Thin Privilege: What is it and what does it mean for you?
“Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it’s not a problem to you personally” – David Gaider
Talking about thin privilege can make people feel uncomfortable and defensive and this is because it’s often misunderstood.
At Embody Health London we make it a point to bring up this topic as we believe it is key in building a safe and trusting relationship with our clients.
Having thin privilege does not mean that you’ve had an easy life or that you’ve never had someone make a mean comment about your body or that you’ve never had a bad body image day. You can still have thin privilege and dislike yourself. We see many clients who may even be thin but perhaps not even feel thin. This demonstrates how diet culture affects us all.
Thin privilege means that your everyday life hasn’t been more difficult because of the size of your body.
By being thin means you are MORE likely to have greater access to resources and less likely to face discrimination in various areas of your life, be it career, health care and society at large.
Here are some examples of how thin privilege may present itself:
- Not having people assume you’re unhealthy just by looking at you.
- Not being shamed for your size or having people suggest you’re ‘promoting’ a certain body type just by existing.
- Health care professionals not suggesting weight loss as the first response to any and all health concerns.
- Being able to walk into almost any store and find clothes that will fit your body.
- Not worrying about whether the person you sit down next to in a public place will sigh or roll their eyes at you or use another micro-aggression.
- Being able to eat a hamburger in public without fear of being judged.
- Seeing bodies similar to your own shown positively in the media – that is, not just as a character to laugh at or feel sorry for.
If you find yourself heating up whilst reading this or perhaps feel defensive about it, we invite you to dig deeper into those feelings! Consider, what does this topic bring up for me?
Perhaps you remember a time that you were shamed or mistreated regardless of being in a smaller body. We hear you. You are human too. And NO ONE deserves to be treated like that.
However, whilst it’s hurtful and ignorant, we draw a distinction between being systemically discriminated against in almost every aspect of life.
For example, the research demonstrates that people living in larger bodies receive lower-quality health care1, poorer customer service2 and are even paid less than their smaller-bodied counterparts3.
You might also be feeling like you deserve the benefits that come with being thin because you’ve earned it by making “good” choices.
But here is the thing… our weight is determined by SO much more than just diet and exercise! It’s not as simple as diet culture makes it seem.
DID YOU KNOW that studies show that weight is at least 70% determined by genetics?4 AND that dieting and weight loss actually lead to even greater weight gain in most cases?5
If this resonates with you and you’re thinking “SO WHAT DO I DO, THEN?!”
Here are our top tips!
Recognise your privilege and talk about it with others, even if it may feel uncomfortable – go there! This can be a fantastic way to set the tone and build a more meaningful relationship with others.
Acknowledge that we live in a fatphobic society, and that life is easier in a smaller body. Unfortunately, this is the reality and we cannot deny it.
Listen to and believe fat people when they tell you their lived experiences – just because it hasn’t happened to you, it DOES NOT mean it doesn’t happen!
At EHL, we bring thin privilege up with many of our clients because although we may not live in larger bodies, we acknowledge that we do not have the same lived experience as many of them.
We make it a priority to incessantly demonstrate compassion and we empathise with our clients to ensure we create a safe space where they feel heard. As practitioners, we endeavour to understand and we will continue to do so. Because EVERY ONE has the right to equitable treatment and care.
So consider this, how can you do your part?
Karli Battaglia, MDiet, APD
EHL Team x
- Phelan S, Burgess D, Yeazel M, Hellerstedt W, Griffin J, van Ryn M. Impact of weight bias and stigma on quality of care and outcomes for patients with obesity. Obesity Reviews. 2015;16(4):319-326.
- King E, Shapiro J, Hebl M, Singletary S, Turner S. The stigma of obesity in customer service: A mechanism for remediation and bottom-line consequences of interpersonal discrimination. Journal of Applied Psychology. 2006;91(3):579-593.
- Baum C, Ford W. The wage effects of obesity: a longitudinal study. Health Economics. 2004;13(9):885-899.
- Riveros-McKay F, Mistry V, Bounds R, Hendricks A, Keogh J, Thomas H et al. Genetic architecture of human thinness compared to severe obesity. PLOS Genetics. 2019;15(1):e1007603.
- Rothblum E. Slim chance for permanent weight loss. Archives of Scientific Psychology. 2018;6(1):63-69.