Image description: A fat white women with shoulder-length blonde hair is shown in a black and white image with a black drape just covering the tips of her breasts and part of her torso. She is looking off to one side with a solemn expression, with tree limbs behind her.
Today we’re going to explore the concept of what activist Nic McDermid calls “trauma dumping.” It’s one of the most common reactions to the discomfort of learning about thin privilege, and it actively reinforces weight stigma and oppression.
Here’s how it generally goes:
1. A person whose body brings with it significant amounts of privilege by virtue of meeting cultural standards of beauty, specifically thinness, runs across a blog post or a social media post or a discussion about thin privilege and fat oppression.
2. Learning that you have unearned privilege due to a body characteristic is really uncomfortable, but due to your privilege, you’re not used to being uncomfortable. It sucks. After all, your life has been hard, too! You’ve been through a lot! You live in a world where people of all sizes struggle with body image!
3. You don’t know what to do with that energy, so you dump it out on the marginalized person who’s making you uncomfortable. You lash out. And deep down you know it’s not right, so you add a long story about events in your own life.
4. Now the narrative is about you, and when the person you’ve just dumped your trauma on doesn’t react sympathetically enough or refuses to let you drag the narrative to yourself, well, they’re just a wrong meanyface fatty who’s wrong and can be safely dismissed.
5. Repeat until the fat person shuts up or leaves exhausted.
6. For bonus points, you flee to a friendly, thin group of friends and gripe about how mean a fat person was to you today.Can you see how this activates and reinforces both individual and systemic oppression? You’ve just silenced a marginalized voice to keep from feeling icky yourself. You’ve further abused and hurt a fat person who now has to bear the weight of the trauma stories you dumped on them. And you’ve publicly reinforced to other thin folks that fat people are there to be the dumping grounds for thin discomfort.
If you’re feeling particularly confronted by this post, I’d ask you not to comment, but just to try sitting with that discomfort to keep from replicating the exact dynamics I’m describing here.