I’m not going to lie to you: It’s no secret that I’m not a big fan of the oft-cited concept of “privilege.”
Yet however infuriating I find it from a philosophical point of view, it’s tough to argue with the statistics. After all, the demographics of our top politicians, and businessmen strongly suggest you get a significant head start in life if you’re born white, male, straight or cisgender.
But there are some circumstances in which the word “privilege” is inappropriate. One example is a list circulating the Internet called “The Thin Privilege Checklist.” It lists the perceived “privileges” of being thin – such as:
• People aren’t embarrassed to be seen with me because of the size of my body.
• When I go to a movie or restaurant I will find a place to sit in which I am relatively comfortable.
• If I need medical help my size will not work against me.
The list contains many valid observations about the challenges somebody who is overweight faces that slender people don’t – but that doesn’t make being thin a “privilege.”
In fact, I find the notion of “thin privilege” to be absolutely revolting – the very antithesis of everything “privilege” means.
First off, just ask anybody in Ethiopia if being thin is a privilege – or any of the millions of other people all over the world who are thin only because they struggle to feed themselves and their families every day.
To call thin a privilege is incredibly ethnocentric and disingenuous. From a global point of view, the fact that we live in a country in which we even have the opportunity to become fat makes us incredibly privileged – not the other way around.
My second criticism of the notion of thin privilege is that thin differs significantly from other perceived “privileges.”
The very notion of “privilege” is something one is gifted with – like being born white, straight, male or cisgender. You are born into it and have never experienced anything else, hence why so many of those who benefit from perceived privilege fail to recognize it.
But the vast majority of people are not born “fat” or “thin.” For almost everybody, weight is a result of nurture, not nature — the product of upbringing, education and lifestyle rather than genetics.
Certain people are statistically more likely to be overweight — African Americans and Hispanics especially — but that in itself proves that being thin is merely another “privilege” of being white — not a privilege in and of itself.
An additional reason why “thin” is not a privilege is because, unlike race, gender or sexuality, people are not necessarily tied to being “thin” or “fat” for their entire lives — people can be one or the other many times over the years.
In fact, the reason I find the notion of “thin privilege” so absolutely revolting is because I am friends with a great number of people who have lost a significant amount of weight — some upwards of 200 lbs.
My formerly fat friends are now “thin” – but not as a result of any “privilege.” It’s a result of them totally changing their lifestyle, being incredibly self-disciplined and making significant ongoing sacrifices.
I have one friend who used to weigh 400lbs. Now that he weighs a “normal” 200lbs, having some idiot pundit accuse him of being “privileged” because he’s “thin” makes me apoplectic with rage.
“Privilege” is the complete opposite of what my friend went through to weigh what he does now. The notion of “thin privilege” undermines, dismisses and insults all that formerly fat people did to become the size they are today.
Okay — one final reason why I reject the concept of thin privilege: Because it flies in the face of everything the so-called “fat acceptance” movement stands for.
The fact is, there are two ways of looking at things — people are either individuals or statistics. If you look at “fat” through the filter of statistics — as any argument that hides behind the concept of “privilege” is required to — it’s pretty damning.
Heart disease rates, cancer, diabetes… they’re all statistically proven to be a result of being overweight.
Fat acceptance, on the other hand, argues that overweight people are more than just statistics — that it’s possible to be considered “overweight” by society’s standards, yet still be fit and healthy.
People are individuals, and should be judged as such — not as merely ticks in some demographic checkbox. You can’t embrace fat as a political identity and then disavow yourself of any responsibility for your weight by hiding behind a hollow idea like “thin privilege.”
Listen — I used to be fat. I bordered on the cusp between “overweight” and “obese” for two periods of my life; and it was a long, tough, ongoing journey to reach the weight I am today (and I still have a way to go).
Yet, while I will acknowledge that I enjoy lot of privileges in my life — being born white, Western, straight, cisgender — one part of my identity I was never ‘given’ was my weight.
For me, being “thin” means still sticking to a strict diet of 1,600 calories a day, and exercising five days a week. Being “thin” in America isn’t easy — certainly no “privilege.”
Listen, I get it. The way society treats fat people is nothing less that disgusting — one of the last socially acceptable forms of discrimination and one we should not tolerate.
Fat is also an issue because the reason so many Americans are fat is not because we’re lazy or greedy — as many of my European friends sometimes imply — but because we live in a nation that is literally poisoning us.
The human body has a flawless mechanism to control our weight; nerves that tell us how full our stomach is and when to stop eating. The problem is that the amount of plant-based food it takes to fill somebody’s stomach adds up to about 500 calories – but our high fat, high carbohydrate American diet; laden with sugar, oil and high fructose corn syrup – means that the amount of food it takes for our body to feel “full” actually weighs in at 1,500 calories or more.
We can eat twice our daily recommended amount of calories, yet still feel like we’re starving ourselves.
Nobody should judge those who are overweight or obese, because that’s the way our bodies are programmed to be in today’s society. But neither should overweight people think less of people who are “thin” — because in the great majority of cases, they worked — and continue to work — very hard to be that way.