Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Privilege Deniers

By Peggy Brutcher
People tend to think that body shaming is cut and dry- it's not. It's so ingrained, so saturated in our culture that we do it without thinking. We tell fat people "well it's your choice and you should love your body, but it's not healthy". We tell thin people "eat a sandwich! you obviously have an eating disorder!". We give tips on how to improve someone else's appearance according to our standards, and tips on how to minimize or maximize certain qualities so that their "more attractive" parts show through. We, as a society, are all about deceiving through body masking because of an idea that a person's natural body is just not good enough.

Because the issue has a lot of cultural, social, and psychological aspects, I want to emphasize the complexity of body acceptance and body shaming. It's important to recognize that body shaming changes from group to group based on social misconceptions. For example, someone noted a study in which the results found that heart patients who had a larger body mass fared better than those who had a lower body mass. Would this be considered fat positive or thin negative? It was posted because there are different standards in place for thin people and fat people. This is where thin privilege comes in.

Privilege is "a special advantage or immunity or benefit not enjoyed by all". In health that means that thin people are automatically assumed to be healthier than fat people. Though this varies depending on the level of thinness, all thin persons enjoy benefits which fat people do not socially speaking. No one assumes that you are automatically going to die of heart disease, however, fat people do get that assumption. So articles like this are challenging common misconceptions- and ones that are incredibly detrimental to the health and well being, both physically and mentally, of larger people. Even among larger people there is a spectrum of privilege, so it's important to judge on a case by case basis instead of applying hard lined rules when we get into the gray areas.

Part of body positivity- part of making it positive for everyone and not just yourself, is recognizing your own privilege. I personally have white privilege and able bodied privilege (again, on a spectrum because I am not completely able bodied but I can still recognize my privilege compared to someone who is less able bodied than I) as well as class privilege (spectrum again- I'm not wealthy but I'm also not in poverty). Recognizing how our situations differ from others and how others have it compared to ourselves is very important in understanding each other, in extending empathy and help to those in this community, and in creating a truly positive environment for all.

Thin privilege denying is a huge issue. Now, I'm not bringing this up because we should shame thin people- I'm bringing it up because denying thin privilege is a form of body shaming larger community members and body shaming is unacceptable. But because it's not one of those well defined, obvious, body shaming techniques, it appears to need some clarification.

Thin privilege means that thin people automatically have an overall easier time than their larger counterparts. This does not mean that they have an easy time. It does not mean that they do not experience body shaming and it is very important to recognize that thin body shaming is not acceptable. What it does mean is that by "virtue" of being thin, they enjoy certain benefits automatically. This is seen especially in discrimination against above ideal people in our culture.

Fat people receive worse quality of care in the doctor's office, they receive less pay for the same job, they are less likely to be hired or promoted, parents of fat children are less likely to pay for their children's college education, they have to pay extra on planes to go the same distance, doctors give them less time and explain less to them, their health concerns are dismissed and blamed on their fat. The list goes on and on, and this is only the direct discrimination. In social settings there are far far more privileges that thin people get.

It is important to remember that thin is the preferred body type in this country and that anything else is automatically seen as inferior by the general population. Denying thin privilege is no different from a man who says sexism no longer exists and denies his own male privilege- or to claim that sexism is not harmful. It is and so is sizism which is predominantly perpetrated against larger individuals. Thin privilege denying is sizism and it is body shaming. Don't worry, I also don't approve of any other privilege denying- because the only thing more hurtful than another group getting preferential treatment, is those people denying that they're getting it.


  1. WOW! your eyes are really beautiful O___O

  2. WOW! your mind is really beautiful >__0

    Great post. I've heared people who seem otherwise rational insist that sizism needn't be addressed as part of the privilige (denial) problem. Their reasoning: people can change their own weight wheras we can't change our race or gender (well, not easily). Aside from the fact that doesn't helpt the person who is fat *right now* and getting passed over for promotion because of it, the assumption that people need to change to align themselves with the privilaged demographic is staggering.

    I've come across that non-argument a few times in the Great Internet Privilage Debate (tm) and it never gets any easier to hear. I'm glad there are people like you writing great posts like this though.

  3. I'd be willing to bet hanging with you would be a ton of fun.