Ask Lindley: Thin privilege, rage and the spotlight

My friend P. asks, “It was a total shock to me to be told that I’m small fat. For me it was like being told I’m not really fat. My sense of myself is something very different. I struggle with self loathing every day. I’ve believed all the negative messages society feeds us. Thankfully I’m getting really good professional help, and it’s getting a bit better.

Here’s my question – are thin folks who deeply believe they’re fat getting so threatened having their self image questioned that they get rageful? I hope it’s not an inappropriate question. It certainly explains why I had a push back reaction.”

It’s absolutely an appropriate question, P., thank you. And yes. This is how privilege works: Because it’s unearned and invisible, it’s a shock to hear that we have any of it, and we immediately feel defensive because hey, we didn’t DO anything to deserve that, and our lives are still difficult, so it’s really uncomfortable to have it pointed out that we possess it.

And even if we wanted to, there’s usually not much we can do to actively reject that privilege. It’s not like I can go hand in my Official White Lady Card. I’m a white woman whether I want to own that status or not, and that brings with it a ton of privileges that I didn’t earn and can’t reject: I’m less likely to be murdered by police, I don’t get followed in stores, I’m more likely to be hired and promoted, the list goes on and on. There are also many advantages conferred by being thin, as I’ve talked about ad nauseam on my Instagram presence.

So the path forward involves sitting *with* that discomfort and acknowledging that it’s not our fault we have that privilege, that it doesn’t make us bad people and it doesn’t make our lives easier — it just means our lives would be that much harder if we *didn’t* have that particular privilege.

Then we can move into figuring out how we can use the privileges we have for good. As a white woman, my privilege there allows me to put myself more safely into situations that would be abusive or dangerous to a person of color, and work to end those situations (both individually and as a whole). People in thin bodies have many many ways (which I also talk about every week on my Instagram) in which they can use their privilege to advocate on behalf of fat folks.

But not everyone makes it through the discomfort, and a classic way to deal with discomfort is to take it out on someone with less power than you. That’s ultimately what fuels both the trolls, concern trolls and haters I get on social media. When the spotlight has always been on you, having it moved elsewhere even just for a minute feels like standing in the dark, and some people have a really hard time recognizing that everyone else was standing in the dark all along.

Let’s dig deep.

Every Monday, I send out my Body Liberation Guide, a thoughtful email jam-packed with resources for changing the way you see your own body and the bodies you see around you. And it’s free. Let’s change the world together.

Hi there! I'm Lindley (she/her, pronounced LIN-lee). I create artwork that celebrates the unique beauty of bodies that fall outside conventional "beauty" standards at Body Liberation Photography. I'm also the creator of Body Liberation Stock, which provides body-positive stock photos for commercial use, and the Body Love Shop, a curated central resource for body-friendly artwork and products. Find all my work at http://www.bodyliberationphotos.com.