I’m going to talk about the P word, so saddle up.
But first, a primer if you will. I think it’s important to be reminded of what it means to have privilege:
To be clear, I have privilege. I am white, middle-class, straight, cis-gendered, educated, married, able-bodied, and employed. (I’m sure I’m missing some!)
But I am also a woman, and I am fat. And there are even levels of privilege within these identities as well. For example, I am what they call a medium fat, meaning that I can still access some of the amenities of our culture, like flying, sitting in old theatre seats, and buying clothing at some brick and mortar stores.
But those two identities (woman and fat) come with an avalanche of cultural bias, norms, stereotypes, misinformation, discrimination, and stigma – and if you pass as “not fat,” then you can add thin to YOUR list of privileges. (Men – you know you have privilege in this patriarchal society, so I’ll just leave that for another post.)
Not sure you have thin privilege? Let me give you a few examples. You are probably not even aware that the larger person next to you – whether it’s your sister or your co-worker, is being ignored, left out, or denied the experience, thing, right, or comfort that you are unconsciously (or consciously) enjoying.
Many of these things I have and continue to experience, and some I haven’t:
- If you don’t have to worry about ordering something other than a salad when you’re at lunch with others, or being the only one eating at a gathering, you have thin privilege.
- If you can walk into any store in the mall and pick out an outfit in your size that you like, you have thin privilege
- If you can purchase a t-shirt at a concert or sporting event that fits, you have thin privilege.
- If you haven’t felt the stinging pain of shame when you head out to eat with friends and the host seats your party in a booth, and you have to ask to be reseated because none of your friends are paying attention, you have thin privilege.
- If you’ve never had to sit through conversations at work about needing to lose 5 lbs because they feel big as a house and be completely ignored, you have thin privilege.
- If you can talk about how much you love junk food or post pictures of yourself on social media eating large pizzas and people think it’s cute, instead of criticizing you for poor food choices, you have thin privilege.
- If you go to the doctor with a pain in your side, you are given a full check-up and blood work, and tests and it turns out to be stage 1 ovarian cancer, instead of telling you it’s your fault, go lose some weight and it will go away, only to come back later with stage-4 ovarian cancer, you have thin privilege.
- If you’ve never been the recipient of unsolicited (and uninformed) health advice about your weight, you have thin privilege.
- If you don’t put in hours of research in advance on body size policies, seat dimensions, and seat belt extenders before booking a flight to see your dying father – only to be told when boarding the plane that you must purchase another seat, or be escorted off the plane – you have thin privilege.
- If you are reading these examples and making excuses, getting annoyed, or trying to justify them in any way, you may have thin privilege, and you DEFINITELY have fatphobia.
The real message here is that there are many moments in my day where the thin people around me don’t think twice about the things I think 4 or 5 times about – and it’s exhausting sometimes, and it sucks, and I get so down sometimes because of it.
My dear readers – if you are passing as thin, and you have fat co-workers, friends, family, or you do any amount of traveling, here are a few things you can do to help:
- Keep your fatphobic conversations out of the workplace. You may think it’s funny to joke about your “food baby,” or how you “earned” that plate of fries because you killed yourself at the gym, but these are fatphobic conversations and really uncomfortable for your fat friend. There are so many other funny and exciting things to talk about. Talk about those things.
- If you are going out to a restaurant with a group of people and there are fat people in your party, be sensitive and make sure the seating will accommodate your fat friends IN ADVANCE. Don’t make them have to drum up the courage to tell you that they can’t fit in the booth you just slid into.
- When advocating for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, include weight and body size in your efforts. Weight bias and discrimination are left continuously out of activism efforts and employer policies.
- Have some empathy for the fat traveler next to you. They are already so uncomfortable and they are trying with all of their might to not touch you, keeping their arms crossed for 3 hours so you won’t give them a dirty look. And ask yourself why you are so upset – don’t get mad at the woman that is using transportation like everyone else, maybe for their job, or to see family. Be mad at the airline for continuing to make the same size seats for everyone, even though 70% of the US is larger than a size 14.
Ultimately, it is up to you how you manage your privilege. I will continue to work on being aware of my own privilege and advocate for those that are tired of advocating for themselves.
As Mr. Einstien says, “those that have the privilege to know have the duty to act.”