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Thoughts on Being a “Thin Ally”

I came across this post about “thin allies” from the Militant Baker about a year ago, and I’ve been thinking about it since.

In various humanities and social sciences classes I took in college, we talked a lot about the idea of being an “ally”: someone who supports, but does not identify as part of, a marginalized community. Particularly, one thing we talked a lot about is cases in which so-called “allies” can do more harm than good.

My master’s thesis has a couple of essays about Health at Every Size and fat acceptance. Someday, I’d like to send these out for publication. But I feel mixed about these essays in that I, a relatively thin person, am advocating for a group of people who sometimes aren’t given the chance to advocate for themselves.

I know that there’s a lot of controversy surrounding the idea of being a “thin ally”–and understandably so. After all, I have never personally experienced the prejudices that many obese people face and cannot tell their stories for them.

I’ve made errors in judgment and said things that were unkind, probably more times than I realize. I’ve bought into cultural stigmas and let them guide the way I treat myself and others. Sometimes I still do.Thoughts on being a "thin ally" to the Health at Every Size MovementIf I published the essays from my thesis, would I be taking some kind of credit for something I didn’t invent (the Health at Every Size movement)?

And since larger people’s stories so often go untold or get ignored, is it right to be trying to make some kind of name for myself as a writer by writing, in part, about this movement?

I think about these things a lot.

If I’m honest, I doubt I’ll suddenly stop writing about Health at Every Size, and there’s a reason for that.

For one thing, it’s been a very important part of my life and having a healthy relationship with what I eat and how I approach movement and rest. I do believe that Health at Every Size is for everyone, as I’ve written about before on this blog. I believe that if more people were educated about this movement, it would make a big difference toward reducing eating disorders, disordered eating, dieting, and poor body image, all of which we know run rampant.

Probably the most important reason I identify as an ally to the Health at Every Size and fat acceptance movements is that, from an ethical standpoint, I don’t know what else to be. The alternative to being an ally–which, in my mind, basically means treating larger people exactly the same as everyone else–is not being an ally, and that I couldn’t live with. Even being “neutral,” it seems to me, would be like watching a bully beat up on someone and not stepping in to help.

If you also want to try to be more of an ally to the Health at Every Size movement, here are some specific tips to try to go about this in a conscientious way.

  1. Remember that you’re not perfect. I think one of the number one thing you have to do to be a true ally to any marginalized group is to question your own thoughts and behaviors–to start, in the words of Michael Jackson, with the person in the mirror.
  2. Don’t assume based on someone’s body size that they know about Health at Every Size or that they want to be educated about it. Your job as an ally is not to tell other people how to live their lives any less than a diet advocate should be telling other people how to live their lives.
  3. In the words of kid president: Treat people like people, people! Your job as an ally is to treat diverse people with kindness and respect and to encourage others to do the same.Thoughts on being a "thin ally" to the Health at Every Size Movement

Linking up with Amanda to share these thoughts for Thinking Out Loud Thursday.


Do you think much about the idea of being an ally to marginalized people?

What do you think about the idea of someone identifying as a “thin ally”?

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  1. Cora says:

    Huh. I’d never heard anyone mention the term, “thin ally.” That rubs me an odd way…

    I think you said it right – sometimes the most powerful and supportive way you can be is to not over-press an issue on anyone or try to tell them how to think/believe/live, but simply to stand there in quiet confidence. Not neutral, but not aggressive either. I think you are the perfect example of being an ally to this movement. Plus, I think sometimes people forget, it is called health at EVERY size. Meaning, any size… including those who are thin… need to feel included in the circle and have a right to speak.

    1. Joyce says:

      I agree, Cora! I guess I wasn’t very precise with my language–I’m more talking about being an ally to the fat acceptance movement than Health at Every Size per se.

  2. I’d never heard of the term ‘thin ally’ either. Your specific tips are so helpful and I’ll definitely be thinking about how I can be more of an ally. I love your commitment to and heart for standing with the fat acceptance movement.

  3. Evangeline says:

    Echoing Cora and Naomi, I hadn’t heard the term ‘thin ally” before. The three tips you mentioned are so helpful, the second one for me especially. I think the fat acceptance movement needs more allies. If a group doesn’t have people supporting it, how will we ever see overall cultural changes toward acceptance?

    1. Joyce says:

      Thanks, Vangie! I agree with you. Being an ally may be a complicated position, but I do think it’s good and necessary if done right.

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