Welcome back to the Learning Curve, a monthly column where we unpack the complicated experience of accepting your own body in a world that doesn’t seem to want you to. This month, Nicola examines the small-fat and mid-size communities’ inability to address their own thin privilege — and checks her own privilege in the process.
One time, I almost irreversibly ruined the vibe during a beach getaway with my closest friends after the topic of shopping came up. A girlfriend of mine lamented about how hard it can be to find jeans that fit because of her smaller waist and bigger butt. She’s thin. My other girlfriend who was in this conversation is thin. I was the only person on this trip above a size small. And that one offhand remark was all it took for me to see red.
“But have you ever walked into a store and been too big to even try on a pair of jeans?” I asked, so obviously bitter. She said, “No, but…” I didn’t let her finish. I repeated the question until she bowed out with a final, dejected, “No,” and we all silently agreed it was time to change the subject.
Six years later, I think about that conversation often and wince at myself, not for calling out that friend out for what I still think were rather tone-deaf complaints to make to a plus-size person but for the way I lashed out because I wasn’t able to calmly verbalize what truly upset me: her failure to recognize and be grateful for her thin privilege.
Anyone who is bigger than most of their friends knows these types of complaints well; sometimes, we are automatically designated “safe” people to whom one can voice shame about their own body. We hear complaints of “feeling fat” or not having anything to wear or having to stick to specific diet and fitness regimens to stay in shape. Fewer things set me off quicker than hearing these things from the mouth of someone who hasn’t lived any part of their life over a size 8.
But here’s the thing: I’m a hypocrite.
If you’ve read this column before, you already know I’ve fluctuated between sizes 12 and 16 my entire adult life. I’m much taller than the average woman, and I usually weigh anywhere between 200 and 215 pounds. I was a chubby kid, too, one whose weight was of constant discussion in my household. I’m no stranger to being publicly body-shamed or being excluded from clothing retailers or developing complicated relationships with food and fitness. I’ve made a career, in part, from making content in which I try to heal from that and help others do the same.