So there’s a bit of talk about privilege going on at the moment.Â Sometimes I take issue with the way privilege is talked about, specifically, the way in which people ‘acknowledge’ that they have privilege but then proceed to exercise it in really obnoxious ways.Â Paying lipservice doesn’t make it ok to do that. I highly recommend Lesley’s 101 over at fatshionista.Â This isn’t going to be a 101, so if you’re not sure what I might mean by ‘privilege’, I’m happy to wait while you read that first.
Privilege is a tricky thing.Â It has a tendancy to be invisible.Â It’s hard to see when you have it, and it can also be really hard to see when you don’t have it – mostly because not having it is constructed as an individual fault rather than part of a structural and/or cultural system (poor people are poor because they don’t work hard; fat people are fat because they’re lazy and greedy).
For me, fat is the main area where I’m consistently aware of privilege and oppression.Â The other big ones in my life are class/economics (my childhood wavered between welfare class and working poor), never having had any family or partner support to speak of (I’ve actually never seen anyone articulate this as privilege, but I absolutely believe it is), and some pain issues about having messed-up feet and joints (not related to being fat, but it interacts with it in perception).Â There’s also being a woman and being queer, which I know are massive categories but I don’t experience the same level of difficulty around them – I think this has more to do with how normalised/naturalised gender categories are, rather than those particular oppressions being in any way minimal.Â But for this post, I’m going to focus on fat.
I’ve always been fat.Â I always AM fat.Â And it’s always obvious.Â It’s the physical characteristic I’m most aware of, and because of that, I have this unspoken assumption that it’s what other people are most aware of about me, too.Â This may or may not be the case, but it colours every interaction I have with the world and everyone in it.
I’m usually the fattest person in the room.Â I’m often the only fat person in the room.Â When I meet someone for the first time, there’s a part of me that’s already – subconsciously – convinced they won’t want to know a fat person.Â When I talk to some cutie at a party, there’s always a part of me that’s already – subconsciously – convinced that they won’t want to get stuck talking to the fat girl all night when there’s hot (read: thin) girls to be talking to.Â When I meet some potentially eligible partner, I’ve already rejected myself on their behalf.Â When someone does express an interest in me, I wonder if they’re trying to be politically correct, or they’re fetishising me, or they feel sorry for me, or they have some sort of horrified curiosity.Â When I go on a date, I feel like I have two-and-a-half strikes against me before I’ve even opened my mouth.Â These are not merely the products of my imagination – they’re the products of popular culture, of discourse, of personal communication, of experience.
When I go to the gym, I’m fat.Â And there’s a part of me that knows people are looking at me and making judgements – about how hard or fast I’m exercising, about how much I should do, about why they think I’m doing it (no, it’s not to loose weight, but you can’t tell that by looking).Â When my friends invite me to go out dancing, I hesitate because I’m aware of by fat body and how I’m not supposed to dance in public.Â When they go to dance class and don’t invite me, I’m pretty sure it’s because I’m fat.
When I go to a new class, or to a conference or a seminar or a reading group, I feel like I don’t belong.Â When I go to a new bar I wonder if I’m going to be ignored – or worse, looked at – because I don’t fit in.Â Because I don’t fit in.Â Whenever I go into a shop that doesn’t cater specifically to fat people, I know I won’t find anything to fit.
When I walk down the street in a halter-neck or spaghetti straps and get cow-called by a passing car, I know how revolting my body is seen to be.Â When I go swimming and I pass a group who burst into whale song, I know exactly why.
When I go to the doctor, I know the blood pressure cuff won’t fit and they’ll suggest I exercise more and eat better.Â When I go for a job interview, I know how hard I have to work to convince them I’m not lazy or sloppy or bad for the corporate image.
Wherever I go, I’m fat.Â Wherever I go, it’s the most visible thing about me.Â Wherever I go, I know that fat is not cool, not pretty, not desirable, not elegant, not hip, not wanted.
This isn’t a play for sympathy.Â It’s not about me being a sad individual with low self-esteem (most anybody who knows me would shoot milk out their nose if you suggested that).Â And it’s most certainly not all in my head.Â It’s an example of how privilege works to keep oppressed people down.Â It’s just a little bit of what I – an otherwise conventionally pretty, stylish, intelligent, accomplished, reasonably popular fat girl – have to deal with every time I leave the damn house.Â It’s an example of the extra crap on top of all the ordinary crap that everyone has to deal with.Â It’s how things get made just a little bit harder for certain groups of people, in ways which look like individual issues (shyness, self-esteem) but are really produced by the culture at large.