Let’s play a game. Go to the store and look through the magazine section. Pick a magazine with a woman on the front cover. What does she look like? Is she beautiful? What is she wearing? Is she thin?
In the past decade, a movement was sparked; one calling for body positivity. This movement has been praised by people of an unconventional shape or those considered to be overweight as a source of empowerment and normalizing different body types. It has also been criticized for glamourizing certain body types and lifestyles perceived to be unhealthy.
The body positivity movement has grown quickly, especially in the past few years and especially through the use of social media. This movement is massive and largely encompassing of all body types, meaning sometimes things can get a little grey, and messy. That being said, here we go:
Thin people retain a certain amount of privilege because of their body type. Obviously, other intersections need to be taken into account (race, class, gender, etc.), but for the sake of discussion and education, people who are thin have privilege. Now, Cait, what does this mean? How much privilege really comes with being thin? And why are you shaming me for my body type?
Wonderful questions! First of all, let’s get this out of the way: I am not shaming you for your body type. I am not shaming anyone for their body type. I am simply explaining that people who are thin maintain privilege based on that. Having that privilege does not make you a bad person, or make it your fault. It simply means that it’s something you should be aware of when discussing your experiences within the body positivity movement.
A simple google search of the world privilege will yield this definition: “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted to available only to a particular person or group of people.” This concept, in the case of this article, will be discussed in regard to thinness. Encompassed in this privilege are little things that probably don’t think twice about. For example, you are probably able to buy your clothing locally and at a reasonable price, and you can probably eat whatever you want in public without others judging you for it.
I’ve seen and heard many discussions where people who are fat are describing their experiences and someone who is thin chimes in to empathize with stories about how they were bullied and told to “eat a sandwich.” While it is not okay to make fun of someone for their body, this comment is much different than a fat person being told to “lose some weight.” Why the double standard, you may ask? Because fatphobia is wildly present in our society and many others. And moreover, it is systematic.
Fat people experience extreme discrimination across many different facets. Studies have shown that fat people are less likely to get hired, less likely to get married, make less money per year, etc. The difference is vastly institutionalized and even more so, heavily ingrained in our language. People who are fat are constantly dehumanized and played for laughs, even by those close to them.
According to Deborah Rhode: “in multiple surveys, close to 90 percent of obese individuals reported humiliating comments from friends, family, or coworkers.” Because there is such a systematic and pervasive bias towards fat people, the insults geared towards body weight take on a different meaning than when directed at thin individuals.
With fatphobia ingrained in everyday conversation and “comedy,” and the prevalent discrimination fat people face in our society, the body positivity movement is more than just a feel-good revolution. This movement also stands as a social movement, created to challenge preconceived notions, problematic behavior, and alter the idea of what it means to be beautiful.
Now, what does this have to do with thin people? Until recent years, plus-sized individuals have received little to no representation celebrating their body or even normalizing their body type, while thin people have had this luxury for many years. Skinny shaming isn’t as problematic because it does not affect one’s employment or the way in which people view them (i.e. lazy). If people who are thin want to feel good about their body, they can look at basically any magazine cover, or on any televised advertisement.
I’m not insinuating that people who are thin do not also struggle with being comfortable in their skin. I’m simply stating that people’s biases towards fat people run much deeper and there are many struggles that come with it that aren’t discussed. Thinness has a definite place in the body positivity movement, as long as there is an acknowledgment of the privilege that comes with it.
Everyone exists in a physical entity, and as such, we have to find some sort of comfort in it. And certain institutions make this harder for certain body types than others. This movement is encompassing of all body types. So celebrate your body, and be body positive, as long as you’re cognizant of the root of the problem.
Love yourself, but be mindful; ensure you’re not actively or unconsciously taking safe spaces and conversations away from the stories and experiences of those who have been hurt by systematic and casual fatphobia. Advocating doesn’t end with conventionality. Be aware, listen, and inform.