This is the Size I Come In

I received a comment on my blog yesterday that I want to address here (trigger warning – if you just want to read my stuff and not the triggery stuff, skip the block quote below and the italics.)

Nona wrote:

For the most part I agree with what you’re saying, but there are times when being fat directly effects other people and that’s on public transportation and planes. I live in NYC, and while I know I have the right to ride its not fair to someone else when I need to take up 1.5 seats on a crowded train and part of my thigh invades someone else’s seat. This isn’t about rights or statistics, it’s about being annoying to others on public transportation and size functionality. I also travel a lot and there is nothing worse than being squeezed in a seat next to someone on a 5 hour flight. I don’t really watch my weight per se, but I do use my ability to comfortably fit into a plane seat and fasten my seatbelt as a personal barometer.

Let’s take this bit by bit:

I live in NYC, and while I know I have the right to ride its not fair to someone else when I need to take up 1.5 seats on a crowded train and part of my thigh invades someone else’s seat.

In the subway the seat divisions are arbitrary. Some people take up less than one seat but they don’t pay any less.  The subway is a perfect example of paying for transit and not for space.  You aren’t even guaranteed a seat.  The people who get on first take up the available sitting space, everyone else stands.  That’s the deal. If I paid my ticket and there’s enough room for me to sit, then I get to sit.  People come in different sizes, this is the size that I come in, I take up this much space. and that’s just fine. We would never say that the legs of a really tall person take up too much space in front of them when they sit or that they should try to get shorter or pay more.  Because that’s what size they are and that’s how much space they take up.  I think that the best thing might be to have flat benches rather than seat divisions, so that people can take up as much space as they take up and everyone else can stand.

This isn’t about rights or statistics, it’s about being annoying to others on public transportation and size functionality.

This is absolutely about rights.  What are fat people supposed to do, stay at home so we aren’t “annoying” people with our big fat bodies?  My right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness doesn’t exist if it includes public transportation?  That’s not how it works.  People can get annoyed by whatever they want but that doesn’t make it my problem.  I’m annoyed by people who are prejudiced against people my size, but I don’t get to kick them off the subway.

And the phrase “size functionality” smacks of ableism as well as the myth that you can tell how healthy someone is or what they can do by their body size.  [note:  In conversation with Nona, she did not mean size functionality as I interpreted it. In her words she  “was referring to being able to do things like fit comfortably into an airplane seat.”  I’ll leave the original text because I do think that people talk about size functionality in the way that I interpreted it as well, with my deep apologies to Nona for the mistake.] I’m extremely functional for someone of ANY size – I’m a dancer who can do the splits, press 1,000 pounds with my legs, backbend, leap etc. but that doesn’t give me any more right to public transportation than anybody else, so don’t worry I’ll still let you on the subway even if they can’t do all of those things.  It’s the subway, not the Olympics, and it’s called public transportation, not “thin functional body transportation”.  The job of public transportation is to get the public (which includes people of all sizes, ages, and abilities) from place to place safely, not to give people an opportunity to stigmatize and shame some of the public.

I also travel a lot and there is nothing worse than being squeezed in a seat next to someone on a 5 hour flight.

Oh, let’s gain some perspective, there are LOTS of things worse than being squeezed in a seat next to a fat person for a flight of any length.  Like sitting next to someone with Ebola, or getting a cancer diagnosis, or spraining your ankle.  Let’s not hyperbolize.  The thing about airlines is that they try to have it both ways.  They say that we are paying for a seat and therefore if we take up more than one seat then we need to pay for more than one seat.  But it’s ok for men with broad shoulders to take up more than one seat. And it’s ok for people with long legs to take up more than one seat. We would never make them pay for an extra seat. But if you’re fat then you need to pay up?  How is that fair?

Also, when they overbook and people can’t sit in the seat that they were promised, they turn around and say that we aren’t buying a seat, we’re buying the trip – not the seat. And if that’s the case then it shouldn’t matter how much room anyone takes up since we’re paying for transportation from one place to another.  The airlines have made seats smaller and changed the pitch (the angle of the seats) which also means that there is less space.  Different planes have different sized seat and lengths of seatbelts so it’s impossible to predict what will happen.

I proposed some alternative solutions but in the end your beef is with the airline, not with people who look like me. People come in different sizes, this is the size I come in, it should be treated exactly like height.  I happen to fit in an airplane seat but when I’m stuck next to the tall guy whose legs and shoulders are in my space, he is always glaring at me as if it’s my fault while I’m not complaining because I understand it’s not his.

You should also know that they make it very difficult for us to buy two seats even if we want to. You can’t always buy two seats in the same name and so you have to call and book on the phone which often incurs a surcharge in addition to buying the second seat, then people have arrived at the airport to find that their seats are separated, or that the airline says that they can’t have two seats because they need to put passengers in, or they have to deal with the glare of passengers and the whispers that someone got left behind because the fatty needed two seats, it’s even worse if the person doesn’t take up very much of the second seat.  There are also the people who fly the first leg of their trip with no problem and then, stranded in a strange city, they are told that they have to buy another seat.  Believe me, it hurts us at least as much as it hurts you.  Here’s a video that really captures a lot of issues.

I don’t really watch my weight per se, but I do use my ability to comfortably fit into a plane seat and fasten my seatbelt as a personal barometer.

So you feel comfortable not watching your weight, but you feel that I need to try to change my shape and size so that I don’t “annoy people”? Let me recommend this post on thin privilege.  The problem for me is that every attempt at weight loss has a less than 5% chance of resulting in long term weightloss and a whopping 95% chance of leaving me the same size or bigger than I am now, and less healthy.  I’m not risking my good health because someone doesn’t want to sit next to me on a plane, nor should I have to.

This transportation argument that says it’s ok to be tall, have broad shoulders, long legs etc but that if you are fat then you are the devil incarnate get off my subway car. It’s bullshit and it has to stop.

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you feel that you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Published in: on January 13, 2012 at 7:28 am  Comments (55)  

55 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. When it comes to trains here in the UK, I’ve been forced to stand while a guy sits in the middle of 3 seats and spreads his legs, taking up part of both seats either side of him.

    On buses I take up as little space as I can and try to be considerate and courteous to other travellers, although I’m getting more insistent that people get out of my way when I have lots of shopping and need to get off, moving half a centimetre is not helpful.

  2. Excellent post! I wish this could be on bill boards in the subway stations and airports.

  3. “This is the size I come in” — brilliant, and so simple. I’ve got to remember that one. I’m so socialized by a life of being overweight in a fat-hating society that I have a hard time remembering that I have a right to exist — in exactly the size that I am right now! Wow, what a mind-altering concept. 50 years on this planet, and that phrase never occurred to me. “This is the size I come in” — I keep reflexively wanting to put, “I’m sorry but…” in front of it.

    Which brings me to my other comment on this post. Ragen, you know that I love it when you rant, and you are amazingly articulate as always, but I think you did a real disservice to Nona in your tone in the last half of the post. I read her comment as the thoughtful reflections of someone who is herself a large person, and who struggles with feeling uncomfortable and/or guilty about the space she takes up. I think you knew this when you started the piece, but as it progressed, you began to throw back her words as if she were the enemy. When she said, “There’s nothing worse than being squeezed in a seat on a 5 hour flight,” you reacted as if she were the thin person who thought it was terrible to sit next to a fat person. I heard her as the large person who feels horribly uncomfortable (as I do) trying to fit into a space that is smaller than she is, and worrying about encroaching on the person next to her. Long flights are one of the few places where I feel truly guilty about how my size affects other people, and actually, there really are very few size-related experiences that I find more uncomfortable than that.. “This is the size I come in” — I must keep saying that to myself.

    Nona is saying that she personally feels that she must try to conform to societal standards, to make sure that she fits in to airplane seats, and seatbelts. She’s not saying that YOU have to change your size — she’s describing how SHE feels like she doesn’t have the right to take up more space than the airlines and train designers see fit to allot to each passenger. By the end of the post I was cringing. I know that you were really ranting at the world that pounds these messages into us, but it felt like you were attacking and shaming Nona specifically on the basis of her comments. You could have made the same points in a way that attacked the societal message while helping Nona, and the rest of us, to see that we don’t have to accept and internalize those messages. As it was, it made me feel fearful of commenting thoughtfully, as she did, on your posts, because I might be attacked in this way too.

    But I’m hanging on to the gift from this post — “This is the size I come in.” Thank you for that!

    • You said it very well. I was kind of confused by the end, but decided either that Ragen had kinda gotten into “rant mode” with which I identify because I end up doing that myself, or had just kinda forgotten who she was talking to for the time (also a side effect of “rand mode”).

      Anyway, I know that you didn’t intend to shame her, Ragen, but I think you might post a little something about that.

    • I think the problem with airplanes is that the person sitting next to you doesn’t necessarily have a choice over whether they sit next to you. With trains and buses, it is usually more optional over who you sit next to and one can stand if one feels uncomfortable.

    • Nona’s comments were shameful. It doesn’t matter if zie is actually a fat person, her attitude about fat people was offensive. Spouting thin and able-bodied based hatred of other fat people while fat doesn’t mean you get a pass at doing it.

      • I fail to see anything shameful or hateful in Nona’s comments. She was expressing how she feels in a society that is trying very hard to make her feel that way. Perhaps she needs to be encouraged to believe in her right to take up space, and by extension, in everyone else’s right to do the same, but there was no “spouting hatred” in her comment that I can see. We are not going to build a more accepting world by having fat people hate each other.

    • Hi Chris,

      Thank you so much for your comment. I’ve been thinking about it since I read it this morning and I have re-read my post a number of times. Nona actually commented as well and let me know that I misunderstood one of her points. I left a comment apologizing to her as well as editing the post and apologizing publicly. I will say that I read her comment very differently than you did and it’s certainly possible that I misread the tone/intent. I also realize that my use of pronouns, especially in the last half, can make it look like I was attacking her specifically when I meant to be more global and I apologize if that seemed shaming or if it made you concerned to leave a comment, discouraging thoughtful dialog is never my goal. I’m not sure that this is the case but it’s also entirely possible that I got carried away with my rant. For everywhere that I was wrong I apologize, but I do not feel that I was entirely wrong.

      To speak to the specifics of your comment

      Nona was replying to my post about obesity and smoking and the point of her comment was to say that there is a valid comparison of the effect fat people have on others in transportation situations to the effect that smokers have on people around them. I still vehemently disagree with this. I don’t think that touching a fat person on the subway can be, in any way, compared to having your risk of cancer elevated by being forced to breathe in the carcinogenic result of someone’s personal habit. To speak to the specific of your comment:

      In your comment you said:

      “When she said, “There’s nothing worse than being squeezed in a seat on a 5 hour flight,” you reacted as if she were the thin person who thought it was terrible to sit next to a fat person. I heard her as the large person who feels horribly uncomfortable (as I do) trying to fit into a space that is smaller than she is, and worrying about encroaching on the person next to her.”

      Just a quick correction, the original quote was “There’s nothing worse than being squeezed in a seat next to someone on a 5 hour flight” Regardless of the size of the commenter, this is undoubtedly hyperbolic, I think it’s fat shaming, and I believe that it lends credence to the argument that fat people are at fault for the amount of space that we take up. In truth, I cannot change my size and the airline has chosen to “inconvenience” other customers rather than accommodating me as a customer and so, as I said in the blog, everyone’s argument should be with the airline. Maybe I’m not reading your comment correctly but I’m uncomfortable with the idea that my response would be ok if she were a thin person, but because she is fat (although she does point out that she fits in a seat) then the commenter should get a different response. I believe that people publicly supporting the message that “There’s nothing worse than being squeezed in a seat next to someone on a 5 hour flight” are part of the problem, whether they mean to be or not. I think that fat people are uncomfortable on flights because of the attitude that we’re at fault is commonly accepted, and it’s made much worse when it is embraced and stated by fat people. While we might not be more physically comfortable, we would be in a much better mental space if people treated us the way that they treat tall people – with an understanding that it’s not our fault. I guess what it comes down to is that I do not feel that this particular phrase represents thoughtful dialog.

      I apologize if I misread the tone of Nona’s comment and got carried away in my response. I do stand by the post as my authentic response to how I read the comment originally, and I’m really glad that you left a comment as well so that we can look at all sides of this.

      ~Ragen

  4. Great post! And this woman’s attitude is very typical of what I have seen on a lot of FA boards over the years, usually coming from smaller fats, a kind of “it’s okay to be fat as long as you are no fatter than I am” or “It’s okay to be somewhat fat, but TOO fat is bad”, or “TOO fat is an inconvenience to people around you”, yadda, yadda. I suppose this is in response to the radical idea that being fat does not pose a health threat to others the way smoking does…yeah, right. I have not used public transportation in years, but, yes, god forbid that my ass might be a tiny bit in your space, but it is okay if your legs are blocking me, your shoulders pushing me out of my seat, or if I, with a disability & serious balance issues, fall over your feet if I try to get by you.

    I started out in fat acceptance at 180-185 pounds at 5’6″, a size 16-18, never getting flak on the street for my size, able to fit comfortably in bus seats, etc. The remarks of this woman seem to smack of the attitude that she can control her body size enough to fit comfortably in public transportation seating, so everyone else should be able to do the same thing. I used to wonder why people ‘let’ themselves get ‘so fat’ once upon a time, but I quickly learned the error of my ways, mostly thanks to some outspoken women on the Fat!So? Gabcafe BBS, time, research on my part, & maturity. We come in ALL sizes, ALL shapes, & there is NO cutoff point…it is okay to be THIS fat but no fatter. I am 62 now, & thanks to aging, menopause, & a rebound from my last attempt to be what I am not supposed to be “I am not dieting, I believe in fat acceptance, I am just exercising 4 hours every day & sometimes injuring myself for my health”, I am now at about 215-220 pounds. I may at some point weigh a little more than that, or, given the slight shrinkage aging sometimes brings, a little less. However, barring a longterm debilitating wasting illness, I will always be fat. I use a cane for support when I walk because I fall easily; someday that cane may need to be replaced with a power chair, because I lack the strength in my arms & shoulders thanks to cerebral palsy (&, yes, I have lifted a lot of weights in my time, but my disability limits my ability to gain strength). Whatever…I am the size I am, I take up the room I need, I have the limitations I have, & I am not an inconvenience or a danger to anyone else just by existing. I don’t owe it to anyone, you do not owe to anyone, no one does, to ‘not watch what I eat per se’ & stay below a certain size so that I can be sure I will always fit in & not put anyone else to any trouble. MOST people do not fit in or need some special considerations in some place, some times, in some situations. It is called being a human being. I hope that has not been made illegal yet.

  5. First of all, thanks for posting my comment and responding. But I want to clarify something, I’m not saying that anyone’s prejudice is right, I was simply responding to your post yesterday about smoking and obesity and whether or not they both have an effect on other people. You can take up as much space as you want, but that still doesn’t mean that your choice will not effect others, the same as smoking, albeit not the same kind of effects. So if you would’ve added tall men with long legs and broad shoulders to yesterday’s post, I would’ve agreed with that as well.

    Also, when I mentioned size functionality I was referring to being able to do things like fit comfortably into an airplane seat. And I beg to differ about what you are paying for on a plane, you aren’t just paying for transportation, you are paying for an actual seat. Additionally, I’m a fat, black woman so I take no issue with your size or what you are able to do in your body. You seemed to conflate a lot of issues, but I was speaking on one topic regarding size, whether or not it can have an effect on others, and the answer, in my opinion, is yes.

    • Hi Nona,

      I see what you are saying and I apologized if I was overzealous or conflated issues in in my reply.

      On the issue of size functionality, I looks like I misunderstood what you meant and I apologize, I’ve added a note to the post explaining my error and apologizing publicly.

      I will say that we may have to agree to disagree on the obesity and smoking comparison. My size is not a choice, I cannot choose to take up less space and so I don’t think it’s anything like smoking – which is a habit that people choose to start and choose to partake in. I also don’t think that having to touch a fat person is anything like having to breathe known carcinogens. One is about personal preference the other about actual health. – I don’t like touching strangers at all but that doesn’t mean that anyone who I end up touching is negatively affecting my life just by existing – it’s my issue not theirs. I think that is vastly different from being forced to breathe in the carcinogenic result of someone’s personal habit which has an actually effects my health. So I still believe that the comparison is just not appropriate.

      As for the airplane, I don’t think we disagree at all – my point was that the airlines themselves try to have it both ways: sometimes saying that we are paying for a seat and sometimes say that we are paying for transportation. I didn’t go into detail in this blog so I’m sorry for the confusion – I’ve talked about this in previous blogs but I would be willing to pay for more room (if I needed it) as long as the policy is applied across the board. Right now the policy is applied to fat people but not to broad shouldered or long-legged people and that’s straight up discrimination.

      Again, I apologize if I misread the tone and intention of your comment and was therefore too strong in my reply, I also realized while re-reading the post that the way I used pronouns made it look in places like I was attacking you personally when I actually meant to be speaking globally, I’m very sorry for that as well.

      ~Ragen

      • I have really long legs that take up a lot of space in cars and movie theatres and I feel bad about that FYI so long legged folks aren’t safe either.

  6. I live in NYC, and while I know I have the right to ride its not fair to someone else when I need to take up 1.5 seats on a crowded train and part of my thigh invades someone else’s seat. This isn’t about rights or statistics, it’s about being annoying to others on public transportation and size functionality.

    Disengenous. Many if not most fat people have spent our whole lives listening and following the instructions given on how to slim.

    People around us have been well aware of that, society in general is well aware of that. We know from attitudes towards fat people, we’re expected to be unaturally docile, do as we are told regardless of insult or lack of even basic courtesy.

    That is the legacy of our mostly unquestioning obedience.

    If people then choose to pretend history didn’t happen, that is their decision and their ‘annoyance’ their choice and nothing whatsoever to do with any fat person.

    If folks accept reality they have absolutely nothing to be annoyed with us about, end of story. We are not responisble for others wanting to use fat people as an outlet to project life’s unfairness.

  7. I think a lot of people are uncomfortable when it comes to public transportation, including tall people due to space, fat people due to space, and thin people who get their seat partially occupied by someone else. It sucks for all. Right now I’m on the fence between deciding whether or not it’s appropriate to try to propose larger space being made (which I understand why they try to cram as many people on into one bus, train, plain, etc…money) or if we should all just suck it up and deal with the fact that public transportation is just supposed to get you from A to B and we should feel lucky that we even have the devices to do so, or we can all just use what God gave us and walk to point B. Now how are people going to complain then?

  8. Sorry, didn’t read much of the post, but was drawn by the awesome pic of you–a model of confidence and inspiration for all. I do plan to read the full post when I get a longer moment!

  9. I hope you will answer this question. You mention you fly with your own extender. Have you had any trouble with this? I’m fearful of being told I can’t have my own, having to take it out going through security etc.

    • Hi Starr,

      I have never had a real problem. I roll it up and put it in my carryon backpack and, while my bag has been searched by security once in my last 10 trips, nobody mentioned anything about the seatbelt extender. When I get on the plane the first thing I do is pull the airline seatbelt out as far as it will go, pull the extender as far out as it will go and then attach the extender to the side nearest the person I’m sitting next to (I always sit in the aisle). Then when I go to sit down I fasten the seatbelt on the side away from the person I’m sitting next to so that I’m not ramming my elbow into them, and voila. I was on one flight of the last 10 where a flight attendant told me that I couldn’t have my own extender and she brought me one of theirs. She was beyond discreet – I felt like we were making some kind of drug hand-off, and then I just repeated the process. I think mostly they don’t want to talk to you about it so if you are buckled in, they are happy.

      Hope that helps.

      ~Ragen

    • Starr,

      I fly with my own extender too and it’s never even been questioned. Mine comes with a laminated card certifying that it’s been approved by the FAA and I always carry that too in case it gets questioned.

  10. I take public transportation in NYC, too…have been for the last 36 years. Men routinely sit with their legs so far apart that they take up 3 seats. Mothers will get on with 2 toddlers and take up 5 seats (mind you, they don’t pay fares for those kids). And the stuff people bring with them! I’ve seen one guy with a folding table (one of the big ones) and a parade-sized Colombian flag. I’ve seen people get on with 72-inch flat screen TVs and stand right in front of the subway door. Among other things. So for larger people to be stigmatized because they don’t fit into seats which were designed for 12-year-olds…you’re right, it’s not
    fair.

  11. I also travel a lot and there is nothing worse than being squeezed in a seat next to someone on a 5 hour flight.

    You know, while I’m not really a big fan of being crammed into a seat on a 5 hour flight, I’m also able to recognize it’s not my or my fellow seat mate’s fault that we’re a bit cramped. I mean, I’m not a huge fan of noisy kids, that doesn’t mean I should think they or their parents shouldn’t travel. Everyone has the right to a seat.

    Sides, I would consider it worse being crammed next to a bigot (be it racist, homophobic or sexist) for 5 hours than a fat person. Thanks.

    • And I want to say, yes there is something worse. lol There’s being a larger size, 30 weeks pregnant (which means the belly doesn’t squish as well due to the baby and uterus taking up all the squish-able belly room) and being squeezed in a seat next to someone for TWELVE hours! Yeah, at 30 weeks pregnant, I flew from South Korea to Japan and then from Japan to Minneapolis. I was around 300 lbs, was able to get the seatbelt on but was quite uncomfortable. I think what was probably the hardest was finding room for my arms due to my large breasts. It makes it hard for me to find a place to put my arms on such a long flight. And I’m supposed to try and SLEEP?! Forget it! Oh man, I was stupidly tired when I finished that whole trip that started at 5 in the morning Korea time when I got up to head to the airport on the airport bus and didn’t end until I think 2PM Central time when I arrived in my hometown. I had essentially been going for 24 hours or more (did I mention I was 30 weeks pregnant when I did this?). And even more fun, the baby didn’t like take offs or landings. I can still remember the guy at customs asking me why I was so tired and my telling him that I had been going for nearly 24 hours and I was 30 weeks pregnant. I think I had a right to be tired! lol That was my last trip too, haven’t flown since and that was about two years ago. Kind of sad but I’ve only really flown a few times, my first flight when I was 28 and all of them were international. So as bad as a cross country flight is, overseas is even worse. Fortunately, the first time I flew, I had my daughter with and she was three at the time and didn’t take up much room at all. Just had to worry about her being all restless and stuff–11 hour flights aren’t great for little kids either.

  12. This is so so so so good. Thanks for taking on the “WAHHH but it’s uncomfortable on the airplane” argument so thoroughly.

  13. I think they were just *searching* for an excuse with that one! Totally reaching…

  14. You know what’s worse than being crammed into a seat next to a fat person for 5 hours? Being the fat person that KNOWS that the person next to you is judging you every single time you relax enough that your hip accidentally touches theirs or your shoulder brushes theirs, etc.

    And sitting next to someone who bathed in perfume that morning. That’s GOT to be worse than being crammed into a seat next to a fat person.

    • Or worse, hasn’t bathed in anything. For a month.

  15. Morning, I’m not sure how many actually watched the video link you posted by AthiaC. It was heartbreaking to hear what this beautiful young woman went through at the hands of the airline she chose to fly with.
    I want to comment that she handled her situation with grace and her video is awesome. I was moved by her story and very impressed with her presence, intelligence and motivation to do what she can to press the issue of size discrimination. I too have gotten the looks. Being tall, broad shouldered, long legged and overweight doesn’t always win me friends on public transportation, but i try to suck it in and tuck my legs in as best as i can. I just want to get where I am going so I will make the best of it.

  16. I’ll tell you what’s more annoying than sitting next to a fat person on a plane – sitting next to a jerk businessman who gets on late, makes me get up and get out of my seat to allow him to get to the window seat without even a please of thank you and then proceeds to unfurl his broadsheet newspaper and extend it over half my seat area and personal space for basically the entire flight.

  17. P.S. I have no issue with sitting next to a person of larger or smaller size than me (just thought I would point that out as I forgot to add it to my previous comment) on any kind of transportation. I take up a fairly wide berth myself and find that the “footprint” of seats on buses, tubes, trains seems to be designed to take someone much thinner than me.

  18. Argh. My first thought when I read the comment was how my thin, athletic and very tall brother is similarly an annoyance to people on airplanes: he’s 6’4″ and if he isn’t able to get an exit row seat then his knees are jammed up against the seat in front of him. This is why he takes days to drive rather than fly whenever he can. But when he has to fly and he can’t get a seat with enough legroom, the person in front of him is likely to be annoyed that they can’t recline their seat because his legs are in the way.

    I don’t hear anyone suggesting that he should get his legs chopped off.

    The fact that public transportation doesn’t do a good job of accommodating some passengers doesn’t mean it’s the passengers that need to change.

    And this bit was just infuriating: I don’t really watch my weight per se, but I do use my ability to comfortably fit into a plane seat and fasten my seatbelt as a personal barometer.
    Translation: I don’t have to make any effort to remain small enough to fit into the seats and I’m going to use that as an excuse to feel superior.
    What an asshole.

  19. Ashley, that last observation was a bit ableist. I do walk virtually everywhere as a disabled person & will do so for as much as I can fore as long as I can, but I cannot walk endless miles, or long distances carrying heavy bags, etc. Some people cannot walk at all. And plenty of able-bodied people use public transportation all the time & they have a perfect right to do so. The point is that people of all sizes, shapes, levels of ability have the right to do so, to feel that they have the right to do so, to not apologize for being there, but they also have the responsibility to be courteous & respectful to their fellow travelers, to show good manners, & not take up more room than they actually NEED to by sprawling all over the place.

    • You’re right and I completely understand.

    • “but they also have the responsibility to be courteous & respectful to their fellow travelers, to show good manners, & not take up more room than they actually NEED to by sprawling all over the place.”

      The problem with that statement is that it is the very philosophy the people complaining have towards our fat body though. They think we have control over our body and therefore are taking up more space than we actually need by being what they perceive as willfully fat.

      Maybe the person “sprawling” has a bad hip, and has to place their leg in a particular position to avoid pain for example. What you perceive as being rude is just something they have to do to avoid pain.

      In the end it seems to me that the main problem always boils down to people judging others and a lack of compassion.

      and honestly, people need to get over their fear of touching other people if they want to use public transportation.

  20. Good post and that picture is FIERCE!

    I say being fat at people on public transportation is a plus because most other people will hunt for absolutely any other seat other than the one next to me, which means I don’t have to deal with them! yay me! lol

    • Does happen to me sometimes but also I’ve had more than one guy sit next to me on the bus when there were empty double seats further forward and then say something creepy to me or grope me because he thinks nobody will believe the fat girl and maybe I’ll be grateful for the attention.

      • Wow, that’s crazy!

  21. *applause*

  22. I do not fit in airline seats. I’m a 5’9″ woman, and my shoulder bones are 19″ across (this does not include my arm muscles). Most coach/economy seats are 16″ wide. My thighbones are also long enough that if the person in front of me reclines their seat at all, my knees get crushed. I will *never* fit in those seats without crowding my neighbors, and there is nothing I can do about it.

  23. I agree that photo of you is epicly gorgeous!

  24. I have a great idea for the airlines — how about if they build into their business model the fact that they will have a certain percentage of passengers — tall, fat, pregnant, whatever — who do not fit in the standard seats! If they did this, they would have to allow for the possibility that some passengers would need to have an empty seat left next to them. When you bought an airline ticket, there would be a checkbox to indicate that you wanted such a seating arrangement.

    Ah, but you say, then everyone would check the box, because (practically) everyone would like to have more space on the plane. Here’s the brilliant part — when you got to the airport, if you had requested such a seat and the plane was full, the ground crew would look you over and if there were any doubts, you’d have to prove that you were BIG enough to need the extra space. In other words, skinny people and average-sized people would have to go to the “sizer” in front of everyone, and argue about their right to their seat, rather than the fat ones having to do so. This would, I believe, cut down on most of the inappropriate claims on the extra-room seats, and would keep the airline from having to leave too many seats empty.

    Really, how hard would that be? They wouldn’t have to redesign the seats, they wouldn’t have to charge anyone extra, and they would probably only have to let a few seats go empty, but they’d have some REALLY happy fat people flying rather than staying home or driving to their destinations. Even the smaller folks would be happier, because they’d be less apt to get stuck being squeezed.

    I’d even be wiling to pay a modest surcharge for the right to use that checkbox, if that were needed to further reduce inappropriate use of the “size allowance” seats. However, I don’t really believe that’s fair, since THIS IS THE SIZE I COME IN and if they are going to sell me travel from point A to point B, they need to accommodate the size I am.

    • Chris,

      Exactly!

      Dear Airlinea,

      Figure it the fuck out. Thank you.

      Your Friend,

      ~Ragen

      Seriously – you are in the business of transporting people – people who you know come in all different sizes. Instead of trying to figure out if you can use social stigma to avoid accommodating all of those passengers, how about being proactive, getting a panel of fatties together and getting it done.

    • This is why I happily flew AirTran for years before they got taken over by Southworst. For a small surcharge when you booked your flight, you could pick your seat so you would know if you got an aisle or window, you could choose an exit row, etc. Then when you checked in online, you could upgrade to business class for as low as $49 per flight. I’m lucky enough that I was able to afford to upgrade to a seat where I fit comfortably and didn’t have to worry about being pressed against the person beside me.

      What frustrates me is that they’re doing away with this policy now that Southworst has taken them over. So no more AirTran for me. I really, truly don’t understand why more airlines don’t offer this kind of alternative. It seems like they would make much more money with this kind of policy since every AirTran flight I’ve ever flown had their business class completely filled by takeoff.

  25. I have taken the bus regularly for years. Yes, there are fat people who take up more space on the bus than average – people like me who don’t fit next to another fat person, and even fatter people who take up 2 seats by themselves. There are also people whose caregivers or small children take up seats without having to pay. There are people with strollers, carts, bags, backpacks, and walkers that take up extra space. There are people in wheelchairs who take a long time to get on the bus and get their chairs secured properly, and also require 4 or 5 seats to be folded up to make room. We are not an inconvenience to some ideal public transit user – we ARE public transit users.

    • We are not an inconvenience to some ideal public transit user – we ARE public transit users.

      Exactly this. I also take public transit regularly and at times depend on it (too much pain to walk too far, too many drugs to drive legally). I very much believe that I have the right to use public buses as I need — but that also goes for everyone else who uses the public buses too.

      I’ve had issues with my local buses, mine mostly due to invisible illness and preconceptions about what disability looks like. (And during times when I’m riding the same route regularly, drivers I’ve spoken with have been understanding and accommodating.) By and large, however, most of the passengers with whom I’ve ridden have operated on the underlying principle that since we’re all riding this bus together, we may as well make the ride as pleasant as we can.

    • This, so much. Where do we get this idea that we can all navigate the world without ever being affected by our fellow human beings, anyway? I am fat and a parent of a toddler, and both I and my kid are people who share this world with everyone else and have a perfect right to navigate it while being ourselves. Obviously we shouldn’t go out of our way to inconvenience others, but we don’t have to strive to be something we’re not, either. Neither of us is unacceptable. The world does not exist solely for slim able-bodied adults!

  26. Thanks for the post and most interesting discussion, it gives me a lot to think about. I don’t have much to add, except this technicality, that seat “pitch” as used on aeroplanes refers to seat row spacing not angle. That is, it is the distance between a point on a seat (say the front edge of the seat) to the same point on the row ahead or behind it. It helps indicate legroom (but not entirely, as a thick seat will give you less).

    Thanks again, great blog.

  27. My husband is, by the BMI scale with all it’s faults, not even overweight. Higher end of “normal” but he doesn’t go over the magic line. He’s also a mere 5’10” so pretty much average for a guy.

    Even when the person sitting next to him is of a similar “average” or “normal” size, his hips and elbows will often rub up against his neighbors, even if he doesn’t fall asleep and accidentally slip into a sprawl.

    As others before me have said… it’s not the size of the passengers that is causing these problems, it’s the size of the seats!

    • My husband has a similar problem. While he is statistically overweight, all his “excess” is carried in a Winnie-the-Pooh style tummy that doesn’t spill over into other seats. The problem areas are always his legs (He’s 6’2″, so he’s tall but not unusually so) and his broad shoulders. It wouldn’t matter if I fed him broccoli and grilled chicken every day for the rest of his life; those dimensions won’t be changing.

  28. I just finished a brutal statistics class last semester, and a great many of the problems we had to solve dealt with designing seats that would accommodate the average person. It’s not that difficult, given a population distribution, to figure out what seat dimensions are necessary to ensure that 90, 95, or 99% of passengers can fit comfortably. Airlines revisit those calculations constantly when it comes to issues of fuel or the load-bearing abilities of the plane itself, but when it comes to the actual dimensions of the seats and cabin, it suddenly becomes the passenger’s problem. That’s a money game, pure and simple, and size prejudice is an easy way to mask greed. Comfort and etiquette issues aside, what’s going to happen if a plane needs to be evacuated? In a situation like that, narrow aisle and cramped seats would cost seconds that could mean life or death, and the responsibility for a safe plane lies with the airline.

  29. I would love a t-shirt that says “This is the size I come in.”

    Brilliantly articulate, Ragen.

  30. That sounds like a great idea for a t-shirt, I agree.

  31. people are so rude and stupid and self righteous… the reality is train and plane seats are tiny because the MTA and the airlines want maximum people squeezed in for the same price. The seats are small and uncomfortable for everybody and on the NYC subway you gotta sit on the edge to not rub tightly against your neighbor. I have never seen anyone comfortably sit in those seats, except for maybe a young child. They are justifying their discrimination when its not even comfortable for them.

  32. I have a really hard time coming into physical contact with strangers, especially strange men. It makes me extremely anxious, due to an incident in my past. Having many chances to observe who exactly is touching me on planes, I can definitely say at this point that almost everyone will end up touching adjacent passengers at some point during the flight, although people who are tall, long-limbed, wide in stature, or fat will often end up (involuntarily) making it extended contact. Airplanes are hard, and I’m really, really happy when I can find one that’s not full, or when I’m traveling with two or more people I know. So, I intensely wish airplanes would make things just a little wider for that reason.

    To be more relevant to the post:
    Passengers = people, living beings with rights
    Seats = objects, created to serve some sort of function for people.

  33. Love this blog. I do want to add something here, though! I’m a woman who is 6’3″, and believe me, I hear a lot of comments that I take up too much space. I dread arriving at my seat at concerts or plays, because of the loud complaints from people behind me–never spoken to me, but clearly intended for me to hear. At the movies I sit in the very back row just so it won’t be an issue. Now I’m going to be tempted to turn around and say “This is the size I come in!” But it’s something the tall suffer from, too. Having “behemoth” and “sasquatch” shouted at me out of car windows is no picnic, or the other verbal harrassment I get every day simply because I have the audacity to be taller than some men think I should be. The nerve of me!

    For what it’s worth, I do try to slouch so I won’t take up so much space. But if people behind me are exceptionally rude, I can and will sit completely straight up to block as much of their view as possible.

  34. I flew a few weeks ago, and during the safety spiel, I noticed just how tiny the space between the next seat and my boobs were! I realised if anything did happen, there is no way I’d be able to reach for my lifejacket, as simply, there is no room, other than using either seat next to me to enable me to do so. Gone are the days of flying for enjoyment/excitement that you are going on holiday, it’s bums on seats sardine style, no comfort and no safety. It is the airlines fault that we are made to feel uncomfortable for encroaching into someone else’s space. A world created for size 8 with no regard for the average persons comfort. I too struggle everyday with looks of disdain, even happened to me today, and yesterday, any day I venture out. Today I smiled at someone and they just stared at me. I live my life in a perpetual state of hopelessness based on having no money (not being able to find work – am studying at present), having humanity loathe me and basically living with little self esteem based on my lifetime of fat hatred. I started a club in London called Planet Big Girl in the 1990’s, and during that time, I was the happiest ever. Coming from Australia (beach bod central) to the melting pot that is London, I was able to express myself and find a level of acceptance. Does anyone have any advice on how I approach the future, as it hurts every day. 20 years after PBG and nothing has changed, if anything it’s gotten worse. Thank you Ragen for your contribution to raising awareness and highlighting the plight of the fatty xxx Much Love XxX

  35. Can I also point out how many people (male people, I’m pointedly looking at you because I am yet to see a woman do this) take up more than one train/tram seat because they feel the need to spread their legs as wide as possible apart? Surely their testicles aren’t so gargantuan that they can’t close their legs and only use one seat, right?

    All too often I hear people whinging about larger people, yet it’s rare that no one says much about people who take up more space because they’re entitled fuckwits who CHOOSE to sit in a way that inconveniences people.


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