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Use Your Powers for Good: Thin Privilege and How to Speak Up for EVERY Body

5. WE single out as our special enemies the so-called “reducing” industries. These include diet clubs, reducing salons, fat farms, diet doctors, diet books, diet foods and food supplements, surgical procedures, appetite suppressants, drugs and gadgetry such as wraps and “reducing machines”.

WE demand that they take responsibility for their false claims, acknowledge that their products are harmful to the public health, and publish long-term studies proving any statistical efficacy of their products. We make this demand knowing that over 99% of all weight loss programs, when evaluated over a five-year period, fail utterly, and also knowing the extreme proven harmfulness of frequent large changes in weight.

excerpt from the Fat liberation Manifesto

Judy Freespirit and Aldebaran published their manifesto in November, 1973. Over forty years ago people knew that diets didn’t work. Today, studies show that the vast majority of people who try to lose weight regain it (Miller, W.C 1999) and dieting is a strong predictor of future weight gain (Stice, E 1999). Yet still there is very little awareness of this fact and a multi billion pound diet and beauty industry trying to convince us all that if we are determined enough we can lose weight and more problematically that we should want to because a fat body is not a beautiful body. As a woman who fits into public transport seats, who can shop in high street clothing stores, who might be treated preferentially by potential employers, jurors and doctors I have a privilege over my more abundant sisters. I need to use my powers for good and speak up for body diversity - for disabled, ethnic minority, elderly and fat bodies. This blog focusses on thin privilege but I assure you that I am aware of my white, able bodied and young privilege too. I am now a member of the Body Positive Fitness Alliance and I am learning.

So, back to fat women then and what we as thin women can do to help. The first thing we need to do is educate ourselves. There is a very strongly held belief in our society that thin is healthy and fat is not. A brilliant book that really clearly explains how and why this is not true is Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon. It is now a social movement and a very supportive community that encourages people to focus on their health and not their weight. Doctors often look to treat a a patient’s weight not the cause of their illness and Bacon reminds us that it is lifestyle changes that reduce blood pressure, blood lipids and insulin sensitivity.

The next thing that we can do is follow the advice in The Health At Every Size Manifesto under the heading What Can You Do? This section applies to all bodies and asserts that well being and healthy habits are more important than a reading on a scale and entreats us to

  1. Accept our size

  2. Trust ourselves to know when we are hungry and when we are full

  3. Adopt healthy lifestyle habits such as moving regularly and eating nutritious food. Also, we should make connections, if we fulfil our social, emotional and spiritual needs with engagement in our community then food can be given the role of fuel, nourishment and pleasure.

  4. Embrace size diversity and support everyone in their unique attractiveness.

If thin women can do all of these things then we can support and understand fat women who are trying to live this way too. But, here’s a problem - the first point on Linda Bacon’s list is accept your size. Right. It’s as easy as that. What!? I have a socially acceptable slim body and I have days when I don’t like my size. How do we expect people who have spent their lives being thought of as lazy or as having “let themselves go” to just wake up and see themselves for the beautiful people that they actually are? Well. Luckily Brene Brown studies this stuff. She has a Ted Talk on vulnerability that gives us some tools on self acceptance. She has discovered that If we believe that we are enough, then we are kinder and gentler to ourselves and to those around us. We can get a sense of self worth through having the courage to be imperfect; by having compassion for ourselves; by connecting with others; and through embracing our vulnerability. If thin women are secure in our size and the unimportance of our size then we can value others for who they are and recognise that looks are a very unscientific way to judge someone’s health or character. We won’t cheat people out of our friendship because we’ve judged them before we’ve even got to know them.