A few weeks ago, one of my favourite fat activists called out a famous ‘lifestyle’ influencer on her latest post. The said influencer, who has sold countless ‘healthy cooking’ (aheum diet) cookbooks and still comments openly about her efforts to make sure she keeps fitting a size small (insert eye roll here), posted a bikini picture of herself on a beach. Her caption explained she had worked “so hard” to accept her body and was encouraging her followers to be equally “body positive” this summer.
If you are still getting familiar with body liberation and fat acceptance, you might not see anything wrong with this. You might think: why can’t we all be “body positive” after all? Isn’t it a positive for all of us to accept our appearance, at whatever size? You might even think: weren’t fat activists effectively ‘skinny shaming’ the influencer for posting about accepting her (thin) body?
Beyond the clear ethical issue of someone claiming she is ‘accepting her flaws’ while making a living by selling dieting paraphernalia to her followers, the answer is a resounding NO. And this social media incident motivated me to post about ‘thin privilege’, which is something that I also live with, and that informs a lot of my actions in my private life but also as I run my coaching practice from a Health at Every Size perspective.
What exactly is ‘thin privilege’?
It is a systemic privilege (a set of advantages or special rights) that is bestowed upon certain bodies that conform with the ideal beauty standard set up by society.*
Concretely, thin privilege means:
Public spaces cater to your body shape and size (trains, planes, classrooms).
You don’t get fatshamed or given advice on weight loss by random strangers in the street.
You are not immediately assumed to be unhealthy, lazy or gluttonous.
Your chances of getting appropriate medical care are optimal.
You won’t get discriminated at work or when looking for a job.
You can find clothes that fit you in any retail or online store.
You can eat whatever you want when you feel like it without having to bear the judgmental looks of others.
You are considered ‘normal’ and not pathologized.
You are represented in the media, in art or culture works as ‘the norm’.
As usual with privilege, a lot of us are born with it and might therefore struggle to realize it is there (until it is taken away or lost). People living with said privilege don’t do anything wrong by living with it, but it is something that they should learn to recognize, especially if they wish to support more acceptance for all bodies and fight against systemic discrimination, whether it is based on size, ethnicity, ability, gender, etc.
Body positivity itself, as a movement to accept all bodies regardless of their size shape or appearance, finds its roots in the fat acceptance movement and the “National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance“. So when people living in thin bodies claim to be ‘body positive’ without acknowledging their own thin privilege, they don’t really act as allies for all the people living in bodies that don’t conform to the current beauty standard.
By this, I am not saying thin people won’t feel the pressure to conform to the beauty standard, we ALL feel it and suffer from it, but that experience is certainly not comparable to the systemic oppression fat people suffer, and how it affects literally every part of their lives. Similarly, discriminations are felt even stronger when it comes to people who are fat and also of colour, female, non cisgender, disabled.
It has nothing to do with skinny shaming, and everything to do with co-opting other people’s stories.
So, if you are a person living with thin privilege, and you wish to fight for more self acceptance, for yourself and in the world, remember to start your body positive journey by ACKNOWLEDGING your privilege and by MAKING SPACE for the experiences of people living in different bodies than yours.
At the end of the day, unless body liberation is for all of us, it is for none of us.
PS: If you already achieved this ‘listening’ part and wish to go further to become an ally of people facing discrimination based on their appearance, Sonya Renee Taylor has more ideas on what you can do.
*I stole this definition from Glenys Oyston, after loving it on the ‘Dietitians unplugged podcast’, episode 54. Thanks Glenys and Aaron!