Thin Privilege. This is a tough thing to grapple with for many people in society - from both sides of the coin. If you live in a smaller body, it’s easy to take it for granted; to forget about it. If you are someone in a larger body, maybe there are feelings of anger, frustration, or sadness that surface. Either way, it is important to talk about the elephant in the room. Thin privilege is REAL, and that it has REAL effects in our society.
What is Thin Privilege?
Thin privilege is a type of systematic disparity. It acknowledges the fact that society favors those in smaller bodies. Now, this certainly does not mean that those in smaller bodies do not struggle with body image concerns and intrusive thoughts. However, thin individuals do not have to question facing oppression based on their body size on a daily basis.
Many individuals in larger bodies face blatant body-shaming and are often stereotyped based on their appearance. Additionally, there are also more discrete ways in which one may feel the effects of thin privilege or weight stigma.
For example, think about the absence of appropriately sized seating in medical offices or on airplanes. Or, the fact that plus-sized clothing is often either not available in stores, or if it is, it may be placed in the back of the store. The presence of thin privilege means that you are in fact able to shop for clothes and buy plane tickets without a second thought.
Thin Privilege vs. Weight Stigma
You may remember our blog that discusses weight stigma and its toxicity. Weight stigma and thin privilege are not the same thing - think of it as two different sides of the same coin. Weight stigma is discrimination or active shaming of someone based on their size. On the other hand, thin privilege is the absence of experiencing weight stigma.
Areas Where Thin Privilege is at Play
Those with thin privilege do not have to worry about their doctor making negative assumptions based on their size. You can be pretty certain that when you report a concern to your doctor, they will listen, and you will be taken seriously.
For many people living in larger bodies, it is common for medical providers to falsely attribute their ailments to their weight or invalidate them altogether (1).
If you can walk into a clothing store and easily find your size, this is an example of benefitting from thin privilege. Many stores do not carry extended sizes, and if they do, they are often sequestered into their own section. For a list of our favorite inclusive clothing brands, click here.
Thin privilege in the workplace looks like not having to worry about your body impacting your ability to grow in a company. Studies show that those in larger bodies are less likely to be hired and promoted. In addition, there is an unexplained wage gap between thin individuals and those in larger bodies (2). This is an example of weight stigma.
Even on tv, we can see thin privilege in that strong, powerful protagonists are often played by thin people. On the flip side, we often see actors in larger bodies playing characters that are often bullied for their weight, or are portrayed as the “not-so-cool” character (3). Even when we think about the influx of dating shows that are popping up everywhere, we do not often see contestants in larger bodies. The media is essentially rewarding those in smaller bodies and perpetuating the societal preference for thinness.
How You Can Address Thin Privilege
In reading this article, it is normal to feel emotions such as sadness, shock, or anger. Thin privilege is so ingrained in our society, that it may feel defeating. However, if you are someone who benefits from thin privilege, there are some things that you can do to actively play a role in dismantling it.
1. Acknowledge the ways in which you benefit from thin privilege
It can be easy to overlook the ways in which you may benefit from thin privilege. Take another look at the list above, and reflect on how you are treated in these various environments. Chances are, if you are living in a thin body, you are being treated more positively than those in larger bodies. Once you can acknowledge your own privilege, it is easier to empathize with those who are hurt by weight stigma.
2. Make space for those experiencing weight stigma
Make it a point to engage in conversations about fatphobia and fat-aggression, as this can help you better understand what it feels like on the other side of thin privilege. These experiences are valid and real, and they deserve to be heard. Ask if it’s okay to amplify the voices of fat-activists on social media platforms. Further, ask how you can show up for someone experiencing weight stigma.
3. Lean into the discomfort
If and when something feels uncomfortable, ask yourself why, and seek out opportunities to learn more about it. Whether you are feeling uncomfortable by simply reading this article, or if you are uncomfortable with the idea of weight stigma and thin privilege, we encourage you to reflect on why this might be. Seek out resources regarding weight stigma and fatphobia to learn more about its negative impacts.
4. Focus on building people up without commenting on body shape or size
Do not, I repeat, do not comment on changes regarding someone’s body size. What may sound like a compliment about someone losing weight may actually be perpetuating the thin ideal. In other words, someone might hear “you've lost so much weight - you look great!” as an affirmation that thinness is valued in our society. Instead, compliment someone’s outfit, an accomplishment of theirs, or their sense of humor.
We recognize that as a team, we hold many privileges. However, we are continuing to make strides in checking our privilege, and to do what we can to dismantle the thin ideal in our society. We hope to act as allies to our clients; to give them a place of comfort and to validate their experiences, regardless of size.
As a team of Health at Every Size dietitians, we believe that everyone, no matter what, deserves to find food freedom and to find peace with their bodies. If you have any questions about our philosophy or our values, we encourage you to read more on our website.