I started the first draft of this piece with an apology. I didn’t want to hurt anybody. I still don’t, but nobody should have to apologize for their body size; fat or thin, short or tall, and anywhere in between. I happen to be on the taller side and I’m definitely what some people consider to be “too thin.” I know this because they say it to my face. Strangers never say anything. Why would they? My friends never say anything because they’re kind and they have much more important things to think about. I only ever hear about it at weddings or funerals, where it’s impossible to avoid certain members of my extended family.
I don’t comment on people’s weight or body size. It’s irrelevant and I don’t really care. What’s important is are you kind, smart, funny? Do we have any interests in common? Can we laugh at each other’s jokes? How much fun do we have when we’re together?
Body size is hard to change. Some people gain easily and others lose easily. It’s extremely difficult to fight your body’s natural inclination. It’s not a moral failing if you’re struggling to either lose or gain.
It is a moral failing if you judge someone by their body size. Even if you know them chances are you don’t REALLY know them. Almost all morbidly obese people have trauma in their history. Same for the extremely thin. A health condition or injury can make someone gain or lose a great deal of weight. Some medications can do the same thing. Even shift work can create weight problems. These things are tough to control. Unfortunately people blame themselves or others.
Is it human nature to have less empathy for those who are different from us? Probably. I wish that wasn’t true, but there seems to be too much evidence to the contrary. Sexism, racism, class (cold) wars, and the way we treat non-human animals clearly demonstrates this. On a pettier level, because I’m a vegetarian, if you’re standing in front of or behind me in line at the grocery store, I’m often judging the hell out of your food choices because they’re different than the ones I’ve made. I notice I feel much more favourably towards people who do the same things that I do or if we seem to have something in common. If it looks like it’s tougher for them than it would be for me, I’m filled with admiration. When I see someone who’s unusually fat working out at my gym or using the bike trails that run through my city I’m always impressed. I know how much more difficult that extra weight makes any sort of exercise. If you’re carrying forty-five pounds of extra adipose tissue it’s like exercising with an Olympic weight plate strapped to your body. That’s very tough, to say the least. Imagine if you’re carrying even more. I’m awed that anyone even tries.
Thin privilege definitely exists. It’s as obvious as white privilege or male privilege. And, like anybody in a position of privilege, I’m unable to truly know just how good I have it. It just feels like normal life to me. I can eat an ice cream cone in public without a second thought. I fit easily into airplane, bus, or train seats. Even the frailest, flimsiest antique furniture supports my weight without a problem. I can usually find clothes that fit me. If I can’t, that’s why belts were invented. If on a rare occasion a man flirts with me, even at my age I can be reasonably sure he didn’t lose a bet. Are these the most significant privileges of being thin? I have no idea. I can’t perceive them because I’m so immersed, enmeshed, and engulfed by them like a fish is by water. I am only now noticing what a privilege it is to be young. Time, three botched surgeries in a twenty-four hour period, and general wear and tear have taken that away. We can see other people’s privileges easily, but it’s so hard to discern our own.