This post was written by Jessica Steinbach, MPH, RD.
Being thin in a world that actively discriminates based on body size is a privilege. In this post, we explore thin privilege and how to be an ally to the fat community! By the way, we use the word “fat” as a neutral descriptor for body size. Aubrey Gordon (she/her), aka Your Fat Friend, explains why “fat” is not a bad word.
I am a provider with thin privilege. It is important to note this privilege and acknowledge that the information that is presented in this blog has been gathered from professional experience, and more importantly, learning from the works of fat activists. PLEASE follow the links in this article so that you can learn directly from the experiences of these folx. It is important to support and uplift their work; and as a thin provider in this field, it is important to take on the role of educating other thin folx on how to dive deeper into this work.
What is thin privilege?
Thin privilege is the ability to move through the world without discrimination related to your body size. Weight-related discrimination can include (but is not limited to) not fitting in chairs, seats, or pews, receiving comments from others regarding your weight at restaurants, grocery stores, gatherings, etc., medical care revolving around weight rather than symptomatology, and not being able to find clothing that fits you at department stores. Body liberation activist Lindley Ashline (she/her) explains the spectrum of thin privilege.
To clarify, having thin privilege does not mean that you don’t struggle with body image or have never been told to lose weight. It means that you are not systematically discriminated against because of your size. There is a difference!
If this concept is new to you and you’re feeling confused or defensive, stick with us! Take a deep breath and know that this is an opportunity for learning.
If you benefit from thin privilege and are interested in becoming a thin ally to the fat community, it is important to start with recognizing and addressing your own internalized fatphobia and weight stigma (dietitians Alissa Rumsey and Kimmie Singh discuss the definitions of fatphobia and weight stigma in this interview).
Here are some beginner questions to ask yourself to start assessing what internal work needs to be done.
Are you fearful of weight gain?
Though concerns about your body size may not seem harmful to others, you are sending the message that gaining weight is bad, thus expressing the sentiment that being fat is bad.
Start working on your internalized fatphobia by catching these thoughts before you express them. Do not discuss your weight with others, do not share your diets with friends, do not compliment a friend for weight loss. Stopping the conversations surrounding weight will reduce the urge to engage in weight-related talk.
Do you notice or judge the weight changes of others?
When a friend, colleague, or relative gains weight, are you aware of it? Do you wonder why their weight has changed or express “concern” to others regarding this? Stop doing this! It does not matter if/when/why someone’s body changed. Weight gain is NOT a bad thing, let’s stop assuming it is. April Helene-Horton speaks to why commenting on the weight of others is not appropriate.
Do you assume that being fat is “bad”?
Buying into the notion that being fat is “unsafe”, “unhealthy”, or “damaging” directly contributes to perpetuating fatphobia. Take time to educate yourself on the history of “fat science.” Like many other fields of medical science, weight stigma is deeply based in racism, misogyny, and colonialism. Understanding the roots of weight stigma will help develop a solid base for unlearning these damaging messages.
Regan Chastain discusses various helpful topics related to weight stigma on her website.
It is best to prioritize learning from the content created by fat folx, particularly Black, Indigenous, People of Color, trans, disabled, and/or queer fat folx.
Here are some folx to learn from and support:
Do you use the “O” words?
If you are still using medical terminology that pertains to weight such as ob*sity, stop! These words are harmful and perpetuate weight stigma. The reality is you have no actual insight into someone’s health just by looking at their weight, so using these “medical” words is not necessary.
Even if someone does struggle with health issues, refrain from commenting on this. Remember, health is not needed to value a person’s worth!
Do’s and Don’ts of Being a Fat Ally:
- Compliment folx on something other than their body
- Shift conversations away from food and body
- Avoid engaging in self deprecating comments regarding one’s body
- Ask medical offices, restaurants, etc. for larger and higher weight limit chairs
- Ask medical offices if they have gowns and blood pressure cuffs that fit very large folks (and if you work in one, make sure these are available!)
- Try declining being weighed at medical appointments and ask providers to use a weight neutral approach
- Make sure if you’re hosting a meeting or party etc. that it’s accessible and comfortable for folks of size
- Welcome folks of size to sit next to you on airplanes or speak up if you notice weight discrimination in this setting
- Comment on the bodies of others
- Make negative remarks about your weight or the weight of others
- Discuss your new diet in conversations where consent to talk about diets is not given
- Engage in self-deprecating comments about your body