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This post was sparked by this discussion.

I have a lot of thoughts about privilege. I will try to be concise, though I may not succeed. I am perhaps, well, privileged when it comes to thinking about privilege. Both my B.A. and M.A. are in Women’s Studies, and I’m now working toward a Ph.D. in WS. This means that I have read A LOT about privilege. It means that I am talking about privilege on an almost daily basis. I teach about privilege. I think (and worry) about privilege and my own privilege pretty much incessantly.

I was first introduced to the theoretical concept of privilege as an undergrad WS student. The article, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh was my first encounter. If interested, you can find it here.

Privilege is not an easy thing to come to terms with. I struggled with it, for sure. My initial reaction to the concept of white privilege was, “But, I’m not racist! I don’t want this privilege! I didn’t ask for it, and I don’t condone it!” And, all of those things are still true. I’m not racist. I don’t want this privilege. I didn’t ask for it. I don’t condone it. AND I still have it. It’s not my choice. Whether I approve or not, our society treats people differently based on the color of their skin. My skin color, being white, affords me certain privileges as I move through my day to day. Some privileges I can perhaps acknowledge and work to change – I can, for example, choose to study and learn the history of groups other than white (male) Americans. I can then work to combat privilege further by sharing what I’ve learned, whether that is in the class I teach, with a child, or with a peer. I also think that acknowledging, interrogating, and being willing to discuss systems of privilege – and this includes owning up to our own privilege – is a way to combat it.

I am privileged in many ways, and I am disadvantaged in others. In the US, I am privileged because of my race, my class, and my physical and mental abilities. I am very privileged in regard to education. I have conflicted privilege in regard to sexuality – I am bisexual (not privileged), yet my partner is male (heterosexual privilege). I am disadvantaged in regard to gender. Globally speaking, I am among the most privileged.

And there is still another way in which I am privileged. I’m thin. I have thin privilege. For example, when getting on a crowded bus this morning, I did not have to worry about getting dirty looks because my body took up “too much” room. 700 Stories did a great job of outlining some concrete examples of thin privilege in her blog post on the subject.

I can add some more. Because of my thin privilege:

A) I can walk down the street without fear of being harrassed about my weight. (I might be harassed for other reasons, but that has  to do w/ the fact that I don’t have male privilege).

B) I don’t have to worry about being fired from a job due to my weight. I don’t have to worry about not being hired due to my weight.

C) I don’t have to worry that a desk at school, a seat on the bus, a seat in the movie theater, a seat on an airplane, a seat on an amusement park ride, etc., will be too small.

D) I don’t have to worry about people eyeing what is in my grocery cart.

E) I don’t have to worry that – when being introduced to new people – they will make judgements about me or my lifestyle based on my size.

F) I’m not stared at, snickered at, or self-conscoius when I work out.

G) People don’t assume that I’m not physically fit or that I’m lazy because of my weight. In fact, people might assume that I am fit, or at least active.

H) I can wear a bathing suit in public w/out the fear of being scrutinized.

I) If I (hypothetically) had a child and treated her to ice cream or sweets, my parenting skills would not be judged.

I could go on. But you get the point.

Personally, for me, my thin privilege is in some ways the hardest to come to terms with. This is true on a number of levels. I was a chubby young child, and an overweight pre-teen, early teen. Since the age of 16, I have ranged from underweight to obese, and everywhere in between. My body’s set point is somewhere around a bmi of 24/25. So, on the high end of normal, low end of overweight. I am not at my set point now. I am not underweight, but I am certainly “thin” by pretty much any definition. And I know how much  privilege it affords. I can walk into any store (unless it is a “specialty  store” for “plus-sized” women), and know without a doubt that they will have my size. I also know that – more often than not – the employees at that store will be helpful, will approach me with a smile, and will not rush me out because I do not fit their store’s “image.” I know that – on a day to day basis – people are MUCH nicer to me when I am thin. I wish it wasn’t true. But, it is. I wish that I wasn’t bolstering the system by maintaining a lower weight than my body wants. But, I am. I wish that thin privilege didn’t make my recovery more difficult. But, it does. It’s not fun to admit.

What we need to keep in mind is that, privilege (thin or otherwise) is NOT about placing blame. It is not about faulting the individual. It’s not really about the individual, actually. Yes, of course oppression and privilege have very concrete ramifications for individuals, don’t get me wrong. But privilege really operates at a much larger level. Privilege and oppression are rooted in societal ideologies, values, structures, and institutions; they are systematic. In many ways, oppression and privilege are two sides of the same societal coin. They are beyond the level of the individual, though individuals, often through no fault or intention of their own, are implicated.

Also keep in mind that the acknowledgment of thin privilege – or oppression generally – does not negate individual suffering. OF COURSE thin people can internalize messages of self-doubt or self-hatred. OF COURSE thin people can be victims of abuse. OF COURSE thin people may feel self-conscious sometimes. OF COURSE a thin person with an e.d. is genuinely in pain. Every person is going to have some suffering, some pain, some hardship – and hopefully lots of joy – in her or his lifetime. Acknowledging and interrogating privilege does not deny or undo that.

And, also keep mind, these systems are not isolated. They weave an incredibly complex web. Like I stated above, I may not be harrassed walking down the street because of my weight, but I may very well be cat-called because we still live in a patriarchal society that normalizes the sexualization and objectification of women. I may even been judged because I am thin – and this can connect to thin privilege too. This judgement may come from others who notice my thin privilege and are (rightfully) hurt that they do not share it. This judgement might be out of concern if someone knows about my eating disorder (which ties into society/oppression/privilege in a number of ways). Or, this judgement might be outside of the realm of privilege/oppression. Not *everything* fits; there are always exceptions. Or, something may seem like it doesn’t fit, and upon further inspection we realize that it is the result of an different and/or interlocking system of disadvantage/privilege. Thin privilege doesn’t operate in a vacuum. No privilege does. These societal structures, systems, and ideologies are always mediated by each other, by individuals, by subject positions, by material realities, and by the fact that they are constantly in flux.

As far as I’m concerned, denying privilege – whether that is thin privilege, white privilege, heterosexual privilege, male privilege, beauty privilege, ableist privilege, Christian privilege, class privilege, etc., etc. – is not helpful. If we do not interrogate these systems and acknowledge our own position in them (even if that position is difficult to reconcile with), we allow them to continue unquestioned, unchallenged, and unseen.

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