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Nimb Reacts: Thin Privilege Checklist

sugaredvenom:

  1. I can be sure that people aren’t embarrassed to be seen with me because of the size of my body.
  2. If I pick up a magazine or watch T.V. I will see bodies that look like mine that aren’t being lampooned, desexualized, or used to signify laziness, ignorance, or lack of self-control.
  3. When I talk about the size of my body I can be certain that few other people will hope they are never the same size.
  4. I do not have to be afraid that when I talk to my friends or family they will mention the size of my body in a critical manner, or suggest unsolicited diet products and exercise programs.
  5. I will not be accused of being emotionally troubled or in psychological denial because of the size of my body.
  6. I can go home from meetings, classes, and conversations and not feel excluded, fearful, attacked, isolated, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, stereotyped, or feared because of the size of my body.
  7. I never have to speak for size acceptance as a movement. My thoughts about my body can be my own with no need for political alliance relative to size.
  8. I can be sure that when I go to a class, or movie, or restaurant that I will find a place to sit in which I am relatively comfortable.
  9. I don’t have to worry that if I am talking about feeling of sexual attraction people are repelled or disgusted by the size of my body. People can imagine me in sexual circumstances.
  10. People won’t ask me why I don’t change the size of my body.
  11. My masculinity or femininity will not be challenged because of the size of my body.
  12. I can be sure that if I need medical or legal help my size will not work against me.
  13. I am not identified by the size of my body.
  14. I can walk in public with my significant other and not have people double take or stare.
  15. I can go for months without thinking about or being spoken to about the size of my body.
  16. I am not grouped because of the size of my body.
  17. I will never have to sit quietly and listen while other people talk about the ways in which they avoid being my size.
  18. I don’t have to worry that won’t be hired for a job that I can do because of the size of my body.

Let’s talk about privilege and three big reasons why lists like this one are a completely counterproductive waste of time.

Problem #1: You don’t know someone else’s experience any more than they know yours.
Privilege checklists are generated in an attempt to “show” what is perceived to be the non-marginalized  segment what it’s like to be part of what is perceived to be the marginalized segment. There’s a big problem with this, however. It forces the list writer to make assumptions about what other people’s lives are like. For example, let’s look at item #5 on the list above (full disclosure: this list originally appeared in bulleted rather than numbered format, but was converted to numbered format for ease of discussion). Item #5 claims that thin people are never assumed to be psychologically ill because of the size of their bodies. This is 100% not true. Just as heavy people are accused of “eating their feelings” or other hurtful comments, thin people are often falsely accused of being anorexic or bulimic which is equally hurtful. Let’s also look at item #4. Thin people are often scolded by their families and friends and made to feel that their bodies are not good enough with comments like “you look sickly!” and “you’re too bony!”. Every single time I get sick, at least one person tells me that if I “put some meat on my bones” I would be healthier.

In fact, most of the items on this list are based on mistaken conceptions about what life is like for someone who is thinner than average. It seems to be based on the idea that thin people are never shamed, ridiculed, criticized, or made to feel inferior because of the size and shape of their bodies. And this isn’t even taking into account people who are actually thin but who nonetheless experience fat shame because of the unrealistic body standards imposed by society. But how would the heavy person know all that if they had never been thin? They wouldn’t. The moral of the story is this: Don’t assume you know what someone else’s life is like if you haven’t lived it because you don’t know.


Problem #2: They increase hostility and decrease empathy.
So what is reading this list supposed to do exactly? Make a thin person feel bad for being thin? People who make lists like this one always claim that this is not the case and that they are “just trying to inform” or “raise awareness”, but these claims always comes off as a bit insincere. The feeling behind lists like this always seems to be at best bitterness and at worst vengeance. The problem with that is that it instantly puts the reader on the defensive because it makes them feel like they are being attacked. And why shouldn’t they feel that way? They are being assaulted by a mile-long list of bullets with repeated use of the word “YOU” as though the list were directly targeted at them personally. Why on earth would someone be inclined to feel empathy towards someone who they perceive to be attacking them? They won’t. It only increases feelings of hostility and divisiveness, which if one cares about equality at all, it the exact opposite of the desired effect.

Empathy is the first step to mutual understanding and a joint effort to work towards equality. Showing that you are a real person with real feelings and a sensitivity to the feelings of others is how you encourage empathy and meaningful dialogue. Putting people on the defensive, however, is not.

Problem #3: They trivialize real issues faced by marginalized groups.
By reducing someone’s experience being marginalized in society to one-line soundbites, the real impact of these experiences on that person’s life are trivialized. It turns something very real and hurtful, like having your body constantly shamed by your family, into little more than a throw away statement to pad out a list. It turns real, hurtful consequences into what comes off as inconsequential whining. We need to ask ourselves: Is this really what we are trying to do? I would certainly hope that it isn’t, but based on the sheer number of lists like this one that exist, I am really left to wonder.

Our experiences deserve more than a slot on a checklist, and if we want other people to give these issues the respect they rightly deserve, then we need be sure that we are treating them with the respect and seriousness they rightly deserve. 

So what can we do to fix it?
For one, I think we need to stop making these lists all together. I realize the temptation is strong to sit down and rattle off 100 examples of “Straight Privilege” or “White Privilege” or “Religious Privilege” or whatever the case may be. It’s easy to feel angry about being marginalized and treated unfairly for something you cannot help, and we are all entitled to feel angry in that situation. But writing self-serving lists like this one amount to little more than angry mental masturbation accomplishes absolutely nothing productive. Instead, we might consider focusing on one aspect of privilege and sharing ideas about how we might work together to diminish the effects of that aspect of privilege. 

It is for these reasons that I am very careful about how I discuss privilege.  In fact, I actually try to use the word “privilege” itself very sparingly. Privilege is a real issue that warrants a more meaningful treatment than being reduced to a glib checklist.

Further, I am very aware of how easy it is for discussions of privilege to devolve into accusations of guilt by association. I think this is something about which a lot of people need to be a lot more cognizant. Too much insincere lip service is paid to the statement “privilege is not an accusation”. Far far too often, I read someone write those exact words, and then in the very next sentence or paragraph they go on to make accusation after accusation. This seriously needs to stop. Above all, if we can ever hope to have a meaningful discussion about discrimination and privilege, 
the phrase “check your privilege” needs to COMPLETELY DISAPPEAR from the conversation.

Let's Be Real for a Second: (Not) Being Better than Other People

I’m sure a lot of people are familiar with the term “special snowflake”. As far as I am aware, this term originates from a line spoken by Brad Pitt’s character Tyler Durden in the movie Fight Club who says:

You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else.

Some people have a major problem with the term “special snowflake”.  It often seems to be used as a pejorative or as a way to delegitimize someone’s identity.  In the area of sexuality for example, people who identify as pansexual or genderqueer (or anything other than straight, lesbian, or gay) are often accused of being “special snowflakes” because they don’t fall into some of the more well-known categorizations of sexuality.

What does that actually mean though? What makes a person a “special snowflake”?  For the record, I definitely do not think that simply having a lesser-known identity makes a person a special snowflake. However, people with lesser-known identities can nonetheless be guilty of “special snowflake” behavior.  So what is special snowflake behavior anyway?

The way I see it “special snowflake” behavior can be any of the following:

  • Thinking that your identity (regardless of what it is) makes you somehow better/smarter/more enlightened/more open-minded than other people
  • Thinking that being outside the norm is better than being inside the norm
  • Inventing new terms to describe yourself not because nothing existing feels right, but rather because the existing terms are too boring/mundane/overused/popular
  • Calling others “closed minded” or otherwise ridiculing people for identifying with a more popular term or group
  • Expressing the view that “normal” people are less interesting or saying that you “feel sorry for them” because you perceive them as less special than you
  • Blatantly inventing fake attributes about yourself in order to seem more quirky/unique/special
  • Laboring under the delusion that perfectly normal behavior is something unique and special (or alternatively, some kind of disorder) when you do it

I’m certain that most people can think of examples of all of these behavior. I can recall an occasion in the past when a sexually inexperienced friend of mine smugly expressed disdain and pity for people who do not enjoy kinky sex or kinky porn.  I was immediately appalled by this friend’s assertion, but why is that?  I think most people are repulsed by arrogance and self-centeredness. However, I think this goes deeper than that.  

I believe we are also repulsed by the sheer nonsensical nature of the attitude that any identity or preference is better than any other, particularly on the basis of whether or not that identity or preference is popular. No identity or preference is better than any other, regardless of popularity and embellishing your labels, behavior, or preferences doesn’t increase your “specialness” either. (People are also not going to take you very seriously when you have no direct experience with the thing you are expressing an opinion about, but that’s a separate matter.)


So what does it all boil down to? I think it is this:
If you ever start to get the feeling that you are better than anyone, just stop. 
If you ever start to feel sorry for someone for being different than you, just stop.

Just as Tyler Durden would say, I am not a unique and special snowflake.
You are not a unique and special snowflake.
None of us is a unique and special snowflake.
And you know what?
We don’t need to be.