Thin Privilege

I’ve always had issues with my body size, and have spent much of my life larger than I wanted to be. After pregnancy, I was a lot larger than I wanted to be and it took a long time to change that. I’ve had a lot of experience of fat shaming, and some experience of what happens when you don’t have thin privilege. I’m starting to get back into that more privileged thin space and want to talk about what that means.

The first and most obvious difference over the last few years has been the greater ease buying clothes. I can walk into a shop and expect to find clothes that I like and that will fit me. If I want loose clothes I can actually buy things a few sizes bigger and wear those. When this is normal to you, you don’t notice it, or the implications for people who don’t have that privilege.

The odds are that if I went to a doctor with any complaint at this point, I would not be diagnosed with being fat but might get the problem itself taken seriously. This means my chances of survival are improved. It also means I have a better chance of accessing mental health support. At a previous round of asking for mental health support (when larger) and admitting that I mostly just wanted to die, I was told to get more exercise.

I am much less likely now to find people around me feel entitled to comment on my food choices. I’m painfully uncomfortable about scrutiny whilst eating, so this is always an area of anxiety for me. One of the great ironies here is that I have never lost weight or even managed my weight through calorie control. Since I’ve been eating with a view to maintaining good energy levels and supporting my mental health, I’ve become healthier. The things casual commenters would likely judge are actually good choices for me. When you are carrying visible fat, so many people feel that they are qualified to speak as nutritionists without knowing a thing about your body or your circumstances.

The things that some people think, and state in relation to body fat, are nuts. Here’s a selection of things I’ve been told over the years…

That my heavy periods are caused by being fat. They aren’t – my weight has fluctuated, my periods have been constant.

That fat people can’t dehydrate – because no, I am not actually a camel, thank you.

That no one will ever love me or want me because I am fat – that’s not proved true in practice.

That I must be miserable because I look terrible. Well, no, it’s more the fat shaming that makes me miserable than my body shape.

That because I am fat, it is difficult to imagine that I might have any delicacy of feelings. Fat people cannot be delicate in other ways. Because obviously my emotions are also fat, and solid, and big. It’s funny how largness in one aspect of being is interpreted as being a whole-person issue.

I’ve also noticed that much of this shaming has had little relationship with how large I actually am – that carrying less fat has not reliably reduced the shaming in proportion. It is as though I am haunted by the ghost of the fat I have carried in the past. The lack of relationship between my size and the criticism I’ve been subjected to does flag up all too clearly that this isn’t about my body shape at all. It’s about a desire to hurt and humiliate. Unlike my arm length or the size of my feet (I’ve been criticised about those, too), my body mass can be interpreted as something I have total control over, which makes it the more effective target. It becomes a judgement of me as a person.

To be thin, is to not have your personality assumed from your body shape. That’s a privilege which underpins many other things, but is invisible to the person benefiting from it unless they’ve also experienced how their identity will be inferred from a larger body.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

6 responses to “Thin Privilege

  • syrbal-labrys

    I once had the extremely unpleasant experience of an immigrant doctor screaming at me that my medical problem was because I was “an obese member of an obese nation”. This, when I was precisely 15 pounds heavier than as a young fit woman in the Army thirty five years before. I was still very muscular and strong and wore a size 10 to 12 US sizes. My tiny screaming doctor was from India, she didn’t know what to do when I stood up and said “I think we are done here.” and walked out.

    This is what woke me to privilege — you don’t even have to BE fat to be judged that way, apparently.

    • Nimue Brown

      I think with women especially, the difference between fat weight and muscle weight is often totally ignored. the charts we are referred to assume men of the same height weight more, and are prejudiced against strong women.

  • okarnill

    Try it with horse riding gear, snarl. Traditionally riders are usually skinny, however some of us are not. I’m not huge, and a heck of a lot is muscle, but yeah, I completely hear you. Thank you once again for this post.

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