Earlier this year, I joined a Facebook group called Flying While Fat. If you've never been very overweight, you've probably never had to worry about fitting on a plane...or being able to buckle the seatbelt. Prior to my epiphany of a couple of years ago about seatbelt extenders on planes, I often "faked" buckling up in order to avoid having to ask for an extender. The Flying While Fat group is a space where people who are fat or overweight or obese or whatever word feels most right to them could ask for advice, seek comfort and reassurance, and air grievances about flying coach on commercial flights. The fear of flying is often discussed in popular culture: people fear the unknown physics of flying (staying in the air, being out of control of the vehicle, etc). However, many of us fear flying because it means we'll have to endure a series of humiliations. Forget just asking for a seatbelt extender. That's nothing. Imagine having to answer a bunch of questions about why you need to board early, whether or not you will "fit" into a single seat or need to purchase a second ticket, the inevitable looks and questions from fellow passengers when you do take up two seats or need to board early, etc. These are every day experiences for fat people when flying. I am lucky: I have only ever really needed an extender. Some of the horrible stories I read while I belonged to the Flying While Fat group made me question a lot about modern transportation in America.
As soon as I felt ready to leave Flying While Fat (I'd gotten all the advice I felt I could ever need about Southwest's Customer of Size policy and/or seatbelt extenders), I decided to join a group called Disney Parks for Plus Sized Guests. I made a reservation to visit Disney while on my road trip and I had a small panic attack about how easy it was going to be for me to ride all of the rides I'd missed over the years. After all, I'd been to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter just a couple of years ago and discovered that I didn't fit on any of those rides. One nice thing about the Disney group is that it has been really reassuring. Disney appears to be pretty fat-friendly when it comes to their rides. The warnings and advice are kind and honest and I feel better about fitting onto Space Mountain than I thought I would!
One thing I have noticed, though, about the group is that often people go there for advice and reassurance for things that have nothing to do with visiting a Disney park. Yes, there are questions about other amusement parks, but the other day a woman asked for advice about her son's lack of ambition following his college graduation. Last week, someone inquired about how to overcome their fear of going to the doctor. The group is a support system for people who feel utterly out of place in the larger world. The truth is, fat people are treated pretty poorly. Routinely, they're made to feel disgusting, lazy, worthless, and unwelcome. It is still seen as perfectly acceptable to shame a fat person by suggesting they are a "drain on society" or "unhealthy" and, therefore, unworthy of love, affection, attention, kindness, or help. I've felt this way myself sometimes. Because it is couched in a concern for someone's "health", it is OK to make a fat person feel badly.
Our bodies aren't always in our control. Hell, our appetites aren't in our control. Our emotions, our desires, our needs...we can't really control any of it. The same is true for anyone...it just happens that because our chemistry or genes or whatever are the way they are, it's visible on us. It's pride month and I've been thinking a lot about how people used to identify being LGBTQ+ as a "choice." It's no more a choice than the color of your eyes. Same with fat bodies.
The world doesn't want to accommodate fat bodies because our aesthetics insist on a different shape. In the meantime, fat people feel less human...who really believes that's an acceptable way to live? Actually, I'm sure there are people out there who think fat people should feel less human...but, those people are hurting in ways they can't address and want others to feel inhuman because they feel inhuman. We're all broken, hurting, lost, confused, wandering, seeking. We all deserve the chance to figure out how to be happy and a chance to move in this world in a way that affirms that we're human. Because we are. All of us.