Thin Privilege Explained
The Slut Show is back with a brand new 6th season! Kicking off the season – alongside host Ellen Moore, is business owner, body acceptance guru and queen of self-love: Jolieke Bak. They’ll dive into Jolieke’s struggles with both body image and self-confidence and how she – a fat person in a diet obsessed world – learned to love herself. This week’s Slutty Science discusses Thin Privilege: what it is, what it isn't and how it impacts the lives of those who lack this type privilege.
Please note: this article contains information about eating disorders, fatphobia and discrimination of fat people, which may be triggering for some readers.
Privilege can be defined as an advantage (or benefit) a person (or group) has over another person (or group). The majority of privileges are gained at birth. Privilege can be the result of the color of your skin, what genitals are in your pants, the socio-economic situation your caretakers find themselves in and even the geographical location in which you came out of the womb.
White people have privileges over people of color, men have privileges over women, cis-gender individuals have privileges over transgender individuals, heterosexual people have privileges over non-heterosexual people, neurotypical individuals have privileges over neurodivergent individuals and similarly religion, ability, education, geo-location, economics and class can also grant you privileges.
Privileges can have enormous and detrimental consequences, think about the disproportionate amounts of police violence people of color face, in comparison to their white counterparts. Privileges can also have legal repercussions, think about the extensive list of countries in which any and all sexualities which diverge from heterosexuality are illegal and how those - who continue to love who they want to love - risk prison sentences or in some countries even death penalty.
In conclusion, privileges give one party something beneficial, at the cost of another party. Although privilege isn’t something you choose to have, how you deal with your privilege is very much a choice. For that reason today we will be doing a deep dive into one of the privileges Slut Show host Ellen has and how this privilege influences the lives of people who don't have it.
Time to talk about thin privilege.
Thin privilege refers to the benefits thin people have, as a result of prejudices directed at fat people. These benefits thinness grants you are almost exclusively unearned, because although the media often wrongfully suggests that the size of your body is a modifiable choice, research has proven the opposite is true. Thin privilege grants benefits to thin people as a reward for conforming to prevailing “beauty” ideals. It is the combination of those benefits and not getting systematically discriminated against - merely because you’re thin, which we refer to as thin privilege. As with all privileges, thin privilege too comes at a cost, often resulting in a myriad of disadvantages for bigger people.
Clothing & shopping
For starters, thin people are able to shop wherever their skinny hearts desire, while plus-size clothing is often sold exclusively online. By making such a choice as a retailer, you send a message to fat people saying: ‘Yes, please do give us your money, but keep your fat bodies out of our stores.’
Those retailers which do sell plus-size clothing in stores often extend their sizing only to a very limited maximum in-store size, selling their biggest sizes exclusively online or not selling bigger sizes at all. Continuing to exclude and marginalize fat people.
Besides that, research indicates that people in larger bodies face stigma in their professional lives, where they’re more likely to be considered as “less employable,” directly and negatively impacting their chances at landing a job.
Although men in bigger bodies also face consequences - as a result of thin privilege - it is women in bigger bodies who face even more consequences, thanks to societal expectations women are forced to adhere to. Such beliefs regarding women’s appearances are inherently more rigid than the ideas we have about the appearances of men, as a result of male privilege, misogyny and the undeniable impact of the patriarchy.
Healthcare & medical bias
Furthermore, a plethora of studies have shown that living in a bigger body can have detrimental consequences on the quality of healthcare individuals receive, due to a striking prevalence of weight bias - present in many (if not most) healthcare disciplines. Such bias is thought to increase the likelihood of misdiagnosis amongst fat people, which can result in life-threatening consequences.
‘But being fat is just unhealthy!’
Well… Fat does not actually equal unhealthy and, similarly, skinny doesn’t equal healthy. Whether or not somebody is healthy is dependent upon such an immense variety of different factors. In fact, simplifying somebody's health into one's BMI (or the number on the scale) is not only unreasonable, but more importantly: not at all a good measure for health. ‘The BMI takes no actual health factors into account. It can’t tell you anything about your blood pressure, glucose levels, hormones, metabolism, strength, stamina, bone density, cholesterol, immunity or cellular respiration’ (Dooner 2019) and without such information it is impossible to determine whether somebody is healthy or not.
Besides that, studies have shown that it is those individuals who are chronically inactive whose risk for mortality increases, concluding that the classifications ‘overweight’ and / or ‘obese’ did not influence that mortality risk. So if you really can not keep your unnecessary and unwanted opinions about somebody else's health to yourself, then at least give them beneficial advice and tell them to move, instead of telling them to lose weight. But please don’t? Nobody asked.
The whole conversation about health is debatable to begin with. Health is such a comprehensive concept, many individuals forget to take into consideration the pivotal role mental health plays in defining one's health. In addition, it is essential not to underestimate the major role societal influences play in the lives of young people - particularly women - and the extreme measures not adhering to those standards may lead to.
Since the earliest days of news coverage countless scientists (e.g. Billard 2016; Li 2019; Shohat, E and Stam, R 1994;) have emphasized the importance of accurate representation of marginalized groups in the media. However, with an incredibly harmful yet continuous portrayal of fat bodies as temporary versions of some day thin individuals and the incessant use of skinny actors in fat suits replacing fat actors - in both television and film - we still have a long way to go.
Especially when taking into consideration the evidence suggesting a causal link between the development of weight related disorders and ‘dieting, media use, body image dissatisfaction and weight-related teasing.’ For this reason, a lack of quantitatively appropriate and qualitatively satisfactory media representation may thus well lead to negative consequences regarding both self-confidence and self-image.
Taking into account how low-esteem acts as a universal risk factor for the development of eating disorders, poor media representation and the internalization of such narratives by fat people, could therefore be considered to be a - if not THE leading - contributory factor to putting fat people at an increased risk of developing eating disorders.
And to worsen the matter, eating disorders amongst fat people often go unrecognized and untreated for longer, as a result of the previously mentioned medical biases fat people face.
All of these stigmas, prejudices, inaccuracies and degrading attitudes regarding weight also have an enormous impact on young girls. Studies looking into pre-school girls and the concerns they hold regarding their weight, show 60.3% of fourth-grade girls want to be skinnier. In spite of countless research confirming the correlation between restrictive eating - amongst preadolescents - and both physical and cognitive problems, staggering numbers of pre-school girls engage in such behavior. Amongst pre-school girls 45% of third graders, 80% of fourth and fifth graders and 65% of sixth graders restrained eating and even purging was reported by 10% of nine- and ten-year-olds.
In conclusion, bigger people are marginalized and systematically discriminated against and the consequences that derive from these attitudes are detrimental. In a society which has been proven to be anti-fat, time and again, discriminating against bigger people in all domains of life, be it medically, professionally or privately - when shopping for clothes or trying to fit into a bus seat - it is of vital importance to change the current discourse regarding fatness.
Thin privilege goes hand in hand with anti-fatness and the significant interference with critical domains of people's lives these phenomena result in, bring us to the conclusion that anti-fatness is a societal issue and moreover, a prime example of social injustice.
The argument that you ‘want people to be healthy’ is quite frankly a preposterous one, because although -those making such claims are continuously putting the health of fat people up for debate, they're simultaneously applauding skinny people who haven’t been active in years for their thinness, they let smokers light their cigarettes and let alcohol consumers drink their drug. This is not about health. This is a matter of double standards, which are the result of the demonizing, devious and intrusive manners in which fat people are dehumanized - every single day.
Every person, regardless of the color of their skin, the size of their body, the gender they identify with or the people they choose to love deserves - and needs - access to decent medical care and freedom of systematic discrimination. So, if your fight for equality does not include fat people - quite frankly it isn’t feminism, nor equality.
Interested in hearing more? Check out the full episode of The Slut Show on your favorite podcast platform, by clicking here! Or head over to our Instagram @TheSlutShowWithEllenMoore for your daily dose of intersectional feminism. Want to send in questions for our mail-segment? Want to be on the show yourself? Know someone who should or want to request an episode about a particular subject? Don’t be a stranger. Our DM’s are always open ❤
We hope to see you on our socials and for now, sluts out!
Lots of love,
The slut show is about way more than sex. It is about breaking taboos, asking questions and fucking the patriarchy, by having real, raw, uncensored and heartfelt conversations about topics that matter. In a safe space we aim to make room for the voices of marginalized folks, creating a place to listen to the pain, sorrow, hopes and dreams of those who came before us. Found in & by intersectional feminism, we believe that everybody should have the same opportunities and get treated equally - regardless of the color of their skin, the size of their body, the gender they identify with or the people they choose to love. Let it be known that the feminism we know today rests upon the foundation black, indigenous, people of color & the queer community built for us. May the battles they fought and the struggles they overcame keep the raging fire in our hearts alive, to make sure that they - nor their legacy - will ever be forgotten.
Editor's note: 'We use the term fat (among others) to describe Jolieke her size. We do so - not only upon her request, but more importantly because we find it of crucial importance to destigmatize this word, by using it the way it was meant: to describe a size - free of judgement.'
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