Thin privilege is a term used to describe the advantages and benefits that come with being thin. The thought is that it is generally easier to be thin and accepted in our society. There is some debate of whether thin privilege exists.
Eighteen years ago I would have passionately debated my stance that it was just as hard to be too skinny as it was to be overweight. In fact, I did argue it, often. Thin privilege? No way, I was underweight and I had no special treatment. And I truly believed it.
Until I was 23 and started having kids, my scale rarely reached over 100 lbs. I was often teased for being so skinny: “Teenie Weenie,” “Skinny Minnie,” and “chicken legs” were some of the most popular names I was called, even teachers chimed in. I was eleven when musician Karen Carpenter died from Anorexia Nervosa and widespread knowledge of the eating disorder had been thrust into the forefront. I became accustomed to overhearing whispers of she must not eat, disapproving stares, and comparisons to Karen Carpenter.
The thing is, I did eat. I ate a lot. I didn’t binge and purge. I could eat most people I knew under the table. Which, naturally, led to some assumptions that I must be bulimic, but it all stayed down. On occasion, concerned friends would even follow me into the bathroom after meals. My mother was very thin. My sister was thin. Even my children now, despite some rather poor eating habits, are also very thin. I was simply thin. Whether it was genetics or a forgiving metabolism or a combination, that’s just the way I was.
I didn’t like it. I always wished I could put on weight and look more normal, more like other kids. I remember seething with jealousy one Christmas when my step sisters and I all got Guess Jeans as a present. Theirs were junior sizes, while mine were still in children sizes, though we were the same age.
My college roommate struggled all her life as the “chubby girl.” By college, she had lost some weight, but was still sensitive about her body, feared gaining it back and harbored a lot of resentment from the teasing that she received growing up. I often argued my point that I had it equally as bad as she did. I was teased, too. I felt different, too. I always wished I could change my body, too. And I truly believed it.
Until I was no longer skinny.
Funny how a different experience can completely change your perspective of what you believe to be true. My metabolism is not quite as kind as it used to be. Unfortunately, twenty plus years of bad eating habits doesn’t help and, turns out, isn’t so easy to break. My babies have stretched out my hips and stomach. My boobs, well, I have boobs now.
Now that I am one of the bigger girls, I’ve seen it from both sides. And I’m here to admit I was wrong.
When I was thin, I never cried in a fitting room. Finding clothes to wear was not a traumatic experience. No one ever looked at something I was eating and asked condescendingly ”should you be eating that?” I wasn’t judged for the calorie content of the groceries I purchased or what I ordered at a restaurant. I wasn’t embarrassed to eat in front of people.
Though I was teased for being different, honestly, there was a different tone to the taunting, in hindsight, I can see that. It was more of an admirable jealousy “I wish I could be as thin as you” and less of a shameful judgement that heavier people get. But the biggest difference is that I am harder on myself now and I believe that is because what is out there and expected as acceptable. Body shaming is wrong in any capacity, but the further you stray away from society’s physical ideals, thin being the default, the more difficult things can be.
Privilege is defined as a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most. The thing about privilege is if you don’t fall into the group that gets the privilege, chances are that you don’t realize it exists, you don’t see an alternative, you don’t know any better.
White House photo by Knudsen, Robert L.