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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.

The difficulty with adopting Bacon’s fourth point is that it assumes that we believe that a fat body can be attractive. Part of our fat shamed, fat persecuted culture is that it makes thin people afraid of being fat too. We can’t support our fat sisters if we cant accept and see the beauty in their voluptuous bodies. At the moment society has multi billion pound industries that depend on us having a problem with weight. So how do we see through this and believe the body positive message that all people are worthy of health and happiness? Brene Brown is brilliant she’s done a short animated talk on empathy too. Her talk explains that empathy fuels our connections with others. It is seeing the world from your friend’s perspective. It is not judging them or their behaviour. It is recognising what they are feeling and it is connecting with them. So, try to see the world through a fat person’s eyes and imagine buying a chocolate bar, shopping for clothes, going to party, public speaking or dating. See a fat person at a restaurant and do not judge them, they have the same right to eat as a thin person. In fact if a thin person ate the calorie restricted diet recommended by weight loss “experts” on shows like “The Biggest Loser” then they would be seen to have an eating disorder. A client of mine cried over her long black (the low calorie coffee choice) and said ‘I know that I’m fat and I know that I have to do something about it” I told her that I didn’t think she was fat, I did think she had an abundant and phenomenal body and that she deserved to eat. The amazing presenters of the podcast She’s All Fat would have slapped me on the back of the hand. Instead of thinking of “fat" as a negative descriptor I needed to see it as just a word. I needed to say. “You are fat AND you are beautiful I don’t think that you need to do anything about it but I can help you in your health journey. I can help you celebrate what your body can do.” April and Sophia are young American fat activists, British people are more reserved and I don’t know if my client (a short and curvy size 16) genuinely identifies as fat. I don’t think of her as fat.. As you can see I’m still navigating the minefield but luckily there are communities out there to help us.

A much easier way to celebrate size diversity is to step away from the body positive hashtag. A beautiful slim blonde woman accepting her round stomach on social media is #selfacceptance #self love #bikinibody #blablabla #humblebrag #sorrywasthattoojudgey #yougettheidea. It is not a #diversebody and it is not #bodypositive despite what a hashtag with 3,829,696 posts on instagram might tell you. Anula Maiburg’s social media has great hashtags she has #potatomethod #adultyourbody and #normcore she represents a great example of a round body doing beautiful things. If you do see unrepresented bodies moving in beautiful ways then take a photo (with permission), post it on social media (with permission) and help people find their tribe.

And that’s it. Be kind to everyone including yourself, because we all deserve happiness and good health. As spider man said “with great power comes great responsibility.” and Linda Bacon has followed this with “no-one is free until we all are.”

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