Last fall, Melissa Fabello posted a piece about thin privilege. It had a meme that caught my eye; two women, one thin the other fat, with assumptions about them based on their size written on their naked bodies. I thought the piece was great and reposted it. Only afterward did I wonder how the assumptions would have been different if meme and author were people of color. I reached out to the author on twitter for her thoughts, but got no response so I left it until now.
As this article was circulating again this spring, Dr. Linda Bacon, one of the more prominent pioneers for Health at Every Size® (HAES), reposted it along with another article she adapted from a speech she gave to the National Association for the Advancement of Fat Acceptance (NAAFA). Dr. Bacon was speaking from her own experiences of thin privilege. She listed things that are different in her own life:
- “Because of thin privilege, I had a larger dating pool, which made it easier for me to find the incredibly wonderful and supportive partner that I have.
- Because of thin privilege, I have had easier access to meeting and gaining approval from other people socially, some of whom have provided career opportunities for me.
- Because of thin privilege, I can go into a clothing store, get treated with respect, and have a larger choice of fashions and at cheaper price than fatter people.
- Because of thin privilege, I can be assured of only having to pay for one airline seat, making travel and its accompanying opportunities much more accessible to me.
- Because of thin privilege, I have developed a platform and persona that resulted in being asked to speak to you today.”
When I read her list, my first response was, “Absolutely” my second response was “because you’re thin…and white.” I then wondered if there was another thin person of color, like me, in the room and how they felt about that list. Was there anyone in the room at the NAAFA conference who, like myself, has walked into a clothing store and been asked to leave their bag at the door only to find other white shoppers with their bags? Was there anyone in the room who has been followed around a store to ensure payment for desired items, as I have? I wondered how it would have felt to listen to that speech as a fat person of color, and reflect on the ability to find a loving and supportive partner in a culture of thin privilege and white supremacy. Was there anyone in the room who needed to buy two airplane tickets to travel and experience a public hair pat-down by TSA, as I have, because they wore their hair naturally? Did anyone in the room wonder about the way that thin privilege intersects with other identities? Thin privilege definitely makes life easier for me, for Dr. Bacon, and many others, I am not questioning that. To fully address fat oppression in our society, though, I believe the conversation needs be broadened from the one-dimensional topic I have found it to be.
Some people may tell me I’m complicating the issue by adding topics like race to the mix. Yet, if I don’t “muddy the waters” about this then thin privilege and HAES will continue to come from a white narrative, and remain stagnant. By broadening the conversation, discussing what we know and more importantly what we don’t know, we can begin to notice the gaps and work to move the conversation forward.
While walking with a colleague of mine and telling her about this piece she asked me, “Do you think that [those authors] are able to write about thin privilege because they’re white?” She went on to explain that they won’t ever be judged as people who “complain about everything” as underrepresented groups discussing oppression often are. These white authors are better able to stick to a single issue of oppression, she said, and are therefore better able to be heard regarding the topic. This possibility broke my brain for a second, but also made a lot of sense. I had not thought to apply access to a conversation.
I’m glad the conversation was started by those authors, but let’s not let it end there; there are other chapters to this book. Let’s begin learning how thin privilege and fat oppression present to people of color and people with intersecting identities. A colleague and I have started a monthly conversation, currently focused on anti-racism work in the context of the HAES model. I’m excited to be part of the process to make the HAES movement more inclusive. Another opportunity to hear more about this presents at a 1-day event on October 25th in Oakland CA, where I will moderate a panel of diverse individuals discussing their experiences with weight stigma. I also hope to return to the thin privilege article by Ms. Fabello and recreate the meme of assumptions with bodies of all shapes, colors, abilities, and gender identities showing where we all intersect and where we don’t.
Jessica Wilson, MS RD is the owner of My Kitchen Dietitian, LLC, a dietetic practice devoted to the HAES® principles. She sees private clients in the San Francisco Bay Area, and has expertise in helping those healing from chronic dieting, and eating disorders.