Have you heard of thin privilege? These days, as people do the work of investigating their own privileges and prejudices, society has the opportunity to become more kind and just. This post, with examples of what thin privilege is – and isn’t – will give you an opportunity to better advocate for yourself and others.
In this blog post, I’ll be covering what thin privilege is, why you need to know what it is and how we can all do the work together to make our society more inclusive and kind. And if you’re looking for a welcoming community of women also interested in this work, I’ll be inviting you to join my coaching program at the end – stay tuned!
what is thin privilege?
Any privilege is harder to see if it benefits you. Especially if you identify with thin and have had a difficult experience with feeling shame about your body.
So first, let me say that thin privilege doesn’t mean that your life is never hard nor does it mean that you never struggle with body image. You can have thin privilege and experience these things.
What thin privilege does mean is that you’re more likely to get society’s benefit of the doubt because your body shape and size match the current “ideal” beauty standard. The smaller you are, the more likely you are to get these societal benefits.
What is an example of this? If you’re in a smaller body, people tend to assume that you’re healthier, work harder and it is easier to navigate the physical world, from sitting in a restaurant booth to flying in an airplane.
If that doesn’t sit well with you, then think about it this way: the smaller you are, the more likely you are going to be able to find a range of clothing options in just about any clothing store that fits your body and doesn’t cost extra.
If you have thin privilege, you’re going to be able to sit comfortably and safely in any restaurant seat, on an airplane, and in most vehicles and waiting rooms.
If you have thin privilege, you’ve probably never experienced bullying, slurs, or stares while in public.
In contrast, my clients in larger bodies experience these things. I’ve seen the difference between how I’m treated, as someone in a smaller body, in comparison to my mother, who is someone in a larger body.
I care about this because fatphobia – the fear of fatness and the discrimination that follows – is at the root of eating disorders, disordered eating, and body image issues that I support my clients through. These are struggles my mother and clients face.
I’ve had to come to terms with the reality: I have thin privilege. I don’t know what it’s like to go through the world feeling discriminated against for my size – and I don’t really think that’s fair.
While I believe in the power of Intuitive Eating as a self-help framework and I value the impact healing your relationship with food has on weight stigma in the grassroots kind of way, that is only part of the solution.
I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t educate and advocate for tearing down weight discrimination in the first place.
I know that if we acknowledge thin privilege exists – and that it does harm – we can do the work to dismantle it, together.
Our collective efforts can and will prevent some people from ever needing to see an RD like me because their relationship with food wasn’t compromised in the first place. And for those who are doing the brave work of getting help with their disordered eating, addressing fatphobia means recovery isn’t so fraught with guilt and shame.
Quick note: you can experience one privilege and still be disadvantaged in other ways. For example, you can experience thin privilege and also be discriminated against for your gender, with sexism, or against your sexual orientation with homophobia.
fatphobia does harm
The negative effects of fatphobia are only beginning to be fully researched and recognized. The impacts are far-reaching. Here are a few examples of how fatphobia does harm.
- Average income goes down as weight goes up. This relationship is stronger for women than for men (i.e. women are impacted to a greater degree than men). (1).
- Women in larger bodies are more likely to avoid medical care altogether, including routine care and acute emergency medical needs (2) – this is why I created my Doctor’s Visit Guide, and support clients in getting the care they need
- Weight stigma causes measurable psychological distress and harm (3).
- Fat bias can negatively impact performance reviews (4).
And, this work is more urgent than ever. Long-term research spanning thirteen years is finding that weight bias is actually getting worse (5).
how to dismantle fatphobia and thin privilege?
Now that we know examples of thin privilege and the harm it causes, what are we supposed to do about it?
Feeling the weight of oppression can quickly lead to overwhelm and inaction – the key here is to do your own small parts to make progress and to keep it up. More of us doing the work – together – will lead to impressive progress.
Here are a few suggestions of how you can recognize – and stand against – fatphobia in your own community.
advocate for size inclusivity
As a kid, I remember my mom only having one or two options to shop for clothes; The Dress Barn and maybe Lane Bryant. For her, the experience wasn’t fun or welcoming and she didn’t enjoy going there. She’d been taught to feel shame about needing the larger clothing sizes and tried hard to not need to go there in person.
Instead, she’d mostly shop for clothing out of special catalogs that were more size-inclusive. While this was less triggering of her shame and made her feel less left out, it wasn’t the experience her peers often had. How else are you to feel when you are excluded from a basic experience others participate in without second thought?
These days, I see the same things with my own clients in larger bodies. While there are more than the two options my mom was limited to, there aren’t enough. Did you know that 67% of women in the US are plus-sized, as defined by wearing a size 14 or larger (6)? But to guess that from the usual sizes offered in clothing stores would be a stretch.
If you’re a person in a smaller body, you can vote with your dollars. Do you buy clothing from retailers who only offer clothes that fit you…or do they offer more size diversity and inclusivity? I encourage you to look for brands that include sizes up to size 6XL so that no one struggles to meet their basic needs for clothing.
For more tips on shopping for clothing in a larger body, please check out this podcast episode with Josie Wass, a plus size stylist: How to get the look you want in plus size.
refuse to be weighed at the doctor’s office
Have you ever felt nervous to go to the doctor’s office? It is with good reason: doctors, nurses, and dietitians are all people with their own stigmas and biases, including fatphobia (7).
I’ve shared before how size is not a predictor of health. Doctor’s offices take your weight for two main reasons:
- Insurance likes to know your BMI (derived from your weight) for billing purposes.
Unless you’re prescribed a medication that is dosed on a weight basis or your fluid balance is being monitored (as with congestive heart failure), there are very few medical reasons to get weighed.
Even if you don’t struggle with disordered eating or body image, removing weight from the conversations you have with your medical care providers helps to normalize the act of refusing one.
And especially if you’re a person in a smaller body: this small act of civil disruption helps to normalize weight free medical care for everyone. You can choose this as an act of advocacy for everyone in a larger body. People with thin privilege are less likely to have every medical question or symptom be attributed to weight. And allowing conversations to be based on health behaviors impacts the overall culture in doctor’s offices in a positive manner.
For more on this, I created a free Doctor’s Visit Guide that you’re welcome to download and use in prep for any visit with a medical provider.
As a weight-neutral dietitian and fat positive provider, my clients get support for defining their own health goals and strategy for communicating them with their healthcare providers with confidence. These steps can stop doctors, nurses, and other healthcare team members from harping on weight every time they go in for a visit.
examine your own bias
Do you ever notice how fat people are portrayed in the media?
There are many cringe-worthy examples of fatphobia in TV shows and movies, but the one I always circle back to is that horrible depiction of “Fat Monica” on Friends. Fat Monica was less worthy and less lovable than thin, current-day Monica.
These fatphobic messages enter our psyche and impact how we think about and feel around fat bodies, including our own.
On top of the external messaging, we get messages about our worth from friends and family. Did your family praise thinness?
Serve different portions of foods or assign diets based on body weight or gender? Oof.
We all have some degree of fatphobic bias. In fact, Harvard created a test to measure it. Take the test and see what your results are. The more aware you are of your biases, the more you can challenge and change them.
My clients do this through coaching conversations with me and with our community of like-minded women breaking free of the diet cycle.
I’d also like to offer a shout-out to Aubrey Gordon on Instagram, an amazing writer, and self-described Fat white queer cis lady. Aubrey is also the author of a book that I highly recommend titled What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat and co-host of the podcast Maintenance Phase. Both have become favorites of mine and “required reading” for my clients. I’m very happy for you to feel inspired by these resources, too!
For even more recommendations and resources to keep reading, click here.
support anti-weight discrimination efforts
You can advocate for equality in your work setting and at a higher level in your community and state. In almost every state, it is legal to discriminate against an employee based on their weight (8). I mean – gasp – can you even believe that horrific statement is true?
You can tune into local legislation and contact your local representatives asking for change. The book I mentioned earlier, What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon, is full of purposeful information for ways to advocate and get involved (pay special attention to chapter 8).
In your place of work, a great place to start advocating for inclusivity is around seating. If you’re a person in a smaller body, you probably haven’t had to think about seating much because in general, spaces accommodate you and your body without needing a second thought or concern.
But if you’re someone in a larger body, you don’t experience that same privilege. You cannot predict if a space will accommodate your size or not.
I’m remembering a time that we bought my mother tickets to see a Broadway show; a gift we were so excited to give to her because her traditional Christmas present gift request was simply time spent together.
The theater we attended was built in 1923. It was historic and beautiful – but the seats were old and small.
My Mom froze.
Living in a bigger body, this is her nightmare. Her experience during that show was uncomfortable, to say the least. She said she felt embarrassed.
In your office, are the chairs all designed for people in smaller bodies, with confining arms on either side? Or do you have bench seats, wider seats, or couches that can make people in all body sizes feel comfortable and welcome?
be a role model
Silence is the same as acceptance.
To be an advocate against fatphobia and weight discrimination, don’t engage in diet talk, reject diet culture, and encourage others to do the same. Here is exactly how to set boundaries around “diet talk”.
Becoming an Intuitive Eater is just as important. By rejecting diet culture, we push back on the anti-fat sentiment behind it. If you’re new to this work – welcome! I recommend bookmarking this blog post to read next: six intuitive eating tips for beginners.
Because of my visibility on Instagram, my followers are familiar with my messaging and stay in the community because it resonates with them, too.
Last week I got a message from my bestie from high school saying: “a coworker of mine is scared to go out in the dating world because of her size and asked: do I know a nutritionist?”
My friend replied “I told her “you can if you want to”, then I was like – you doen’t need diets to get your man, LOL and sent her your page”
Another friend of mine heard someone say that ANNOYING old phrase “a moment on the lips, forever on the hips” and straight-up said: “that’s super problematic, next.”
I giggle with delight hearing these stories. I love knowing the impact we have, collectively, with small ations like these.
That’s the power we have when we learn about thin privilege, fatphobia, and their harmful impacts. This is what I teach my clients to be able to do, but first, you have to heal your own relationship with food, yourself, and your eating.
You’re worth the work.
key takeaways: examples of thin privilege
Thin privilege and fatphobia are all around us. Recognizing that both exist and cause harm is the first step towards healing our community and making the world a more welcoming and just place for all of us.
It starts with you.
If you’re looking to heal your relationship with food so you can heal your past dieting traumas and become a better advocate against diet culture and fatphobia, I can help.
Your first act of being part of the new anti-diet culture? Eating without guilt. My free guide, 3 steps to eat without guilt will help you draft a plan to go from stuck in food guilt and fear of weight gain to feeling free and peaceful around food – just like my clients do. And if you’re looking for more support healing from weight discrimination you’ve faced, I want to invite you to apply for 1:1 coaching. There, we hold space for what you’ve gone through and set up new ways to support you in your food and body image work.