Dear Virgie, I feel like my thin friend has access to things that I don’t have, but it just doesn’t feel like jealousy. What is it?
I recently had a pretty big blowout with an old friend. She’s thin. I’m fat. One of the most hurtful things she said to me was that she had always felt like I was jealous of her. I felt like she was wrong, but I couldn’t figure out exactly how to say it. I feel like she does have access to things as a thin person that I don’t have, and that has caused tension, but it just doesn’t feel like jealousy. But if it’s not, then what is it?
Jealousy is an emotion that happens on a small scale about small things that one person has and another person wants. I feel like what you’re talking about is something far grander in scale.
I feel like you’re talking about the sting of injustice, the pain of oppression, and the complex feelings that result from having to witness the way that injustice and pain are clearly manifesting because you are in close proximity to someone who is benefiting from the very shit that is making your life more challenging.
We often reductively refer to these feelings as “jealousy,” especially when the sting or the pain is something happening in a relationship between women. I would argue that even though it might feel very similar to jealousy, that it’s actually something far bigger.
The accusation of jealousy — to me — feels like a cheap trump card that ends all arguments. In my experience, it is often the delusion of an insensitive narcissist who doesn’t want to be accountable. It is essentially impossible to argue against this accusation, and I feel like often the person who is being accused ends up feeling ashamed and silenced because it is considered a petty, taboo emotion.
I’m not saying you never experienced jealousy, but I think there’s more happening here. I don’t even need to know about your relationship to tell you that you have witnessed the realities of thin privilege firsthand and it is normal to feel hurt about that. It is normal — albeit unfortunate — that this would lead to feelings of alienation, maybe even resentment. Those feelings are distinct from jealousy.
It really, really hurts to be close to someone who is benefiting from an unfair, arbitrary and culturally fabricated reality. It hurts to witness the mechanisms of injustice. And it is painful when you are in a relationship with someone who refuses to or is unable to recognize it, refuses to be accountable, and then victim-blames you during a fight.
I think it’s important for both of you to be accountable and honest about your respective feelings if you want to maintain this friendship. You don’t need to protect her from your feelings. You owe that to each other.
Hope this helps!
Virgie Tovar is an author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp, a 4-week online course designed to help those who are ready to break up with diet culture, and started the hashtag campaign #LoseHateNotWeight.