How 'Thin Privilege' May Rule Your Social Media Feed

Beth Greenfield
Senior Writer

A tweet about “thin privilege” — specifically as it relates to svelte women getting social media praise for posting pictures of how they indulge in highly caloric food — has been going viral.

The June 15 post, from UK-based YouTube star and writer Gracie Victory, author of the forthcoming memoir No Filter, notes, “In case you wondered what fat phobia and thin privilege looks like,” alongside juxtaposing images: first, screen shots of a tiny young woman proudly polishing off a hideous mountain of burgers and fries, boasting, “still had room for dessert.” Then there are images of a plus-size 13-year-old British girl, who recently made her own Instagram impact for facing her “biggest fear” by wearing a swimsuit to the beach.

The thin woman indulging in fast food inspired many impressed, supportive comments, including “brain says marry her,” “wife material,” “my new hero,” “this is sexy,” and “f***in’ boss.”

Meanwhile, the image of the British teenager in the swimsuit, whose name is Paris Harvey, elicited the following reactions (among many others of support): “that’s disgusting,” “I just see a whale,” “good to know we encourage obesity now,” and “it’s her fault for being fat.”

Victory’s post has resonated greatly, with more than 69,000 shares, 113,000 likes, and 640 comments — many totally getting the point:

Others, of course, couldn’t help but use this moment as another fat-shaming opportunity:

Thin women getting kudos for stuffing their faces is not a new phenomenon, of course; this past spring, a Long Island–based beauty queen, Miss New York contestant Sarah Gould, went viral after posting an Instagram video of herself downing a two-foot slice of pizza. The post inspired praise and media coverage around the world; she’s since posted images of herself inhaling donuts, a huge pretzel, Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, and massive pancakes, with no evidence of shaming.

It’s the rare social media user, in fact, who can get away with being both plus-sized and a proudly voracious eater. Mega-popular fat-pride activist Virgie Tovar has done it, becoming a body-image hero to her 27,300 Instagram followers who adore her cheeky foodie, skin-flashing adventures. But it was hard won, as she had to wade through a lot of hateful trolling along the way.

Still, Tovar noted recently, don’t mistake what she’s aimed for as acceptance.

“I don’t want acceptance. I want bigots to shut up and stop hurting people,” she wrote in an essay for Ravishly. “I want the cultural forces that isolate and stigmatize people to cease. I want to be able to choose the life I want on my terms without fear of retaliation from mainstreamers.”

Tovar added that, “in the conversation around body size, fatness is always constructed as the space left behind by thinness or thin people.” She called that a “reductive binary,” and one in which “fatness can never be a stand-alone existence that requires no substantiation. In this paradigm, fatness can never be a choice, a preferred state, a manifestation of wholeness and desire. Fatness is always what resides in the negative space.”

That’s not the way it should be, Tovar stresses — and certainly Victory, who has been a Nike model and who collaborated with the brand on the launch of its plus-size line this past spring, agrees. “Fat shaming me and my girl on our Nike campaign is hilarious,” she had tweeted at the time. “We be laughing all the damn way to the bank.”

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