What Is Thin Privilege? And How Can We Get Rid of It?

Woman shopping

Getty Images / Tom Werner

The pressure to be thin can be seen in many components of society—sizing accessibility in clothing stores and the width of airplane seats, for example. This pervasive pressure is the ongoing public health outcry of initiatives seeking to battle the obesity epidemic. This combination has fostered a fear of fatness, weight bias, discrimination, and poor body image.

Researchers agree that weight discrimination inherently creates a culture where being thin comes with benefits, whereas not being thin subjects a person to prejudice. It's vital to combat these views to stop the harmful effects of thin privilege.

Learn more about what thin privilege means and how you can combat it, according to experts.

What Is Thin Privilege?

"Thin privilege encompasses the benefits that people in smaller bodies have—socially, economically, and structurally—which protects them from judgment, shame, or prejudices regarding health, well-being, and self-worth," explains Sloane Elizabeth, a food freedom coach who helps women stop dieting, obsessing, restricting, and binge eating so they can experience food freedom.

Thin privilege is like the flip side of weight stigma, which is the judgment, shame, and prejudices regarding health and self-worth that people in bigger bodies experience.

Examples of Thin Privilege

  • People see thin people as inherently healthy
  • Doctors don't push thin individuals to change their eating or exercise habits
  • Thin people may be viewed as less "lazy" or "undisciplined" than fat people
  • Thin people are less likely to have their food choices scrutinized
  • Thin people tend to have an easier time getting lower health insurance
  • Thin people may have an easier time getting promotions and higher-paid work

Why Is Thin Privilege a Problem?

Thin privilege spreads hurtful mistruths about personal value and self-worth based on appearance. Believing that thinness equates to health can lead to disordered eating and exercise habits, as well as damaging mindsets about what health means.

"Society continues to prioritize thinness as an ideal body type because diet culture glorifies losing weight at all costs. To stop perpetuating thin privilege, we need to have a better understanding of what it is and what this means," explains Julia Cassidy, MS, CEDRD-S, vice president of Clinical Nutrition Services and a registered dietician, with Alsana, an eating disorder treatment center with locations in California, Alabama, and Missouri.

Exclusion and marginalization of a group of people based on their body size are similar to racist, ableist, and misogynist beliefs and practices. "It is so infuriating that people in larger bodies face consistent, systemic oppression. I am talking about more than just body-shaming. I am talking about our culture that makes it difficult or impossible to find clothes that fit," adds Cassidy.

Julia Cassidy, MS, CEDRD-S

In order to create change and to reduce the thin ideal, there needs to be a huge shift in diet culture and acceptance of all bodies. It is so disheartening how lived experiences are influenced by diet culture and weight discrimination.

— Julia Cassidy, MS, CEDRD-S

How Do We Stop Thin Privilege? Experts Weigh In

"Halting the perpetuation of thin privilege requires personal responsibility as well as an effort from the community to make sustainable, long-term changes to how we view health and body sizes," Elizabeth explains. Below are several ways you can work to stop thin privilege for yourself and others.  

Spread Awareness

One way to stop any issue is to spread awareness and education. "The more information that is out there about thin privilege, the more people are talking about it, and the more the media is highlighting this topic, the more aware people will be about thin privilege," notes Samantha Gambino, PsyD, a psychologist, wellness expert, and founder of Strong + Mindful LLC.

When you see others perpetuating thin privilege ideas, Elizabeth encourages speaking up and saying something. "If you feel called to talk the talk, then go for it! Being judgmental of someone else's judgments typically creates more tension and disconnect." She also recommends that instead of telling someone what they're doing wrong, make it about you with "I" statements.

For example, if your friends are talking negatively about someone they think gained weight, you might say, "When I hear negative comments about weight and bodies, it makes me feel uncomfortable and guilty."

"When setting boundaries around fatphobia and diet culture talk, it's best to state how you personally feel to avoid putting the other person on defense. We're looking to collectively shift the conversation around bodies and weight, not create more fear, anger, and hate around it," Elizabeth concludes.

Understand Your Beliefs About Weight 

"We all have our own beliefs and biases about weight, whether it's thinness or fatness. Therefore, it's essential to understand your belief system, where your beliefs and preferences came from," notes Gambino. For example, was this something you learned in your family, school, or media? Gambino recommends thinking about how these beliefs have affected you and what your thoughts and feelings are now.

It is important to first assess your own judgments toward fat people or people considered "larger" than society's ideal beauty standards. "We are all mirrors for one another. So if seeing someone else's body or seeing your own body triggers a judgment within you, then that judgment can show you exactly where your own prejudices lie," says Elizabeth. 

Be Curious About Family Messages

Be curious about what family messages you learned growing up around weight. "Our parents are our first sets of role models, so it's helpful to understand family messages around different topics. Learn more about yourself around this topic," recommends Gambino.

Gambino also suggests asking yourself these questions:

  • What family messages did you get about weight?
  • How was food treated in your family?
  • Did your parents always diet or tune in to your weight?
  • What meaning did your family assign to thinness or fatness? 

Challenge Your Beliefs 

After you've examined your beliefs and the messages you may have created, you can take the next step by challenging yourself to change. "Reflect on your beliefs and ask yourself if these are true concepts. Notice if you act on your thoughts or can pause before responding to situations that involve weight," Gambino states.

"Confronting and admitting your own judgmental thoughts can be jarring and uncomfortable. However, in order to challenge thin privilege and diet culture, we must first be really honest with ourselves," stresses Elizabeth.

She adds that although your beliefs may have been inherited and absorbed throughout your life through no fault of your own, it is your responsibility to take ownership of your judgments and commit to reprogramming your beliefs. "We can all take small sustainable steps toward being more inclusive, loving, and accepting of all people, no matter their weight, size, or habits," she concludes.

Challenging your beliefs about your own body is part of the process. "I encourage everyone to embrace their body and accept the way that it looks. Recognize that today’s standards of beauty, specifically, being thin, is just an undesirable and unrealistic social construct. This is called body positivity—it focuses on recognizing and appreciating functionality and health, not overall body appearance," explains Cassidy. She also provides the below ways to foster self-acceptance.

How to Foster Self-Acceptance

  • Accept your genetics—remember that we are all unique. Avoid comparing yourself to others.
  • Set obtainable health-focused goals rather than weight-related ones. This is better for your overall well-being, especially for people in recovery from disordered eating.
  • Say positive things to yourself every day. Talk to yourself just as you would a friend or loved one.
  • Unfollow people or companies on social media who trigger negative body image thoughts and feelings. Follow people who are positive body image clinicians or people who consistently post and or share about body acceptance or positive body image.

Support Brands and Businesses That Are All Size-Inclusive

Much of the societal shift around body size, body shaming, and representing diverse bodies has come from financial pressure. "Money talks, and if brands and companies understand that people will not support them if their messaging around weight is biased, it will make a difference over time," says Gambino.

Unfollow Social Media Accounts and Influencers That Are Not All Size-Inclusive

In the same way that brands have adapted to changing mindsets around body size and thin privilege, so have social media accounts and influencers. "Take a stance and unfollow accounts that do not promote openness to people of all shapes and sizes. It may be helpful to send a polite DM to the account to let them know why you are unfollowing them. This is another way to spread awareness," recommends Gambino.

Surround Yourself with Like-Minded People

"As you explore thin privilege and body image beliefs within yourself, I highly recommend surrounding yourself with other people on a similar journey. There is power in numbers and community," notes Elizabeth.

This could mean following social media accounts that discuss fatphobia and body positivity, joining a group coaching program, or discussing these topics in your community. "You will feel much more hopeful and supported when you realize that you're not alone in wanting to change how we look at and love our beautiful vessels," adds Elizabeth.

A Word From Verywell

Thin privilege is a complex topic that takes a lot of work to understand and recognize. It's worth educating yourself on the pervasiveness and harms of thin privilege and weight bias so you can make a difference. If you find yourself struggling with body image, disordered eating patterns, or questions about your body size and health, seek advise from a trusted healthcare professional.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the difference between fatphobia and thin privilege?

    Fatphobia is a fear of being fat, a fear of fatness, or a fear of fat people. It assumes that being fat means a person has less worth or is unhealthy. Thin privilege is the benefits someone experiences from not being discriminated against based on their weight.

  • Who has thin privilege?

    Anyone who is thin, or considered to be conforming to "ideal" body size standards has thin privilege.

7 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Alberga AS, Russell-Mayhew S, von Ranson KM, McLaren L. Weight bias: a call to actionJ Eat Disord. 2016;4:34. doi:10.1186/s40337-016-0112-4

  2. Bacon, L., O’Reilly, C., & Aphramor, L. (2016). Four: Reflections on Thin Privilege and Responsibility. Counterpoints, 467, 41–50.

  3. Tomiyama AJ, Carr D, Granberg EM, et al. How and why weight stigma drives the obesity ‘epidemic’ and harms health. BMC Med. 2018;16(1):123. doi:10.1186%2Fs12916-018-1116-5

  4. Gutin I. Body mass index is just a number: Conflating riskiness and unhealthiness in discourse on body sizeSocial Health Illn. 2021;43(6):1437-1453. doi:10.1111/1467-9566.13309

  5. Li P, Chen X, Yao Q. Body mass and income: gender and occupational differences. IJERPH. 2021;18(18):9599. doi:10.3390%2Fijerph18189599

  6. van Amsterdam N. Big fat inequalities, thin privilege: An intersectional perspective on ‘body size.’ European Journal of Women’s Studies. 2013;20(2):155-169. doi:10.1177/1350506812456461

  7. Selensky JC, Carels RA. Weight stigma and media: An examination of the effect of advertising campaigns on weight bias, internalized weight bias, self-esteem, body image, and affectBody Image. 2021;36:95-106. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2020.10.008

By Rachel MacPherson, BA, CPT
Rachel MacPherson is a health writer, certified personal trainer, and exercise nutrition coach based in Montreal.

Edited by
Lily Moe
Lily Moe for Verywell Fit

Lily Moe is a former fitness coach and current Editor for Verywell Fit. A wellness enthusiast, she can often be found in a hot yoga studio, trying a new recipe, or going for a long run in Central Park.

Learn about our editorial process