything one person has that another person doesn't - which I don't necessarily disagree with, but furthers my general dislike and contempt for the way in which "privilege" is wielded about with in certain communities.

White, male, cisgender, straight - I "get" those as privileges because they are statistical and sociological advantages one is born into and exist with perhaps without ever truly understanding how significant they are.

As a former fat person, I know first hand how differently I get treated now I'm thin - but because I worked, and continue to work, so fucking HARD to be "thin" I get really, really offended when people call it a privilege. The way most people use the term "privilege" makes it sound like something people are GIVEN (like race, gender, sexuality) whereas "thin" is often EARNED. As Doghouse pointed out, it's like calling wealth a privilege, which I suppose it is, but it's very difficult to feel "bad" for being wealthy if you actually spent twenty years of your life working your guts out to become so.

01/10/2012

What saddens me is that people are so defensive about looking at their privileges, rather than grateful that they are in a place to explore them and use that privilege to help others who don't have that access. I use my white privilege to educate myself on racism, for example, and as a weapon to be a better anti-racist, rather than be butthurt when someone points out my privilege, y'know?

You keep talking about how you shouldn't be made to feel bad about your privileges, that you worked hard for them. Ok, sure. But being told to check your privilege, while sometimes used as a snarky comment, can be taken at face value- are you taking for granted things that others don't? And are you conflating intrapersonal privilege (getting bullied on an individual level) vs institutional privilege (being told as a fat person you need to purchase two seats on an airplane or not fly)? Because they're not the same, and both are important to look at.

As a fat sex worker, my body is up for discussion a lot. In the US, where fatphobia reigns supreme despite, as you say, all the access to crappy food, I have dealt often with phone calls and emails from clients who abused me emotionally about my weight and daring to be sexual. In the UK, however, where I can go to many shops and buy sexy, well-fitting clothes for my size 20 body, strangely enough I don't deal with that abuse at all. There is less (dare I say) weight given to thinness there- sexy is seen as coming in multiple shapes and sizes, and it's obvious in how clients behave. The US definitely has created a world where average to slender is idealized (for women, at least, men is a whole 'nother article, as you want to be not too thin, or too fat, but some spectrum in the middle).

I still believe pretty strongly, as I said on Twitter weeks back, that access to exercise and quality food that you can afford does equal privilege. Being able bodied makes it easier to do that and = privilege. Having time to work out = privilege. Not getting harassed about your weight wherever you go = privilege. It can be an earned privilege, even a hard-earned privilege, but it's still a privileged position. A transman works very hard to get to the position of passing as male, for example, but for him to say he doesn't have access to some aspects of male privilege would be folly.

To be clearer- getting from a place of lacking privilege to having more privilege is hard fucking work and honestly worth being proud of- HOWEVER, it doesn't take away from the fact you then have that privilege.

I worked my ass off to get from a place of teetering on poverty's doorstep (living on the street, even) to a place now where I can actually save money. I used to eat exclusively from food banks- food that was always processed and canned, because that was cheap and kept well, but was also high in sodium and sugars. There was no access to fruits and vegetables. There was no wheat bread. There's a great article on the dollars per calorie here: [http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/12/05/a-high-price-for-healthy-food/]

I got out of it. I can now eat nicer food, and yeah, because I eat better food I eat less of it. But I have privilege- I live with family (I have local family with room for me to stay) so don't have to pay rent, I have skills that are marketable (and access to education, and friends in privileged positions that are generous), I have access to a vehicle and the internet.

It's not a bad thing that I have privilege, and it's not a dirty word IMO.

It becomes infuriating, though, when people pretend their privileges don't exist and make their lives easier. Because of my lack of rent and my access to freelance jobs utilizing my skills, I am in a position of privilege where I can afford to pick and choose sex work clients, for example. If I have a bad gut feeling, I don't see a client. I work indoors, with clients who have given references. I can take a week to decide. To say those safety measures aren't a privilege, that it was just due to the hard work I put in, would be insulting to people who do, say, survival sex work, suggesting if they just worked hard enough they could have privilege too. That's just not always true. It is incredibly hard to "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" when you have to make your own boots, and when you have multiple types of oppression holding you down. I feel really proud to have turned things around, and I worked for years to do so- but I'm aware that my privilege helped me do that dramatically, and I'm grateful, not guilty.

It's not about you feeling guilty. I don't care if you feel guilty or not, frankly. But I do care if you're using defensiveness to derail the arguments being made, and as a way of refusing to check that privilege. It's part of being compassionate.

I don't know even how to start with the idea of comparing starving Ethiopeans to thin people in the US as a way of saying thin privilege doesn't exist. I'll just leave it at "wow, that's incredibly offensive, but then considering what and how you write, it seems like you just like to stir the pot".

But I will mention that malnourishment, which is often something that happens not only in poorer countries but also among the lower classes here in the US thanks to the food access issues I mentioned earlier, often leads to a distended belly... and the appearance of being fat.

01/10/2012

This has been the best discussion I've ever seen on an article.

01/10/2012

I'm trying super hard not to get annoyed at some of the responses here, but I'm going to call bullshit on one of your points, Kitty Stryker.

Having time to workout is not a privilege. Yes, some people have more free time in their day than others, but the vast majority of people who find the time to exercise are just as busy as people who don't exercise. Most everyone has a job or attends school, which eats up the majority of their time. They likely have to commute to those places, which eats up even more time. Then they've got other obligations, like families, children, romantic relationships, basic errands and so on and so forth. The difference between people who are super busy and exercise and those who are super busy and don't exercise, is that they prioritize exercising over other things that they could be doing. Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day, and everyone gets to choose how to spend those 24 hours.

You also can't accuse Roland of being defensive in his reasoning, when you yourself just gave heaps of defensive anecdotal evidence to support your own arguments. I believe Roland acknowledged that there are certain benefits of being thin (which is what could be qualified as "checking your privilege"), but he also is pointing out that some people bust their ass to be thin and what infuriates people about the privilege debate is when things they work for seem like they're being discredited.

01/12/2012

When I was pregnant I gained 60 lbs. I could not hop on one foot. I vowed that I would have that ability again someday, and thank goodness I did. Hop, hop, hop...

01/14/2012
Shortney.  

Many things can go into the size of our bodies...genetics, eating disorders, education of nutrition and fitness, mental disorders, hard work, laziness, socioeconomic conditions, a love of junk food. All factors that may or may not effect our size. Your mileage may vary.

There are people who work out regularly and eat healthy ... some are fat, some are thin. There are people who are constantly "dieting" - and have been for many years, possibly for most of their lives ... some are fat, some are thin. There are people who don't exercise and eat twice the recommended daily amount of calories ... some are fat, some are thin.

I believe being privileged is when one person enjoys special rights or immunities (dictionary definition of privilege) over another, in this case due to the size of their bodies. I don't see why or how they got that way would matter in the slightest... and it's pretty depressing that it's why many people deny thin privilege.

01/14/2012
glitteratrix  

Just because something takes work to build or maintain doesn't mean it's not a privilege. When you're treated with respect and not scrutinized for your body size, you receive privilege regardless of whether you recently lost 200 lbs or if you've never had to work to be thin.

Bringing up starving Ethiopian children is really unnecessary to this conversation. It's obvious that the Thin Privilege Checklist is located within a specific Western cultural context.

My objections to the Thin Privilege Checklist is that some people who are naturally very thin and have a hard time keeping on weight don't receive all of the privileges on the list. I'm thinking particularly about gender and body size. Very thin men are often made to feel like they're less masculine than larger, more muscular men.

01/17/2012

i've never hear od the thin privilege idea in my life. but I do know a negative if you have a high metabilism which causes you to be skinny later on in life you have to go on a cinnabon diet and let me tell you the old lady I met on that diet HATES IT. She has to eat all these fattening foods to stay at a healthy weight else she becomes to thin and brittle. May sound like heaven but it pale quickly specially if your favorite foods are healthy veggies.

05/08/2012

I've been fighting extra pounds my entire life. I was convinced that this was my fault and that I could overcome it, which led to years of dieting, which ultimately led to more weight gain than weight loss. The only time my weight has been stable is when I've not worried about dieting, but rather listened to my body telling me when to eat and following those cues. I think if I had never been on/off the dieting wagon for so many years I would weigh much less than I do now. I'm pretty sure that my battle has been due to both genetics and environment.

I have three children, all boys, with two different fathers, both of whom have also battled weight problems, husband #1 more successfully and husband #2 less successfully so far. My oldest boy is 21 years old now (father is husband #1) and the others are 7 and 8 years old (husband #2). I have always been careful to raise them with healthy food choices and encourage them to exercise often.

My eldest boy has always been a healthy weight and very fit, although he does have to work out and make good eating choices to keep fit. He finds this easy, partially because he craves activity and isn't happy if he isn't active.

My middle son is very thin and is constantly in motion. He does not care about food and hasn't since he was born (we had to schedule his feedings as a baby in order to keep him at a healthy weight; he would not show signs of hunger from the day he was born, and to this day he rarely expresses hunger and would rather do something else besides waste his time with meals. He is at the low end of the healthy weight scale for his height.

My youngest son is completely different. From the time he was born, he was obsessed with food, to the extent that it was obvious that he was obsessed with nipples (mine or my husband's) if he saw them when he was a baby, even though he was never breastfed! He is constantly asking for food (we allow vegetables and water between scheduled meals and snacks). He sucks on his fingers (occasionally even now at age 7) and can get cranky and grumpy when it is almost time for meals, He is always hungry and especially craves sugary foods (his father fights this too, although I am not drawn to sweets much). It is such a contrast to my other two sons!

Because my kids are so different and have been since they were born, despite being raised similarly, I now really believe there is much more a genetic component to the weight problems we face than is commonly believed. At least there should be a benefit of the doubt given to overweight people until we are sure what the cause is. And in my experience, for myself, if I had not been on (and off) the dieting carousel for so many years, I would be at a healthier weight now.

I do believe that changing eating and exercise habits in very small increments can lead to permanent improvement in health and well-being, but severe diets that cannot be maintained in the long term are mostly ineffective and even harmful.

Also, judging the overweight person next to you, making comments and/or suggestions about their weight, or treating them differently than a thin person, can be very hurtful, and devastating in the long term. Treating them like everyone else, with respect and kindness, is important, and treating ANY person in any other way is abusive and unacceptable. Even if someone has lost weight and they think they know how the overweight person feels, and they feel they are entitled to give 'helpful' hints or advice, it is important to realize that there are multiple causes for being overweight, some of which we probably aren't even aware of scientifically yet. Your experience does not entitle you to think you know what someone else's experience is.

Instead of criticizing and trying to change each other, let's treat each other with love and acceptance, so we can all be free to make our own goals to be the best we can be, on our own terms, based on our own genetics and priorities.

12/30/2012

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