Thin is In and White is Alright

By | November 19, 2008

Thin is In and White is Alright

The Fantasy of Being Thin is not just about becoming small enough to be perceived as more acceptable. It is about becoming an entirely different person – one with far more courage, confidence, and luck than the fat you has. It’s not just, “When I’m thin, I’ll look good in a bathing suit”; it’s “When I’m thin, I will be the kind of person who struts down the beach in a bikini, making men weep.”

Here is the thing about the Fantasy of Thin: it’s never held that much power over me. I grasp it intellectually, but it doesn’t really speak to my personal experience. I think because the images and stories I see of women whose lives become amazing after dieting, are about white women. I don’t dream about the thin me having men and women fall at my feet, because that thin me would still be black and thus not beautiful according to mainstream beauty standards. I’ve been rejected more for my race than my fatness. I don’t sit around thinking about how a slimmer version of myself would get promoted at work, since dieting wouldn’t open doors for me that wouldn’t get slammed shut again by racism and sexism. That’s not to say that I’m not unaffected by the fantasies of the wonderful things that would happen if I was thin. I get the message that I am a lazy ugly failure for being fat in surround sound every day. I just happen to get that announcement with a special chorus of “why can’t you be less black?”

I think that “fantasy of thin” is about trying to look like what American culture says is beautiful: being thin and white (ideally with blond hair and blue eyes). When you get closer to looking like that “All American” beauty then you get the associated benefits and privileges. Pretty women are seen as trophies, as more healthy, more successful, etc. However, those benefits come with the cost of trying to live up to an impossible patriarchal standard, and often people assume that beauty is the opposite of intelligence. As a Woman of Color, I’ve felt the pain of knowing that, because of my race, I cannot be beautiful. “Classic beauty” is defined as whiteness. It may be possible to be “unconventionally” attractive, but even that dubious honor tells me my features are abnormal. From this position of pain also comes the opportunity to push back against mainstream standards, and embrace other ideas of beauty. For me, learning to love my fat body is tied up in learning to love my black body. Valuing my thick tightly coiled hair and full lips, has gone hand in hand with loving my rounded belly and big strong thighs.

Fatphobia is just one way in which people are marginalized for having a body that doesn’t match societal standards. Many of us are also fighting multiple forms of marginalization and oppression including racism, ableism, transphobia, and homophobia. For me, an important part of Fat Acceptance, and really any movement for social justice, is understanding that ending marginalization for reasons other groups is an effort that deserves both energy and support. It’s also important to accept that some people may prioritize other forms of oppression in their lives, and we shouldn’t criticize them for ignoring the “real” problem of fat hatred. We all need to remember that there is no hierarchy of oppression and that none of us can be free when one of us is oppressed.

Much love to Audre Lorde for There is no Hierarchy of Oppression Homophobia and Education (New York: Council on Interracial Books for Children, 1983). Also a reminder that this is a reflection of my personal experience of being a fat woman of color. My experience should not be taken as universal.

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