Monday 24 June 2019

Being thin has its advantages, but there is nothing 'privileged' about counting calories

Modern Life

Thin end of the wedge: Dallas Roberts stars in Insatiable
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

Blogger Cora Harrington got everyone talking earlier this week when her Twitter thread on 'thin privilege' went viral. Harrington, editor-in-chief of The Lingerie Addict, believes that thin people enjoy special advantages, and she used her own experiences as a slim woman to illustrate them.

"No one looks at a photo of me online and tells me I need to lose weight," she wrote. "No one groans or rolls their eyes when they have to sit next to me on a plane or a bus. In fact, no one comments on my body at all.

"The ability to move through life without people insisting you need to be a smaller size… if you don't have to think about that, it's privilege."

As with all good Twitter threads, the topic was divisive. Some tried to argue with Harrington's reasoning, but they were shut down with studies proving overweight people are less likely to get hired, along with countless personal examples of 'fatphobia'.

Others argued that being thin can't be a privilege when being fat is clearly a choice. This just opened up another conversation about the medical conditions that make it difficult to lose weight and the psychological factors around obesity.

It was an eye-opening debate, and one that almost made me consider 'thin privilege' as a legitimate concept. Only then I remembered that this so-called privilege isn't always something that thin people are born into - and it almost always comes at a cost.

Harrington makes it sound as though all slim people were born with both the lean gene and some sort of cognitive bias that makes them blithely unaware of fat body politics.

The truth, however, is that most slim people are not naturally slim. They are determinedly slim. And there's a big difference.

Talk to slim women about their habits and you'll soon realise that they all have their own system. Some skip meals and refuse dessert. Some wouldn't dream of drinking a sugary beverage, eating a sausage roll or eating fast food.

Some allow themselves to eat whatever they like so long as they exercise at least five times a week and some allow themselves to eat whatever they like so long as they eat only during a set number of hours a day.

For other thin women, dietary restraint has become compulsive. They feel disproportionally guilty when they eat something "bold". They feel anxious when they miss a training session or spinning class.

They fear white bread, potatoes and pasta like a child fears the Bogeyman. And like the character in the controversial new Netflix series Insatiable (high school student goes from zero to hero when she loses weight), they eventually start to derive their identity from the number on the weighing scales.

Like it or not, very few women - fat, thin, or otherwise - have a truly healthy attitude towards food. It's a rare woman who can order a large portion of ice-cream without considering the calorie content, and an even rarer woman who can go for seconds without feeling like she has lost the run of herself entirely.

In fact, most slim women are on some sort of restrictive diet, which can be anything from avoiding processed sugar and dairy to always ordering a popcorn (small, no butter) and a bottle of water when they go to the cinema.

Indeed, some slim women have become so habituated to this relentless dietary restraint that they wouldn't even consider the possibility of letting loose. Pizza? Wouldn't dare. Chips on the side? Perish the thought…

For the vast majority of slim women, food isn't just a source of nourishment and pleasure. It's a potentially harmful substance that has to be monitored and controlled.

Body positive peeps may baulk, but the truth is that most slim women are oppressed by an almost unconscious calorific arithmetic drill that compels them to offset 'bad days' with 'good' ones.

Harrington says fat people are sneered at when they are seen eating a cookie or ice cream cone on the street, but slim people's eating habits are scrutinised too - usually by other slim people.

She also makes being slim sound like a stroke of luck when, actually, it's a quiet tyranny that drives a woman to "mind her figure".

Being thin comes with its advantages - that much is inarguable - but if being thin is a privilege, it's a privilege that comes at an immense cost.

Irish Independent

Editors Choice

Also in Life