Feminist Writing. Fourth Wave. For Women.

Skinny Privilege

Skinny Privilege

Skinny Privilege  ©

I’ve struggled with my weight for much of my life.  I wasn’t heavy as a young child, but I started binge eating as a tween, which caused my mother to start policing my body, to ask “Are you going to eat that” every time I bit into something.  I couldn’t wear what the other girls my age wore; I had to shop in the women’s department, while they got to wear cute clothes from the junior’s department.  People mistook me and my sister for mother and daughter.  I’m all of four years older than she is, but people thought I was her mother.

Medical doctors recommended starvation diets, starting with the pediatrician who told my mother to have my jaw wired shut when I was twelve years old.  At one point, I weighed over three hundred pounds, and at the time, I was told I needed total hip replacement (I have no cartilage in my right hip, and the hip joint is completely dislocated), but I was denied surgery because “it’s not safe to do surgery on fat people” (yes, those were the exact words of the orthopedic surgeon).  He DID offer to refer me for variations surgery, which confused me, because if it really was medically unsafe to perform hip replacement on a fat body, then wouldn’t an invasive bariatric procedure that required general anesthesia also be considered unsafe?  Or maybe I don’t really NEED a functioning right hip, I just need to be skinny.

Ten years ago, I landed on the psychiatrist’s couch, complaining of depression.  And he (the psychiatrist) prescribed diet pills, that I did not ask for, because he thought being skinny would fix my depression.

When I was a morbidly obese woman of 300 + lbs, I was constantly told that I didn’t present well on job interviews, and that no one in their right mind would date me when I was so fat and sloppy.

During the pandemic, I was working from home and had time to really focus on my health.  I bought a Peloton (I can’t run on a treadmill because of my hip, but I can do the bike), I moved into my own place and learned how to cook healthy food, I learned about portion control from a nutritionist.  And I’ve managed to lose 174 lbs in just under three years.  I now weigh in at a slim-hipped 152 lbs, and fit in a US size 14.

In the beginning, I wanted to lose weight for the health benefits...at 300 + lbs, I had difficulty going up and down stairs, I needed help getting in and out of the car, I couldn’t walk half a block without excruciating hip pain.  Now that I’ve lost the weight, I’m happy to report that I can get up and down stairs, and in and out of the car, easily and unassisted.  I can walk a few blocks without pain at all.

I knew that losing weight would come with health benefits.  What I wasn’t prepared for was how differently people would treat me once I lost the weight.  When I was heavier and went out somewhere, I would be directed to a “sturdier” chair, because restaurant owners apparently think it’s OK to imply, loudly and publicly, that a fat woman might break certain chairs.  Now nobody directs me to the “sturdy” chairs, I get to sit where ever I damn well please.  The clothing options available to me as a size 14 are infinitely better, and more youthful, than what was available to me when I wore a size 24/26.  No one recommends bariatric surgery or starvation diets to me these days.  No one tells me I don’t present well at interviews.  No one tells me that my weight makes me undesirable to the opposite sex.

The thing is, I’m still the same person.  The only thing that changed is my dress size.  I didn’t become smarter, younger, or more interesting with weight loss.  I’m still me.  And I’m angry that people treat fat women so shabbily in Western culture.

Consider former president Donald Trump, who had a grudge against Rosie O’Donnell for reasons that are unbeknownst to me.  His main complaint about Ms. O’Donnell seems to have been that she’s “a fat pig”.  On the flip side, when the former president talked about the women he DID find attractive, he said he would “grab ‘em by the pussy, and when you’re famous, they let you”, which led me to believe that in his mind, women fell into one of two categories.  Either they were fat pigs (who he had no attraction to whatsoever), or they were bright, shiny objects to be grabbed and groped.  Yes, the whole thing suggests that his views on women in general are antiquated at best.

But he’s not the only one whose treatment of a woman varies according to her weight.  All throughout Western society, heavier women are treated shabbily.  From doctors who propose starvation diets as the cure for dislocated joints & depression, to restaurant owners who are so terrified for their precious chairs they make fat women feel awful about themselves, to airlines who insist that fat ladies buy two seats (and I’d like to point out that nobody would even THINK of making tall men pay extra for the extra legroom they require), to clothing designers overcharging fat ladies for “extra fabric” (and again, I’d like to point out that nobody is charging tall men for any “extra fabric” nonsense).

I once tipped the scales at 326 lbs because I was a binge eater who took no exercise, and I was operating under the delusion that I could “hide” my fatness with voluminous garments.  But there are women who are heavier because they’ve had children & their bodies didn’t “snap back” after having children.  There are women who are heavier because they’re taking medications that cause weight gain, and/or because they have health conditions that cause them to put on weight.  Why are they “fat pigs” who are made to pay for two airplane seats & “extra fabric”?  Why are their clothing options, that they’re paying “extra fabric” fees for, limited to black or garish prints?  Why do men who never noticed me three years ago suddenly fall all over themselves to talk to me when I go out, when, as I already said, I haven’t become any smarter, younger, or more interesting.  Why am I perceived as more intelligent, more capable, by job interviewers?  I assure you it’s not because I actually became any more intelligent or more capable of anything.

It’s because skinny privilege is real.  And the dark side of skinny privilege is our society’s bias against fat women.

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