First, discussing thin privilege is absolutely not thin shaming. Thin shaming occurs when people say things like “She needs to eat a sandwich”, or “real women have curves.” I think that is precisely as bad as fat shaming and it’s something that I speak out against on a regular basis and I have taken my share of criticism from some facets of the Size Acceptance community for doing so (I even got ejected from a Size Acceptance Facebook Group and told that I should just start a thin acceptance group if that’s how I felt) and have never, and will never, back down from my position.
Discussing thin privilege is being honest about the realities of modern society and culture, which include the fact that even if a thin person feels that they “might as well be 400 pounds,” and I would never argue with their description of their experience, their cultural experience will be very different than that of a person who actually is 400-pounds. To be clear, thin privilege is not something that thin people ask for, it is conferred. Having thin privilege does not mean that women who are thin are not hurt by a cultural stereotype of beauty that is unattainable, or that they don’t have a right to feel or express their feelings about that – they are and they do. The concept of thin privilege is about acknowledging that fat people deal with that, and also deal with institutionalized oppression like:
• Seats in restaurants, planes, movie theaters etc. are often not made to accommodate us and if we point that out we are often subjected to shame and/or additional costs
• We can find a limited supply of clothes in a limited number of styles and a limited number of stores. Often a fat person can be at a large shopping mall and be unable to find a single piece of clothing in their size, let alone find something that fits their personal taste and style
• Courts use our body size as part of determining if we are fit parents.
• We can find articles in the media daily suggesting that we are to blame for everything from global warming to healthcare costs. These are typically completely without evidence, even contrary to the evidence that exist,s and yet they are reported as fact and repeated to us by family, friends, coworkers, doctors and others
• The government has organized public and private interests to wage a war against us because of our size. They are encouraging people to stereotype us based on how we look, assume that we are a drain on society and support our eradication, by force if necessary, to make things “cheaper”.
• When we speak up and say that we aren’t the walking stereotypes they claim we are, we are told that thin people are more competent witnesses to our experiences than we are, and that we have no right to speak up for ourselves.
• People moo at us at the gym, throw things at us from cars, refuse to hire us, fire us without cause, confront us about what they assume our choices are in public places, etc.
• It can be impossible for us to get good medical care because doctors don’t listen to or believe us. I’ve personally been prescribed weight loss for a broken toe, separated shoulder, strep throat and anemia. There are entire forums online dedicated to fat people’s stories of mistreatment by the people who are supposed to be entrusted with our health.
• We are told that the cure for all of this societal stigma, oppression and bullying is to become thin.
• Studies suggest that even if we manage to beat the odds and become thin, we will continue to be subjected to discrimination that women who have always been thin will not.
If you have thin privilege I am fully aware that you didn’t ask for it, and that it doesn’t protect you from a society that is poison when it comes to self-esteem and body image. In the end I am a very outcome-based individual and so, though I definitely appreciate it when people acknowledge their thin privilege, thereby acknowledging the institutional oppression that fat people face (as I try to be aware of and acknowledge my own in other realms), it’s much more important to me that we change the culture that hurts us all, than that thin people agree that they benefit from thin privilege. Oppression of any of us hurts all of us so I’d rather fight oppression than fight about thin privilege.
There is more to eating than calories, even biochemically – there are vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, essential amino acids, antioxidants, electrolytes, fluids, dietary fibre, all the raw materials for repairing and remodeling every single cell in your body. More than that, there is culture, family history, occasion, artistry, skill, growth, feelings of joy or resentment, pleasure or distaste. There are emotional associations and memories, and there is the basic affirmation of life – “I need to eat to survive, and I am worth the effort to survive.” Every act of eating reaffirms your right to exist.
There is more to movement than calories, even biochemically – there is bone strengthening, muscle building, aerobic fitness, neural growth, balancing of hormones and lipid transporters, and every single involuntary movement and chemical reaction carried on below your conscious awareness, working around the clock to stave off entropy. More than that, there is fun, adventure, challenge, mastery, strength, place associations, social bonding, the experience of being an alive thing on a round, blue speck in the galaxy. There is a basic affirmation that you exist in a world you were designed to navigate.
Even if you are disabled, even if you have some impairment, your body is still exploring – from the bat of an eyelash to a trip to the bathroom. You are negotiating, discovering, navigating a physical existence.
You were made for this world. You belong in it, and it belongs to you.
Eating and moving: your right to exist, and a world in which to exist. They are not rivals. They do not annihilate each other. They collaborate to make a whole person, body and soul.
Like it or not, fat people are at war. I’m not hyperbolizing or dramatizing. If you don’t believe me, Google “War on obesity”. Tonight HBO premiered its new documentary series “The Weight of a Nation”. On the premiere page it says “Obesity in America has reached a catastrophic level. Almost every aspect of our lives is threatened. The first step toward ending the damage is learning how to fight back.”
I spend a lot of my time politely asking people to please stop oppressing me. I don’t apologize for that, nor do I begrudge it – it’s proven to be a very effective way to create change and I think that people deserve to be given the benefit of the doubt and the support they need to shift their thinking, and it’s a reasonably pleasant form of activism. I will continue to do it.
But I also have to acknowledge that there is a war being waged against me because of how I look, by people who have been given every opportunity to know better. In concert with HBO’s documentary, I received a Tweet letting me know that Kaiser Permanente is launching the “most aggressive anti-obesity campaign in history.”
They know that there are healthy fat people and unhealthy thin people. They know that not a shred of research shows that any method of weight loss works in the long term. They know that research shows us that we could vastly increase health by providing access to healthy foods, safe movement options, and affordable/free evidence based health care. Nobody is obligated to be healthy or thin; however, I wonder how many people would make different choices if they knew they just need 30 minutes of moderate movement 5 days a week? If they knew that people who choose simple healthy habits have very similar health outcomes regardless of weight. What would people choose if they knew they could abandon the goal of weight loss completely and they could still pursue health. America could be a successful role model for giving people access to health, but instead they are choosing to be a failed role model for thinness - waging war on people based on their appearance for tremendous profit and actively blaming the casualties of the war for the war’s massive failures.
Let’s be clear - they are pathologizing a body size. It doesn’t matter if they say that we need to seek solutions environmentally instead of at the individual level, or if they say that we should have “compassion” for fat people – they are still telling people that is is not ok to exist in fat bodies and that they should see fat bodies as a threat to America. There are tons of thin people who eat unhealthy foods and are sedentary (which is completely their right), but as far as the government is concerned, as long as you are thin you’re part of the “solution,” feel free to do whatever you want. They want people to look at me (and you, if you’re fat) and think “She is part of a catastrophe. She is threatening almost every aspect of our lives. The first step toward ending the damage is learning how to fight back against her.”
I say that if they want a war, I will damn well give them one.
Lets imagine for a moment, a nation in which all fat, obese, super obese, sort-of-overweight people, and generally dissatisfied folks, agreed that obesity is the problem plaguing our nation and deserves to be eradicated. What exactly would that look like?
• Would there be an economic cut-off point for those who were affected by the anti-obesity measures?: Imagine someone like Rush Limbaugh, being told by the government or his employer that he is required to eat 1,200 calories per day and exercise a minimum of 30 minutes each day until he reaches his ideal weight. Or perhaps imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger (since technically he is obese). Do you think people would have faith in a governor of a state who is not even allowed to choose whether he gets to have a snack or not?
• Would there be racial considerations?: Would the government provide exactly the same anti-obesity measures to African-Americans? Mexican-Americans? African-Americans? Would the poor receive the same health care as the rich? Obviously anti-obesity is ONLY relative to health, so clearly we would have to have government provided health care. Would senators receive the same Anti-Obesity health care as welfare recipients?
• Would we allow genetic manipulation?: If we could guarantee genetically that a child would never be fat, would we take those steps in-utero? Would we abort a child who had the potential to become fat? Would we accept austerity measures and sterilize anyone who has not conquered their obesity by a certain reproductive age? Would sterilization be equal among men and women?
(…) Have we really stopped to ask ourselves, exactly what the “Obesity Epidemic” people want? Some may say “personal responsibility!!” because fat is clearly a personal choice. But have we stopped to ask ourselves exactly what that “personal responsibility” entails? Who is going to enforce this personal responsibility? Our employers? Senators? The President? Who? Who exactly will be subject to the enforcement of personal responsibility? And if we’re talking about responsibility without enforcement, then we should be asking ourselves what cost this propaganda has. If there is no measure to back up this hysteria, then these articles are just inflammatory. They encourage hatred and violence towards a specific group of people. Why is that okay?
On the Weight of the Nation website, the CDC calls its new hatefest “an unprecedented public health campaign.” Really? Let me list on my pudgy fingers a few of the more obvious public health campaigns attempting to herd us around this same mulberry bush:
• 1956: President Eisenhower establishes the President’s Council on Youth Fitness in response to fears that Americans are getting “soft.” The program celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2006, when people were still “soft.”
• 1994: The National Institutes of Health establishes WIN, the Weight-control Information Network. Because being fat is caused by lack of information.
• 1994: U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop launches “Shape Up America!” Eighteen years later, his campaign’s budget is in great shape.
• 2003: The CDC launches a $125 million anti-“obesity” ad campaign called “Verb, it’s what you do.” Because fat children, who are too stupid to understand nutrition labels, must surely obey the rules of grammar.
• 2010: Michelle Obama says, “Let’s Move!” That’s code for “solving the problem of obesity within a generation.” Creepy! Also, given the track record of previous campaigns, she’s smart to set a deadline long after anyone will hold her accountable.
This list doesn’t include the plentiful state and local efforts to eradicate fat people. Clearly, for at least the past 60 years, fat people have not been welcome in America. Officially. The weight blame goes either to fat people personally, to the environment, or both. Either way, two-thirds of us (and at least a fifth of our children) aren’t welcome here. Though unwelcome, we’re sure useful as easy targets.