At Oxford, it is very normal to consciously recognise the privileges that we enjoy, be that white privilege, male privilege, straight privilege, class privilege, or education privilege.
Yet a newly acknowledged, if controversial, type of privilege that has been trending on social media seems harder to accept for some people. The privilege I am talking about is thin privilege. Thin privilege, which was brought to our attention through a series of tweets by Cora Harrington, has sparked many a debate on Twitter.
Thin privilege, as Cora explains, includes the ways in which a slim person may easily be able to purchase clothing, fit into a seat on public transport, and publicly eat excessive amounts without judgement. She labels it as a ‘privilege’ as it is something that thinner people have a duty to recognise, in order that we may progress away from a situation of unconscious bias that pervades society.
The immediate backlash that followed included repeated statements explaining how thin privilege is just another part of everyday life that overly PC, touchy millennial snowflakes are calling out. Yet it is much deeper than this, thin privilege does not just affect the availability of clothes in a shop, it can also have an impact on the level of medical care you receive and the way doctors treat you, as a consequence of how they perceive you.
The bias towards those who are thinner has carefully been constructed, and repeatedly reinforced by Western society through the media. Skinny people will be pasted across Vogue and Grazia, they haunt you in shop windows, they sell you haircuts, makeup, and even a lifestyle. This feeds into everyday life here at Oxford.
The purchasing of stash carries with it a clear nod towards the concept of thin privilege. For slim people buying stash is easy, male sizes range from small to 2XL, female sizes range from XS to XL. What happens when you need a larger size? The thin privilege in this situation is that there will (nearly) always be a size that fits a thin person, yes it may be a little big, but you don’t need to miss out on stash just because it doesn’t fit perfectly.
On the contrary, if these sizes are too small someone may be forced to go without stash, impacting their involvement in a particular sport, and ability to feel a part of that team. It is even worse in high street stores. Topshop sizes stop at a size 18 and Topman at XXL. Easily being able to buy a last-minute outfit in Westgate, for a formal, carries with it an air of thin privilege. Even if you have time to order something from ASOS, most of the models wearing the clothes are a tall size 8, and the majority are white, so it may be hard to visualise what the clothes will look like on all body shapes and skin tones.
Thin privilege is being able to purchase a large plate of food, along with two desserts in hall, asking for an extra-large portion in the JCR cafe, and making several hungover trips a day down Cornmarket to Mcdonalds, with nobody batting an eyelid. Yet, if you are a few dress sizes bigger you receive the looks and sniggers.
Many people justify their sniggers and remarks by explaining how the person ‘deserves’ it as they need to lose weight to be ‘healthy’. This is not only unjustified and clearly untrue, but it also points to why there is a refusal to accept thin privilege.
Most will remember the famous ad that erupted all over London, a skinny woman in a yellow bikini entitled ‘are you beach body ready’. Things like this distort the perception of health. Being healthy is not being a size 8, being healthy is having a balanced diet and taking part in exercise. Bar extreme cases such as obesity it has very little to do with if you are a size 6 or a size 16.
Thin people do need to address their thin privilege. Yes, weight can impact the ability to be comfortable on a plane, this is significant, but something that needs to be more urgently addressed is that weight can impact the quality of medical care that a person receives. Upon tweeting about thin privilege, Cora Harrington received an influx of replies. Many of these included stories of unfair bias when visiting a doctor, with some being called lazy, and others being told their condition was merely due to weight gain.
Yes, clothing is hard to find if you do not have a ‘typical’ body shape, which most of us do not. Yes, there are other privileges that are extremely important to recognise. Yes, weight can sometimes impact health. And yes, thinner people may also experience negative bias; this does not mean we do not have a duty to at least recognise our thin privilege. There are very crucial struggles to fight, but we do not have to disregard other types of prejudice.
In the midst of Netflix releasing its thin championing, body shaming, and widely criticised series ‘Insatiable’, it is even more crucial to tackle and therefore address thin privilege. By doing this thin people are not making themselves martyrs, they are helping to change society, in order to make life better for people of all body shapes.