It is pretty much a given that whenever we post about weight, and argument regarding "thin privilege" will break out in the comments. I suspect Lisa O'Neill Hill's article in the LA Times this weekend will spark similar discussions.
In a piece titled "Thin, Healthy, and Weary Of Unfeeling Busybodies," O'Neill Hill describes the emotional trauma she is subjected to by nosy friends and strangers who believe they have the right to comment on her body. O'Neill Hill is very thin, a result of her anti-seizure medication, which she has had to take since a blood vessel burst in her brain. She notes that her family is quite understanding and knows that she struggles to maintain a healthy weight, but that strangers feel they have the right to insult her to her face, noting that she must be anorexic or bulimic to have the body she currently has.
"I resent having to divulge my medical history to answer these prying questions — my eating habits and my weight are really nobody's business — yet I feel compelled to provide an explanation for why my body is the way it is," O'Neill Hill writes, "But the questions are one thing. The insults are another. People often, and quite unthinkingly, describe me as "bony" and "emaciated" when speaking to me." O'Neill makes the point that she is healthy, though strangers may not think so, based on their own prejudices, something that women on the other end of the spectrum, I'm sure, may relate to as well.
In many ways I sympathize with O'Neill Hill; I am also on anti-seizure medication, and I also tend to be on the thinner side, which is a combination of meds (necessary prescription ones, mind you) and genetics. And while I am quite sensitive to the "eat a sandwich" brigade, mostly due to my struggles with an eating disorder and my belief that yelling at a woman to "eat something" is both insulting and laughable in terms of a. trying to even come close to understanding why someone weighs what they weigh and b. acting as if "eat a sandwich" is a reasonable cure for anorexia.
However, as much as I understand where O'Neill Hill is coming from, and while I do understand when commenters say, "It hurts when someone criticizes me for being too thin," in the comments, I have to agree with Volcanista, a blogger who has posted at Kate Harding's Shapely Prose blog, who notes that "there's a fundamental question of degree here. In social discourse there may be pretty frequent complaints about those women who are too skinny, but it simply does not compare to the scale of fat stigma."
We live in a country where thin=good and fat=bad and lazy, almost on an automatic level. When Lucy Danziger of Self Magazine justified her photoshopping of Kelly Clarkson as showing Clarkson at her "personal best" what she was really saying was "her thinnest," as if being one's thinnest is equivalent to being the best human being one can be. God forbid Kelly Clarkson be her personal best and not be a size 2. What would the world come to!? Clearly being the best is only for the thin. And Beth Ditto, who gets a pass from the fashion world. Everyone else need not apply.
I do not doubt that O'Neill Hill struggles with the insults tossed at her, nor do I want to dismiss the pain she feels when people pick apart her body: that is real, and it hurts. But in our country, this kind of judgment goes on at a much greater scale, on a daily basis, to anyone who doesn't into the "thin" image we are all seemingly so desperate to attain. You see it on magazines, on television, in films, in the tabloids, in clothing stores, on runways, etc. I am a thin woman who has been picked on for her weight before (it was especially fun when I was dying of anorexia!) but I am telling you: thin privilege exists, and the judgment women who don't fit the ridiculous standards of beauty face is much worse.
In the end, however, I am reminded of my days in the hospital, where I spent time with women of all ages and sizes, who were all struggling with their body image, their weight, and the judgments tossed at them by others. We are so quick to sum someone up by looking at their bodies before we even give them a chance to speak: we are programmed to assign character flaws and personality traits and even psychiatric illnesses to a pant size or a number on a scale. Perhaps in recognizing that everyone is fighting their own battle, and trying to be comfortable in their own bodies, regardless of what the world is screaming at them to do, we can all be a little nicer to one another. Or at least mind our own damn business.
[Image via Natalie Dee.]