This is Thin Privilege

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Thin privilege is not being ‘exempted’ for feeling upset

Trigger warning: ability/disability and exercise

The question about why thin people shouldn’t talk weight loss in front of fat people brought to mind something that happened recently at the office.

I work with an active group of people and we all enjoy discussing our preferred exercise methods. As a fat person, I am always happy enough to discuss exercise and food in non-weight loss contexts, since we all enjoy these things in the office and they don’t impact on me personally. Weight loss talk though? A different matter.

One thin colleague has been really hitting the gym hard lately, and since she clearly adores it, all good, a nice thing to chat about. But the other day another thin colleague started congratulating her on her weight loss, and commenting that her family must be so proud of her.

That’s when I spoke up and asked them not to discuss weight loss like that in front of me. Yeah I’d been having a bad day so was a bit grumpier than usual, and I am highly triggered by weight-loss talk due to certain background experiences, so I sounded pretty miffed. But it is hurtful to sit and listen to people talking right in front of you about what a wonderful thing it is not to resemble you, and how families should be prouder of you if you’re not fat like me. As many of us know, when that’s all you hear every day, the message starts to make its way into your head that somehow, you are not good enough and this other person is morally superior because she can spend three hours a day at the gym and is thin and getting thinner.

Of course, this was the response I got - and I’ve heard it so many times that if I got a dollar for each time I wouldn’t have a mortgage by now:

'Oh but it's hard for you, you’ve got a disability!’

Yes I am disabled, I have a condition that limits my mobility. I can’t do a lot of common, visible forms of exercise such as running, doing gym classes, playing sports etc. But I am relatively able-privileged and can exercise in specific ways, and I do, because I enjoy it. And I talk about my active hobbies in the office, as we all do - so this person knows I exercise regularly.

This is painful as hell. So many thoughts pop into my head. She assumes my exercise habits are somehow related to my weight? Somehow my own exercise doesn’t count because I am not capable of doing three back-to-back gym classes? She assumes because I’m fat that I’ve been somehow lying about my exercise habits? Somehow my disability means I’m socially exempt from blame about being fat? (Pow! SO much painful stuff in that one.) Because I’m disabled and fat, somehow I am not allowed to feel annoyed at hearing thin people talk about how bad it would be to get fat?

As it happens - not that it’s anybody’s business but mine - my disability is unrelated to my fatness. But it certainly gets brought up by others as an excuse when I ask people to respect my boundaries and not discuss weight-loss in front of me. People act extremely surprised when I request an office space that is safe and free of weight-loss talk, because it’s ‘about them, not me’, and I’m supposed to sit quietly beside my cane, which is somehow proof that I’m not some sort of ‘bad fatty’, and stay out of it.

Anyway, they did eventually apologise for the conversation, which was nice. Two hours later, they had the same conversation again. Now I just get up and limp out of the room whenever it happens.

Notes

  1. ms-kawesome said: Thin privilege is me asking the same thing of my colleagues and them actually respecting it.