What Is Privilege?

Privilege is something I never really thought much about until I began blogging at WeAretheRealDeal.com, and I especially never thought about it with respect to body image.

Today, we launched a collaborative post on privilege. Included in the post is the explanation behind why we did this, as well as each contributor’s input.

I am including the copy from my input after the jump. Click here to read the whole post and let me know your thoughts in the comments.LISSA:

To be honest, I never considered myself particularly “privileged” … that is, until I began reading the comments on our blog and realized the context in which people were using it.

This might surprise some readers, as my bio makes me sound quite “privileged.” But whenever I thought of “privileged,” I usually thought of it first in the context of wealth, and then in the context of education, experience, sex, race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, etc.

Of course, after doing some reading, I now see how naïve that was, and how “privileged” I actually am on so many levels — and I feel blessed for it.

Because privilege is unique to everyone – an individual thing – this means my life experience is obviously not the same as someone else’s. I can’t speak to others’ privilege, but I’m here today to speak about my own and what it means to me.

I was raised in a middle class home by two loving, doting parents who have been together since the seventh grade. According to Tami’s definition, that gives me “privilege.”

I am well-educated, holding both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from a private university in Washington, D.C. (American University). That gives me “privilege.”

And I’m well-traveled; I’ve lived in two other countries and traveled to a dozen in Europe and South America. Again, that gives me “privilege.”

But to be honest — and you can call me naïve — until I began blogging here, I had never once thought about privilege from a body image standpoint.

Of course, I realize that people have been unfairly marginalized or discriminated against for their size since the beginning of time … but I never gave much thought to body size as an example of privilege; I just thought my thin best friend and sister had better genes than me. I never assumed they were “privileged” for it, so in a way, applying it to body image is still a bit murky for me.

For example, though I’m fit and average-sized today, I certainly wouldn’t have considered myself “privileged,” because I spent the first 25 years of my life being overweight. Yet someone seeing me today might argue I have no right to discuss having been overweight in the past.

So now that I’m “average-sized” does that make me privileged? Some might say yes; I am not so sure.Before my disordered eating issues began, I worked hard to lose weight and maintain it. And I know that without that continued effort, I’d be overweight again.

So in that sense, I feel like my “privilege” — with respect to body image — is temporary at best.

The truth is, talking about privilege is tricky. There are all kinds of privilege, and what seems like privilege to someone might be considered marginalization to someone else. A good example of this could be a woman who is naturally very thin but doesn’t have an eating disorder. People might look down on her, whisper about her, criticize her, call her names …marginalize her for her appearance.

What one might see as “thin privilege” might actually just be who she is naturally, and she might feel marginalized for her thinness – something some might covet, but others frown upon or chastise. (Ridiculous Judgment A: “She’s too skinny, she must be anorexic.”)

On the flip side, a heavier woman could be waging an eating disorder war and you’d never know it from first glance. (Ridiculous Judgment B: “She’s overweight, she can’t possibly have an eating disorder.”)

So where does this lead us? Privilege is often temporary. Think about it: money, status, body size. I think the most important thing we can do, as women, is be aware of our privilege and try to use it to help others.

As women, we’re already in a position to be marginalized, so instead of arguing over who is more or less privileged, we’d be better off just acknowledging that yes, some of us might have had different opportunities than others, but we can all learn from one another. After all, different experiences and viewpoints are what make the world so dynamic.

Oh — and when it comes to our bodies, please … no body-snarking in either direction; it solves nothing and just pits women against each other, when we ought to be supporting one another.

How about you? What are your thoughts on privilege, body-image-wise or otherwise?

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