Thinking through Thinness: Understanding Fatphobia as Oppression.

**Heads up: In the following post I talk about body shaming and fatphobia. I choose to use the word “fat” to describe people who are targeted by fatphobia because that it is the language I’ve learned from the fat politics experts and activists in my life. I believe in the importance of reclaiming a word like fat so that it can be used not only positively but also just as a way of describing the way that some bodies are. I won’t use the word “overweight” because it implies that there is a “normal” weight that a person can be “over” or “under” and I believe that it feeds into a discourse on “health” that functions to police bodies in harmful ways.

Most of us are aware that popular culture sets up unreasonable and generally unattainable standards for body size/image. Many of us know how harmful this can be and have very real experiences of negative relationships to our body as a result. However, there is a difference between the proliferation of ideal body image and the outright shaming of fat people. While these two things are undeniably connected (and are situated along a spectrum of sizeism), we often fail to acknowledge that many people who are harmed by body ideals can still occupy a relatively privileged position in relation to a system of sizeism that values thinness while shaming, dehumanizing, and silencing the experiences of fat people.

So what does this mean for those who are affected negatively by sizeism but might still have thin privilege? Trying to answer that question has led me to a lot of surfing the internet as well as to a complicated conversation with my roommate about our own relationships to our bodies and to fatphobia. For both my roommate and I, relating to our bodies positively has always been a struggle and that has often reflected negatively on our mental health. We’ve felt pressure from friends and family to look different; we’ve related to food and exercise in unhealthy ways, and we’ve carried long lasting guilt and shame that our bodies don’t look the way they should. However, both of us undeniably have thin privilege. To quote a blog called, “This is Thin Privilege, my roommate and I will

never be kicked off a plane for ‘not fitting into a seat’ … never be barred from adopting for having ‘too high’ of a BMI… will still be able to walk into nearly any mainstream clothing store and buy clothing that fits and flatters at affordable prices… will still live in a world made for [us].

Neither of us has ever walked into a doctor’s office only to have our concerns ignored in favour of being lectured about losing weight and we’ve never been harassed or approached on the street by a stranger offended by the shape of our bodies. These, and a thousand experiences like them, are manifestations of fatphobia that have never been part of our lived experiences.

Coming to this understanding was not easy because of the ways that fatphobia functions to erase thin privilege. Blogger Miss Mary Max explains that

Since most of us — fat, thin, and in between — struggle with anxiety about our weight and shape — we may find it more difficult to recognize that others perceive us as “thin” and that we receive certain treatment based on that assumption… Our poor body image — made possible for the fat and the skinny by fatphobia — works to disguise thin privilege as an oppressive system.  By convincing us that we aren’t thin (enough), and therefore cannot have thin privilege, the system tricks us into perpetuating oppression 

I may be negatively affected by sizeism because it causes me to relate negatively to my body but ignoring my own position and denying that sizeism privileges my body over others only works to silence experiences of those for whom fatphobia functions to police, shame, and oppress.

It is important to really understand the scope and depth of fatphobia because it is all around us. It manifests in online harassment campaigns like fat shaming week,” a Twitter stunt organized by the men’s rights group, Return of Kings, that speaks enormous volumes both to thin peoples’ sense of entitlement to comment on fat bodies as well as men’s sense of entitlement to comment on women’s bodies. Fatphobia is the overwhelming ignorance that led a woman to decide that publicly shaming kids based on her own reductive notions of “health” is some form of fucked up “public service” instead of an incredible violation of a child’s dignity and sense of self. Fatphobia is the power, hatred, and myth-making that allows doctors, employers, friends, coworkers, family, and popular culture to scrutinize, belittle, and criticize fat bodies. Fatphobia can be found in the many stories shared on the pages of blogs like “This is Thin Privilege.”

The thin privilege I experience everyday shields me from many manifestations of fatphobia. But the fact that I have been raised in a world that has wanted me to hate my body, change my body, and understand my body as never good enough implicates me deeply in systemic sizeism. The stratification of bodies into “good” and “bad” categories stands in direct opposition to our ability to love our bodies, no matter what size, shape, or form they come in.

Listening to the voices of fat politics experts and activists is essential to standing in solidarity with work that seeks to dismantle sizeism and end fatphobia, as is respecting the knowledge and authority of fat peoples’ stories and experiences. Blogs like “This is Thin Privilege” and organizations like Fat Panic!, It Gets Fatter!, and NOLOSE are incredible places to find resources and to learn more about fatphobia and thin privilege. So if fatphobia and thin privilege are new ideas to you- happy reading! And remember… 

(image courtesy of Fat Panic!)

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