(Image from Google Image Search/ Originally on a really annoying newspaper article I don’t want to link to.)
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about fat identities, thin privilege, and smaller fats in the FA movement. This is just some musing on the subject; I am not any authority on it, and my information and ideas are of course cobbled together from dozens of different articles and blogs that I don’t specifically remember. This post is particularly inspired by some bits of and comments on Marianne Kirby’s article, “How Not To Be A Dick To Your Fat Friends” on xoJane.com (check it out if you haven’t already!), but if I’ve unwittingly borrowed from some other specific source that I haven’t cited, feel free to call me on it.
I understand that, in the right culture/circumstance/whatever, a lot of people might identify as fat, that I don’t think are actually fat. I know people have said that in Asian cultures, the threshold for “fat” is a lot lower. I know that people who have struggled with body image issues/body dysmorphia for a long time might identify as “fat” even when they are thin by society’s standards. And I understand that sometimes, people who are relatively thin are called fat, and they choose to embrace it and go full on fat acceptance, which as far as reactions to that situation go, is definitely a positive one.
It’s not my right to draw the line at who can and cannot identify as fat. I’m not the identity police. Although, most of us can agree that in a US American culture, someone who is a size 8 is not fat. Still, if they are identifying that way, there are obviously deeper issues at work here, and we don’t need to criticize them for it unless they insist on taking up a lot of vocal space in fat spaces, because then we run into a whole different issue. But if they just want to identify as “fat,” well, it’s not our place to judge where they’re coming from.
HOWEVER. You can’t deny that thin privilege works on a scale. A size 4 has privilege that a size 14 doesn’t, who in turn has privilege that a size 24 doesn’t, who yet again has privilege that a size 34 doesn’t, and so on. I’m definitely fat. But I’m not the only fat person in the world, or the fattest person in the world, and my experiences, while true for me, don’t make someone else’s conflicting experiences less true.
To go for an often-cited example,it’s true that off-the-rack clothes don’t fit anyone properly. However, there are even fewer and fewer options for us to try on as we go up in size. I have two stores in my local mall that I know I can find something at just to cover my body with relative ease. Not promising it’ll be cute or good quality or fit well, but it will physically cover my body. Were I a few sizes larger, I wouldn’t even find that.
It’s not all about clothes, of course. It’s about fitting into public spaces that were designed with thin people in mind: narrow aisles, flimsy chairs, restaurant booths, airplane seatbelts, and so on. Even if you “feel fat” at a size 10, you are alway going to fit into chairs and seats, wherever you go (except, like, a kindergarten class or something). Size 20? Maybe. Size 30? Doubtful.
It’s about being able to find positive representation of people who look like you in the media. I mean, we can all think of the handful of fat actresses out there who manage to get good roles, and they’re positive examples, sure, but for the most part, the largest of them are about a size 20. If we really want to see positive, diverse representation of fat bodies, we have to seek it out for ourselves, often through fat fashion blogs/tumblrs/social media. The fact that thinner people see positive representations of people who look somewhat like them everywhere they go is a privilege. We have to literally retrain our brains to see fat as not being automatically bad or gross or ugly (or at least I did, upon discovering fat acceptance).
It’s not a contest. It’s not a contest for who has it the hardest, and you don’t get some sort of prize for whining the loudest or ignoring other people’s truths. It’s just a fact of life that this is a sort of privilege that, to some extent, works on a sliding scale. We have to recognize other people’s lived experiences without getting defensive and thinking that they invalidate ours. We have to respect and listen and, if we truly want fat acceptance for the world and not just for ourselves, we have to fight against even those problems that we don’t personally have. For example, I have never had a problem fitting in seats on airplanes. However, I will still fight for people who do, for the fact that they should not be shamed, humiliated, denied a seat, or made to pay extra just because they have larger bodies. It’s not about thinking “oh, it could be me one day;” sure, it could, but that’s not the point. The point is basic human dignity, and that all people deserve it.