Friday, February 8, 2013

Who Wants Flies Anyway?: Standing By Using the Term "Thin Privilege"

It still kind of amazes me when self-described feminists have blind spots for intersectional privileges.

It shouldn't; but it does.

Earlier this week someone jumped all over me for posting something about thin privilege. Her comments are all kinds of fail, so click carefully if you are sensitive to thin privilege denying.

The gist of her comments are that by calling out "thin privilege" I'm alienating people. Like I said in my original reply to her, there's no reason to sterilize the truth behind a privilege as to not make people uncomfortable. There is discomfort in examining your own privilege. It’s not easy. If it was, oppressions wouldn’t exist anyway. I hate that I feel I need to rehash all this again, but as a quick summary: It just really doesn't make sense to not call gender privilege MALE privilege just as it doesn't make sense to not call body privilege THIN privilege. It doesn't mean that men can't face sexism (rooted in misogyny) just as thin people face body shame. But ultimately the default "correct" person in male privilege is a man and in thin privilege it's a thin person. That doesn't mean that men or thin people are to blame; it simply means they benefit from a faulty system.

We good? Great.

What I really want to hone in on is her idea that an oppressed group should change their language/tone to be more accommodating to out group individuals. What's not on my Tumblr is a tirade of other asks from her that I didn't publish (because I'm not really in the business of giving people who don't believe in intersectional feminism a platform. I gave her a few shots, and she failed.) She wrote:
By excluding thin people from body oppression entirely you are segregating fat people from other body types who deal with the same type of oppression, and that hinders not only your perspective but those you wish to rally into agreeing with you. An example of being a good activist is Martin Luther King, he was sure to advertise the oneness of whites and blacks. Black people were already segregated from whites, his goal was to remove that stagnant connotation by familiarizing blacks with whites and bringing them together. Now, if he stood on that podium and hollered about the white mans’ privilege would we have progressed at all? It’s important not to limit your mind to one perspective. It’s important to adapt to the ways that other people feel and think, and their perspectives so you can fully understand where the core of each issue lies. Otherwise, you are only halting progression and contributing even more oppression towards your own cause.
Oy. Oy. Oy oy oy.

I'm not going to tackle her incredibly simplified view of Dr. MLK's activism right now. I don't have the time or patience for that. What I do want to challenge is this idea that by simply using the words "thin privilege" I'm being exclusionary and segregationist.

First of all, I will reiterate (for the 50th time) that I never made this an us vs. them thing. I just stated the type of specific privilege that is relevant here. That's not saying that thin people don't experience body shame; it's saying the the core of most body policing is related to fatphobia. If a thin person feels alienated by me calling out thin privilege; that's on them. For example, I am an ally in anti-racism and I don't feel threatened or alienated by examining white privilege. Because white privilege is what racism is. If I can't acknowledge that, how can I learn? But beyond that--sometimes a movement isn't for you. And that's ok. A mature, competent person can understand that there can and should be spaces for people who are different from them. It's the same thing as me trying to go onto the This Is White Privilege blog and trying to make them accommodate me or stop calling it white privilege.  There's absolutely no reason they should be concerned about me! It's not my space! (But trust me, people do that all time.)

Secondly--and I mean this question quite seriously: Can anyone name one REAL time that activists made progress by changing their tone, language, and messaging? It reminds me of the constant chorus of people who say, "I believe in equal rights of men and women, but I call myself an 'equalist' or a 'humanist.' Feminism is too angry." NOPE. You've just bought into the bad wrap that the movement has gotten as a way to weaken it.

Furthermore, what kind of people would I be bringing into the body acceptance movement if they can't acknowledge that thin privilege is a thing? How are they any different from the mainstream culture if they feel alienated by calling it what it is? Sure, you might win flies with sugar, but who wants flies anyway?

To back down from the words "thin privilege" (or "feminism" or "white privilege" or whatever) is a step in the wrong direction. It should never be the goal of an activist to make people comfortable. Comfort is the cousin of complacency. And complacency is compatible with the status quo. If we want to move the ball forward, so to speak, we have to be actively challenging the world as we see it. And right now, the world as I see it, still routinely positions thin bodies as the RIGHT body. That doesn't mean that every thin person will never be body shamed; it just means that the world is designed in their favor.

And I refuse to pretend it's not.


  1. I agree with you like 99.9%. I do wonder about the tone/language/messaging question though. I can't think of any examples, personally, in answer to your question. And I am proud to call myself a feminist. I get that part of the reluctance to call oneself a feminist comes out of the overall male-privileging female-devaluing culture we have going on. And yet, if the word "feminist," just the simple word itself and all the (unfair) baggage that goes along with it, is holding back the movement, than I say throw it the heck out. If by changing the name of the movement to something different we could get more people on board with actually fighting for women's rights than I'd have no problem with calling myself an "equalist" or whatever the hell else. Then again, maybe you are right in thinking that the kinds of people who are reluctant to call themselves feminists would not really be on board with actively fighting for feminist causes no matter what brand you advertise it under. I dunno.

    1. Really, I just think that anyone who would ask for these concessions isn't on board so making the changes would not only be unnecessary, but it also wouldn't actually win anyone over. So it's a gesture which accomplishes nothing except weakening the message, to me.

  2. P.S., I'd love to read your thoughts on the most recent episode of Scandal. I was already uncomfortable with the possessive dynamic between Fitz and Olivia, and now we have Olivia's declaration about how she wants "painful, devastating love." Is this show contributing to the message that relationships have to be dramatic bordering on violent in order for it to count as love? I know you work with teen girls and was wondering how you talk to them about that message.

    1. Yeah, still processing the last 2 episodes. Not sure I like where they're going.

  3. Thank you for addressing thin privilege again. I'm still learning about it. Having been really thin and tall during puberty, it's a tough one for me. People I didn't even know used to come up to me and ask me if I was anorexic. Things like that happened often enough. I am an emotional non-eater, I mean whenever I'm stressing out or feeling down whatever, I don't want to eat (and often used to skip meals).

    On the other hand I know that in the media thin people are seen as the best and that 'fat' people are prejudiced and rejected.

    Now I've put on quite some weight (feeling happy does that to me) and the questions about my diet from strangers have stopped and the 'funny' remarks about me being a stick with peas have stopped as well. But I will be honest here and say it's hard for me to see how really skinny people (my BMI used to be <17 during puberty) are privileged when it didn't feel like that at the time. Please don't bash me for willing to learn more about this. Please let me learn. Thank you so much for your blog.

    1. I certainly can acknowledge that very thin people face body shame (as I've said many times.) BUT privilege is far beyond comments and scorn from others (although that's a big thing fat people face.) I have a few examples...

      1) Institutional power--thin people receive it, particularly thin women vs. fat women. Thin women are found in studies to be hired more often, compensated higher than fat women, and found guilty much less frequently by juries, as just a few examples.

      2) Physical spaces--I didn't write enough about above is how the world is actually DESIGNED for a certain body (think about clothing availability and prices, movie theater seats, air planes, public restroom stalls, etc.)

      3) Medical care--there is a frequent assumption by actual medical practitioners that fat automatically = unhealthy despite concrete, repeated evidence to the contrary. So when a fat person goes to the doctor with joint pain (as a random example) they are first told to lose weight. When a thin person goes they are first given options like physical therapy, surgery, etc. Check out the medical related tags at for tons of stories about how individuals or their families were denied adequate medical care because an underlying condition was ignored and the fat patient was told over and over to lose weight. I'm serious--people have shared stories about how their family members have DIED because of this stuff.

      I hope that's helpful information. Please feel free to google some of the facts I've stated for more information and background...Check out that Tumblr and Melissa McEwan's "Fatstronauts" series at Once you begin to learn about these things, it becomes much more apparent everywhere you go, that the world is deeply fatphobic.

  4. Thank you for your suggestions for further reading.

    I wish physical spaces were less of a problem for everyone. I once heard someone say: "If you construct a door for the average human being, half of the people will bump their head." Being tall I often wished for foldable legs. ;)

    The third example you give rings a few bells here. Someone in my family, who might be seen as overweight, but not by much, was given that same advice and had to almost beg for another year before getting treatment. I only now realize the connection because of your post. *Getting angry*


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