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It’s Time for Another Installment of: WHAT KIND OF PRIVILEGE DOES SADY HAVE?

An important feature! Today, we will be focusing on: size privilege!

Friends, I am not commonly defined as a fat* lady. I am also not as thin as I am told I should be. I am, on the scale of Popularly Recognized Normal Person Body Types as Represented by the Apatow Canon (IIIIIIII CANNNNN’T STOPPPPPPPPPP) neither a Rudd nor a Rogen, but somewhere in the Segel-y center.

Of course, I am a lady, whereas these noted stars of film and television and sometimes my nightmares (HELLLLLLLP) are dudes. The reason I am using them as my examples here is that there is no scale of Popularly Recognized Normal Person Body Types as Represented by Currently Successful Female Actresses, because Currently Successful Female Actresses tend to be (a) skinny, or (b) somewhat skinnier. This is true for the same reason it is true that, when Seth Rogen dropped some pounds recently, people were like, “hey, why’d he lose weight for, we are bemused,” whereas when, say, Valerie Bertinelli lost weight, people were like, “amazing! Here is your magazine cover! You are now fit for our eyes to gaze upon you!” It is also the same reason that Seth Rogen has been subject to numerous profiles and reviews and blog commentaries focusing on his unconventional, real-guy sex appeal, whereas when Roseanne posed for an overtly sexual magazine cover, folks were like “OH MY EYYYYYYESSSS MY EYYYYYESSSSS I HAVE BEEN FORCED TO VIEW SOMEONE OF A LARGER SIZE IN A SEXUAL LIGHT I MAY NEVER RECOVER.” It is a very simple reason, my friends. Can you guess what it is? If not, look for the answer key at the end of this quiz!**

So, my question today is, What Kind of Privilege Do I Have? Answer: lots! (Have I also mentioned that I am white, and straight, and middle-class, and cis, and stuff?) Today, however, the Privilege that I am focusing on is thinness, or more accurately, not-fatness.

I am, amazingly, not the first person to recognize the astonishing fact of thin privilege! Normally I come up with everything in a vacuum, but in this case I have been learning about it gradually over the past few months and also thinking about it all day long specifically due to a substantial amount of ladytalk over at Jezebel over the concept.

This means it is time to talk about my own personal privilege, size-wise!

–WARNING: THIS IS A POST IN WHICH A PRIVILEGED PERSON TALKS AND ATTEMPTS TO DISSECT HER EXPERIENCE OF HER OWN PRIVILEGE, BECAUSE, LIKE, WHOA, IT EXISTS. IF SUCH POSTS OFFEND YOUR EYES AND COME OFF AS PAINFULLY NAIVE, YOU MAY NOW AVERT YOUR EYES, AND I WILL NOT BLAME YOU. –

For example, no-one fears becoming me (unless they classify me as a fat lady). In the inevitable girls-having-dinner discussions about what we want to eat vs. what we maybe should eat w/r/t what we’ve been eating lately and how we can improve or “give ourselves a break” in re: what we will be eating now, the unspoken fear of the people involved is not that they will come to look like me (again: unless they think I’m fat). My weight is neutral in terms of my culturally accepted sex appeal: people generally believe that there can be hot girls of my size and non-hot girls of my size, and I don’t expect my weight to be the primary determining factor in whether people find me hot. My attempts to present myself as sexual are not found disgusting and/or comical due to my body shape. People do not determine me to be lazy on sight, although the fact is that I did not get out of bed on Monday except to buy more cigarettes and iced coffee. People also do not determine me to be unhealthy on sight, although the fact is that I did not get out of bed on Monday except to buy more cigarettes and iced coffee.

This is what I can list in ten minutes! There are lots more things: things of which I have been, until recently, shockingly unaware! This is because I am privileged, and therefore have the privilege of not thinking about all this stuff. I’m not constantly told that my body is The Thing That Should Not Be, because I am not fat.

I do, however, know a bit what it is like to be told I should be skinnier. If there is one constant and recurring beauty tip handed to me, an American Lady, it is: be skinnier than you are right now. How skinny are you? Skinnier than that, would be good. I know about freaking out about what I eat. I know about putting off birth control and Paxil and quitting cigarettes because the side effects for all three were THE DREADED WEIGHT GAIN, because apparently my thought process there was, “I have panic attacks and terrible periods and also maybe cancer, but hey, at least I have not gained five pounds, good for me.” I know about being nine years old and complaining to my Mom that my brother ALWAYS ate ALL THE ICE CREAM SANDWICHES before I got EVEN ONE, and being told that my ability to “delay gratification” was a good thing, because I wouldn’t be fat (like her, she thought) when I grew up.

(A word about this: every time my Mom and I go out to eat she offers me half her meal, because she always had a “big lunch” earlier, but I have spent whole days with my Mom where she does this for every meal, and I am coming to terms with the fact that the mythical “big lunch” that always precedes our time together does not exist, she just does not eat an entire plate of food, ever. She doesn’t just delay gratification in the food realm, she seems to actively flee it. It makes me sad.)

Now, a word: in a society where all women everywhere are told to be skinnier be skinnier also be more skinny, the women who are actually, by almost everyone’s standards, objectively very thin are subject to some hurtful commentary on their own bodies. It can be extremely uncool – like, it is not OK to assume a skinny person’s weight is a disease, and it is not OK to assume that a fat person’s weight is a disease, and did you know that many diseases can relate to either skinniness or weight, or even occur in a body regardless of its weight? Seemingly the only socially acceptable reason to ever look at a person and be like, “I believe you to be suffering from a terrible illness, which means you are a bad person, and also I have no evidence” is when you are commenting on that person’s weight, which: in my opinion, ew.

Here are some reasons why this might be: (a) in sexist society, every woman’s body is constantly considered fair grounds for public evaluation, and (b) women’s worth is primarily derived from their bodies, so devaluing a woman’s body is the most common and devastating way to attack her, (c) sometimes people get angry at the folks who are presented to them as the “ideal” rather than the existence of a hierarchy of body-based worth, and (d) no woman ever measures up, it’s divide and fucking conquer, have we not realized that? Let us not play this game. Let us get all ’90s together and, yes, love our bodies.

Let us also recognize and work to eradicate the privileges that adhere to those bodies! Let us acknowledge that not-fatness is indeed sometimes one of those! Like straight frat boys who are constantly encouraged to reaffirm their own maleness and straightness by calling each other “pussy” and “fag” and constantly giving each other feedback on precisely how womanish or gay they are being and whether they have surpassed acceptable levels of said womany/gay behavior, non-fat women (and I know there are dudes who experience fat-shaming, I’ve met those dudes, and care about their problems, but I can only speak most accurately and assuredly to my own ladybusiness) are constantly being fed and feeding each other the Fear of Fat, of becoming fat, of leaving the realm of acceptable bodies and entering the non-privileged world of Fat. The fact that we’re so goddamn worried about losing this privilege would seem to be proof that it exists.

Which makes me feel weird that I had to write a post about realizing that I had it.

Okay! Never mind!

*I am uncomfortable with this term because it is often used as an insult! However my understanding is that it is the preferred one, because, like, others are either outright pathologizing or euphemistic in a way that makes it seem like it’s something to be ashamed of. If I’m totally wrong let me know!

**ANSWER KEY: THE SEXISM, DUH. We would also accept, “Seth Rogen blows.”

20 Comments

  1. Cait wrote:

    And it’s funny, too, because in an effort to be kind, people will often jump in to support the larger woman (and I largely mean straight men here, but they’re by no means the only ones to offer this “support”) with: “But it’s okay, real women have curves!”

    What they really mean is, “I think women who are curvy can be sexy too.” And I’d say that’s a much better way to say it.

    But expressed in the former way, it says to any woman who isn’t curvy (whether by being an ectomorph, or by maybe being a trans woman, or just someone who isn’t very curvy!) that she’s “not a real woman”. And because it’s said in such an ostensibly positive way, those women are also silenced by it: how churlish does one have to be to respond to an apparent compliment with “y’know, that makes me feel kinda crappy”?

    Well done, as always, Sady, I don’t think you sounded naive at all. Good analysis.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 8:31 pm | Permalink
  2. meloukhia wrote:

    As a fat lady, I love seeing people explore their thin privilege, because it shows that they are, you know, thinking about it. Unlike in that Jezebel thread, which hurt my brain and my fat ass to read.

    I think you also touch upon an excellent point when you talk about the fact that people who are, for lack of a better term, extremely skinny, are also criticized for their bodies. Yet, people don’t fear becoming them like they fear becoming fat; they just concern troll about how “dangerously” skinny they are. It intrigues me to contrast the responses to these opposite extremes.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 8:32 pm | Permalink
  3. rebecca wrote:

    gosh I love you–I’m your biggest newest fan.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 8:49 pm | Permalink
  4. Eli Reed wrote:

    A fat girl says thanks for this thoughtful and intelligent (and funny!) post.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 9:23 pm | Permalink
  5. Shannyn wrote:

    Love love your blog. I’ve found http://www.therotund.com and http://kateharding.net (and their many links) to be really helpful in expanding my worldview around this particular topic.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 9:41 pm | Permalink
  6. PilgrimSoul wrote:

    And yet, and yet, here is comment number one in to your post about thin privilege taking as its primary subject how thin people feel silenced by people’s meagre attempts to build up the battered self-esteem of the not-thin! I am no fonder of “real women have curves” than your average feminist (still defining ourselves by the male gaze, are we?) but for chrissakes, can’t we focus for a goddamn second on the people who have more than hurt feelings to bet on this movement? Maybe the thin feel devalued by these attacks on their bodies, but the not-thin ARE devalued by these attacks.

    Some days I think it would just be easier for me to get on a rocket to mars with printouts of the Twisty archives.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 9:44 pm | Permalink
  7. mir wrote:

    But you know it’s sooooo unhealllllthhhy to be fat. We suffering an EPIDEMIC and it’s a disservice to everyone to act as though being fat is

    Hahahaha hohoho sorry. I stab my own eyes with a thumb just for writing the above. Because you know, those comments will be along soon enough. They always do. And to those hypothetical commentors of the future I say: SHUT IT, EVERYONE’S HEARD IT ALL ONE BILLION GODDAMN TIMES so quit fucking policing the world and read for CONTEXT, fools. And also, is everyone driving electric cars there? I hope so.

    I like this post, Sady, I like it very much. Privilege is so often invisible (silent, but deadly. Like dog flatulence) and even when we look at our own it’s so very tempting to think that *we* couldn’t possibly be doing anything harmful or unthinking with our privilege because *we’re* the Good Guys. But I’m trying to get it about my own, really really trying. And this post helps.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 10:51 pm | Permalink
  8. Sady wrote:

    @PilgrimSoul & Cait: I hear what you're saying, PS, and I will definitely do my best as moderator to keep the conversation from derailing into a post that is all about the feelings of thin women. I agree that a conversation like that would be disrespectful and it won't happen here.

    That said, Cait's point about the "real women" thing being potentially specifically weird for trans women is well taken. Aside from what PS pointed out about the male-gazeyness of the phrase, the whole construction of it (certain kinds of bodies are "real" and womanly, others not) just reminds me of the divide-and-conquer, zero-sum game that gets played with women's bodies all too often.

    I get that it's well intentioned, but I guess what I am saying is that real women are a lot of things, among which: consistently pathologized and forced to seek outside authentication for the "realness" and acceptability of their bodies, in which process both cisgender privilege and thin privilege give some women an unfair advantage and result in others being marginalized! And cisgender thin (or non-fat) women are typically more or less unaware of how they get to take the "realness" and okayness of their bodies for granted.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 11:05 pm | Permalink
  9. BrianS wrote:

    New reader, I really like this blog.

    I just wanted to chime in about the Roseanne thing. I was kind of grossed out by the picture, but only because of who is posing. After her incredibly obnoxious character on the TV show and her embarrassing performance singing the national anthem, seeing her in lingerie is a little unsettling.

    However, if I didn’t know anything about the woman in the picture, I would find it incredibly sexy.

    I’m guessing that most people who complained about that magazine cover do not share my mindset.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 2:56 am | Permalink
  10. Cait wrote:

    Funny, how my point about how almost all women face size oppression got turned into a women-oppressing thin Fairly impressive misread. I had the odd idea that a feminist blog would be an okay place to talk about ways in which women are oppressed. Silly me.

    For the record, I’m quite fat myself, and quite okay with it.

    I was noting, for the record, that the oppression around size is vast for women, and goes beyond just “DON’T BE FAT!” – we are expected to be a particular size, a particular shape, and any deviation at all, bigger or not curvy enough or too curvy – brings a world of hurt down on our heads. Impossible beauty.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 5:53 am | Permalink
  11. Sady wrote:

    @BrianS: Yeah, but talking about how obnoxious Roseanne is – that’s problematic, because a lot of the anger at her came from the fact that she was loud and she had an “unfeminine” voice and vocabulary and she told jokes and her jokes were not always kind or polite. Compare how, say, Rogen – or plenty of other male comedians and comic actors, including large ones, like, Jonah Hill would actually be another good example here – are actually CONGRATULATED and admired for “pushing the envelope” if they possess those same qualities. Her size also became part of the whole “Roseanne is a castrating unfeminine harpy” thing, because it was like, “OMG, she’s not even SKINNY, she’s not even ADHERING TO OUR STANDARDS FOR HOW WOMEN OUGHT TO LOOK, she is just presenting herself as sexual ANYWAY.” I’m not the hugest Roseanne fan in the world, but the fact is, if you want to hear people say some disgustingly sexist shit, all you have to do is to bring up her name.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 8:22 am | Permalink
  12. mg_65 wrote:

    I am so in love with you (in a not-creepy way) — discovered you through Shakesville and bookmarked you right away. JOY.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 8:25 am | Permalink
  13. masagoroll wrote:

    You win for linking that photo of Roseanne- I love her so much and I’d never seen it before!

    The double standard for fat actors and actresses is so blatant.

    Fat talk/diet talk among women is so prevalent and sucky– you are right on with comparing it to frat boy homophobia. Fat is always the thing you don’t ever want to be when making small talk with most women, and “You’re not fat!” is what you must say to your friends as a reassurance always, because fat= BAD, always. Like a halo effect, only negative.

    Good post!

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 9:43 am | Permalink
  14. The Sexist wrote:

    Good point about how the stigma against “fat” affects women of all body types. My college roommate, a very skinny girl, was constantly told by her older female relatives that she WOULD BECOME FAT when she was older and that she needed to watch what she ate and exercise in order to make sure what happened to them NEVER HAPPENED TO HER. There’s a whole “knowing wink” attitude where it’s not even enough for a woman to be super skinny, because that super skinny woman will still become old, and no one can escape old! HA! Got you, skinny girl.

    She was sensible enough not to give a fuck, but still, who wants to go into family reunions knowing everyone’s going to try to play the weight game with your future self?

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 10:35 am | Permalink
  15. snobographer wrote:

    …in an effort to be kind, people will often jump in to support the larger woman … with: “But it’s okay, real women have curves!”

    What they really mean is, “I think women who are curvy can be sexy too.” And I’d say that’s a much better way to say it.

    What bugs me about this, and about “beautiful in her own way”-type memes in general, is that it still feeds into the idea that beauty and sex-appeal are the real imperatives of a woman’s value as a person. Instead of, “I think fat ladies can be hawt enough to bone,” I’d prefer, “whether whoever wants to bone the fat ladies (or the skinny ladies, or the non-white ladies, or the ladies of “unconventional” appearance, …) is irrelevant to everything so let’s all just shut up about it.”

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 10:42 am | Permalink
  16. snobographer wrote:

    Well it looks like I’ve taken a swat at a dead horse. Never mind.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 11:08 am | Permalink
  17. Katherine wrote:

    As a fat lady, I firmly support this post. And totally read Kate Harding, she CHANGED MY LIFE!

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 11:26 am | Permalink
  18. Anonymous wrote:

    I, too, popped over here from Shakesville the other day, and I have been obsessively reading your archives in my “free time” (by which I mean, “time when I should be working on my end-of-term papers”). I am so loving your blog–very insightful, funny, and well-written!
    I am really happy to see this post, too. I am on the “smaller” end of fat, and I have been learning about FA for a bit over a year now. I think it’s great when thin or “not-fat” folks think about these issues–I’m of the opinion that it’s a positive for any marginalized group to have allies whose lives are not directly affected by the oppression. I mean, it’s a bit unfortunate, but I think there are plenty of people who would dismiss a fat person talking about fat hatred as just a pathetic, misguided fat fat fatty–but who *might* actually listen to a thin person discussing the same issue.
    ***
    Sarah

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 11:36 am | Permalink
  19. undercover punk wrote:

    I LOVE THIS!! Thank you! I have a really, really hard time when other women bring up food and fat-ness. For me, it triggers obsessive thoughts and I’ve found that it happens a lot in workplaces, particularly at certain times of year–bikini season!! (women joining Weight Watchers together, hating on their fat at lunch time, complaining about what they’ve eaten and how hungry they, you know the drill!). I’ve been trying to figure out to address the impact that this kind of talk has on co-workers who can’t choose to get away from the self-bashing. Anyone?

    Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 9:51 am | Permalink
  20. Rachel wrote:

    I’ll never forget myself saying inside about another woman, “That stupid fat lady.” This is coming from a person who grew up witnessing anti-fat comments made to my parents. My body also blew up when I hit 24 years. I still can’t believe that I picked up and believed the message that fat people are stupid.

    And it haunts me as I try to succeed in my career.

    Saturday, May 9, 2009 at 6:40 pm | Permalink