I noticed some privilege-denying/questioning arguments being floated in response to the thin privilege stuff from yesterday, and I wanted to take a quick swipe at some of them because I can:
1. “Thin women are oppressed, too.”
Do thin women (and by thin, rest assured I don’t just mean size 0 or whatever) experience disadvantages? Of course. Body size isn’t the only dimension of privilege that exists; in fact, it is one kind of privilege among a whole constellation of privileges. Does thinness negate the experience of the disadvantages of womanness for thin women? Or the experience of the disadvantages of non-Whiteness? Or poorness? No, no, and no.
Thin people are treated preferentially, both personally and structurally, for their thinness, but as with other kinds of privilege, simply because they have it doesn’t mean it dominates the experience of their lives.
Thin women feel the full force of gender disadvantage, too, although for them, it manifests in their daily lives differently - you know, because when different privileges and disadvantages intersect, they create different outcomes - than it does for larger women. They are still subjected to gender norms and body policing and shit that affects all women, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have body size privilege, too.
2. “It’s just that making things for thin people is cheaper, so thin privilege is just a consequence of efficiency.”
Because efficiency always trumps an obligation to treat - personally and through social structures - people as human beings with dignity, amirite?
Even if this were true — which is dubious: many of the products/places that privilege the thin are that way through design inertia, which is often antithetical to efficiency — it doesn’t mean the world ought to be this way. If you think efficiency has moral content that trumps other moral considerations, then you best be prepared to argue that straight down the line, and not just with regard to chair widths and clothing sizes. (And - spoilers - you’ll still be wrong if you do.)
3. “You can choose what size your body is, and you can only be privileged/disadvantaged for things you haven’t chosen.”
a. It is simply not true that you can “choose” your body size. And, see also: the first point about intersectionality. Even if you can change your body size, you don’t always have the resources (material, physical, and psychological) to do so.
b. We recognize other dimensions of privilege that are matters of “choice”: education (“go to college!”), class (“bootstraps!”), religion (“convert!”), occupation (“what color is your parachute?”), etc.
c. What does choice really have to do with it? Should you not be treated with dignity in public because you choose not to exercise (or, rather, people assume that you don’t)? What role does the ability to exit really play in discussions of privilege? Being disadvantaged and treated poorly is really a-okay if you are “responsible” (in some ass-backwards way) for your own disadvantage? It’s not the fault of social inequality and systemic oppression: it’s your fault for choosing to be/remain disadvantaged! Just no.
Not everyone will agree with me on this latter point, but the questions are worth thinking about, and point a) and b) still stand.
4. “Accommodating larger people is unhealthy and bad because it makes being fat okay.”
Hey there, asshole!
You know what’s really unhealthy for the US population? How about … not having universal health care? You want a fucking public health problem, there’s your fucking public health problem.
Thinness is not inherently good. Thinness does not indicate health. Fatness is not inherently bad. Fatness does not indicate poor health. Hurting and humiliating those who are not thin does not encourage them to become thin … it just hurts them and humiliates them because they are human beings who have feelings - not just fat flesh - and who ought to be respected as such.
5. “Being thin is hard because people make fun of you.”
Everyone tends to privilege their own experiences; it is hard not to. We also tend to overinflate our own challenges. In some minds, being told to, “Ew, go eat a sandwich” is equivalent to being told, “Ew, you’re gross and not welcome here because you’re fat.” It sucks to be insulted, and an insult is an insult, right? Well, sort of. Insults occur in a fully developed social world, where privilege and disadvantage is in full bloom. Even when told to “eat a sandwich,” a thin person has a body that is idealized, a body that can easily fit in an airplane seat, a body that is associated with goodness, status, and prosperity, a body that can easily be clothed, etc. That thin person may be insulted, but she is still thin and still privileged. Being insulted hurts personally, but it doesn’t take one’s social privilege away.
And, it sure as fuck isn’t silencing to thin women to point out thin privilege because it “ignores” the experiences of thin women. Identifying privilege is not ever itself silencing, nor is it a personal attack on the individual. A thin woman benefits from being thin in a variety of ways, but that isn’t her “fault” as a thin person, and calling out her privilege oughtn’t be construed as such. (It is derailing and misses the point.) However, it is her fault if she is a privilege denying asshole when she encounters evidence of her privilege. That’s the point at which she turns into an oppressor.
6. “God, people complain about everything. Doesn’t this just dilute the idea of privilege?”
Nope, sorry. Where groups of people are systemically treated unfairly and unequally, I - and many others - will “complain,” even if others don’t deem those issues “worthy” of complaint.
Carefully applying the concept of privilege (which is general and widely applicable) outside the most commonly identified dimensions of privilege (race, gender, class) does not dilute the concept, nor does it take away from discussion of those kinds of privilege. Dialogues about privilege don’t occupy a “zero-sum” critical space, and talking or writing about thin privilege does trivialize or distract from discussions of other types of privilege. For example, talking about thin privilege isn’t stopping anyone from talking about class privilege, and you know what? Talking about thin privilege might illuminate certain aspects of class privilege that would otherwise go unnoticed. Why is it, for example, that Saks stocks women’s sizes that are so much smaller than Old Navy’s? And, really, the practice of social critique generally ought to be broadened, not narrowed … especially when that narrowing is according to arbitrary (and often biased-by-privilege) standards of what is “worthy” of discussion and what is not.
There’s no Oppression Olympics. Oppression is oppression, social disadvantage is social disadvantage, privilege is privilege. It isn’t a contest about who has it worse, or which kinds of privilege are more socially noxious, or whatever.