Thin Privilege Exists, And Here's How

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
Christopher Broadbent

During my adult life, sans toting a human being in my belly, I have worn everything from a size 2 to a size 18/20. When I was on the upper end of the scale — which happened not because of leftover baby weight, but because a life-saving medication came with weight gain as a side effect — I could not walk into my favorite stores and buy clothes. I was relegated to the fashion desert, otherwise known as the “Plus Sized” department.

Manufacturers of these clothes usually assume fat girls should wear tents in loud prints to hide their fatness. No cute T-shirts, skirts, or trendy clothes there. I gave up and only wore dresses I bought online. I did not have the privilege of walking into a store and expecting to find clothes that fit me — clothes that I liked and gave me options to feel stylish and confident.

When I was a size 2, I wallowed in thin privilege. I waltzed into stores marketed at teens, picked out whatever I wanted, and bought it without trying it on. I had closets of clothes, oodles of clothes of different looks and styles. I ran eight miles a day. I still eyed my non-washboard stomach and thought I wasn’t small enough. I wanted to be smaller. I didn’t “feel thin.”

But I was thin.

Because thin is not a feeling.

Thin means that your weight does not define the way you move through society: the clothes you can buy, the eye rolls you get, the comments you receive, the lectures from medical professionals. By what society calls thin, today, I still am not thin. But I can walk into most stores and pick out clothes. I have thin privilege.

Thin privilege means that when I fly cross-country, no one groans when they see they’re slated to be my seatmate. I fit within the confines of my designated seat. I do not need seat belt extenders. This is unlike the kind, beautiful woman who sat next to me on one flight, whose arms touched mine when she sat. “You take up as much room as you need,” I told her, when she actually expressed gratitude at my lack of bitchery. “Don’t let anyone tell you that you should minimize yourself or take up less of planet Earth for their fucking convenience.”

I had thin privilege. She did not.

Recently, Cora Harrington, founder of The Lingerie Addict and author of In Intimate Detail, described what thin privilege means. She takes photographs of underwear models all day, so she knows what she’s talking about. She struck a nerve, and Twitter responded.

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