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August 13, 2009 / Katie

Linda Bacon on Thin Privilege, etc.

Linda Bacon, one of the most well-known health care professionals encouraging Health At Every Size (and who has recently set up a great online HAES-related community) recently spoke at a NAAFA convention.

I really encourage you to read this absolutely stellar article based on her keynote speech. It does an excellent job discussing thin privilege and fat oppression, using concepts and language that will be informative and interesting to folks who are new to the movement and “old pros” alike. I would like to discuss a couple of key points here that I think are really important.

The first quote I’d like to share is regarding her thin privilege:

• Because of thin privilege, I had a larger dating pool, which made it easier for me to find the incredibly wonderful and supportive partner that I have.

• Because of thin privilege, I have had easier access to meeting and gaining approval from other people socially, some of whom have provided career opportunities for me.

• Because of thin privilege, I can go into a clothing store, get treated with respect, and have a larger choice of fashions and at cheaper price than fatter people.

• Because of thin privilege, I can be assured of only having to pay for one airline seat, making travel and its accompanying opportunities much more accessible to me.

• Because of thin privilege, I have developed a platform and persona that resulted in being asked to speak to you today.

A discussion of Thin Privilege is an important part of Fat Liberation, and I really appreciate Linda’s ability to honestly and frankly address ways she is privileged as a thin woman in society. Fat liberation theology is good news for some—the fat—and it’s challenging news for others—the thin. This challenge isn’t necessarily “bad news” unless the thin want to hold onto their privilege and keep oppressing fat folks.

Linda goes on to describe why she, a woman with thin privilege, is such an active proponent for fat acceptance. She debunks ideas that it is pure altruism, saying that in fact, fat oppression hurts her as well.

Let me share a little more about why fat oppression feels so painful for me, because it may not be so patently obvious given my body size. The cultural perception of fat bodies as “wrong” hurts those of us in the “right” bodies too. In fact, most thin people suffer from anxieties about their weight. An individual’s weight tells you very little about whether it feels problematic to them.

This is why Fat Liberation Theology is for everyone; all of us need to be freed from unrealistic expectations and pressures about our body size and weight, wherever we are on the height/weight proportion spectrum. We cannot discount the fact that because of thin privilege, life is actually quite a bit easier for thin folks than fat folks. However, it is also true that folks of all sizes suffer from doubt that our bodies are acceptable and fear about our bodies getting fatter.

Further (bold in original):

Have you ever cheated before? I remember playing in a tennis tournament when I was a teenager. I was hot and tired, and there was a lot riding on my victory. I was a point away from victory and my opponent hit a deep lob that I just couldn’t get to in time; it hit the line – a fair, well-played shot – but I called it “out.” It’s down on the record books that I won the match, but it was a hollow victory and I still feel dirty to this day. Inequity hurts the oppressor as well as the victim.

Thin folks who benefit from thin privilege and perpetuate the injustices of fat oppression upon others are rightly called “oppressors.” But this is not a life-giving way of being. It robs the oppressor and the oppressed alike of the experience of Christ in one another, and shackles all of us to the oppressive system. As long as fat folks are oppressed, none of us are truly free.

The final quote from Linda that I’ll share takes us in a different direction. It is about just how damaging the expectation of weight loss resulting from healthy lifestyle changes can be when it turns out that those changes don’t happen to bring weight loss. In the speech, Linda discusses an eating disorder recovery model which worked for her—it helped her to recover from her eating disorder and she also lost some weight. She then goes on to say:

I then went on to use this model in my work as psychotherapist specializing in eating disorders, and that’s when I realized that my results were not typical and that the model was quite damaging. While many clients were able to successfully address the emotional issues underlying their drive to eat and make inroads into taking better care of themselves emotionally, weight loss didn’t always follow. Yet the model taught them that their weight was a visible representation of their failure, resulting in them feeling like they had failed and not being able to give value to their significant psychological gains. It limited their ability to accept their own bodies and contributed to their fat prejudice when viewing others.

How sad this is! We attach impossible (or at the very least, highly improbable) expectations to behaviors that are intrinsically good for us, and then feel discouraged when our expectations aren’t met. Making healthy choices for ourselves, as our ability and resources allow, such as increasing pleasurable movement and eating a variety of nutritious foods are, in and of themselves, good and healthy decisions. Making the numbers on our clothing labels and the bathroom scale the litmus test for health or “success” robs us of the joy of living fully into our bodies, getting pleasure from them, respecting them, and loving them.

Seriously, go read the whole article. It really is wonderful, and there is so much that I didn’t even touch on. And then, come back here and post your reactions to it!

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3 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. RMJ / Aug 13 2009 6:52 pm

    Great post!

    Came via Feministe. I’m trying to figure out my place in fat advocacy, so I’m excited to read what you have to say.

    • Katie / Aug 14 2009 10:12 am

      Thank you and welcome! I always enjoy your comments over at Feministe so I’m delighted to see you here :)

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