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The Case for discussing Thin Privilege

September 25, 2009

Cross posted from the comments at WATRD. (I know, I should not go back there. I fail.)

Look, you simply cannot talk about how one group is discriminated against without talking about how another group receives inherent privilege. You can’t unpack the nature of the discrimination without it sometimes coming up. It would be like trying to paint a painting with only shadows, never highlighting the bright points. Privilege is what happens when one group is discriminated against, it means that another group receives inherent benefits from NOT being discriminated against. It is a yin yang thing.

I totally get that being told to check your privilege feels like an attack. I feel wounded every time I have to check my white privilege or my cis gendered privilege or even my Tall well educated upper middle class privilege. It’s hard to acknowledge these inherent benefits you have because you feel GUILTY AS HELL. (Or at least I do)

But to just say we can’t talk about it because it is “Othering”? ORLY? Is it as “Othering” as say, people not sitting next to you on the bus? Or not getting jobs/ Or being called lazy? Being told you smell even when you dont? Being told to go to the gym? Not getting adequate medical care?

The fact is, it is othering, it is supposed to be, the point is for people who have privilege, for whatever reason, to take that opportunity and realize how while what they are saying may be valid in their experience, it comes from a place where they haven’t had to deal with the same damaging behaviors (See above) as the group they are discussing.

That is not to say that they don’t deal with ANY damaging behaviors. Just not the SAME ones.

If you find yourself reading this just trying to come up with more ways of proving that you’re right, then you aren’t learning. You are trying to find a way to defend your own ideas that you’re always right, or that you know a lot and other people don’t, or that you should never have to feel bad or guilty ever, or for whatever reason. It’s okay to be wrong sometimes, it is NOT okay to refuse to admit it. (Does that sound as patronizing as point #7?)

Updated: Spell Check FTW.

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22 Comments
  1. Dammit. Now I’ve gone and read through that whole fucking thread, and my brains are longing to jump out of my ears and splatter on the floor.

    I much prefer my “walled garden,” thankyouveryfuckingmuch. There’s less insistence that polite discourse must make space for jackholes spewing shit that contributes to the very problem they allege to be working against.

    On the upside, I learned that I can apparently lose weight via diet and exercise! AMAZING.

  2. Sorry! I did not mean to in anyway encourage the reading of that thread. I owe you a drink.
    I only actually read about a quarter of it, it was just too painful.

    Hey did you know that if your calories in is less than calories out you’ll lose weight? It’s like magic!

  3. Bah, not your fault – I knew what a shitstorm that joint was. Sometimes I just like looking into the abyss. Reminds me why it’s so cozy far, far away in my close-minded echo chamber where nobody ever challenges my thinking ever, and I just rub my nipples all day with my wrongheaded masturbatory nonstop reminders of how I’m totally brilliant and everything I think is right.

    Also, diets don’t work, but Lifestyle Changes DO!!!

  4. krismcn permalink

    Actually, I’m glad you posted about it over here, it creates space to blow off some steam without being accused of attacking their special snowflakeness. It’s a History-of-social-justice-movements-free-zone dammit, and proud of it!

    Also, if you just STICK with a diet, I mean Lifestyle Changes, they’ll eventually work, you impatient fatasses!

  5. i-geek permalink

    Not clicking the link…I swore off of that place after the whole “Ms. Thin Privilege tells the fatties how to deal” bit. I think they might have deleted my response, too. Not going back to check. I had such high hopes for that site. So disappointed by the results.

    • krismcn permalink

      Yeah, I saw your reply in the email feed and went to the site to see how everyone would respond, but couldn’t find it. But I didn’t see how your reply violated their comment policy. Makes me wonder what other negative comments are being moderated out.

  6. You poor things. But thank you for reading that thread so I don’t have to.

    Unfortunately, too many people (and that includes me from time to time) have trouble sorting out the concept of “having x kind of privilege” with “being better off in every area of life than everyone who doesn’t have x kind of privilege.”) You can have white privilege without having upper-class privilege; you can have male privilege without having straight privilege; you can have able-bodied privilege without having neurotypical privilege. And so on.

    Hell, even within the realm of “not having neurotypical privilege,” there are gradients. I do have the privilege of being able to speak for myself and be able to describe to a health care practitioner exactly what’s going on with me and what I need from them. A lot of autistic people lack either or both of those privileges. It meant I could rush off to an emergency trip to the dentist today without worrying that the dentist wouldn’t know why I was there.

    And having under-size-24 privilege, despite being a fatass, meant I could fit in the dentist’s chair, too.

  7. Just don’t forget to live your life to the fullest you guys! Since obviously you are forgetting that, or you’d already have decided to be a barbie like me!

  8. I don’t even dare post over there. Well, not ‘dare’, I suppose, as in I’m a coward or something, more like I don’t have the cranial fortitude to bang my head against *that* brick wall. I swear, she’s just *not* going to get it, is she? She’s got like two dozen Zen masters throwing her out windows right and left and just *will* not come to enlightenment. I’m starting to think she is physically incapable of getting it because either a) she’s crazy narcissistic and simply cannot understand that it’s NOT actually a personal insult to be told you have privilege of some sort, or b) she’s stuck in one of those early stages of empathy or whatever it’s called and cannot at this time conceive that her point of view is not universal.

    Also? Can I just say how goddamned *sick* I am of this whole ‘I’m REAL! I love CONTROVERSY! I’m EDGY!!! I’m not afraid to TELL it like it IS!!!!’ crap. Seriously, it wasn’t new or hip or particularly edgy sophomore year of art school, it’s not edgy now.

    Thank you very very much for giving room to vent here. I’m mostly a lurker round the feminist/FA blog-o-sphere these days, but I really needed to get that off my chest!

  9. Synna permalink

    /sigh of relief.

    Thanks for the sane discussion! I know I should stop going to WATRD too, but its like an accident happening in slow motion, and I just get sucked in sometimes. At least there are many bloggers who do get privilege and how it works in all its intersecting ways.

  10. Sniper permalink

    God. They are so not the real deal.

  11. Nice response! Personally I’m just telling everyone I’m not going back there, accidentally *ahem* check it out and then rant in the direction of my monitor for half an hour. I think your way is much better.

  12. Entangled permalink

    Argh. I half typed up a comment over there, but then realized I might end up reading the comments and I used up my sanity points on a Bill Maher rerun last night.

    The sum of my comment is that I am thin (at least outside of the modeling world version) and I get privileges from this and it pisses me off. I can understand why people who are going through tremendous amounts of self-induced suffering for their thinness don’t want to be told that they aren’t wholly entitled to the privileges they’re getting from it, but people who aren’t naturally thin shouldn’t have to starve their bodies in order to be treated like respected human beings. The fact that we reserve parts of that treatment to people who look a certain way is really creepy.

    I was also going to talk about how thin privilege is kind of terrifying for thin people – this fear that all these great things could be taken away if thyroid disease, or weight gaining medication, or being bedridden from an accident happens. (I don’t believe the calories in/out hypothesis, so I leave it out of the argument for simplicity’s sake.) My body seems very resistant to gaining (or losing, for that matter, which bothered me more in the days when I thought I wasn’t thin enough) and yet I spend at least a few minutes a day in terror of it. Is this a good thing? No. I was quite glad to see it pointed out how twisted it is.

    (then I started to think about how people would probably take me more seriously for saying this as a thin person and realized that was privilege too and got creeped out and didn’t want to deal with that especially not from dieters. but really this comment is poorly worded and fragments i keep editing without making any sense so that should have more bearing than how I look)

  13. Sniper permalink

    I was also going to talk about how thin privilege is kind of terrifying for thin people – this fear that all these great things could be taken away if thyroid disease, or weight gaining medication, or being bedridden from an accident happens

    I think you’ve hit on it, entangled. There are also thin people who think that if they stopped rigidly controlling their food and activity levels they’d gain hundreds of pounds. These are often the same people who think that the small weight fluctuations they experience (gaining a few pounds over the holidays or when work is crazy) have some relation to the experience of actual fat people. As someone who’s experienced a lot of health weirdness, I can understand the fear of one’s body going out of control. Hey, without that fear, there’d be no Cronenberg movies! What drives me crazy is taking out that fear on the fat (or the disabled, for that matter).

    You’re also quite right that as a thin person you would be taken more seriously, and that does, indeed, suck.

  14. Zenoodle permalink

    This is the first time I’ve been to this blog (popped over from SP), but I’m really enjoying it *even though* you went and made me go back there to WATRD! 😦 Some numpty commenting ‘oh I’m so sick of privilege blah blah but I can’t be bothered to look it up or find out what it means or understand how it’s used because I have magically decreed it doesn’t exist blah blah’ was enough for me… wagh! Thank goodness for spaces like !

    Also, Entangled, I think you really hit the nail on the head there. Incidentally I’m also ‘thin outside of modelling land’ and am also appalled by what thin privilege does to people… I’m trying really hard to get better at calling people out on it in my ‘real’ life, but it’s hard because I’m worried I’ll botch it and misrepresent, and then make things worse. But I’m resolving to keep trying!

  15. emmy permalink

    Oh, God. I read the WATRD post. What a stunning display of Not Getting It. I’m grateful to have seen some familiar names from the Sphere fighting the good fight. Some days I just don’t have the energy to argue about it, so thank you to those who do.

  16. Lillian permalink

    I exercised a lot and lost a bit of mass about 10 kilos. I got tired of working out an hour or more a day and regained the same mass. I’m now overweight by BMI and without the 10 kilos I was normal weight. I lost my ‘thin privilege’. I used to get envious looks when I ate quote fatting food like cake or ice cream. Now, that I’m heavier, I don’t get those looks.

    Still, I know that my weight is stable again and I could lose that mass again if I returned to exercising vigorously. I miss the looks I got when I was thin. I dislike knowing that I could be thin again if I exercised more since I don’t want to put in the effort. Part of me doesn’t think it’s worth the effort or I would be making the effort.

  17. Trust me Lillian, if you are just “overweight” you have a lot ore thin privelege than a lot of people here. I personally qualify as Moribdly obese, and I would have to lose over 100 pounds to be considered of normal wieght. Not only do I NOT get envious looks, I get “WTF is that fat bitch doing eating food, doesn’t she know if she’d stop eating she’d be thin” looks.

  18. Lillian permalink

    I’m twenty pounds overweight currently by BMI. Our world sees things as thin or fat. I’ve had so many looks of disgust. I’ve been called fat, ugly chick from moving cars, trucks. I’ve had boys curse me for being fat. I was called horrible things by doctors, family members, so called friends and I wasn’t even overweight by BMI at the time. I no longer get why is that fat bitch eating food even from a date once, but I’m no longer twenty either. Believe me, I got that when I was quote ‘normal weight’.

    The yelling from cars, etc, hasn’t happen in years and not because I didn’t get fatter. I did. I always had jobs that kept me on my feet. My weight was a stable 135 until I was fired and had to go on disability in 2001. It’s now 154. I got it down for a little more than a year through exercising but I just don’t feel like putting in that much effort.

    The worse insults that I got for being fat was during my late teens and early twenties and my BMI was in the normal range whole time even using today’s definition. Being just overweight, doesn’t give you ‘thin privilege’ because people only see two colors fat or thin and overweight isn’t thin. I hate to rant, but we know it’s true by the way the media tears so celebrities apart for gaining 5 pounds.

  19. Synna permalink

    Lillian,

    I see thin privilege as existing on a sliding scale, not as an absolute.

  20. Thank you for fighting the good fight. If folks are at the point where they are still very much attached to their privilege, it’s a whole a lot of hot mess. It’s sad, really, because as they demand the right to cling to their privilege they do not understand how their unwillingness to unpack their priv hurts them too.

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