It's hard for me to own my thin privilege. I was convinced of my fatness from a very young age. And I do take up a lot of space - much more than women are supposed to. I'm a very tall woman (5'10.5"), and when I was a child, I took it up with confidence and command of my intelligence. I walked alone to and from school without fear.
Until one day, when I was walking home from middle school, reading a book. Doing my daily thing in the winter, bundled up in a coat. Suddenly a man leaned out of a car window and yelled, "DOG!"
I was 12.
It never happened again (because I generally operate with thin privilege) but I never forgot it. It cropped up in the poems and stories I wrote for years and years. My sexual and social growth was already stunted, but this one incident triggered years of insecurity and body hate. That wasn't the only contributing factor - others included further abuse from classmates (my nickname at one point was "the beast"), and the lovely society we live in. But it's what started it, began to make me hate the space I took up, allowed others to make me feel that I wasn't beautiful and didn't deserve that space.
I overcame it. I went to a women's college and saw beautiful fat women everywhere, treated as beautiful and idolized for their style and grace. I learned to debate, to own my intelligence and the space I fill. I fell for a great guy who loved my body without fetishizing it. I still was pleased when I lost 20 pounds when anxiety made me throw up everything I ate, but not broken up when I gained it back. I was and am beautiful.
Though my bigass hips were once a feature I scorned, today I love them. I've given up the fantasy of being thin, and the diet I blogged about in just May. I'm trying to eat more vegetables, but for the cancer-fighting properties. I'm trying to exercise more, but because my boyfriend keeps speeding ahead of me. and I've realized that men are not just attracted to me because of my pretty face, but because of my soft stomach, because of the wide berth of my hips. Other men are attracted to other women because they are thin, but there are plenty of men who aren't for the very same reason. I feel free, now, to wear horizontally striped, patterned, and brightly colored skirts to accentuate the supposed flaw, or dresses that add to my hips rather than minimizing them (left). Where I once squeezed into size 12 because a 14 made me feel fat, I now wear an 12. Or a 16, or an M. Or a 14, an XL, a 10 - whatever fits.
Characters like Joan, singers like Beyonce, and actresses like Kate Winslet are changing the way hips are viewed, but not the way we wield language and fatphobia. And while I've embraced wearing clothes that fit and being an occasional 16, I still benefit from thin privilege, and I'm still blinded by it. In my post on street harassment on Monday, I was very careful to account for all of my privileges - except for thinness. Thinness is a privilege that ensures any catcalls I do receive will be (at least initially) menacing in a complimentary way and not in a way that serves to shame me for taking up space.
In the comments of yesterday's post on Joan of Mad Men, there were a number of comments about how she's not fat, or she shouldn't be considered fat, or whathaveyou. My intention was not to say that Joan was fat - she's not, and she benefits from thin privilege, as I noted - but that she is fat for TV, which she definitely is, and reveals the complete and utter lack of bodily diversity on television. I was trying to use fat as a descriptive term, and a positive one.
I was a little disturbed that so many were so quick to reject the term fat in its application to Joan yesterday. Many seemed to construct the word fat as an automatic slur, and said that it was being "misrepresented". No one wanted to apply a word that carries such ugliness to such a beautiful woman. Fatness is subjective in this case, and I don't blame people for being cautious in its use.
The people who had an issue also had point - its use can be easily misinterpreted. Fat has been made into a slur so thoroughly in our culture, it's hard to see how being fat could be the reason someone is beautiful rather than in spite of that.
Fatness is subjective in this case, and I don't blame people for being cautious in its use. But there's no way to describe a body that is may not be fat, but is certainly not thing - a body that takes up more space than is generally allowed women, but wouldn't be constructed and degraded as a fat body would.
I benefit from thin privilege, and I recognize that. I'm not understood to be fat (though I would if I were in TV!). My body fits normative standards, particularly in the South. Calling myself fat doesn't feel right. It's disowning my privilege.
But I'm not thin. I fit into "okay", but I don't fit into the ideal. It never has, and it never will. I've had days, weeks, years ruined by fatphobia.
When there's a well defined binary/dichotomy between fat and thin, how am I to describe my size, Joan's size, America Ferrera's size in a feminist context? Where is the spectrum, and where am I on it, and how do I describe it?
Average and medium don't sound right. It's normalizing - constructing my body as the right kind of body, and placing an implied "too" before thin and fat. Curvy smacks of a euphemism with a troubled history - and many women have curves, and some don't. "Real" is really problematic - there is no one way to be a woman, and defining authenticity in sex/gender leads to transphobia.
I could say my weight (about 180) or size (anywhere from size 10 to 16), but not everyone is comfortable saying that. I've been staring at the cursor for some time, trying to come up with a term for myself, but I'm stuck.
Fleshy? Everyone has flesh.
Big is the best that I can come up with. I am big - I am tall, and my hips are wide. It's a term I'm comfortable with.
But not all women who are not thin and not fat are big. There are petite women in the same undefined space.
Is there an umbrella term for women who are not fat, and not thin? How can privileged be owned with comfort and without dismissing the ways in which privilege is lacked?