I've hated my body for as long as I can remember, at certain points that hatred has taken over my whole life and left me unable to hold onto relationships, make goals outside weight loss, or even leave the house some days. I'm also a UK size 10. Since finding body positivity I'm starting to get better, but one thing I'm really confused about is people telling me that I have thin privilege in my body when I've hated it for so long for not being thin enough. Can you help me understand? What is thin privilege? And does it mean my body struggles don't count?
Let me start by saying that the conversation around privilege, especially if this is the first time you're reflecting on your own privilege, is uncomfortable as hell. That discomfort is normal. But because it doesn't feel great, a lot of people brush off the whole conversation, or they get defensive since they feel like it's a personal attack. If you're uncomfortable right now with the thought of privilege, please try to sit with that and not brush it off straight away. There's a lot of growth on the other side of discomfort, so hold on.
I think people have this idea that saying ‘you have privilege’ translates to ‘you've never struggled with anything’. So if someone says that you have privilege in your body size, after you've spent a lifetime at war with your body, of course that doesn't seem to make sense. But that isn't actually what privilege means.
Having privilege doesn't mean that you've never struggled with anything, it just means that there are certain struggles you won't have experienced, because of your body, identity or circumstance, that are inescapable for people with less privilege.
When it comes to body size it might be helpful to think about the difference between internal experiences and external experiences. Body image is made up of our internal feelings about our body, all of the shame and hatred you feel towards your size is part of that. Are those feelings valid and worthy of healing? Abso-fucking-lutely. But we should also recognise that they are different from the reality that fat people experience in the world every day, and the external experiences that colour their relationship with their body.
For example, you might feel anxious about leaving the house because you're internally telling yourself that your body is too hideous to be seen. But for a visibly fat person, it isn't just their internal voice saying that, because it's likely that every time they leave the house they will experience some kind of harassment, abuse, fatphobic comments or even threats from the outside world. It's happening outside of them as well, and it's inescapable.
There are certain external experiences that people in smaller bodies will never have to deal with, regardless of how they feel about themselves internally. Not being able to find clothing the right size in stores. Not being able to participate in activities because the seating or equipment isn't made for your body (think theme parks or public transport). Being statistically less likely to be hired for a job because the boss has already assumed your work ethic from your size, and also being paid less if you are hired. Feeling like medical care is inaccessible to you because every time you go to the doctors, with any condition whatsoever, all they focus on is your weight.
If you have not personally experienced any of the above examples then you are benefiting from thin privilege. That's not to say you haven't been through hell and back hating the size of your body, trust me, I know that you have. But the outside world has still treated you differently than it has treated people in bodies bigger than yours.
When people ask you to recognise your privilege, they're not trying to invalidate your personal experiences, they're asking you to respect that not all experiences are the same. And in the case of thin privilege, that there are some experiences you are protected against simply because of how your body looks. Once we recognise that, we can speak about bodies and take action against bodily oppression in ways that are respectful of all bodies.
Hold onto that discomfort, because thinness isn't the only aspect of privilege that we need to recognise.
There is privilege in being able-bodied and never having to experience the ableism and inaccessibility in the world that people with impairments, neurodivergence or chronic illnesses face.
There is privilege in identifying with the gender you were assigned at birth, it means you won't face the transphobia or cis-normative hatred that gender non-conforming or trans people will.
Having white privilege means you won't be affected by the structural racism built into our culture in so many ways, that people of colour and black people deal with.
There is privilege in being straight, in being financially stable, in having an education, of being a native speaker of the language where you live, and in having no mental health issues. And there's absolutely more, including some that my own privilege means I haven't even had to think about.
In my own body I experience a degree of thin privilege from being on the smaller end of plus size, and a degree of privilege in my skin colour from being mixed race and light skinned. I'm also able-bodied, cisgender, and a native English speaker. I have benefited from all of these things in one way or another in my life. Knowing that doesn't invalidate my own struggles, it just puts them into a different perspective, and makes me more respectful of other people's experiences too.
In fact, my level of privilege has a lot to do with why you're reading this right now (if you're still here, hey friend!). People with bodies bigger than mine have been talking about this for years, but because of their bodies they're more likely to be met with anger, distrust and dismissal. Coming out of my body, which is more palatable because it doesn't break as many boundaries outside of the societal ideal, people are more likely to listen. And that's fucked up. So because of that, I'm going to end this column with a list of people with bodies different to mine who have taught me a whole lot about privilege, and who we should all be listening to when they tell us about their lived experience:
@iamdaniadriana | @themilitantbaker | @simonemariposa | @curvesbecomeher | @rachel.cargle | @shishi.rose | @munroebergdorf | @scarrednotscared | @alokvmenon | @travisalabanza | @annieelainey | @sitting_pretty | @feeding_of_the_fox
Love & bopo,
P.S. If you like this column and want more advice like this, I wrote a whole book of it! You can find Body Positive Power here.