This is Thin Privilege

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My sister is four years older than me. When we were young (me six, her ten), I remember my mom making comments about her weight. Despite biking regularly, playing soccer for the school team, and being enrolled in the same 6-days-a-week martial arts class I was in, she favored my dad’s side of the family genetically speaking and didn’t meet with my mom’s standards of thinness. It never occurred to my mother that we were eating the same foods or that my sister was far more active than I was.

Growing up, a day didn’t pass without my mom referring to my sister as “Big Bertha” to my brother and I, commenting on her weight to relatives and never her school successes, soccer prowess, or amazing art projects. Once I hit puberty and it became clear that I was more genetically similar to my mom’s side of the family, my mom drove a huge wedge between my sister and I, constantly comparing us and making nasty comments. Understandably, my sister lashed out at me and I, not fully understanding that my privilege meant never having to work to make my parents say nice things about me, lashed back. Our relationship fell apart. My sister developed an eating disorder. She moved out days after she turned 18 and I didn’t see her except for strained holidays or uncomfortable family reunions. We tried not to fight but were rarely successful.

After I graduated college we started talking frankly about the divide between us. It was rocky ground at first, but time and a few much-needed thumps on the head in various psychology and sociology classes made me understand my privilege. It opened up the dialogue between my sister and I, and six years after graduating college, she and I are on great terms. Our relationship is better than it ever was.

 My mother, on the other hand, still makes comments. She doesn’t praise my sister for her professional accomplishments or how she’s raised her son to be a brilliant little boy who is considerate of others. It’s always about her weight. Occasionally she branches out into comments about the weight of various other family members (including a cousin who just had a baby). So yes, there’s still some fighting that goes on behind the scenes at holidays and family reunions, but it’s between my mother and I. Having seen — and unwittingly participated in — the discrimination of my sister, I will never sit idly by in my privilege and letting others shame people for existing.


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