Take All The Space You Need
Posted by Jen Anderson on
Public transportation has a way of bringing out the worst in people. There's never enough room, and we've been taught to blame each other instead of the people who designed these too-small planes, trains, and buses. Which is why we plus size women may think twice about traveling that way - worrying about people being awful to you can be the worst part of travel.
On the one hand, hostility towards fat people is on the rise now that we're making some headway on getting some respect and nice clothes. On the other hand, this is nothing new and social media is just making it easier for us to find out about these incidents.
This happens all the time, so let's discuss.
It's Not Our Fault That Public Transportation is Crowded
For some reason, this is a radical statement. Airline seats are shrinking so much that I'd rather take the train for 30 hours rather than get on a plane for much less time. I have anxiety and claustrophobia without adding the very real possibility that someone will question my right to exist in public.
Subway cars are crowded and somehow that's my fault too. I once sat down on a train wearing a puffy coat and a skinny woman glared at me even though it was my coat touching her instead of my body. And once I got settled, nothing was in her space.
Lest you think I've always been this mouthy dame - when I left the subway that day, I burst into tears and had to talk myself out of turning around and going back home instead of going to my friend's place.
Cost cutting in all forms of public transportation have led to too small seats and overcrowding. Yet people blame the pleasantly plump instead of the suits who keep refusing to give any of us enough room.
Should We Say Something?
Your own safety is the most important thing in these situations. Telling people off is satisfying, but can also put you in physical danger. You may choose to say something as you're disembarking so you're not making a scene mid-flight and can get away quickly if things turn ugly.
It's hard to stand up for ourselves, but it's important. People think that "fat" means stupid, lazy, ugly, unhealthy, and so on. All it really means is "having a greater than average amount of adipose tissue." Which is why I call myself fat. Because I'm done equating my body type with those other things. And it gives me the opportunity to slip a little education into everyday conversation - because everyone looks at me like I've lost my mind when I use that word.
You're Entitled to Take Up Space
The problem is that not everyone knows that. That's why I like to dress to intimidate, and why I tell you to wear Vikki Vi Classics in difficult situations like this. I'm not talking about "I will beat you up" intimidation. I mean "I am smarter than you and will verbally destroy you if you make that necessary" intimidation. When you look polished and put together, people are much less likely to mess with you.
Maybe your clothes will encourage you to speak up for yourself. Or maybe you'll just let them do the talking. Either way, you'll be fighting the good fight.
It seems our society has deemed fat people belong last in line, or not in line period. We are still fair game to be the brunt of jokes, get “the judgment stink eye,” baseless blame, and often beat down with brutal bias. I have eaten it for years, literally. I am so thankful groups exist to champion for all of us. Like Jen voiced so eloquently, dressing for success is a great choice to silently combat the prejudice. I have always donned my best as well as activated a “kill them with kindness” smile and try to engage positively with those around me. Getting to know a person’s essence is the fastest way to disarm a bad/rude opinion. It is just that….a very bad, hurtful and rude opinion either based on ignorance or preconceived ideology. I have no interest in a stand off in public, it can be dangerous and most likely fruitless. Being my own personal “fat goodwill ambassador” has been rewarding on many levels and helped me maintain my self worth despite those who persist in spreading such hatred! I have been in a wheelchair for several years now and honestly, the same ignorance and bias is compounded. I have found “pimping out my chair” helps break barriers especially with young children. Maintaining my approachability and not embracing a defensive attitude has served me well. I don’t want a pity party, just respect and acceptance.
These things have been problems for decades. Southwest Airlines went from being the worst, with many horror stories involving larger-sized passengers, to being one of the best, as Pat said. Activism and bad publicity helped change their attitude! Some size acceptance groups for fat people that are working for change include the Council on Size & Weight Discrimination (CSWD.org), National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA.org), and Association for Size Diversity and Health (sizediversityandhealth.org). There are many other groups, especially in the social media. Great post!
It may not be widely known, but Southwest Airlines makes special accommodations for “Customers of Size.” From the Southwest website:
Guidelines for Customers of Size
Customers who encroach upon any part of the neighboring seat(s) may proactively purchase the needed number of seats prior to travel in order to ensure the additional seat(s) is available. The armrest is considered to be the definitive boundary between seats; width between the armrests measures 17 inches. The purchase of additional seats serves as a notification to Southwest of a special seating need, and allows us to adequately plan for the number of seats that will be occupied on the aircraft. In turn, this helps to ensure we can accommodate all Customers on the flight/aircraft for which they purchased a ticket and avoid asking Customers to relinquish their seats for an unplanned accommodation. Most importantly, it ensures that all Customers onboard have access to safe and comfortable seating. You may contact us for a refund of the cost of additional seating after travel. Customers of size who prefer not to purchase an additional seat in advance have the option of purchasing just one seat and then discussing their seating needs with the Customer Service Agent at their departure gate. If it is determined that a second (or third) seat is needed, they will be accommodated with a complimentary additional seat(s).
There are additional instructions on the website: https://www.southwest.com/html/customer-service/extra-seat/?clk=GFOOTER-CUSTOMER-COS
I look like I own this space and I do. Presence.
Dress to express Presence.
In addition to airliner seats being downsized to fit more people on a plane, I have a bone to pick with armed seats in auditoriums, theaters, and stadiums. It is no fun to sit for hours squeezed into a seat perched on one hip.