Thin Fragility: When Thin Privilege is Threatened by the #Fatpositive Movement

As a Health at Every Size advocate, I often post about issues related to this on social media. Most of the time, my posts are met with comments of support and gratitude. While I do ground my information in research and experience, I’m also thin. 

I have noticed a different set of comments for #fatpositive accounts that share photos of larger bodies. Unfortunately, folks with larger bodies receive ridiculing comments like, “It’s not fat shaming, we are just worried about your health.” Sadly, there are way worse comments than this. It’s horrific, demeaning, and fatphobic. And guess what? A lot of #fatpositive accounts are also grounded in research and experience, just like mine. Yet, we receive different feedback, likely because of the way we look.

Thin Privilege

This is just one of the many examples of thin privilege. I can post what I want on social media without feeling threatened. I can buy clothes without being worried that the store won’t have my size. Further, I can sit on a chair without stressing that I won’t fit or that I’ll break it. Lastly, I can go to the doctor without being shamed.

Recently, I shared a series of videos on Instagram to explain the vision for my new space: Current Wellness, and ask for feedback. I mentioned that The Current’s goal is to improve physical and mental health, while not pushing weight loss or an “ideal” body type. (Because doing so might be more harmful to one’s health than having a higher weight). 

From this video, I had a conversation with some folks interested in learning more about why I do not promote weight loss. But “people want to lose weight and need to lose weight,” they said. There was a lot of back and forth. I explained the research behind Health at Every Size and why our cultural obsession with weight loss is not only ineffective, but also harmful. 

Some responses said that they had never experienced a gym or studio pressure them to lose weight. Well of course they haven’t, because they are thin! This is yet another example of thin privilege. People assume that thin people are healthy. 

Thin Fragility 

So, as I mentioned thin privilege in conversation, this was one response I received:

“I’m thin because I make healthy choices and am active every single day. We all wake up with choices.”

Anonymous

This feels a lot like what I’ve come to think of as “thin fragility.” I haven’t seen this term used before, but it makes sense to me, given the privileges that I mentioned previously. 

To flush out this concept of thin fragility, let me introduce you to the idea of white fragility using Robin DiAngelo’s definition, if you aren’t familiar with this term:

“White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium.”

White fragility can occur when a white person is confronted about their white privilege. Sometimes, white people have a difficult time acknowledging that they are more likely to get a job interview because of their skin tone. Let me be clear, it doesn’t mean that they didn’t work hard to get a job or deserve their job, it just means they didn’t have an extra barrier such as racial bias. 

I believe thin fragility is similar in that some thin people are not tolerant to handle conversations around weight stigma. (Which I can relate to since this is a new and sensitive topic). And when “Health at Every Size” is even mentioned, thin power feels threatened. Thoughts might include, “I work my butt off everyday to be thin.” “I eat in moderation and gave up sweets for my health. People who are overweight must be overeating.” 

The Health at Every Size paradigm threatens the notion that thin = healthy. It says that you aren’t “better” or necessarily “healthier” by being thin. It threatens power, status, and worth. All things that privileged people must forgo and untangle in order to move towards a more just world. 

We must separate weight and health. We must also separate weight and worth. Humans are way more than their bodies. What if we focused this energy on being a kind person instead? 

Does this mean you should stop going to the gym? No! (Well, only if you want to). Exercising is an amazing behavior that promotes health and I’m not suggesting that we stop. I’m suggesting that we accept that 1) if we eat intuitively and are relatively active, our body will settle into its normal weight and 2) body diversity exists. More than 75% of our shape and size is determined by genetics and other social determinants of health outside of our control. And the more we try to manipulate our bodies to be something they’re not meant to be, the greater we are at risk for negative health outcomes- both physical and mental health.

“We all wake up with choices”

Lastly, this idea of, “we all wake up with choices” is troubling given that everyone wakes up with a different set of choices and options available to them. For example, someone who works multiple jobs to be able to put food on the table does not have the same amount of choices to use their time to workout or attend to other personal needs. Choices look very different when we begin to investigate the economic and social conditions different people live under. Exercise is a luxury.

Socioeconomic status privilege. White privilege. Thin privilege. These are all examples of societal privileges that we must challenge ourselves to talk about, instead of putting up a wall of fragility. We can’t achieve an equitable society if we do not acknowledge such privileges. 

Feeling uncomfortable reading this blog post? Me too. We’ve got to get comfortable being uncomfortable. If you have thin privilege, it does not make you a bad person. Not acknowledging it, though, is missing the point. Am I saying I have it all figured out? Absolutely not. But, I am working through the discomfort of my thin privilege to offer a better solution to those stigmatized. Please join me and share this post. 

4 thoughts on “Thin Fragility: When Thin Privilege is Threatened by the #Fatpositive Movement

  1. This is a really powerful topic, and one that has a LOT of emotions attached: pride, shame, righteousness. The “necessity” to be thin in order to be loved, valued, respected, liked, attractive and accepted has been part of not just American culture, but world culture for a very long time. I don’t know what caused the pivot away from valuing the zaftig body type; it may have been Twiggy and the culture emerging during the 60s. Per your point, though, there is not one singular body type that equals health and wellness. My mother was 5’9″ and never weighed over 135 pounds. By contrast, I felt like an elephant. But I could run a half marathon, and her forearm snapped in two when she lifted the vacuum. (True story). Yet in her eyes, I was not healthy. I felt shame, disapproval, self consciousness, embarrassment, and less than worthy of her love. Her dying words to me were “You look thinner.”

    I am really glad this conversation is taking place and while uncomfortable because all those emotions are just below the surface, I am hopeful. For myself, my daughter, my son (yes, men struggle with body image, also!) and our greater society, it would be a true revolution if we began judging beauty by things like kindness.

    I, for one, am staying tuned.

    Thanks for tackling this, Brit, and for doing it from multiple perspectives.

    1. Lori! Thank you so so much for your words. Your story is powerful and one that needs to be heard. Sadly, your story is not rare. I say that, not to take away from your story, but to let you know that you are not alone. (Which I know you know). Society is drowning in this obsession to be thin. So much so that it can be a barrier between parent and child. So much so that 1 in 4 dieters develop an eating disorder. And yes, we need an overhaul.

      I’m hopeful that moments like this- sharing your story on a blog post- will add up. Let’s keep fighting. xo

  2. In 2015, Jes Baker wrote a piece about why people seem to hate happy fat women that seems relevant. You can read the whole thing here: http://www.themilitantbaker.com/2015/01/why-people-hate-tess-munster-and-other.html?m=1

    But this passage in which she deconstructs “body currency” (with some less relevant parts taken out for the sake of brevity) particularly stands out for me.

    “It goes something like this: we are taught as a society that IF we achieve the ideal body that we see in traditional media (and not before) we will then obtain love, worthiness, success and, ultimately, happiness. Which is what we all want, right?

    Because the vast majority of our culture buys into this, we have millions upon millions of people investing everything they have into achieving this ultimate goal. The goal being thinness, which obviously equals happiness, remember? SO, they spend their lives in a perpetual state of self-loathing (it’s called inspiration!) while working their asses off to become that ideal. We, as Americans, sink billions of dollars into beauty products every year. Between the millions of us on diets, we gift the weight loss industry and other weight loss products over $60 billion dollars as well. Perhaps we starve ourselves or maybe we just fixate on our calorie count like it determines our salvation. Maybe we make the gym our god. Whatever we choose individually, we as a country have made ‘fixing our bodies’ our main obsession and we let it consume our life. This happens for most of us whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.

    So THEN, after all of this, when a fat chick who hasn’t done the work, who hasn’t tried to fix her body, who doesn’t have any interest in the gospel we so zealously believe in, stands up and says, ‘I’M HAPPY!’ …we freak the f**k out.

    Because: that b***h just broke the rules. She just cut in front of us in line. She just unwittingly ripped us off. And she essentially made our lifetime of work totally meaningless.

    It’s kind of like investing everything you own in some sort of stock and instead of its worth increasing, you’re notified that its value is now the same as Monopoly money. All of a sudden, your investments (aka “Body Currency”) have the devastating value of: zero.

    1. Wow. wow. wow. yes. yes. yes. These are such incredible analogies that really help bring this topic to life. You take away the worth, you take away the privilege. Let’s break down thin privilege so that all bodies become powerful in their own right. Every body deserves affirmation, respect, and love. Really inspired by our conversations, Kim! xo

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