Well, actually, I can see my navel (and my feet) pretty OK. That is one of the reasons I am currently in the throes of an Oh Noes Identity Crisis regarding that all-important lady-question: am I fat?
I’ve been inspired to examine my own privilege after having read Sady’s excellent post on such over at Tiger Beatdown: It’s Time for Another Installment of: WHAT KIND OF PRIVILEGE DOES SADY HAVE?
A similar “MEANDERING PRIVILEGE-BASED NAVEL-GAZING AHOY” disclaimer applies here, I think.
I’ve been having this internal debate, lately, wherein I attempt to asses my status re: Being A Fatty. On the one hand, I do not look like the Headless Fatties that are the face of the Ooga-Booga Obesity Crisis. I am a lot smaller than that. On the other hand, I am basically a walrus, compared to the fellow students I interact with on a day-to-day basis. A walrus with, like, three bukkits. (Apparently reading Sady affects the tone of my writing, lol.)
So, the ways I feel like I escape sizeism: I always feel welcome shopping for clothes wherever I feel like shopping, and while items in my size are often sold out, they are at least stocked in the first place, and when the store employees inform me of the lack they never even seem to suggest that I am too big to expect to find things in their store. If people think of me as being lazy, unhealthy, or unclean, it’s more likely to be based on the symptoms of my depression than on my weight (though weight may contribute). I certainly don’t have trouble fitting in most seats– amusement park rides, chairs in classrooms or at public events, public transportation– they’re all basically comfortable for me. I technically meet the standards of a Big Fat Fatty for airlines, since my thighs will touch the next person over, but since they are unlikely to think of me as a Big Fat Fatty I’m not facing a real risk of being thrown off a flight.
And yet, I seem to be really pushing the boundaries. Chairs with built-in desks are something of a crapshoot– occasionally not a problem, but sometimes the desk squashes my lap or the seat is too narrow, and it’s difficult for me to get in and out of them and uncomfortable to remain seated, and they can ruin an otherwise fun class. My thighs touch those of the person next to me when I fly, enough that I could technically be booted off and forced to buy two seats. My boobs do not fit into 80% of shirts, and clothes shopping in general is a headache as the cheap, trendy stuff consistently fails to scale up properly to accommodate for my curves. People assume that I am dieting. That’s actually the most annoying– people offer me “skinny” mochas, they recommend the “low-calorie” granola fruit tart over the cheesecake, they bring me splenda when I asked for sugar, they praise me when I order a salad, or make “knowing” jokes, like, “yeah, those calories, gotta watch ’em.” I am not in on this joke. I do not diet, and never have, and yet people look at me and instantly assume that I am splitting my dessert with the whole table, that I might want to substitute a light pesto for the creamy alfredo, that I want their advice on what lifestyle chaaaange totally worked for them.
But is that a sizeist assumption or a sexist assumption? I don’t remember things being that much different when I was only 115 (the year I stopped eating) as opposed to my current “zaftig” 170 (or wev– haven’t weighed myself for a while.) I think women of every size are probably subjected to the same basic assumptions that no matter how thin you are, you’re trying to get thinner. Plus, I don’t think men deal with the same expectations or assumptions regarding dieting at all, which suggests sexism as the motivator. But I also think it’s gotten more pronounced as I have gotten bigger, and that I am bumping up against some prejudices that I never risked facing when I was thin-but-not-thin-enough; I wouldn’t have been at-risk for being thrown off an airplane back then, for example. And a lot of the moral panic surrounding “childhood obesity” seems to be very much a gender-blind demonization of numbers and BMIs as the be-all and end-all of health, which suggests sizeism. I guess intersectionality strikes again!
But to get back to my navel-gazing, it seems that the answer is that sometimes I am totally in on the Thin Privilege party bus, since people don’t picture people who look like me when discussing Those Fatties, but other times I am totally about to die of my own fat, when an object or space is forced to reckon with my actual physical size as opposed to the size people think of me as being. Except that even then, based on the particular thin privilege I am attempting to access, I might measure up differently. Which is weird. I’m not used to my oppression being conditional.
Well, I guess I can prevent people from knowing I’m gay (in theory, anyway) and therefore piggyback on some straight privilege, but that doesn’t make the gay parts of me less oppressed. (More clearly: I can access the “privilege” of marriage by marrying a dude, but that’s not exactly a meaningful access.) But I can’t prevent people from noticing that I’m a woman, because, well, did I mention the part about my boobs totally not fitting into any shirts? Whatever the rules are for women, they always apply to me– if women can’t join the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, I can never join it. It won’t happen that one person things I’m man enough to join, since I’m pretty butch compared to the hyped-up stereotypes of ultra-femininity, while another things I am clearly unfit, since I have no hope of measuring up to the glorified media images of men. I’m not a man, so I can’t join, period. And sometimes sizeism can seem frustratingly nebulous in comparison, at least from the point of view of an in-betweenie; I can never tell if someone else considers me to be “fat” or not. Mostly, when people say anything, they say I’m “not that fat,” which, uh, doesn’t help.
Except that sizeism isn’t all subjective. Clothes and chairs and hospital beds and stretchers and blood-pressure pumps are all made with a fixed size, and that cute dress on sale isn’t going to decide that I don’t look that fat, and suddenly fit. It’s the size it is, and I’m the size I am, and often those are irreconcilable facts. Which makes sizeism about a lot more than just fighting people’s silly attitudes towards each other’s bodies. It’s about being prepared to actually accommodate the different sizes that people’s bodies come in.
I was hoping to find a way to separate, conceptually, the general you-are-never-thin-enough fat-hatred that all women face from the extra-sucky treatment that “actual” fact people face, but that seems like an impossible idea, even if there was a remotely non-ridiculous way to distinguish who even is an “actual” fat woman as opposed to someone who is “just” not-thin-enough. And when I’ve still got this many scare quotes around the ideas I’m trying to articulate, after this much navel-gazing… I think it’s time for me to call it a day and try to do something useful instead.
Does anyone have further thoughts, or maybe some helpful links from more-brilliant writers who have already grappled with these ideas? Comment away!