Cora Harrington, author of In Intimate Detail: How To Choose, Wear And Love Lingerie and founder of the world’s leading lingerie blog, The Lingerie Addict, has sparked an overdue conversation on the often-derided term “thin privilege”.
There has been an ongoing debate about the validity of the phrase, with many reluctant to give it credence. But in a now-viral Twitter thread, Harrington broke down exactly what it means and why, despite many people’s initial knee-jerk want to rubbish the idea, it affects people’s lives in more tangible ways than may be immediately apparent.
“Hey, you don’t have to ‘feel thin’ to have thin privilege,” she tweeted yesterday. “Thinness isn’t a feeling. If other people perceive you as thin, you are thin. If you are able to walk into any clothing store and expect to see a wide range of options in your size, you are thin.”
The idea that “fat” is a feeling, as opposed to an actual body type, has been debunked several times before. “Feeling” fat or unhappy with your body doesn’t necessarily mean you are on the receiving end of the real-life ramifications that come with being overweight. Many body-positive activists have sought to reclaim and defang the word by using it to describe themselves in a neutral, matter-of-fact manner, removing power from what is often hurled as an insult. In 2015, Facebook changed the "feeling fat" emoji to "feeling stuffed”, following an online petition that amassed more than 16,000 signatures. "Fat is not a feeling,” Endangered Bodies, the group behind the initiative, wrote on their petition. “Fat is a natural part of our bodies, no matter their weight. And all bodies deserve to be respected and cared for."
In her tweets, Harrington was clear that the term “thin privilege” doesn’t mean that you possess a body type that is considered ideal or don’t have hang-ups about your appearance – thinness isn’t something that is always championed as a body ideal (especially within the black community and, increasingly, the mainstream, where curves in specific places are heralded). In a society where a woman's worth is tied up with appearance, some may feel that the body they’re in isn’t privileged in any sense. But, as the thread explains, if you aren’t overweight, your size is not leaving you professionally, socially and medically marginalised within society.
Many of us fall victim to society’s impossible standards for women at some point in our lives. But thin privilege does not simply stop at self-esteem
“All thin privilege means is that your life isn’t made more difficult because of your weight,” she stresses. “It means you aren’t denied things like pay raises, healthcare, and airline seats because of your weight.
“You can benefit from thin privilege and still be disadvantaged or inconvenienced on some other axis, like height or race. Thin privilege doesn’t encompass every privilege.”
Before long, Harrington’s thread became dominated by commentators saying that they also struggled with finding clothes even though they were not considered fat. “I’m thin AND unable to buy clothing in any clothing shop,” one Twitter user said. “All those of us who are non-standard sizes should be standing together in solidarity. We are the few. We are the ones whose business is unwanted.”
In response, Harrington went on to explain the importance of intersectionality in discussions of privilege – having relative privilege in one aspect of your life doesn’t negate oppression in others, nor does it mean that you are a “privileged person” generally speaking.
“I have thin privilege and my bra size is a common one, but I can’t walk into any store and find a nude bra in my skin tone,” she continued. “Does that cancel out my thin privilege? NO. My lack of privilege on the axis of race doesn’t negate my privilege on the axis of size.
“It doesn’t mean your life is easy or that no one ever made fun of your appearance or that you can find everything you want in your local Target. It means societal discrimination and prejudice does not target you for being thin. It means your weight/body type are seen as ‘normal’.”
Many of us fall victim to society’s impossible standards for women at some point in our lives. But thin privilege does not simply stop at self-esteem. While we may all have days we don’t feel our very best in our bodies, it’s important we understand that this privilege is as much about how the world perceives and treats us, too.