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Monday, August 24, 2009

Owning My Thin Privilege

I'm having a hard time accepting my own thin privilege. RMJ at Deeply Problematic wrote a post a little bit ago about coming to accept her thin privilege. That was really the first time that I thought of myself as having thin privilege and it made me kind of uncomfortable. And I want to explore that uncomfortableness here.

So what is thin privilege exactly? Anji at Shut Up, Sit Down offers these examples:

For a start, the ‘thin’ in ‘thin privilege’ does not mean “size zero”. It means “of ‘normal’ weight”. Some examples: If you can walk into Top Shop, Miss Selfridge or any other high street fashion shop and know their size range includes your clothing size, you have thin privilege. If you can book a flight without fear that other passengers will hope like hell they’re not seated next to you or worse, that you will be refused entry to the flight because of your size, you have thin privilege. If you can happily travel by car or bus or train and know that the seat will be built to accommodate your arse, you have thin privilege. If you can visit your doctor without being constantly berated about losing weight and having every physical malady you suffer attributed to your size and nothing else, you have thin privilege.
So yes, I have thin privilege.

As a child, I was very slender. But then puberty hit and as I started growing, I started putting on weight around my middle. Now, I go between a size 12 and 14 in bottoms and between large and x-large in tops, depending on the store and style. I rarely ever have to be concerned about the fatphobic things that Anji lists above (depending on the store, I'm not always guaranteed clothes in my size range). But even without being subject to blatant fatphobia, I feel as if society judges me for being fat. I have started to come to terms a little bit with my body. I have started wearing shorts shorter than knee-length again (see picture to left of me playing Red Rover with my friends). I try to dress for my body type instead of what's "in style."

I am, as some would say, a woman of "average"* weight and size...though you wouldn't know it by looking at the media and clothing stores. Because of this, I have thin privilege. So, why I am so uncomfortable at accepting this kind of privilege. Part of my interest in feminism is examining different kinds of privilege and my investments in them. So why is it so hard for me to accept this privilege?

Society tells us through the media, clothing stores, new reports, etc. that the "average" is, in fact, a size 4 - maybe even a size 2. Since puberty, I have not seen myself reflected in the media and as a result, have not thought of myself as having thin privilege. There are profits to me made to make women of all sizes feel bad about themselves, so that is what the media is going to do.

I try to be aware of fatphobic language and events, but maybe my denial of accepting my thin privilege contributes to a fatphobic society. Just because I am self-conscious about my body does not mean that I don't benefit from thin privilege. I have to start doing a better job at recognizing my investments in thin priviege.

Coming to terms with one's own thin privilege does not mean that you will not have any body image issues. Today's society thrives off of creating body image issues for women (and men). Owning one's thin privilege is more about realizing the ways that you are invested in the fatphobic tendencies of society.

*I dislike using the term "average" or "normal" to describe people's bodies. It implies that there is something abnormal or not average, when everybody's body is different. By using this term, I am simply using it body is statistically average. But there really is no such thing as a "normal" body. Using the term "normal" just contributes to othering and oppression.


Feminist in the City said...

I have never thought of myself as having thin privilege (in fact I struggle with my weight and losing these last 15 lbs constantly) but I do benefit from thin privilege and I too have to start doing a better job of recognizing what this means...thanks for the post!

Feminist in the City said...

i also think that fact that i feel the need to lose 15lbs speaks loads to our thin obsessed culture that equates beauty with one thing - being thin. I hate prescribing to this mentality but at the same time struggle with being happy in my own skin. catch 22.

Ashley said...

Ahh, thin privilege. I'm loving all these posts I'm seeing about it; they are really eye-opening. It's true that you don't really see what privilege you have until you find out what it means to be without it.

I am torn, though, between size-acceptance and health. Is it important for women to accept themselves for who they are and see themselves as beautiful? An emphatic YES. Is it just as important for women to take their health into their own hands and do what it takes for them to feel good and be healthy? Absolutely.

So, I think there's quite a bit of tension between women who feel pressured to be a certain size because models are airbrushed to appear that way and women who feel unhealthy and, as such, do what it takes to feel healthy again. Maybe losing weight is part of becoming healthier. I don't think the desire to loose weight is wrong when it comes with the right motivation.

Does this make sense? I know that your post isn't really about size-acceptance, but, being the health-nut that I am, this has been bugging me lately. Am I less of a feminist because I want to work out and eat healthy and stay in shape? Maybe you can shed some light on this for me...

frau sally benz said...

Ashley, I'm with you. I talk about this constantly with my guy, who was bordering on overweight/obese at the start of this year and is now only overweight and getting close to healthy. He gets very upset about what we call fat acceptance and points out that we're inevitably encouraging more people to ignore their health. My sister was in the same position last year and is now at a healthy weight. I am trying to be more health-conscious myself so I keep running into the "am I a bad feminist" thing...

Okay, I'll stop the thread derailing and conclude with -- great post! It really was great to read and has given me lots to think about.

RosieRed23 said...

It sounds like we're around the same size (I'm about a 12), and I have to say, I have never even considered that I have thin privilege. Am I that brainwashed that I hear the word "thin" and think "supermodel" or "size 2"? Definitely something I need to think about, thanks for writing about this!

meloukhia said...

Ashley and frau sally benz...please, read this.

Laura said...

Thank you all for the great conversation!

Like some of you have alluded to, I think it has been hard for me to accept my thin privilege sometimes because of the word "thin." Like RosieRed23 said, I associate think with size 2 and therefore not with myself. It's hard to think of yourself as having thin privilege when you don't see yourself reflected anywhere in the media and you are still shamed for not being that "perfect" size (and no one can be that "perfect" size, so everyone feels some kind of shame).

I'm just starting to learn about the "fat acceptance" movement. I do think that it is a person's choice whether or not they want to "be healthy." It shouldn't be the problem of anyone else. But it's also important to realize that healthy doesn't equal thin.

meloukhia said...

Yay, Laura, thank you for decoupling weight and health there! I think this is critical, because a lot of people resist the idea of fat acceptance/health at every size because they think there's a connection between "healthy" and "thin." You can eat healthy foods, work out, be physically fit, and still be fat.

Anyway, sorry to kind of derail from the original point, which was a discussion of thin privilege. You make a great point when you say it's hard to identify as a member of a privileged group when you don't see any examples of your group in the media/culture; but I think it's interesting to note that one of the things on many other privilege checklists is "I can see representations of my group in media and popular culture," or some variant thereof.

Perhaps what you have could be better phrased as "in-betweenie privilege." You may benefit from some of the things associated with thin privilege, but I'm not entirely sure you are wholly within a privileged group. I see that this is referenced in the excerpt you quoted with a clarification that thin equals "normal," in this context, but I do think that people who are thin as in "thin" benefit from some additional privilege which in-betweenies cannot access.

RMJ said...

Great post!

I wanted to pop in and emphasize Laura's note that normal AND average can be problematic language. Even if we're the statistical norm, owning that excludes thin and fat people from being able to take part in normalize culture - it marginalizes and excludes. There was some discussion about nomalizing language in my post Laura linked above. Average, according to a poster over there, isn't even a statistically accurate term. "Statistical mean" might be more appropriate.

Personally, I say that I have "size privilege" and refer to myself as "big" - but the latter is because I'm also tall.

meloukhia said...

Oooh, I like "size privilege," because it recognizes that a spectrum of sizes can have privileges of different sorts. I find "thin privilege" a really problematic framing when it gets applied to people who aren't really thin; I'm a 12-16, depending on the company, and I definitely identify as fat and don't appreciate having that stripped from me.

RMJ, I imagine that being tall comes along with a whole shitstorm of unpleasantness, given the way I see tall women being treated/objectified on a routine basis.

Ok, time to go back to work instead of monopolizing the conversation here. Sorry!

Laura said...

I'm liking "size privilege" too. Like meloukhia said, "thin privilege" is problematic and the word "thin" is probably most of the problem that I have accepting "thin privilege." I too identify as fat, so I can't accept something called "thin privilege." The more I think about it, there is definitely thin privilege, but I have no idea where the cut off for "thin" or "fat" would be. Is there a magical size that is automatically "fat"? Or does it have to do more with how the individual person identifies? I'm definitely leaning towards the latter.

And meloukhia, don't apologize for "monopolizing" the conversation. You're adding a great deal to the conversation and your voice deserves to be heard!

Ashley said...

I'm feeling the need to clarify my comment here, even though it is just further derailing the thread. But the esteemed Young Feminist herself responded to it, so I feel like that's a green light. ;)

I am not calling "fat" unhealthy in any way, shape, or form. Please understand that. I would never say that anyone needs to lose weight in order to be healthy. That just isn't cool.

What I AM saying is that we can talk about "fat acceptance" and how we don't comprehend our own "thin privilege" all we want, and we should. We should work past stereotyping others based on their appearance, for sure.

What I was trying to say is this: When someone WANTS to lose weight - not because they want to be what society dictates as thin, but because they have decided that trying to lose weight will make them feel better or be happier or whatever and have come to this conclusion on their own because it is what is best for them - shouldn't we champion that, as well as accepting them and them accepting themselves for how beautiful they already are?

From what I can see, the health/thinness craze is only a problem when women start comparing themselves to other women, namely models and actresses that are airbrushed or starve themselves or what have you. I just think health AND acceptance should go hand-in-hand.

I hope that made sense and didn't dig myself further into a hole or something...

Laura said...

Thanks for clarifying (and it's not really derailing anyway). I didn't really think you were calling fat unhealthy, I just wanted to make sure that it was explicitly said somewhere in this that fat does not necessarily equal unhealthy.

That being said, I agree that if a woman decides that she wants to lose weight or exercise more or eat more healthy (whether that actually ends in losing weight or not), then she should go for it! Do what makes you feel good, but not what you think you SHOULD do because society is telling you to. And I think that's pretty much what you were saying.

But I also think that women (and men) are never going to stop comparing themselves to one another. I think it's just part of the society that we live in. But we can promote doing what makes you feel good. It's just too bad that that promotion often comes with losing weight, exercising, and eating healthy. Never is it mentioned if eating "junk food" makes someone feel good!

Ashley said...

I'll mention it, then: Eating junk food makes me feel good! :-D I'm eating chocolate after a long day as I type this, and it's working!!

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