So there's an article about how being thin isn't a privilege up at SexIs by Roland Hulme, a guy who has written before about how drunk consent is still consent ("otherwise we have to re-examine a woman's right to drink!" he quips), an article that wasn't fact-checked about Madison and breastfeeding, and about how the writer doesn't think trans people should be allowed to change their sex on their birth certificates. "The notion of “thin privilege” undermines, dismisses and insults all that formerly fat people did to become the size they are today," he says, while completely ignoring that people get bullied, not just by individuals, but by institutions, simply because of their weight.
This article (in a column called "The Devil's Advocate", by the way) was spurred by my post on the Thin Privilege Checklist, which I pointed out was sometimes accurate and sometimes problematic as it ignored that slender people deal with some of the same invasive issues. My post on holidays and body image also feeds into a lot of the same issues (see what I did there?) I'm pretty sure I'm the "idiot pundit" he refers to.
Dear poppet Roland and I got into a mighty Twitter battle over how he worked out really hard to get slim and therefore thin privilege wasn't a thing that existed. What saddens me is that people are so defensive about looking at their privileges, rather than grateful that they are in a place to explore them and use that privilege to help others who don't have that access. I use my white privilege to educate myself on racism, for example, and as a weapon to be a better anti-racist, rather than be butthurt when someone points out my privilege, y'know?
That said, I can also understand how people might feel defensive- thanks to a world that is pretty constantly anti-women, anti-trans, anti-queer, anti-POC, anti-fat, anti-disability, etc, people who point privilege out are often fed up and angry and may do so from a place of fury. And I get that. I really do. Anyone who reads my blog can imagine the stream of anti-male stuff that goes on in my head. I get fed up and angry at the constant stream of bullshit I encounter on a daily basis.
But I'm not actually anti-male. And tempting as it is to simplify it in that way, it's not accurate and leads to endless discussion about "male privilege" vs "female privilege", when what I actually mean to say is I'm anti-patriarchy and I'm anti-male entitlement. Personally I've found combating privilege from a place of my own defensiveness to be counterproductive, and often reactionary in a way that doesn't communicate what I actually mean. I totally get defensive when someone says "fuck you and your privilege", even though I get why they choose to communicate it that way. It's a constant process and one I keep working on.
So I feel for dearest Roland, who keeps talking about how he shouldn't be made to feel bad about his privileges, that he worked hard for them. Ok, sure. But being told to check your privilege, while sometimes used as a snarky comment or as a violent clue-by-four, can also be taken at face value- are you taking for granted things that others don't? And are you conflating intrapersonal privilege (getting bullied on an individual level) vs institutional privilege (being told as a fat person you need to purchase two seats on an airplane or not fly)? Because they're not the same, and both are important to look at.
As a fat sex worker, my body is up for discussion a lot. In the US, where fatphobia reigns supreme despite all the access to crappy food, I have dealt often with phone calls and emails from clients who abused me emotionally about my weight and daring to be sexual. In the UK, however, where I can go to many shops and buy sexy, well-fitting clothes for my size 20 body, strangely enough I don't deal with that abuse at all. There is less (dare I say) weight given to thinness there- sexy is seen as coming in multiple shapes and sizes, and it's obvious in how clients behave. The US definitely has created a world where average to slender is idealized (for women, at least, men is a whole 'nother article, as you want to be not too thin, or too fat, but some spectrum in the middle).
I still believe pretty strongly, as I said on Twitter weeks back, that access to exercise and quality food that you can afford does equal privilege. Being able bodied makes it easier to do that and = privilege. Having time to work out = privilege. Not getting harassed about your weight wherever you go = privilege. It can be an earned privilege, even a hard-earned privilege, but it's still a privileged position. A transman works very hard to get to the position of passing as male, for example, but for him to say he doesn't have access to some aspects of male privilege would be folly.
To be clearer- getting from a place of lacking privilege to having more privilege is hard fucking work and honestly worth being proud of- HOWEVER, it doesn't take away from the fact you then have that privilege.
I worked my ass off to get from a place of teetering on poverty's doorstep to a place now where I can actually save money. I used to eat exclusively from food banks- food that was always processed and canned, because that was cheap and kept well, but was also high in sodium and sugars. There was no access to fruits and vegetables, or fresh meat. There was no wheat bread. The best I could get was high calorie, low nutrient crapola. Check out this infographic on the number of calories $1 will buy for a visual aid.
I got out of it. I can now eat nicer food, and yeah, because I eat better food I eat less of it. But I have privilege- I live with family (I have local family with room for me to stay) so don't have to pay rent, I have skills that are marketable (and access to education, and friends in privileged positions that are generous), I have access to a vehicle and the internet.
It's not a bad thing that I have privilege, and it's not a dirty word IMO.
It becomes infuriating, though, when people pretend their privileges don't exist and make their lives easier. Because of my lack of rent and my access to freelance jobs utilizing my skills, I am in a position of privilege where I can afford to pick and choose sex work clients, for example. If I have a bad gut feeling, I don't see a client. I work indoors, with clients who have given references. I can take a week to decide. To say those safety measures aren't a privilege, that it was just due to the hard work I put in, would be insulting to people who do, say, survival sex work, suggesting if they just worked hard enough they could have privilege too. That's just not always true. It is incredibly hard to "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" when you have to make your own boots, and when you have multiple types of oppression holding you down. I feel really proud to have turned things around, and I worked for years to do so- but I'm aware that my privilege helped me do that dramatically, and I'm grateful, not guilty.
It's not about Roland feeling guilty. I don't care if he feels guilty or not, frankly. But I do care if he's using defensiveness to derail the arguments being made, and as a way of refusing to check that privilege. It's part of being compassionate and empathetic, listening and responding, not just sticking your fingers in your ears and screaming "no no no!" I get it, truly. I still struggle with my own desire to be defensive. But it's just that, being defensive, it's not being accurate.
And I don't know even how to start with Roland's idea of comparing starving Ethiopeans to thin people in the US as a way of saying thin privilege doesn't exist. I'll just leave it at "wow, that's incredibly offensive, but then considering what and how you write, it seems like you just like to stir the pot". But I will mention that malnourishment, which is often something that happens not only in poorer countries but also among the lower classes here in the US thanks to the food access issues I mentioned earlier, often leads to a distended belly... and the appearance of being fat.