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What is 'thin privilege' and who has it?

Having 'thin privilege' means not dealing with fat shaming when you tuck into a pizza

Ashitha Nagesh
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Buying clothes in High Street shops and sitting comfortably in train and plane seats are things some people take for granted.

But not for much longer, as lingerie blogger Cora Harrington says these things mean you probably benefit from “thin privilege”.

In a detailed Twitter thread, Cora says, “You don’t have to ‘feel thin’ to have thin privilege". It just means you're not on the receiving end of other people's fatphobia, and you don't find it difficult to do everyday things because of your size.

Cora says she doesn't feel the burden of explaining thin privilege should just be placed on plus-size people.

She tells BBC Three: "I really feel that when we're talking about inequalities in society, it should not always be the responsibility of the person who might be affected to be the one who brings those topics up in conversation. There's this added trauma that comes from, first, being disadvantaged by something, and then, second, having to justify your existence to so many hostile people.

"So the comments and criticism aren't going to be as emotionally taxing for me, as someone who benefits from thin privilege, as they would be for someone who does not."

She’s not the first person to talk about thin privilege, of course – body positive bloggers have been discussing it for the last few years at least. There are even entire Tumblr blogs dedicated to it.

But Cora’s thread has been liked and retweeted so many times that it’s taken the idea mainstream, reaching people who'd never heard the term before.

In a series of tweets, she explains that thin privilege is not needing to fend off harassment and judgement for your size or for what you're eating. 

A lot of people, of all sizes, see Cora’s point that life can be a lot easier when you're thin, and that many people are unaware of how much influence their size has on their quality of life.

But others aren’t keen on the term "privilege", saying that being thin doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll find clothes that fit.

And some say they’ve been bullied for being thin, too.

In response, Cora says that having thin privilege doesn't mean you've never had rude comments about your appearance, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you have an easy life in every other respect. For example you can have a big nose, big ears and bad skin and still be thin.

Plus-size blogger Stephanie Yeboah agrees with Cora that thin people calling out their own privilege can be helpful.

She tells BBC Three: “I do get annoyed at times when people who are privileged try to compete in the oppression Olympics. It’s OK to say you benefit from privilege."

But Twitter user Ethan Peter, a self-proclaimed “man of exceptional size”, disagrees, and says that he feels like thin people are trying to speak on his behalf.

Speaking to BBC Three, Ethan adds: "I’ve seen all the other people saying that thin privilege doesn’t exist, and it does, I just wouldn’t call it a privilege for thin people. It’s more of a ‘fat inconvenience’ and it’s just part of the gig. It’s 100 per cent up to us to change our lives and honestly that’s why I made the post. There are so many other movements that actually need allies."

And then there were more vitriolic responses to the thread – which Cora says took her by surprise.

"The intensity of the replies was the most startling thing for me," she says, "especially the strong reaction just to the very idea that there are clear and measurable societal benefits that you get from being one size versus another." 

Cora’s thread comes just a week after major online outrage blew up over a new Netflix show called Insatiable. The premise of the show is that a high school girl is made fun of for being overweight, before becoming thin one summer, coming back to school and exacting revenge on her former bullies.

It was immediately accused of “fat shaming” for its use of fat suits and “fat-to-hot” plotline, and more than 100,000 people signed a petition calling for its release to be cancelled.

The show’s lead actress, Debby Ryan, wrote a lengthy response to the backlash, saying that the show is “satire”.

“We’re not in the business of fat shaming,” she wrote. “We’re out to turn a sharp eye on broken, harmful systems that equate thinness with worth.

“I want more women to keep telling their stories and, through that, face the gutting realities that bog us down every day.”

This article was originally published on 24 July 2018.

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