Thin Privilege

Thin privilege? Yes, there is such a thing, and it is perceived by some obese individuals who, like members of other oppressed groups (“Me Too” survivors come to mind) say, “What we experience is real, and stop telling us otherwise.”

Thin privilege means that overweight people have to put up with things that normal-weight people can’t even imagine. This goes way further than tiny airplane seats, although it seems that good old entrepreneurial spirit might find a role to play here. All the accommodations that obese people need could conceivably be provided by the free market, if only it had the will.

Overweight people who want outdoor winter exercise are stymied by the unavailability of protective clothing suitable for backcountry hiking. A consumer demographic is asking for wider shoes; backpacks with wider and longer straps; thermal underwear in extra large sizes; down jackets that can close in front. It seems like America’s unquenchable entrepreneurial spirit should be able to handle that.

On the other hand, plenty of hefty people have been pursuing outdoor activities forever, whether it’s feeding the livestock, chopping down trees, or looking for Bigfoot. Surely there must be companies that make clothing and equipment for them. A thin-privileged skeptic might wonder if obese people are just making excuses, in order to avoid strenuous exercise. But then, an obese hiker might respond that Mr. Thin Privilege should try twisting his knee, and being unable to find a brace that fits, and see how he feels.

Many voices

Some of these discussion points are gleaned from extensive reading of the Comments at, a website that seems to have disappeared since these notes were gathered, and that apparently has been replaced by or absorbed into ThisIsThinPrivilege groups at and Since all the posts were written under pseudonyms anyway, resurrecting them does not deny anyone their due credit.

Apparently, normal-weight people enjoy the privilege of being taken seriously by doctors. Once a bulky frame occupies the exam room, apparently many doctors just stop listening, and advise weight loss as a panacea. There seems to be a problem with certain medications, too, because they can cause weight gain and well, you know…

Another complaint is that doctors never said anything about weight or offered help with controlling it. Yet, the dissimilar experience of others is that doctors welcome the opportunity to scold and humiliate patients, under the guise of “If I don’t tell you, nobody else will.” That last could be particularly irksome to anyone whose life is already amply supplied with relatives and friends eager to help and/or fat-shame.

Then, there are the pragmatic aspects. A medical student who goes by Raspberry Stethoscope writes,

Fat bodies are hard to examine. It’s harder to palpate for a bony structure when it is obscured by a thicker layer of fatty tissue. Harder to count rib spaces to tentatively place a stethoscope above a mitral valve. Harder to feel the border of a liver slide over our index finger. “I hope I don’t get a really obese patient,” a colleague tells me with a chuckle.

Sometimes an obese person has a psychological problem and seeks help from a mental health professional who automatically assumes that weight is the issue. Okay, sure, the human body and mind are inextricably tied together and are endlessly in a mutual exchange of influence. Still, it seems reasonable to expect a therapist to at least give the patient a chance to articulate the presenting problem before leaping to conclusions.

And then there are the amateur mental health experts. The parent who took Psych 101 in college. The friend who decides to make a project out of you, because you’re worth saving.

One thing that irks sensitive obese people is any echo of the old religious motto “Hate the sin but love the sinner.” In one online controversy, someone used the analogy between hating cancer and hating fat to demonstrate that just as we do not hate the cancer victim, neither do we hate the obesity victim.

This may be a valid point, but it is a difficult one to make without also making enemies. An activist called ArteToLife replied,

Tall people are afflicted with tallness in exactly the same way fat people are afflicted with fatness. Not like cancer. At. All.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “On being a fat medical student, at the start of our metabolism module,”
Source: “Saying ‘I hate obesity’ is exactly like saying ‘I hate fat people.’,
Photo credit: Daniele Pesaresi on Visualhunt/CC BY-ND

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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