Skinny privilege: Having it and losing it.




When I was sixteen, a boy in my Year 12 English class dropped his pencil on the floor and looked up my dress as he picked it up.  He proceeded to whisper and snicker to the other boys around him that I was wearing pink knickers. And that I had fat thighs.

That day – for not the first time – I desperately wished I was thin.

I’ve never been seriously over-weight and it would be disingenuous of me to act as though I have been.  But I’ve also never been one of the skinny girls either.  Never walked out of the house in a cute tank top and short shorts only to unconsciously bewitch everyone who crossed my path.  Or at the very least engender second “Hey check her out!” glances.

Hence, I have no clue what it’s like to receive ‘skinny privilege’. And, I can’t say I have any frontline experience of people doing me favours for being a hottie.

Over the years I’ve had several friends who were either thin or gorgeous or both  and from the sidelines I’ve watched people – men and women – fall over themselves (and at times make fools of themselves) attempting to win their favour.

I learned that beauty wins you everything from free drinks in bars to unfair extensions on university assignments.  My perm and I stood back and watched – often amused, occasionally envious and yes, sometimes bloody irritated.

Beth Ditto.

But I’ve started to wonder if NOT having skinny privilege has perhaps been one of the biggest blessings of my life. Here I am at 40  and I’m blissfully happy and entirely comfortable with my age.


One of the reasons for that, I suspect, is I’m not mourning the loss of my youth AT ALL. I’m not destined to be Norma Desmond who grows older wanting desperately to turn back the clock. Frankly,  I look waaaaay better now than I did in my 20s. (I was heavier then, had a perm and a fondness for shoulder pads. Need I go on?).

That’s why when I read an interview with Beth Ditto last week I immediately understood the point she was making.

Ditto is the lead singer of uber-successful indie band Gossip.  She’s also 152 cm tall and 90kg.

The 31-year-old singer is doing the rounds at the moment promoting her memoir Coal to Diamonds which details her childhood sexual abuse (by an uncle), her life of poverty in Arkansas, her sexuality and the fat-phobia to which she has become accustomed.

But it’s this quote from the memoir about Ditto’s feelings on skinny privilege that are stop-you-in-your-tracks interesting. She writes …

“I feel sorry…for people who’ve had skinny privilege and then have it taken away from them. I have had a lifetime to adjust to seeing how people treat women who aren’t their idea of beautiful and therefore aren’t their idea of useful, and I had to find ways to become useful to myself.”

While in a terrific interview with The Guardian earlier this year, Ditto said:

“I have no control over what people think of me but I have 100% control of what I think of myself, and that is so important. And not just about your body, but so many ways of confidence. You’re constantly learning how to be confident, aren’t you? You’re constantly reprogramming yourself.”

You know I’ve never even listened to Ditto’s music. But I like her. A lot.

The fabulous Beth Ditto:

So what do you think?  Is life actually harder when you’ve spent your life experiencing “skinny privilege” ?  Does not having it make you a stronger person?