(Trigger Warning: use of ableist language, descriptions of high school socialization)
Marge Swanson, a fat acceptance activist who helped pioneer the concept of thin privilege, is dead from a heart attack. She was 34 years old. Swanson championed the notion that weight and health have no inherent connection. She enjoyed dying her hair bright colors, wearing glasses and dating African American men.
“It’s not that I’m thin-phobic,” she once told an audience on a college campus. “It’s just that curvy women have been enslaved and victimized by capitalists for far too long and yeah, I’m upset.”
Swanson was born the middle of five children to a working class family in rural West Virginia. She was overweight as a child, and by her senior year of high school weighed over 350 pounds. She would later describe her teenage years as the most difficult period of her life.
“People can be so intolerant of others,” she later wrote. “My classmates were such judgmental, privileged assholes.”
In college, Swanson found acceptance among a group of intersectional feminists. “First I learned to love myself, and that helped me become a happier person. Then I learned about white supremacy and thin privilege, and I got pissed.”
After finishing college, Swanson moved into a studio apartment. She had trouble securing a full-time job due to “systemic ableism,” so she started a blog. Within a year, she had attracted a worldwide audience. Swanson became a big voice in the fat acceptance community, where she sought to raise awareness about the impact of fat phobia, which includes expressing concern over someone’s size (“concern trolling“) or associating obesity with health issues.
“I don’t want to compare struggles, but Harriet Tubman fought a similar battle,” Swanson once told a reporter. “Women in larger bodies are seriously underrepresented among athletes and models. Oppression and discrimination are the only logical reasons why this is occurring.”
Some doctors, who Swanson called “psychological terrorists,” affirmed her message of self-acceptance but warned about the practice of endorsing unhealthy body types amidst skyrocketing obesity rates. Additional concerns were raised about the fat acceptance movement’s use of dangerously unscientific or misrepresented concepts, like the belief that weight and health have no clear relationship. The promotion of obesity, some have said, is no different than advocating for anorexia.
“When people learn that I’m 412 pounds, they assume that means I’m inactive or unhealthy,” she wrote in her blog last year. “I’m actually one of the most health conscious people you’ll ever meet. The myth that obesity has any relationship to health is absolutely ridiculous.”
In 2015, Swanson was diagnosed with heart and gallbladder disease. The reality of her mortality, she claimed, only deepened her commitment to fight against weight related injustices.
“I may have a few bad cells, but my health has not been affected,” she told fans on her website. “Thin privilege is a far greater menace to health than having a few extra curves.”