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Sharks and Jets —

March 26, 2013

If you’ve been looking forward to last The Biggest Loser recaps, I apologize, but there’s something more pressing on my mind that I just have to get out before I can focus on the grand finale. I mean, TBL is over, so it’s not going anywhere, right? I don’t have to stay ahead of the next episode or anything.

For now, I want to talk about the Body Acceptance subreddit. Heather is one of the moderators there and I’ve started posting more stuff there this year and although I’ve been techno-resistant, I kind of like it. I don’t particularly want to be preaching to the choir, even though I love our choir very, very much.

My activism is education. Having written about Health at Every Size® and Fat Acceptance for going-on-four years, I believe it’s essential to speak with people who either disagree with or are genuinely opposed to HAES. Take, for instance, this person, who I can’t tell if they’re trolling or not.

So confronting potential trolls and haters doesn’t really bother me, though. What bothers me is that I feel like I’m witnessing some kind of turf war between the Fat Acceptance redditors and others, including those with eating disorders (EDs). It’s awkward and it’s weird and I don’t know what to do about it.

Well… besides write about it.

You see, over the past week, there have been calls to ban both Fierce Fatties and Dances with Fat from this subreddit. LesSoldats was kind enough to defend our right to participate on that forum because FA is a part of Body Acceptance, just as EDs are.

There are a few different issues that people have with our blog, but the issue of thin privilege seems to be a huge sticking point for some people.

We’re all born the way we’re born. Not having a mental disorder doesn’t make someone “privileged”, it simply means they have a healthy mind. Being blonde and getting attention from guys who like blonde girls does not mean “blonde privilege” exists. Being tall is not a privilege.

We all have issues that we deal with. It’s not fair to say that I’m “privileged” because I’m thin. I worked for this body. I eat well and exercise. It’s not easy or effortless.

Things like “thin privilege” seem to just be another way for people to blame someone else for their problems. It’s not fair.

We went around and around, as I tried to explain that thin privilege isn’t about blaming thin people for the problems fat people face. Finally, I boiled it down to this.

Two men go into an interview, one is white and one is black. They have equal education, experience and qualifications. All things being equal, who will get the job? Odds are, the white one, simply because of the stigma associated with being black. Obviously, there are exceptions, but on the whole, in this society, black people are at a disadvantage, all things being equal.

Okay, same situation, two men, one is thin and one is fat. Again, all things being equal, who’s more likely to get the job. Yes, there will be exceptions, but the vast majority of the time, in this society, fat people are at a disadvantage, all things being equal.

This is not because the white candidate or the thin candidate did something wrong. It’s just the reality of living in a world where black people and fat people are stigmatized. So, if you don’t want to talk about “thin privilege,” fine, then let’s talk about stigma.

Now, this is all a matter of perspective. This person feels like the term “thin privilege” blames thin people for the fact that society favors thin people. It’s not thin people enforcing thin privilege, but fat people still have to deal with the consequences of that societal disfavor. But in trying to combat this uneven playing field, we need some basic terminology, and the concept of privilege covers the issue nicely. Here’s a great post with multiple links to Privilege 101 resources.

Of course, the term “privilege” often troubles the privileged. As I tweeted the other day:

I understand why the term “thin privilege” seems accusatory. It puts the privileged person on the spot. I mean, they have this privilege, so what are they supposed to do about it?

PenguinAlso, thin people are subject to negative comments and attention as well, like “eat a sandwich” or snark about being built like a little boy. Body shame knows no size. If a bully wants to hurt you, they will pick whatever’s obvious about you. They may not even really care if you’re thin or fat, they just want to hurt you and pick something they know you’ll be sensitive about. Nobody ever said bullies were smart, just effective.

Fighting society’s Bullies is the general mission Body Acceptance. We want to make the world safe for people throughout the spectrum of body diversity, from size to ability to hue to gender. This fight is one we could actually win if we all moved in the same direction.

But right now, Fat Acceptance is fighting a particularly aggressive fight in addition to Body Acceptance because the War on Fat that began in earnest in 2004 has become increasingly aggressive, even as obesity rates leveled off since 1999. Unless you’ve been fat during the past decade, you might not have noticed the dramatic surge in negative attention paid to fat people. But the great public wailing and gnashing of teeth is ike Bully cocaine. They snort that shit up and tear you a new one with superhuman energy and stamina.

That’s why most kids (41%) are bullied for being fat, followed by sexual orientation, intelligence and ability at school, race and ethnicity, physical disability, religion, and low socio-economic status. Notice the survey doesn’t say they’re bullied for their weight, but for being fat.

So, yes, noticeably thin people can face hatred and hurtful behaviors, but in general, they get a pass in society because, hey, at least they’re not fat. And I think most people understand that this is true, they just don’t like the term “thin privilege” because it seems to put the onus on them, even though the real problem lays with society as a whole.

The other argument I’ve heard against our blog is that our posts on eating disorders has been disrespectful toward thin people with EDs. This is an excellent summary of what some have found problematic:

The proof is everyone that has been speaking up when this site is posted. There are plenty of other FA blogs that get posted here that aren’t offensive, or knocking other body types. Over the last month your site has posted articles calling people with eating disorders fatphobic (here), and promote a fat hating attitude. Another one (here) saying that all diets are basically eating disorders, and anyone who diets has one. Another (here) that is basically telling people they aren’t allowed to feel uncomfortable if they’re under a certain size, and belittling the ones that do.

Its not promoting acceptance at all, its clearly driving a wedge in to this community, which is about acceptance for EVERYONE. No one is saying acceptance only if you’re thin. They’re just saying that body acceptance doesn’t ONLY mean fat acceptance, it means that and everything else along with it. Its for everybody.

Heather wrote all three of those posts about her experience with EDs. But even then, she was writing about her perspective as a fat person with an ED, and how she had been treated in the ED forums she visited. I agreed with her diets and EDs are not the same. I think an ED can look like a diet and a diet can look like an ED, but the underlying psychological mechanisms are entirely different. Once again, I can see both sides of this perspective, as a person who has struggled with anorexia or bulimia may be insulted by the idea that a diet, which is largely voluntary, is the same as an ED.

At the same time, fat people frequently feel compelled by social pressure to diet, and don’t feel like they have a real choice in the matter. If they are fat, then they are expected to be perpetually vigilant and restrictive in their diet. But again, the psychological state of someone with an ED and someone who feels compelled to diet their entire life is entirely different. However, the behaviors are similar, which is what I think Kitsune was really driving at.

As for Heather’s two posts on fatphobia in ED communities, I feel like Heather is fully justified in her perceptive on this issue because she has an ED and is speaking to her experience as a fat woman in ED communities. Does her perspective mean that she is objectively correct about the state of fatphobia within the ED community? Not necessarily. But it’s what she has witnessed and what has bothered her as she has tried to find a safe haven to discuss her issues.

Now, the woman who raised the ED issues with our blog saw it differently. She said that she has not seen fatphobia in the ED forums she frequents, and that the way a person with an ED feels about fat is not a personal attack on fat people. In fact, the issue is more about control than fat, and so they aren’t really afraid of fat, they are afraid of losing control. Again, I understand this perspective and can see how reading Heather’s perspective would make her bristle.

Personally, I think the gap between these two perspectives is not so wide that we can’t overcome our differences of opinion. Heather’s experience is based solely on what she has found. She can’t comment on ED forums she hasn’t found, so if there are better ones available, then why not help her find them? Why simply protest our participation in Body Acceptance when we could use our individual resources to help each other find better solutions?

I guarantee that none of our bloggers is intentionally trying to hurt those with EDs or those with different bodies. Nobody wants to cast blanket judgements on those who are struggling with their own body issues. We’re all just trying to do our best to cope with the body problems that arise when you are fat or thin or have an ED or whatever.

Now, it may be helpful for a fat person to commiserate with other fat people, and thin people to commiserate with other thin people, and ED victims to commiserate with other ED victims. There’s nothing unusual about that in the least. Shared experience is one way to fight the long, hard battle for Body Acceptance.

But it also helps for us to come together onto a common forum and share what we have learned from our individual communities. I can learn just as much about Body Acceptance from a thin persona who has been made to feel unloveable as I can from a fat person who has been made to feel the same. The issue isn’t whether you’re fat or thin, it’s whether you’ve been trained to think of your body as inadequate and unworthy.

And yet, there are experiences unique to the thin person or the fat person, and there are plenty of blogs that give voice to those particular experiences. Our experiences aren’t shared in an attempt to silence or negate the experiences of others. We just have to get them out there because that’s how we deal with our issues. Just as there are ED blogs on the Body Acceptance subreddit that share the ED experience, there are going to be FA blogs there that share the fat experience.

But what bothers me is when redditors say that the content we post is wrong or unfair or shouldn’t be a part of the community, when what they really mean is “Your perspective differs from mine.” If you find my perspective troubling, then tell me about your perspective, don’t tell me to shut up and get out. Is that really the mission of Body Acceptance? To only feature voices that speak to an acceptable perspective? I believe that’s wrong and it stymies our ability as activists to reach across perspectives and understand each other.

If we were able to build that understanding and operate as a cohesive movement, Body Acceptance could be doing some serious damage to the real cause of our body issues: societal intolerance.

And personally, I think that’s what may be at the root of some opposition to Fierce Fatties and Dances with Fat (not the redditors I quoted above, mind you, who I have talked to at length and feel they are dissenting in good faith). I get the distinct impression that some redditors object to our blog because we disdain dieting and weight loss as a means to health. I really feel as though people read what I’ve written about how diets don’t work and see that as offensive and inappropriate.

While I can cite all the research I know and back up my claims with exhaustive, peer-reviewed research, it all comes down to one simple problem: hope.

I wish I could find it, but someone once responded to a post I shared on the futility of dieting that they didn’t like my post because they just wanted to have some hope that they could lose weight and keep it off. I have to tell you, I completely understand this perspective.

More than likely, this person has attempted their share of diets, only to revert to their starting weight again and again. Once the failed diet is behind them and they take some time to recover, they begin the search for the next, best thing that will help them get, and stay, thin. Having that hope that they will eventually find the solution to their “body problem” (aka, being fat) makes the days of fat and roses bearable. “Yeah, I’m fat now, but soon I’ll get the dedication and commitment necessary to be not fat.”

When your entire self-worth is tied up in your pant size, hearing some asshole say “Sorry, you’re never going to find that permanent solution” is about the worst thing you can hear. ESPECIALLY if they have evidence to back it up. It’s better just to ignore them than to entertain the possibility that they could be right and that the perpetual yo-yo is the only thing they can count on.

But ultimately, I think that this is a big part of what Body Acceptance is about: accepting the reality of your body. The dissatisfaction a person feels in being fat is because they believe the human body is infinitely malleable and that with enough hard work you can transform yourself into a satisfying body. Unfortunately, the overwhelming body of evidence says otherwise.

To me, part of Body Acceptance is about learning to disassociate  health from weight loss, diet from weight loss, exercise from weight loss. If you want to get healthy, then engage in healthy behaviors, but don’t expect those healthy behaviors to give you a “new” body. And, honestly, from what I’ve seen, changing a person’s perspective from a weight-based health paradigm to a behavior-based health paradigm is one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome on the path to self-acceptance.

To accept that no diet (even those we call “permanent lifestyle changes”) will ever make you acceptably thin is to surrender that hope for a happy future. But this doesn’t mean you lose all hope. It simply means your hope resides elsewhere.

Because when you give up the hope you get from the Sisyphean quest of weight loss, you gain a new hope: a hope that you might be happy in the body you have now, not the body you might have someday in the future; a hope that you might find long-term health in doing the things you love, rather than the things you dread; a hope that a happy life does not demand perpetual restriction and sacrifice.

These are the hopes that HAES and FA offer to those who have spent a lifetime battling their bodies. No, it’s not the same hope that a thin person may need or a person with an ED  may need, but it is an integral part of Body Acceptance, whether you agree with it or not.

My own personal hope is that rather than trying to silence the perspectives of those you don’t understand or agree with, we can begin to speak together and work together toward our shared hope that we may all one day live in a world where the size and shape of our bodies matters less than the content of our character, to borrow another famous hope.

We are not all that different in what we want from Body Acceptance, though our path to that acceptance may vary. May we all take the time to understand those other paths, rather than try to tear down those paths entirely.

And if you have a perspective that you feel is missing from our blog, including that of a thin person or a person with an ED, I would like to invite you to join our ranks.

23 Comments leave one →
  1. March 26, 2013 12:23 pm

    I have a problem with the concept of privilege, but the one described above isn’t it. My problem is that it doesn’t distinguish between behavior that should be illegal, behavior that’s merely rude, and internal feelings.

    For example, here are three examples of “Thin Privilege” I’ve seen some version of on the “this is thin privilege” Tumblr:

    1. Thin privilege is going into a job interview without being less likely to be hired because of your weight.

    2. Thin privilege is being able to walk down the street without someone yelling insults about your weight at you.

    3. Thin privilege is being able to eat a donut in public without worrying about being judged.

    The first is discrimination, and is far worse than the other two. It significantly harms fat people, and there’s a good argument that it should be illegal.

    The second is rudeness, and while it hurts, it shouldn’t do significant harm, and it shouldn’t be illegal (free speech and all that). It’s annoying but we can be stoic and let it roll off our backs.

    The third is a personal feeling, and I’d suggest that a fat person who feels that way should find some way to overcome that feeling and ignore it, either with therapy or simple will power (to avoid feeling bad, not to avoid eating the donut!)

    Conflating all three of these as “privilege” causes 2 problems. First, it makes us look like thin-skinned, easily dismissible whiners who are just upset because people are occasionally mean to us, allowing otherwise open-minded people to ignore the serious problem of fat discrimination. And second, it puts those otherwise open-minded people who would oppose discrimination with us on the defensive as if we were blaming them for our problems for being thin.

    That’s why I dislike the concept of “privilege” as anything more than an abstract sociological concept. As a way to promote fat activism or any other kind of activism, I think it’s counterproductive.

    • vesta44 permalink
      March 26, 2013 12:45 pm

      bbeck310 – The problem with your third example, 3. Thin privilege is being able to eat a donut in public without worrying about being judged. is that the judgement fat people face for eating a donut in public all too often isn’t just that we think we’re being judged, it’s that the people judging us have no problem at all getting up in our faces and telling us, in no uncertain terms, that we shouldn’t be eating/buying/wearing whatever item they deem that we don’t “need”. As in – 1: People telling a fat person in a grocery store that they should be buying fruits/vegetables instead of soda/chips/cookies (ever seen anyone tell a thin person what they should be buying instead of what they’re actually buying in a grocery store?). 2: People telling a fat person they shouldn’t be wearing tight, form-fitting, or revealing clothing (ever seen anyone telling a thin person to put on something baggy, less revealing?). 3: People telling fat people in restaurants that they really shouldn’t be eating this, they should be eating that. Or even worse, telling a fat person they don’t need to eat fast food, they should be at home, cooking a meal from scratch with all healthy, organic, free range ingredients (ever seen anyone do that to a thin person?).
      I’m fat and people can judge me all they want, as long as they keep their opinions to themselves The minute they feel the need to express those judgments to me, is the minute I tell them to STFU and MYOB (and probably in those very words, or even stronger ones). Thin privilege is not having to worry about being judged on what you’re eating, wearing, doing, buying and having that judgment shoved in your face, verbally.

      • March 26, 2013 1:17 pm

        First, I am fat and have experienced or seen all of these (I wanted to see what assumptions people would make if I didn’t say anything). All 3 of these are examples of rudeness–statement 2 of my 3 statements.

        But people say nasty things to me all the time, for lots of different reasons. And I get to tell them to STFU. I have to read it in papers all the time–and I argue against it in comment threads or on my Facebook page, or whatever. No one, or at least essentially no one (maybe there are some pampered spoiled royals in the Middle East or Kim Jong-Un) ever goes through life without dealing with some sort of jerk. Is it worse for us because we’re fat? Yeah, and more so due to the obesity panic of the moment. But all that is merely annoying, as long as I’m not discriminated against for it.

        I can try to change other people’s behavior, but I can’t force them to do anything except where the law has a legitimate role to play. I can’t make them be nice. All I can do is steel myself to ignore the jerks of the world and retain enough self-confidence to know that they’re wrong, and if they seem to be worth educating, maybe I can educate them. But the concept of privilege, especially when used to conflate rudeness with discrimination, doesn’t convince people not to be rude; it gets them to ignore discrimination.

    • March 26, 2013 1:08 pm

      I get what you’re saying, but let me give you an example of number 3. The other night our family had been running errands and had to stop somewhere for dinner. It was late, so we needed something fast, and given our limited options we went with Chinese. We got an order of moo shu and egg rolls, which all four of us shared. While we were eating, there was this older gentleman sitting near the front of the restaurant waiting for his to-go order. The entire time he sat there, he scowled at us. This wasn’t paranoia, this man was watching us eat and furrowing his brow in disapproval. When we finished, our youngest daughter, Lottie (4), was walking around while we were getting our coats on and she stood right in front of this man and waved to him. He didn’t so much as acknowledge her presence, let alone wave back or smile or say “Hi.” Nothing. He then scowled at me as we walked out.

      Now, you can dismiss this as me imagining things, but when it happens as frequently as it does, there’s something more going on. Hell, just look at all the people who talk about how they know what fatties eat because they look in their shopping carts. You think we don’t see people inspecting our carts as we walk by? And then there are the people who actually make comments about what we should and should not be eating, which happens from time to time.

      Privilege is the ability to dismiss these incidents as fatties being paranoid or their imagination getting the best of them. But when you are fat and you actually live these experiences, you know how real they are. The same thing goes for pretty much any privilege dynamic. Black people who talk about being followed by shopkeepers or repeatedly pulled over by police are routinely dismissed as being paranoid, women who talk about the sexual harassment or assault they faced are routinely dismissed as somehow responsible for the attention. That’s how privilege works: the privileged don’t see it, so they can dismiss it.

      Yes, some people are able to grow that thicker skin and ignore the unwanted attention, but others cannot and they end up locking themselves away in their homes to avoid the negative attention associated with the stigma of being fat. Is this really what we want? A world where only the strongest are able to operate in the world, while the rest have to hide from the negative attention?

      Privilege is merely a starting point from which to understand stigma. Fighting stigma requires a different set of skills than recognizing stigma, but recognizing stigma is the first step.


      • March 26, 2013 1:28 pm

        First, see my above response. I’m fat, and I’ve experienced these things too. I’ve had homeless people yell at me that I’m a fatass on the street, and I’ve had a German businessman berate me for having the nerve to sit in coach on an airplane.

        I know it hurts to feel like people are judging you when they shouldn’t. But there are jerks everywhere. Ignore them. So a crochety old Chinese guy scowled at you when you went to a restaurant. He sounds like a sad, pathetic excuse for a human being. Ignore him. People give you dirty looks for putting the wrong food in your cart. My wife and I (both fat) recently checked out of Target with a cart full of candy and, er, intimate products. We laughed it off. Homeless people yell at me for being fat. They’re homeless, I’m successful, let them yell. A German businessman berates me on a plane. The other people around him were uncomfortable with his behavior, I got to sit in a more comfortable First Class seat, and I’ll never see him again.

        Thinking about it in terms of privilege is counterproductive and turns you into a victim. It makes you think, “People shouldn’t be rude to me because it hurts!,” rather than “I don’t give a #^%* what nasty strangers think about me.” Without the force of law or a relationship, they only have the power you choose to give them.

        “A world where only the strongest are able to operate in the world, while the rest have to hide from the negative attention?” That’s the real world. Some people are mean. Most aren’t. Everyone has to deal with jerks. Life is too short to obsess about the jerks rather than real dangers like doctors who commit malpractice, employers who discriminate, and politicians who want to punish us.

        • March 26, 2013 1:49 pm

          There is no expectation or right to be comfortable or not harassed in public, it’s true. But there is a point at which society will decide that it is wrong to stigmatize a particular group, at which point the stigma subsides and the negative attention recedes somewhat. As a result, those people are given a buffer of social acceptability that allows them to live their lives with less obstacles to happiness. This isn’t covered in the Constitution and there is no expectation of legal enforcement of respect.

          However, to say that this is just life and we should just get over it is simplistic. That we should just accept that there are assholes who will humiliate us or insult us publicly is wrong. (By the way, the guy wasn’t Chinese, he was another customer waiting to pick up his food). That we shouldn’t address the stigma or fight for a seat at the table, so to speak, is giving up. It’s saying, “There will always be stigma, so we have to learn to live with it.” That’s BS, IMHO. Social attitudes toward groups change, and when they do, life improves for them. It’s happening right now for gay Americans, where the perception of gay marriage as a threat is subsiding because people have fought the stigma associated with homosexuality. Now, you can say that the harassment that gay couples could expect to endure in the past was just part of the culture and you just have to live with it, but gay activists did not just rest on their laurels and teach gay people to have thicker skins. They actually fought to be seen as whole people who deserve a basic level of dignity and respect from society. This hasn’t ended the harassment entirely (just look at the murder of Marco McMillian), but it has rolled back the institutional and social bias that has made so many gay people targets.

          Weight is a totally different subject, but the stigma works the same way. And although fat people don’t have a legal right to not being harassed, I don’t think there is anything wrong with working to change the perceptions that fat people are deserving of public humiliation. Privilege is the starting point for that fight. And although you don’t seem to think that fight is worth it, I strongly believe that what causes people to be so rude and intolerant is the same thing that causes the broader systemic issues that we are fighting at the same time. Public attitudes are merely a symptom of far bigger problems.


  2. vesta44 permalink
    March 26, 2013 12:28 pm

    Awesome post, Shannon. This “battle” between the various factions in body acceptance/FA/SA, whatever you want to call it, reminds me of the battle between different religions. They all say “I have the answer, and it’s the only correct answer there is, believe what I say or be damned forever.” When in actuality, there are many roads to spirituality, and each of those roads has answers that are right for the people who travel them. No one knows for sure while they’re traveling that road if it really does have all the answers and the only way to know for sure is to reach the end of the road (die).
    FA/SA/body acceptance/whatever is the same way – we’re all individuals traveling all these different roads, with one common goal – to be able to accept ourselves just as we are, right now. That’s our end goal, and there is no one, right road that will get us all there. We have to find what works for each of us, find fellow travelers who are on the particular road that we follow, join with them on the journey for inspiration, and hope we can get others of like mind to join in. That doesn’t mean we have to disparage others on their journeys, even if they aren’t on the exact same path we’re on, because we all have the same destination – accepting our bodies as they are now (reminds me of the saying “all roads lead to Rome”).

  3. March 26, 2013 12:40 pm

    ” It’s not fair to say that I’m “privileged” because I’m thin. I worked for this body. I eat well and exercise. It’s not easy or effortless.”

    Do you think this person would be offended if I called this out as “bullshit?” Thin privilege is being able to fool yourself into thinking that you’re thin because you’re good (and, therefore, fat people are evil), not thin because you have thin ancestors.

    • March 26, 2013 1:10 pm

      I don’t think all thin people are thin by genetics. I think there are some who exercise and eat a controlled diet to maintain their weight, while others are temporarily thin. This commenter may legitimately be putting in the hours and energy to maintain a lower weight, they may also have a genetic advantage, they may also be temporarily thin. We don’t know. And honestly, I could care less about why they’re thin. It’s only when they act like others should live like them and they’ll get the same results that I cringe.


      • March 26, 2013 4:50 pm

        I’m still calling “bullshit.” Someone claiming they’re in the quarter of a percent of people who can go from being “fat” to “thin” (i.e. not just a 5-15 lb. swing) need to PROVE IT.

        • March 26, 2013 4:52 pm

          P.S. I’m talking PERMANENTLY, as in maintained-for-over-four-years. For 99.75% of people, weight “loss” does not exist. Anyone who claims otherwise (yes, is selling something) first, needs to prove they’re not lying and second, needs to acknowledge that they’re the metabolic freak, not the fat people.

          • violetyoshi permalink
            March 26, 2013 5:22 pm

            It’d be nice if thin people realized they are in the minority, as well as clothing designers realizing that. Instead, they want to make clothing that fits only small girls and thin women. They’re losing money, targeting a small audience of shoppers.

  4. Elizabeth permalink
    March 26, 2013 2:56 pm

    What a super post. It is terrific to have someone somewhere talking about privilege. As a European-American I am extremely aware of the privilege my white skin gives me. Not only when I lived in an urban environment of diverse people, but in the white white white state I live in. Always, at the edge of my awareness, is the realization that people are nice to me because I am white, because I appear to be conventional — married, drive a decent-looking vehicle, etc. But of course if you talk to most white people they will be angry if you suggest their white skin gives them privilege.

    And now we are back to thin privilege. If you have never thought about it, never thought what it would be like to be fat, then it is outrageous that a fat person suggests you have privilege simply due to your body size. The concept of thin privilege does not blame thin people for their privilege, just as the concept of white privilege does not blame the individual white person. But as long as you’re willing to take advantage of that privilege and basically never think about it — saying that black people are paranoid about being stopped for driving while black; talking about gay people’s desire for “special privileges,” i.e., the right to not be discriminated against — then you make yourself part of the problem.

    • violetyoshi permalink
      March 26, 2013 5:22 pm

      Oh, and let’s not forget the classic, “You must think you’re a special snowflake!”

    • March 26, 2013 10:40 pm

      Thanks Elizabeth. It’s a difficult issue and I’ve been on the learning side of it as well. I think it can take time to get it, but open-minded people ultimately do.


      • Elizabeth permalink
        March 27, 2013 10:07 am

        I’ve learned as well, Shannon. I never thought about being a small fattie being a privilege, but it glaringly obviously is. I do not know what it is like to weigh 400 pounds and have people stare at me, glare at me, comment on me, and it is painful to imagine.

    • March 26, 2013 11:15 pm

      I have a problem with people equating privilege with being a terrible person is my only thing. Very few people take the time to stop and realize that if you’re privileged, it’s because you were born that way. I can’t help that I was born white. I do have white privilege, but I am LEARNING what that means and how to handle it. As soon as someone starts insulting me because I happened to be born privileged in one way, that immediately shuts down the discussion.

  5. March 26, 2013 7:30 pm


    I am not sure that your link to the “obesity rates leveling off” fact is entirely trustworthy. It is on the Washington Post, but it is also a blog. I also didn’t see a reference for that picture. Here is another blog post on the Wash. Post: and it cites a study with over 400 references. In addition, the CDC website ( shows a graphic showing increased percentages of higher BMI per state (I’m not considering it a measure of health, but rather of obesity). I am just unsure of where the data is coming from that obesity rates have leveled off!


    • March 26, 2013 10:39 pm

      The Washington Post story is about the “F as in Fat” Report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It’s an obesity projection for the next 20 years based on a phone survey. The survey is called the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) and it’s advantage in measuring obesity rates is that it’s probably one of the largest state-by-state phone surveys on weight and health. And yes, it predict obesity rates will continue to rise to 44% by 2030. In the past, “F as in Fat” has only focused on year-to-year comparisons, which have steadily risen as well, which means that once a year we get the story about the “F as in Fat” report and how obesity rates are rising. This year, the BRFSS changed their methodology, so they couldn’t compare

      BRFSS made two changes in methodology for its 2011 dataset to make the data more representative of the total population. these are making survey calls to cell-phone numbers and adopting a new weighting method… the change in methodology makes direct comparisons to past data difficult.

      So, they make their projection to 2030 and then they say this:

      But, if we could lower obesity trends by reducing the average adult BMI (body mass index) by only 5 percent in each state, we could spare millions of Americans from serious health problems and save billions of dollars in health spending — between 6.5 percent and 7.8 percent in costs in almost every state.

      But what if obesity rates pretty much leveled off for women and children in 1999 and for men in 2004? Because that’s what the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) says. You can read it yourself here, or you can read the brief (PDF). The advantage of NHANES over BRFSS is that it’s actual measured weights and heights, not a phone survey. They send out these mobile health units that weigh and measure people, as well as get their overall health information. It’s pretty cool. It’s a large sample for a study of this kind, but smaller than the BRFSS. But when people cite the country’s obesity rate, it’s usually referring to NHANES, unless it’s a story about rising obesity rates, and then it’s BRFSS, or some smaller phone survey.

      This is what NHANES looks like for adult men and women:

      And for boys and girls:

      And from the full report I linked to above:

      For men, the overall prevalence of obesity showed a significant linear trend over the 12-year period from 1999 through 2010. For women, within race/ethnicity groups, the data suggested slight increases that were statistically significant for non-Hispanic black and Mexican American women but not significant for women overall. For both men and women, estimates for 2009-2010 did not differ significantly from estimates for 2003-2008. These data suggest that the increases in the population prevalence of obesity previously observed may not be continuing at a similar rate, and in fact, the increases appear to be slowing or leveling off. However, we found no indication that the prevalence of obesity is declining in any group.

      I interviewed Dr. Katherine Flegal, who runs NHANES and she explains the history of obesity rates, which NHANES has 40 years worth of data on. In fact, Dr. Flegal was one of the first people to notice the increasing trend that took place between 1980 and 1999.

      In any case, that’s the two big statistical pools from which most obesity stats are derived. But keep in mind that BRFSS shows rates being actually lower than NHANES. NHANES has a national obesity rate of 35.7%, while Mississippi, the fattest state in the union, has an obesity rate of 34.4% (you can see all the states in this chart from the 2011 “F as in Fat”). But most states hover around 30% or less. So, the self-reporting of weight has increased, while the actual measurements have remained relatively stable.

      So although the CDC show does show the state-by-state increase as you say, you’ll notice that at the very top of the page that they cite the NHANES number for the obesity rate. So, yeah, if you give a projection based on BRFSS, which has shown a steady increase throughout the decade that NHANES was stable, then it’s going to continue skyward in a neverending cascade of fatness. But NHANES is far more cautious in its long-term assessment. And time will tell which prediction is true, but my money’s on NHANES for it’s measurements.

      Thanks for asking. Sorry for the wall of text.


  6. Linda permalink
    March 26, 2013 9:53 pm

    Is it just me that thinks that silencing someone, but someone is “offended” is it’s own form of oppression? Love the post Shannon!

  7. March 27, 2013 12:39 am

    First, this discussion makes me want to repost my Lesson Or Two submission. Second, I should cross-post the rebuttal I wrote about the Anorexia and diet thing. In fact, here:

    Thanks for posting this, and sorry I’ve already caused trouble! It hasn’t even been a month yet, I don’t think… ^^;

  8. JennyRose permalink
    March 27, 2013 1:04 pm

    I hope this perspective is helpful.

    In some ways people with EDs start out just as fat-phobic as the rest of society. Then the ED happens. As a former bulimic, compulsive eater and body hater (mine not others), I was fearful of fat. In fact, although I was of average size, i thought i was fat. I once walked down the street eating an ice cream sandwich and wondered if everyone was thinking why is that fat ass eating ice cream. In reality, no one thought that and no one said anything. It was my ED speaking.

    If the same person walking down the street with an ice cream bar is over weight she too may fear comments. By reading the thin privilege blogs, I have learned just how much our society polices fat bodies. Even if no one said anything, they may have given rude looks and stares. Fat people are almost universally told to loose weight either by commercials on TV, all the “experts” as well as family, friends, authority figures and strangers.

    I left an otherwise helpful ED community when fat phobia hit. The recovery leaders often say that EDs are very similar and that BED and COE are not that different from the others. I have seen anorexics given props for refusing high calorie food because the reason is once they start they cannot stop. This was in the context of OA which is anti overeating and anti fat. Overweight people are told that they are like alcoholics but that we can see their disease.

    If a person who comes to FA can accept some of the premises and is not fat-phobic let them in. I dipped my toe in the FA waters with a few ED recovery blogs and by lurking on Shapely Prose. I had lot of doubts but at some level I was ready to listen to new ideas. If people with EDs remain firm in their belief that obesity is a reflection of COE or even bad habits, they are not ready. At some point, part of FA is accepting that diets don’t work and making fat person skinny is close to impossible. The old 5% rule. Even thinking fat people need to be treated with respect just because they exist is good enough for me. I just don’t want to hear anti-fat shit and hear that diets and lifestyle changes really do work. I believed that for too long. It doesn’t make me feel unsafe, but it does make me feel angry and that my space is being violated.

    My thoughts are all over and I apologize if my thoughts are jumbled. I have so much to say on this topic. Keep up the great work.

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