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July 20, 2010 / Katie

Temporarily thin?

Heidi posted this article on Facebook (and wrote about it more here) with the comment: “The unconscious privilege in the FB comments on NPR’s page is a little terrifying – why is this country so unaware of the MULTIPLE challenges that contribute to this country’s disordered eating?!”

In my reply, I said, “I think folks with thin privilege still live with the sheer terror of becoming fat, so convincing themselves that it’s all about the righteousness of personal habits, and that they themselves engage in righteous personal habits, helps assuage that fear. To admit that it is so much more complex is to admit they themselves may become fat one day or, at the very least, that ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’ It’s much more pleasant to believe that your own righteousness has led to the privileges you enjoy.”

This made me think about how disability activists often use the term temporarily able-bodied, or TAB, instead of simply “able-bodied” to discuss folks who (currently) have able-bodied privilege.  It opens up the dialogue in many ways, and serves to be less othering of folks with disabilities.  After all, at some point in our lives, the vast majority of us will experience some type of disability, even if it is only age-related degenerative disabilities such as poor eyesight, hearing, or memory.

But I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone use this in fat rights discourse.  But why not?  I mean, the term temporarily thin actually is true for many of the folks we are talking about.  Sure, there are people who are thin throughout their entire lives and never become chubby or fat.  But the vast majority of people put on weight in older age.  Many women put on weight after carrying a child and always remain sligthly fatter than they were before.  And many thin people may unexpectedly find that they put on weight due to an illness or a medication for that illness.  A woman in my family was very thin until she contracted Hepatitis B due to improper safety precautions at her job at a dentist’s office, and the medication made her put on weight that she has never been able to lose.  I know of others who put on weight as a result of psychotropic meds for depression or anxiety, or other drugs like prednisone for conditions like MS, lupus, etc.

I’m not sure if “temporarily” works for thinness the way it does for disability because such a huge percentage of the population will experience some form of disability at some time in their life.  This is not necessarily true with fatness, so perhaps something like currently thin would be a better way of putting it.

But whether we use temporarily or currently, the point still stands: I do think there is some value to having a discussion about thinness and fatness that admits the temporality of our body types.  If we vocally express the reality that thin people are thin right now but are not guaranteed to be thin forever, we may be able to open doors of discussion and stimulate empathy where there might not have been before.  We may be able to remind people that we don’t, ultimately, have control over the shape and size of our bodies; that they are subject to social, environmental, and internal factors.  We may be able to help people let go of some judgment and fear of their own bodies as they change throughout their lives.

Maybe.  Maybe not.

This thought occurred to me, literally, hours ago.  So it’s worth some more thought and reflection.  Any thoughts from my readers?

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6 Comments

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  1. Heidi / Jul 20 2010 12:51 pm

    It’s an interesting thought – I sometimes think most American women only ever think of themselves as “temporarily thin” because they’re so constantly dieting (although this would probably never be codified in such a way).

  2. BB Allen / Jul 20 2010 1:58 pm

    I agree. I would prefer the phrase ‘currently thin’ rather than temporarily, mainly due to the fact it’s easier to turn round (I often refer to myself as currently fat due to the fact that I used to be thin). I think that if we promote the fact that our bodies will change, throughout our lives, for a variety of reasons, then there wouldn’t be so much panic when change does happen. If we’re prepared for the possibility of change then change will be better experience.

  3. Living 400lbs / Jul 20 2010 9:49 pm

    Interesting concept. Agreed that most people gain weight as they age – but not much….hm.

  4. thefatchickdiaries / Jul 21 2010 4:51 pm

    Thank you for the concept of “currently thin,” which is valuable and definitely adds to the conversation about body size and privilege. I hope it catches on. But thank you even more for this:

    *****
    In my reply, I said, “I think folks with thin privilege still live with the sheer terror of becoming fat, so convincing themselves that it’s all about the righteousness of personal habits, and that they themselves engage in righteous personal habits, helps assuage that fear. To admit that it is so much more complex is to admit they themselves may become fat one day or, at the very least, that ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’ It’s much more pleasant to believe that your own righteousness has led to the privileges you enjoy.”
    *****

    This is something I think about a lot, and I’ve never been able to express it as concisely as this. It applies to more areas of difference and privilege than just body size, of course, but it’s especially relevant to fat because of the moral panic associated with it, which seems to keep escalating and escalating. I’m still pretty new to the world of fat acceptance, and I’m continually impressed by what an intelligent, eloquent bunch the FA bloggers are. Thank you for writing this.

  5. vitamom / Jul 23 2010 8:55 pm

    I definitely identify with this – I was thin as a teenager and now am fat post-kids as well as while on antidepressants. I think I would lose weight if I stopped taking my medicine, if I managed to stay alive. I would much rather be fat and sane. :-)

    But I think another layer that adds to the complexity is that a lot of currently thin people truly believe that they are fat and are encouraged in that belief by society. So it becomes a bit of a comparison game of being ‘fat but not that fat,’ people putting others down in order to feel better about their own imperfections.

    That last is immature and wrong, but it’s also somewhat inevitable in a society that teaches us all to hate our bodies.

  6. Jenna / Oct 3 2010 5:03 pm

    hmmm yes this is an interesting concept I had personally coined the experience as… in thin remission… meaning that it was only a matter of time before I was back up to my fat weight. Seeing as I am pretty much teh same pant size I was in high school as I am now 15 years later I can say that my weight now which is NOT accepted by society is the weight my body naturally remains to be. Whenever I have managed either through illness, strict dieting, hatred, what have you… got down to a more appropriate size its always a temporary nature… the remission of being thin is what I used to call it though I dont think I would call it that now.

    I remember Margaret Cho the comedianne saying something to that affect, that times were she was thin was like a brief warm period between two ice ages :)

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