I don’t mean to be in the way. I really don’t.
When you take your seat on the subway, or in an airplane, I don’t want to crowd you. I don’t want to press my body against yours, to force contact, to ooze into your space.
I don’t want to feel the hot insistent pressure of your thigh against mine, or the jostle of your shoulder as you fumble with your newspaper, your iPod, your purse. I don’t want to feel your elbow dig into my belly as you jockey for space.
I don’t want to be in your way. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable. I don’t want to TAKE UP SPACE.
Do you know how terrified fat people are of taking up space? Of moving, slow and huge, like glaciers, through a crowd of nimble forest animals? Of bumping someone with our “monstrous” asses? Of being wedged, uncomfortably, into too-small movie theatre seats and after that, having to clamp our thighs together and cross our arms over our chests for two hours to avoid encroaching upon our neighbor’s space?
I guess I can’t really can’t speak for all fat people. But I can speak for me. I am terrified of taking up space.
That’s why I don’t sit on the subway when there’s one seat (three quarters of a seat!) wedged between two normal or even small-sized people. That’s why I stop and let you pass, the two of you chatting arm in arm, hogging the sidewalk at twice my width and then glancing pityingly sideways when you see I’ve waited for you to go by. That’s why I request a window seat on the airplane… so that I can lean away from you, so that I won’t offend you with my bulk (or be noticed by a cranky flight attendant who’s just dying to power-trip and happens to hate fat people.)
And I’m sorry. I am sorry that I take up extra space.
The thing is this: I’m not THAT much bigger than you.
I don’t take up two airplane seats. I can buckle that belt and put the armrests down just fine, thank you. I shouldn’t be kicked off an airplane, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be. I don’t take up two subway seats, either, OR the entirety of the sidewalk. I shouldn’t be subjected to dirty looks or pitying frowns, but that doesn’t mean I’m not.
I’m really not that much bigger than you are. I’m just an easier target.
It’s acceptable to publicly shame fat people. People don’t think twice about exchanging meaningful glances and raised eyebrows when I have to scoot past their table in a tiny New York restaurant. (For every person who thinks strippers don’t have ears, there’s one who thinks fat people don’t have eyeballs.) It’s fine to make a big show of squeezing past that huge guy on the stairs and saying “Ex-CUSE me” loudly, because he’s disgusting, his fat is disgusting, his size is disgusting. No one blames you for your impatience or your lack of decency. We’re all in agreement that fatso over there doesn’t deserve patience or decency.
And when you’re seventeen subway stops from home after a long day of work, it’s fine to slump against the subway pole and roll your eyes and glare at the fat bitch taking up a seat that she could share with you if she’d just lose seventy-five pounds. It’s also easy to squish yourself into a spot next to the fat bitch
(next to ME)
when I’m already sitting on a bench, my belongings stacked neatly on my lap. And you ever feel justified in sighing dramatically and re-adjusting in your seat every twelve seconds because you lack the elbow room to dig around in your giant fake designer bag.
I get it. You’ve been taught that it’s okay to hate fat people. And there’s no guilt, because we all know fat is unhealthy, and we all know that fat people could get rid of our fat, if we’d only get off our asses and take a walk every once in awhile. But we CHOOSE not to (because everyone knows that fat people don’t exercise, and that none of us ever struggle to lose weight!).
We all make choices. And this is a free country, dammit. Our forefathers laid down our lives so that we could Buy Things and Do Stuff and Be Normal. Normal is the American birthright*!
(*if you’re white, healthy and rich!)
But we the fatties, we’ve CHOSEN to be part of the leper colony. We signed up for this when we crammed all those Twinkies down our throats. We’ve failed you, and we’ve failed ourselves, and we’ve failed society in general, and it’s gone this way because we’re weak and lazy and stupid. And who doesn’t hate the weak and lazy and stupid, and what’s fat but the outward manifestation of those characteristics?
The people who told you that my fat is a failing on my part? They were lying.
The people who told you that fat is the same thing as weak and lazy and stupid? They were lying.
The people who told you that morality has a place in conversations about mass? They were lying, too.
And the people who told you my size is your business, that you have the god-given right to judge me based on my shape, my dimensions? Liars.
All of these people lying to you… about me.
It’s weird, right? It’s strange to think that someone would lie to you, about my body, about my shape? I mean, what’s the point?
The point is money. The point is power.
They lie because they wanted you to buy things.
They lie to you, about me, about what fat means, because they want you to be scared of becoming me.
They want you to feel loathing and disgust for what I am, because that creates a hole in you, and then they can promise to fill it with lip plumper and thigh cream and slippery-sexy women’s magazines.
They lie because it’s important to them that we live in perpetual suspicion that we are unlovable. And they lie about what fat means, about how fat people should be treated, because if they make it okay to treat fat women like dirt, it will motivate the hell out of you to scurry around and do whatever it takes – whatever they tell you it takes – to avoid becoming one of us.
They lie to you because they want you — they NEED you– to believe that it’s okay for women to turn and snap and gnaw on one another like ravenous wolves.
They lie to you because fear is a multi-billion dollar business.
They lie to you because they need their women starving.
They lie to you, they tell you that my fat is a failing, because they need you terrified, ALWAYS terrified, that you might become me.
I am sorry that you believe being me would be so terrible. (It isn’t.)
I am sorry that we live in a world of small seats that get smaller every day.
I am sorry that the North American standard for public transit is on par with the way we might treat cattle on their way to slaughter.
And, yes, I am sorry for crowding you. I truly am. I hate it when others encroach upon my space, too. When I see that my size is inconveniencing someone else, it’s one of the only times that I wish I could instantly become smaller.
And I think, in those moments, about seriously trying to become smaller, about losing weight and avoiding this awkward set of situations entirely. I daydream about not being judged for my bulk, about never being glared at for my choice to sit or lean or move.
But in those moments, I can’t change my size. And I can’t change the tight quarters, either. So I make a choice. I try to avoid inconveniencing you in whatever way I CAN control.
You have a choice to make, too. You can choose to be polite and cooperative, and make the best of a situation that is uncomfortable for everyone. Or you can choose to act, out of ill temper, out of prejudice, out of fear, like I’m less than you. You can act like I’m unworthy of your regard or decency or respect.
Of course, nothing could be further from the truth, and the truth is this:
I am a human being who has a body, and I manage that body the absolute best way I know how.
I’m sorry they’ve made that so very easy for you to forget.