A new/old "privilege": Thin privilege

Kelsey Miller, who writes below, is fat (see above) and she envies the better treatment that thin women get.  And the everlasting Leftist grumble about "inequality" provides her with a peg to hang her envy on.  What she says below is that liking for thin bodies is unjust in that it offends against the equality doctrine and that we as individuals might not be able to change social values but we can be equally nice to fatties and slenders.  And it would be REALLY good if slender people could be made to feel guilty about being slender.  Let fatties rule!

Like all fat grumblers, she makes no enquiry about WHY slim is seen as better.  It's just something "society" does for inscrutable reasons.  As with Leftists generally, the fact that their dreams of a different world never come about, seems to escape her attention.  The world SHOULD be different and that is that!

But let us take a quick glance at why her dream will never come about.  Let us ask why this world is as it is.

It's old hat to go back to the cavemen but they probably do have a role here.  Slim people can run, jump and climb faster so are the ones most likely to catch a tasty animal for dinner.  And evolution is a slow burn so much of our behaviour and values reflect our caveman past.  It seems highly probable that natural selection has built into our genes a preference for slimness.  Fat-lovers are fighting a million years of human evolution.

Aha!  Someone will say:  How come fat women are ADMIRED in the poorer parts of the Arab world and China?  Where did their genes  go?

Human being are very flexible.  Witness the fact that fat ladies do normally acquire a husband.  The husband will mostly be short or a smoking, drinking, gambling type but he is male and does help to bring forth children.  In other words, there are circumstances in which the genetic influence can be overridden. In the absence of better alternatives the fatty may take on a man who is rejected by women with better alterantives.

I once ran a large boarding house in a poor area and it was amusing to see the couples walking down the street in that area.  It was common to see  short, spherical women trotting alongside a short, thin and very scrubby man puffing on a fag (cigarette). Both had wisely compromised and gotten what they could:  A useless man and a lady prepared to tolerate a lot. At least they were not alone.

And such flexibility is observable in poor countries too.  In poor countries, the problem is food.  It seems strange to most of us in the modern world but, until quite recently, there were a lot of people everywhere who had to struggle to put bread on the table for their families.  And in some countries only a tiny elite escaped that position.   In those circumstances, food abundance was greatly admired.  Someone who had plenty of food was envied.

And what is sure evidence that the pesron is one of those who are blessed with lots of food?  Fat!  Fat was the mark of a prosperous and successful family.  So a fat lady was socially desirable.  She could open the door to FOOD!  A poor society is the fat woman's nirvana.

And I have seen it in operation.  I was walking along a street in Australia with a number of benches beside it.  And on one bench I came across a very amusing sight. There was a rather good looking man of Arab appearance who was clearly expressing great admiration and affection to the Caucasian woman he was sitting beside.  And the woman was very FAT!  And the look of utter confusion on her face was a treat.  Here was this handsome man being very nice to HER!  Why?  Why was she being treated as a great beauty?  She basically did not know what to do.  I walked on so saw no more of them so I will never know if she figured out that she really WAS beautiful to Arab eyes.

But in our bountiful societies none of that applies.  Other values, including caveman values, come into play.  And caveman values are only part of it.  Another really important value is YOUTH.  And those of us with creaky bones will emphatically assure you that youth is better.  But what is associated with youth?  Slimness.  In our teens, the great majority of us are slim.  But that does not usually last.  Even those of us who started out skinny do expand over time.  So admiration for slimness is largely an admiration for a youthful appearance and no amount of Leftist equality-mongering will change that

Fatties go to the back of the bus!  Actually, they are there already. It is easy to say that fat is a choice.  We can always diet to lose it.  But, as Kelsey Miller knows, that is easier said than done.  Separating a fatty from their food is almost impossible long term.

So what can a fatty do?  One thing guaranteed to do no good at all is to write angry articles condemning “thin privilege”. So the really vital thing to do is to accept how the cookie crumbles.  Accept how the world about us works and adapt yourself to it as best you can. So for fat ladies, I would suggest that they re-evaluate that pesky short guy who seems to be the only one interested in you.  He may be the best you can get -- and half a loaf is better than  none.  Perhaps you can concentrate on his pretty eyes, or how well he plays the spoons, or something

If we claim to care about equality, then we must acknowledge this inequality, too: thin privilege.

What’s your gut reaction to that term? Defensiveness, anger, hope, curiosity? Before stepping further into this subject, I think it’s important to recognize where we’re all coming from.

When I hear the term “thin privilege,” my first response is anxiety. I feel anger and interest and hope as well, but first and foremost, I feel nervous when the subject comes up, because I am not a thin person.

Illogical as it may sound, naming another group’s privilege feels almost like picking on them. The thing to remember is that privilege isn’t about us as individuals. It’s about the system we all live inside. It’s no one’s fault, yet it is everyone’s responsibility.

“Acknowledging that you have privilege is not saying that your life hasn’t been difficult,” says Melissa Fabello, renowned body-acceptance activist, academic, and managing editor of Everyday Feminism. “It's simply acknowledging which obstacles you have not faced.”

As a thin person working in the realm of body activism, Fabello frequently affirms the obstacles she herself hasn’t faced.

For example, “when I walk onto a plane, I don’t have any thoughts about whether or not I'm going to be able to sit in the seat,” she says. Going to the doctor, she doesn’t deal with automatic assumptions about her health.

“It's always, ‘Okay, let's treat whatever issue you came in here for.’”

Fabello offers these examples with no caveat or defense. That’s a rare attitude when it comes to any topic about our bodies — particularly women’s bodies.

Because, for one thing, thin privilege doesn’t protect her from other harmful experiences and damaging beliefs. We live in a world that scrutinizes and judges women’s bodies, period. Furthermore, “our current cultural beauty ideal for women is this weird skinny-but-curvy thing,” she says.

The beauty standard has evolved in the past few decades (“in the latter half of the 20th century [it] was very stick-thin,” Fabello notes), but it hasn’t become any more flexible or generous. It used to require visible hip bones, and now it demands curves — but only in the “right places.” By its very nature, a beauty standard is exclusionary, and women of all sizes are vulnerable to it.

“That’s an issue of women's bodies being seen as public property. That’s an issue of women's bodies being seen through the lens of the male gaze,” says Fabello.

“It is not about size discrimination, which is a separate issue.”

In fact, this new twist in the beauty standard may be feeding the ever-growing elephant in this room: skinny shaming. While it is an entirely different topic, we cannot have a conversation about thin privilege or size bias without contending with skinny shaming. And that’s a problem.

While things like privilege and bias are systemic, shaming happens on an interpersonal level. It may be within your family, your peer group, or even your broader community. It’s simply a different form of harm.

“Oppression isn't one, two, five, or one hundred people saying something bad about your body or making you feel bad about your body.

That’s not oppression,” says Fabello, “Oppression is something that is woven into society so that it is inescapable.” That doesn’t make body shaming of any kind invalid or harmless — and no one is arguing that.

Yet, many thin people still present skinny shaming as a counterpoint in an argument that isn’t happening.

“I would say nine out of 10 times, thin people only complain about or bring up the concept of skinny shaming as a way to derail a conversation about fat shaming,” says Fabello.

They’ll offer evidence as if to say that their experience is exactly the same as a fat person’s. “You know, ‘Well, I'm so thin that when I go to the doctor they tell me I just have to gain weight.’

Or, ‘I can't shop in the average clothing store either. I have to buy kid's clothes, because they don’t make clothes in my size.’ They come up with these counter-examples, which then makes it a difficult conversation.”

Of course, anecdotes like this just don’t add up against the basic, big-picture facts: The world does not hold thinness and fatness as equal. “We are all socialized not to want a fat body,” says Fabello.

But stating the obvious is a fruitless tactic when faced with someone like this. If you can’t acknowledge these basic truths, “you’re not actually trying to learn or understand. You’re just on the defensive.”

We are all prone to that defensiveness. It’s a knee-jerk response when someone checks our privilege for us (see: #AllLivesMatter).

This is why the system hurts us all so deeply: It perverts our empathy into something fearful and selfish and utterly nonsensical.

When thin people argue like this, Fabello points out, they’re saying, “‘Well, what about me? I'm also shamed for my body, so therefore thin privilege can’t exist and fat oppression can’t exist because I have this experience.’”

That is why body positivity isn’t just about accepting your own body. It’s about actively acknowledging others’ — particularly those who don’t benefit from your own privilege.

Absolutely, it begins with self-acceptance. “We all need body acceptance,” Fabello reaffirms. “Everybody wants to have their own pain acknowledged and everybody should have their own pain acknowledged in whatever appropriate way there is.”

For her, that means being mindful of the room she’s in. “If people are hurt, then I think people need to have that conversation to heal.

But I think that it should be had within one privileged group and also with context.” Imagine an able-bodied person walking into a room full of quadriplegics, complaining about her broken arm.

Even better, imagine a straight, cis, white woman walking into a room full of queer, trans quadriplegics of color — and complaining about her broken arm.

When in doubt, remember to look for and note all the privileges we cannot see — or which we’ve been conditioned not to see.

It’s not an overt maliciousness, this blind spot in our vision. Shaming is overt. Privilege, like prejudice, is something so old and so ordinary; it’s the mottled lens through which we see everything.

It’s our idea of average. “And whenever we have an idea of an ‘average person,’ it's always someone who is the most privileged.”

The world is built around this idea of a person, and everyone else is an exception to be accommodated. Some accommodations are more easily made than others; the left-handed kid needs a lefty desk, so the teacher runs around looking for one, apologizing to the student because, of course, that’s only fair.

When it comes to something like size, it’s different. “You go to a restaurant and the table is nailed down to the ground,” says Fabello.

“There's this assumption that the blank-slate person who things are created for is a certain size.” It’s a bias you might not notice unless you’re pressed right up against it.

When you’re sitting comfortably, it takes effort to notice — and even more effort to question.

But really, it’s not that hard. The problem is that we take the word “privilege” so personally, when it’s not so much about you as it is us.

Actively acknowledging your own privilege isn’t saying, “I’m the bad guy.” It’s saying the system is bad. It does not invalidate your own pain, but validates the pain of others — which is just as real, though not as recognized.

In voicing that injustice, you are not giving up your seat at the table, but demanding a table at which all of us can sit with comfort and be heard.


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