Wednesday, 30 September 2020

How To Be A Thin Ally In A Fatphobic World



Thin privilege .

A term that is widely used in the body positivity community but one that is often met with anger and shock by those not familiar with it. Almost as though the term itself is something to become defensive about.

But hold up...let's talk about this for a sec.

If you exist in a thin body, then you undoubtedly benefit from Thin Privilege.

To begin with...let's define just what we mean by "Thin Privilege" shall we?

Thin privilege is not about the way you feel about your body, or even whether or not you've faced judgement and shaming because of your body size.

Because lookism is so prevalent in our culture - any person can be a victim of body shaming, regardless of shape or size.

Skinny shaming is a thing, and it's no less awful than fat shaming is.

We also understand that thin people can suffer with body dysmorphia, eating disorders and just good old fashioned body insecurities just as much as people in larger bodies.

The phrase "thin privilege" does not mean that you have not had a tough time accepting your body, or that you haven't experienced cruelty because of it - it means that the size of your body does not actively exclude you from normal things on a daily basis.

Thin privilege is about the fact that there are circumstances in everyday life that will never be an issue for you if you are a thin person.

For example..if you are able to walk in to most high street stores and find clothing available in your size, in a range of styles and at reasonable prices, that is thin privilege. Because It's something that people in larger bodies can't do.

People in larger bodies tend not to be able to find clothing in their size on the high street, often having to order online from a small selection of specialist stores, often having to pay far more than thin people do with far less choice available, and often even having to have clothing specially made.

Think about it, when was the last time you saw a store carrying a size 30?

Another example is flying - if you can board a plane without having to worry about whether or not the seat will accommodate your body, without having to ask for a seat belt extender, without having to worry about whether or not the person sitting next to you will be offended by your size and complain about you making them uncomfortable - that is thin privilege.

That is something that people in larger bodies cannot do - taking a flight as a large bodied person can be anxiety inducing, expensive as two seats are often needed, and sometimes it can even be impossible because their size simply isn't accommodated.

It's worth mentioning here that thin privilege is not exclusive to only traditionally thin people either...those of us living in what is considered "smaller fat" bodies have a certain degree of thin privilege too.

 As a size 20 woman, although I can't find clothing in my size in EVERY high street store...I CAN find it in a fair selection of stores.

I have a range of stores available to shop in at my size...and there is privilege in that. Because a size 30 person could never do that.

I see examples of thin privilege quite often...it's one of those "Once you see it, you can't unsee it" sort of things.

And quite often, I actually see it happening within the body positive community from people who probably don't even realise that they're displaying thin privilege themselves.

And so I thought I'd share a little list of ways you can be a great Thin Ally - supporting people living in larger bodies, and helping to make the world more accessible and inclusive for EVERY body.

Because surely that can only be a good thing.

1)  Don't Suggest Independent Clothing Stores/Charity Shops for Ethical Shopping

Believe me...I would LOVE to be able to support some of the super cool independent businesses I see on Instagram selling trendy slogan t shirts with a hefty chunk of their proceeds going to charities....but very often, they don't cater for my size. Many of them don't actually go above a size 16.

Likewise...I would love to be able to find great vintage bargains in charity shops as I often see my friends do, enabling me to be more sustainable in my shopping choices - but charity shops tend to have very few items available in my size. I'm lucky if there are one or two things that will fit me in a charity shop.

So your Facebook post calling for all of your friends to shop ethically and do the Earth a favour is great, but do spare a thought for those of us who simply have to shop wherever the clothes fit us.

2) Choose Restaurants/Cafes With Suitable Seating

It's easy not to consider this if its something that you've never had to think about, but seating in restaurants and cafes etc can often be an issue for those with a larger body. There are several restaurants that I find tricky because they use booth style seating where the seats can't be moved back from the table and it's a squeeze for me to fit inside the space they have considered "suitable" for everyone. I'm lucky in that I can usually manage to get in but it's not very comfortable, and it also makes me feel embarrassed when I'm visibly trying to squish myself to fit.

For those in bigger bodies than mine, many of these spaces would be completely inaccessible and there are some venues that don't offer any alternative seating.

The way around this? Check venue choices with your friends/family members before making arrangements to ensure it's suitable for them, call the venue ahead and ask them to clarify the seating situation if you're unsure and let your fat friend choose where in the venue they'd like to sit when you arrive....don't head straight for the booth and put them in the position of then having to explain to you that they can't sit there!

And better still - if you notice that a venue has unsuitable seating for larger bodies, TELL THEM! Drop them a friendly e-mail and urge them to consider switching to more accessible seating. Because until THEY know better, they can't do better.

3) Consider the theme/content of your entertainment choices and the memes you share

Most people living in a straight-sized body won't know what it feels like for movies/tv shows/comedian sets to contain jokes at the expense of bodies like theirs. Because "normal" sized bodies aren't made fun of regularly.

But fat bodies are. And there are TONS of tv shows, movies and comedians that make a lot of fat jokes or use topics that can be hurtful to fat people...something to consider when planning a movie night or similar. Because believe me - it's anything but enjoyable to sit among thin friends while watching your body type be ridiculed for laughs.

The same rule should apply to the memes you share on social media too - I see an endless stream of fatphobic content shared via Memes every single day and not only is it distressing to me and other fat people, but it usually uses REAL PEOPLE who have no doubt had their images used against their will and are being humiliated purely for your enjoyment.

And aside from that...honestly, it just makes me actively dislike you and think you're a bit of a dick! 

It's also worth noting that being fat yourself is not a green light to share fatphobic content. Just because something isn't harmful to you personally, that doesn't mean it won't be harmful to someone else. Try to be considerate. I'm sure you'd never intentionally trigger feelings of self loathing, self harm or eating disorder behaviours in people but you should be aware that some memes and articles online can have those results.

4) Stop talking about "Fat" as a feeling

The word "Fat" has become so widely used in society today and usually in a negative way. Far too often people use the word "fat" when they really mean bloated, uncomfortably full or similar...but consider how a thin person saying "Yuck I feel so fat now!" after a large meal is going to make those of us who actually ARE fat feel.

This also applies when a thin person looks in the mirror and says something along the lines of "I feel/look fat today". Think about the wording you're using, and if you're using the word fat to describe a feeling...or something negative...it's probably better to rethink your choice of words.

Fat is not a feeling. Fat is also not something you are when you're in a thin body. You can't have a "fat day" just because you ate a lot yesterday. You can have a bloated day, you can look bloated...make sure you're using the right language.

And please stop using the word "Fat" so negatively, particularly around fat people. It's just rude.

5) Stop Talking About How Much You Want To Lose Weight/Recommending Diets/Discussing Weight In General

I'll be honest - discussing the subject of weight with thin people usually makes me feel immediately uncomfortable.

Whether you're judging me or not, I immediately become very self-conscious when weight is mentioned in conversations I have with thin people.

The worst situation of all though, is when a thin person chooses to talk to me about how much they want to lose weight. I've lost count of how many times I've had thin people tell me how they really want to lose x amount of pounds, they want to drop a jeans size, they need to "get back in control" of their figure etc - honestly? Apart from being probably the dullest topic of conversation ever, what you are basically saying to me is "OH MY GOD I AM SO DESPERATE TO NEVER LOOK LIKE YOU SO THIS IS WHAT I'M DOING TO STOP THAT FROM HAPPENING!"

Discussing your weight loss desires with me feels like you telling me that to look like me would be the worst thing you can think of. How is that NOT insensitive?!

And while we're on the subject - please don't ever assume that just because someone is fat, they automatically want your diet advice.

You have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA what someone's history with dieting, eating disorders or medical conditions is. Even if you think you know them super well, there can ALWAYS be secret triggers.

You also have no idea of how someone truly feels about their weight and whether or not they want to change it or if they even CAN change it, so don't assume that you do.

I once had a THERAPIST that I was seeing to help me overcome post traumatic stress disorder as a result of domestic violence recommend a diet to me. She had NO clue what my past history was, whether I'd had any eating disorders or whether I wanted to lose weight or discuss my weight.  But she sat there and told me all about how much weight she'd lost that week and that I should try her diet anyway.

THIS. IS. NOT. OK!!!

6) Don't Discuss A Person's Body Size With Them Unless They Invite You To (And Even Then, Be Sensitive!)

You have no idea how sensitive a person may be about their size. Believe me, living with fatphobic abuse on the regular can damage a person pretty severely.  You may think that the fact they are obviously fat or that they discuss their size themselves means that they are fine with having their weight referenced in conversation or having you discuss how your friend referred to them as "Their big  friend" etc...but you never truly know what emotions that may trigger in someone.

I understand it may be difficult to strike the right balance here, because to deny someone's fatness can just be as bad.  Telling your fat friend that they're NOT fat is also not ok - it implies they should be ashamed of their body enough to deny the truth about it.

But try to find a middle ground. Echo the wording a person uses if you truly MUST discuss their weight with them, but mostly? It probably just doesn't need to be discussed at all, does it?

 I'm SURE there are plenty of far more interesting things about your fat friend than the size of their body, so don't insult them by referring to them based on that or making it an active topic of conversation.

(P.S this also applies to fellow fat people - just because YOU are ok with certain turns of phrase and topics of conversation, don't assume that every other fat person is too. Everybody has their triggers so please be considerate. I refer to myself as fat, but I would never refer to another person that way or joke about their weight unless I was CONFIDENT that they were ok with it - and even then, still probably wouldn't coz why would it need to be a subject that comes up at all?!)


and finally...

7) If You Can't Be Bothered To Be A Thin Ally....

If you truly feel that it's not your job to make the world a more comfortable place for those living in fat bodies. If you've read this post and feel that "everybody can and should lose weight if they want toso why should I worry about offending them" or we shouldn't molly coddle people, wHaT AbOuT ThE ObEsiTy CrISis" or "the world shouldn't be changed for fat people" or "It's not MY fault they're fat"...then just know that YOU are a huge part of the problem.

Your opinion is rooted in ableism, lookism and fatphobia. And you should try much, much harder to educate yourself.

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