Introducing Fabulously Fat Fridays: Taking Up Space In A World Designed For Thin People

This post was sparked by a discussion in the comments of my previous post about fat identities and thin privilege at different sizes

Since last Friday’s post led to a couple of very interesting discussions in the comments, I’ve decided that I want to make a point to focus more on fat issues beyond fashion (although they may sometimes include fashion; right now I’m working on another post about why fatshion is important in the FA movement), and so I’m going to be devoting Fridays to these discussions. I’m calling it “Fabulously Fat Fridays,” and I’m going to be tackling whatever fat issues I deem important (or that anyone else wants to hear my take on; feel free to leave suggestions in the comments). I hope that you’ll enjoy reading my posts, and that they’ll spark some discussion. Without further ado, here is the first official post in the series!

Fat people physically take up more space than thin people. That’s pretty much scientific fact. However, in our society, fat people, especially women, are so often made to feel ashamed about that fact. We are made to feel like we don’t have a right to take up space, be it physical or metaphorical space (by which I mean representation in the media, mostly). Here, I’m going to talk about the physical space we take up.

We live in a world designed for thin people. Thin bodies are kept in mind when designing seats in theaters or on airplanes, chairs in classrooms, booths in restaurants, aisles in buses, and so on. The list is endless. Look around you, and it’s clear that the world isn’t designed for bodies over a certain size. Those of us over that size are constantly shamed, inconvenienced, and sometimes denied access to or charged extra for the privilege of inhabiting spaces designed for thin people. Fat activism, in my mind, means not standing for that anymore. It means fighting for our right to be treated with basic human dignity, which doesn’t just mean being tolerated in a world designed for thin people. It means having what thin people have access to all the time: spaces and accommodations designed with us in mind. As illustrated above, we aren’t just fighting for equality; we are fighting for justice. Not everyone needs the same accommodations but the outcome should be the same for everyone.

(This argument also applies to a lot of disabled people, so while I’m speaking specifically about fat people here, I recognize that the challenges described are often faced by anyone with a body outside of the norms accepted by our society.)

The quintessential example, the question brought up time and time again, is airplane seats, so I’ll use this to illustrate my point. This is where a lot of FA writers would talk about tall people or strong perfumes or some other sort of person you could have to sit next to that would be an inconvenience, or maybe about how fat isn’t always a fat person’s fault. I’m not trying to criticize anyone in particular, but that’s a line of thinking that I’m uncomfortable with. Not that any of it’s untrue, but that’s making excuses, and beside the point. The point is this: we are fighting for the right of everyone, no matter what their size, to take up space and exist in a world designed to fit their bodies. With that in mind, everyone on an airplane, fat or thin, is paying the airline for transportation from point A to point B, and that should be provided, at the same cost, regardless of one’s size, because anything else is discrimination. End of story. No excuses necessary.

So, let’s say you get this far, and you agree with me in principle, but you’re not sure what the practical solution is. We can’t possibly have fat-accommodating seats in every restaurant, airplane, and theater at the same cost, can we? Yes. Yes, we can, and yes, we have to. I mean, ideally every space would be designed to fit larger bodies than they are now because there are so many people who don’t fit in these spaces as they are, but even if we don’t do that, having a few larger seats is totally doable. For example, public buses in my city all have 3-4 wider seats in the front of the bus. They aren’t just used by fat people, because there aren’t 3-4 people large enough to need a wider seat on the bus at all times, but when there are people who need that accommodation, it’s there, and no one has to be shamed or humiliated or inconvenienced for taking advantage of it. And if you’re thinking that if we add a “fat section” to every public place, people would be shamed for sitting there, well, that’s possible. But that’s no reason not to accommodate fat bodies, and every reason to stand up and say “fuck you” to a culture of fat shaming that says we don’t have a right to take up space.


9 thoughts on “Introducing Fabulously Fat Fridays: Taking Up Space In A World Designed For Thin People

  1. I loved reading this, it’s one of this YES articles, all the way through I was like “YES!!!” If that makes sense?

    In my 20’s I weighed 24 stone and was a size 32. I had a gastric bypass and lost 7 stone, the thing was, I wasn’t excited to be thin and “healthy” (and I use that term loosely, I am neither thin nor healthy) but I was excited not to be an inconvenience any more, when I sat on a plane for the first time I cried tears of relief because the seat belt fit. What’s completely shitty is that I felt like I had to change to fit the world, if I’d have found the fat acceptance movement earlier my decision might have been very different.
    I still struggle now to occupy my space. Eating in public can be really hard because of the abuse I’ve received from strangers, but every train journey I go on now I make the effort to get something and eat it proudly and visibly.

    Thank you for this post, I love it x x

  2. I fly a lot. The airlines now offer “economy comfort” seats with more leg room, which is perfect for tall guys like my husband. I’d be willing to pay extra for “economy comfort width,” offering more seat space. If they can set aside seats for tall people, how about for wide people? Even if you did have to pay extra.

    • True, it would be a step in the right direction. Not a whole solution, though. It would also give airlines more excuses to force you to pay extra if you don’t fit in a regular width seat, which isn’t right. For some of us, scraping together enough money for the cheapest economy class ticket is enough of a struggle. Tall people aren’t forced to pay extra when they don’t fit. My most recent long-haul flight, there was a professional basketball player (in a European league, not like an NBA famous person, but still super tall) and they just moved him to an exit row. No fuss. The same way they move people around to accommodate, say, couples flying together but not seated together, or people flying with small children. Most fat people on planes would love that kind of accommodation, and why shouldn’t we have it?

      • I agree, not a whole solution. But it’s one that might actually happen. My husband is 6’4″, and he has to pay an extra $29 minimum for his leg room. They’ve never offered him anything better. This is such an improvement, it’s worth the extra cost; I don’t think it’s a lot more compared with a business class ticket which would make the trip undoable.
        As for moving people around to accommodate couples, that never happens for us. They pack people in like sardines, and they don’t seem to have many options when I fly. I would be happy to pay $29 or $39 extra, and fly less often, so I could sit comfortably. I should start writing to Delta about it!

        • I only want to point out that extra charges aren’t always an option for everyone. I’m a student, and when it comes for paying to go home and visit my family, sometimes pennies count, literally. And I have seen people moved around, so, it does happen, even if it doesn’t happen to you.
          But it would definitely be an improvement, so yeah. Start that letter-writing campaign!

          • I do appreciate your reminder that not everyone can pay the extra –
            I shouldn’t assume that everyone can afford it. You’re right, everyone who buys a ticket should have a seat that fits them.
            This is a pretty big deal for me. I fly somewhere about every 2 months. I go through a lot of discomfort worrying about who i’m going to be seated with, and how they will react to me. What if I’m seated in the middle? I have nowhere to lean. I have gotten over the embarrassment of asking for a seatbelt extender. I need it, I deserve it, no questions asked.
            Recently I flew on a newer plane – I never did find out what it was – and the belts were long enough! Why aren’t they all like that?!

            • They really should all be like that! Or at least seatbelt extenders should be somewhere that passengers can just access them without having to flag down a flight attendant and draw attention to the issue, because a lot of people aren’t comfortable enough to ask. I have seen fat people on planes just sort of pretend to have the belt buckled on two occasions now because it isn’t long enough, which is clearly unsafe, so it just really sucks that people don’t feel comfortable asking for what they need in order to be safe.

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