There are many of us who have experienced certain parts of our lives while moving through places of both privilege and oppression. Being able to see how people react to us under different circumstances can confirm the existence of things like classism, sexism, ableism, thin privilege or fatphobia. I am going to focus on the last two for today. Let’s start with some definitions for clarity… Thin privilege is the idea that being thin is the norm in society as opposed to a concept developed to sell diets and other beauty products. It allows thin people to walk through the world without a second thought but that requires extra effort from people of size. Fatphobia literally means the fear of fat people and that is why many progressive feminist spaces are switching to the term fat-antagonism which places the blame more appropriately on the oppressor themselves instead of a phobia, which is also ableist since phobias are very real for many people. In reality, what we are talking about is not about a fear of fat people but misguided prejudice or even hatred of them.
So now that we are all on the same page, I want to talk to you specifically about my experience with thin privilege and fatphobia as a person who has been both a size 0 or XS and a size 16 or XL. I want to acknowledge that thin privilege is often seen as a continuum, and as an inbetweener (size 12/14/16) I still have a great deal of privilege. One example of inbetweener privilege is that I can often shop at brick and mortar stores in the mall as long as they carry some larger sizes or aren’t specifically designed for tweens and teens. Another example is that I can usually find knee-high or even thigh-high boots to wear without having to special order a wide width boot. One more that comes to mind is that, while airplane seats are a bit tight for me and so are the seat belts sometimes, I always fit and I never have to ask for the seat belt extender. The fact that anyone has to purchase a second seat on a plane because of their size or has to ask for a seat belt extended is a clear form of oppression, that I find unacceptable.
We are constantly asking plus-size people to pay more for things than people who have thin privilege have to pay. As I describe above, we force people of size to pay for a second seat on the plane or to upgrade their ticket to first class which is more accommodating all around. Many stores charge extra for larger sizes or claim that is why they cannot offer a full-size range. Plus size options are widely available online but those stores often charge shipping fees, return fees and sometimes restocking fees. It is not uncommon to have to keep a clothing item simply because returning it is not cost effective, so we settle. Larger sizes are rarely available on the sale rack, this is in part because buyers are not stocking shelves appropriately and also because these sizes are so popular. Finally, when we are talking about the financial impact of thin privilege and fatphobia, we need to acknowledge that thin people are not only more likely to get hired for the job or promotion, they are also more likely to earn more in terms of salary.
As a curvy woman, some people assume that I am unhealthy simply because I am plus size. When I was thin, people assumed I was healthy just because of how I looked, when in reality, I was starving myself. I’m actually much healthier now, both physically and in terms of my mental wellness. On the other hand, as a curvy woman, I also have some privilege because some people will perceive me to be the “good kind of fattie”. By that I mean, because I exercise and have relatively smooth skin, other people may assume I am healthier than people larger than me with more dimples. No one knows if any of these things are true, but thin privilege allows them to get away with making these assumptions. It is up to us as body positivity activists and feminists to point these misconceptions out, to call them out. Everyone is worthy of respect regardless of their size, shape, skin smoothness or lack thereof, how much they work out or what they choose to eat.
The proof is clear, when I was suffering from anorexia, I was very thin, usually a small or x-small, depending on the store. I never had to pay full price for anything because there were always tons of items in my size on the sale rack. It never mattered what item I wanted to try on or buy, there were options available in my size. As a plus size woman, I rarely see items in my size on the sale rack and sometimes if I really want something in my size, I have to special order it from the store or it is only available online. I often have to pay full price for something if I really want it because if I don’t, it will sell out before it goes on sale. Buyers just don’t seem to consider stocking the shelves with my current size to be as important as they did when I was thin, and that is a very clear example of thin privilege. There is nothing wrong with being thin (or fat or anything else), there is, however, something very wrong with thin people getting unearned benefits just for having been born with a certain body type, though.