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.
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.
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.