Thin Privilege Exists, And Here's How

Thin Privilege Exists, And Here’s How

Christopher Broadbent
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.

Thin privilege means that you don’t select your doctor based on whether or not he take any of your medical concerns seriously, and will not harass you, lecture you, or otherwise expound upon your weight when you show up with a fever or a sore throat. It means you don’t expect the waiter to give you “the look” when you ask to see the dessert menu. It means you don’t get raised brows, up-and-downs, and sneers. It means you don’t get passed over for promotions and jobs because of your weight, as scientific studies consistently show.

But it goes the other way, too. When you’re thin, people think it’s because you don’t eat, and often assume you suffer from some form of disordered eating. They make comments like, “Have a cheeseburger.” This is harmful and problematic as well. can be harmful too. The twitterati weighed in on that, too, some hurtfully, some rationally:

Skinny-shaming exists. It’s real. It’s a thing, and it’s bullshit.

But skinny-shaming, or being hassled for your societally-acceptable weight, is not the same as a lack of thin privilege. You may be hurt. You may be upset. You may get comments about your body. But you do not have to move through the world defined by your size. This is thin privilege at work.

In plain English: it is never okay to comment on someone else’s body, either to tell them to put down that cookie or to snarf more of them. It is never okay to ask a women if she’s pregnant, to tell fat girls to start running and stop eating carbs/sugar/meat/food dye/akaline stuff/gluten. It is never okay to tell a person that they need a sandwich or exclude them from a conversation because of their small size (“Oh, you would never understand. You’re so tiny.”)

But this is not the same as thin privilege.

Not hyperventilating on the way to the doctor because you know you’ll just come out in tears again? Thin privilege.

Not enduring sneers and comments, both online and off, about your unhealthy size and promotion of obesity when you just want to show off a cute outfit? Thin privilege.

No one groans when you sit next to them on the bus or the plane? Thin privilege.

Can you find clothes that fit you without much effort, can you walk into chain stores and reasonably expect to find the clothes you want in your size? Thin privilege.

Imagine living your life that way.

When you move through a world that defines you by your size, that means you plan your day around it, your wardrobe around it: this means you’re lacking thin privilege. And in a world where Abercrombie and Fitch refuses to stock larger than a size 10 because average sized people aren’t part of their brand, where fashion mogul Karl Langerford makes disparaging comments about women’s weight, thin privilege is real. It’s all around you.

What can you do? Recognize that it exists. Then, develop a body positive outlook that allows other people to live, survive and thrive in this world with whatever body they have. No judgement, no unsolicited advice, no assumptions.