Weight Commentary And Thin Privilege

Because our culture equates thinness with beauty, it’s supposed to be a compliment when someone says, “Have you lost weight?” Indeed, we’re conditioned to feel good when we hear those words, as though we’ve accomplished something. I don’t mean to downplay the sense of accomplishment of people who have been trying to lose weight, and have made progress, but rather to question why it’s acceptable to comment on someone’s weight in this fashion.

See, I’m beginning to think it’s hypocritical to encourage comments on losing weight, while saying that it’s rude to comment on someone’s body that’s overweight. Part of what got me thinking was this RoleReboot post on thin privilege, and part of it was recently having the experience of someone asking me if I’d lost weight. Experiencing that initial feeling of flattery, followed by a feminist examination of that feeling, led me to this conclusion:

Unsolicited comments about weight are a form of body policing at worst, and mildly rude at best. Unless you are my doctor – and even then, doctors are not immune to fat-shaming beliefs and the cult of skinny-worship – then I don’t want to hear your thoughts on my weight unless I specifically ask you, as a trusted friend, to help me evaluate whether I’m at a healthy weight, or whether a particular outfit looks good on me (and even that is notoriously subjective), or whatever in a similar vein.

Like the RoleReboot blogger, my body naturally tends toward the smaller end of the spectrum. She writes:

I am a small person, a naturally small person. And that makes my life a whole lot easier in many, many ways. Yes, I’ve struggled with serious eating disorders, but I also have the good fortune to be on the culturally acceptable side of the body size gene pool. I get to maintain my recovery in a thin body.

Those of us who “won” the genetic lottery and are inhabiting culturally acceptable bodies should speak out against the arbitrary hypocrisy of weight commentary, even when we happen to be on the receiving end of weight commentary cloaked as a compliment. It’s like benevolent sexism: yes, as a cis-gendered woman who’s performing normative femininity, I sometimes benefit from men deciding to act chivalrously toward me – but the mere existence of these gendered constructs guarantees that there’s a flip side as well.

The other side of the coin is rape culture, slut-shaming, and aggressive masculinity that doesn’t allow men to acknowledge vulnerability and other “feminine” emotions. I’m not going to stop speaking out against these things simply because I’m “lucky” enough to feel comfortable performing femininity most of the time and thus reap the rewards of playing nicely in the acceptable-gender-role sandbox.

So even though it makes me sound like an un-humorous feminist who takes everything too damn seriously, I intend to speak out against weight commentary every time I hear it in action, even if it sounds like it’s intended as a compliment. I suggest you consider doing the same.

About Jeana

Jeana

Jeana Jorgensen, PhD recently completed her doctoral degree in folklore and gender studies at Indiana University. She studies fairy tales and other narratives, dance, body art, feminist theory, digital humanities, and gender identity.