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.

Why My Fat Is Different From Your Fat: Some Thoughts On Thin Privilege At Different Sizes


(Image from Google Image Search/ Originally on a really annoying newspaper article I don’t want to link to.)

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about fat identities, thin privilege, and smaller fats in the FA movement. This is just some musing on the subject; I am not any authority on it, and my information and ideas are of course cobbled together from dozens of different articles and blogs that I don’t specifically remember. This post is particularly inspired by some bits of and comments on Marianne Kirby’s article, “How Not To Be A Dick To Your Fat Friends” on xoJane.com (check it out if you haven’t already!), but if I’ve unwittingly borrowed from some other specific source that I haven’t cited, feel free to call me on it.

I understand that, in the right culture/circumstance/whatever, a lot of people might identify as fat, that I don’t think are actually fat. I know people have said that in Asian cultures, the threshold for “fat” is a lot lower. I know that people who have struggled with body image issues/body dysmorphia for a long time might identify as “fat” even when they are thin by society’s standards. And I understand that sometimes, people who are relatively thin are called fat, and they choose to embrace it and go full on fat acceptance, which as far as reactions to that situation go, is definitely a positive one.

It’s not my right to draw the line at who can and cannot identify as fat. I’m not the identity police. Although, most of us can agree that in a US American culture, someone who is a size 8 is not fat. Still, if they are identifying that way, there are obviously deeper issues at work here, and we don’t need to criticize them for it unless they insist on taking up a lot of vocal space in fat spaces, because then we run into a whole different issue. But if they just want to identify as “fat,” well, it’s not our place to judge where they’re coming from.

HOWEVER. You can’t deny that thin privilege works on a scale. A size 4 has privilege that a size 14 doesn’t, who in turn has privilege that a size 24 doesn’t, who yet again has privilege that a size 34 doesn’t, and so on. I’m definitely fat. But I’m not the only fat person in the world, or the fattest person in the world, and my experiences, while true for me, don’t make someone else’s conflicting experiences less true.

To go for an often-cited example,it’s true that off-the-rack clothes don’t fit anyone properly. However, there are even fewer and fewer options for us to try on as we go up in size. I have two stores in my local mall that I know I can find something at just to cover my body with relative ease. Not promising it’ll be cute or good quality or fit well, but it will physically cover my body. Were I a few sizes larger, I wouldn’t even find that.

It’s not all about clothes, of course. It’s about fitting into public spaces that were designed with thin people in mind: narrow aisles, flimsy chairs, restaurant booths, airplane seatbelts, and so on. Even if you “feel fat” at a size 10, you are alway going to fit into chairs and seats, wherever you go (except, like, a kindergarten class or something). Size 20? Maybe. Size 30? Doubtful.

It’s about being able to find positive representation of people who look like you in the media. I mean, we can all think of the handful of fat actresses out there who manage to get good roles, and they’re positive examples, sure, but for the most part, the largest of them are about a size 20. If we really want to see positive, diverse representation of fat bodies, we have to seek it out for ourselves, often through fat fashion blogs/tumblrs/social media. The fact that thinner people see positive representations of people who look somewhat like them everywhere they go is a privilege. We have to literally retrain our brains to see fat as not being automatically bad or gross or ugly (or at least I did, upon discovering fat acceptance).

It’s not a contest. It’s not a contest for who has it the hardest, and you don’t get some sort of prize for whining the loudest or ignoring other people’s truths. It’s just a fact of life that this is a sort of privilege that, to some extent, works on a sliding scale. We have to recognize other people’s lived experiences without getting defensive and thinking that they invalidate ours.  We have to respect and listen and, if we truly want fat acceptance for the world and not just for ourselves, we have to fight against even those problems that we don’t personally have. For example, I have never had a problem fitting in seats on airplanes. However, I will still fight for people who do, for the fact that they should not be shamed, humiliated, denied a seat, or made to pay extra just because they have larger bodies. It’s not about thinking “oh, it could be me one day;” sure, it could, but that’s not the point. The point is basic human dignity, and that all people deserve it.