I have now ridden every adult ride at Disney World and I fit comfortably in them all. Feeling confident from that experience we went to Universal Studios because my best friend really wanted to do the Harry Potter Experience. We got there and, after going through Olivander’s Wand Shop, we got in line for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
We waited for about an hour and a half and as we were waiting the gentleman in front of us (who was at least 6’5) was pulled out of line by an employee so that they could see if he would fit in the seat. I looked directly at her, assuming that if there was any question about my size she would pull me too. She just smiled and walked away. When it was time to board I got in the ride and fit comfortably width-wise. Then the park employee pushed down the restraint and it became obvious that I was to wide front to back to fit the ride. He said “We are unable to accommodate you safely” and asked me to step off the ride.
As soon as I stepped off the ride every employee knew what was going on and I was directed to an area I’ll call the FGHA (Fat Girl Holding Area) where I joined 7 other women waiting for their friends to get off the ride. Oddly, everyone but me was offered passes to get to the front of the line in other rides. I have no idea why they weren’t offered to me.
My best friend, his husband, and I decided that we weren’t interested in spending our time or money at a park that wasn’t interested in my experience and we headed to guest relations.
First let me say that I certainly could have done a better job researching this. I absolutely would have researched this further but I fit into all the rides at Disney World with so much room to spare that it didn’t occur to me that it would be a problem. In researching it now I read articles that said that there were some seats made to accommodate larger passengers but this wasn’t offered as an option to me. When we got to guest relations Samantha let us know that there were test seats available. Unfortunately they were being blocked by a tour group and we didn’t realize that they were test seats at all (and the employees are told not to point them out to fat people).
The policy, as explained to us, is that employees can pull tall people out of line to test them in the seats, but they cannot even suggest to fat passengers that they do the same. So if you are fat and miss the test seats, nobody will say anything to you until you are sitting on the ride and an employee is pushing a restraint into your gut. Again – I could have researched it further and the tests seats would have saved 90 minutes of waiting but would not have changed the overall outcome.
Samantha in guest services, a larger woman herself, was extremely empathetic and kind. She offered to tell me which rides she thought that I would fit on, but I politely explained that I wasn’t interested in giving the park any money or time since they had chosen not to give me the full experience. She went to bat with her manager and we received full refunds for our tickets and meal passes. So, what have I learned?
I think that this illustrates well the issues with attaching shame to horizontal body size that is not ascribed to vertical body size. The cast is allowed to pull people who are too tall out of line, but not allowed to even suggest test seats to passengers who may be too wide. The women in the FGHA with me were all embarrassed and ashamed but the tall dude was just annoyed when he was pulled out of line after waiting. If we correctly acknowledged that bodies come in different shapes and sizes then 1. all the people who Universal doesn’t bother to accommodate on their rides would be treated the same and fat people wouldn’t have to wait until they are on the ride to get kicked off and 2. People would rightly place the blame on the park for choosing not to accommodate them, and not their own bodies. Some of the women in the FGHA were talking about diets but the tall guy never once talked about trying to be shorter, even though our heritability and likelihood of changing our body size is roughly the same.
If you’re not going to accommodate guests of size, how about you let us know before we spend our money. The test seats should be in the front – before I pay or enter. The website should give me the height, width, depth and any other possible measurements that each ride fits. At least there could have been an employee pointing out that the test seats were hidden behind a large tour group, but even if I had known about the test seats I still would have had to pay for the cab to Universal Studios, pay for a ticket, and walk all the way through the park to find out that they didn’t care if I got to ride the ride.
I’m confused about why Universal didn’t just make the seats more accommodating. I can understand if a ride uses a lap restraint that goes over a group of people, that having it accommodate those with large thighs can be a problem (since then the lap bar is then too high for the rest of the passengers). But this was a single person restraint so it seems like it could have been made to fit a wider variety of people. It can’t be an issue of weight and physics since a person of my weight with a different frame could have fit on the ride. If Disney World can make all of their coasters work for someone my size, why can’t Universal? Or why won’t they?
One thing that I was very happy about was that I did not feel embarrassed, ashamed, or bad about my body or go into dieting thoughts as I would have in the past. I was crystal clear that the park had decided that it wasn’t interested in giving the full experience to guests of my size – the park is wrong for me, I am not wrong for the park. All of this work on body image and HAES is really paying off!
It was obvious when we went to Guest Relations that this had happened before. I don’t know how often (although I do know that there were eight of us in five minutes in the FGHA) but my Best Friend was so excited he had planned to spend what he called “an embarrassing amount of money”. He fully intended to buy every food and drink and a ton of clothing and souvenirs – basically any clothing that was available and other toys and trinkets as well. Instead we stood at guest relations while they refunded over $300 of our money and we didn’t buy so much as a butter beer.
My research shows that the park has been aware of this issue since before the ride opened, so I wonder if they did a cost benefit analysis and found or bet that most fat people would be too embarrassed or ashamed to make a fuss, and would spend their time and money in the souvenir shops and food court anyway. I’m guessing that there are fat people who can’t fit into the rides and happily make the decision to stay and spend money at the park and that’s certainly their valid choice. As for me and my house, we will spend our money at places that have proven that they deserve it. I believe in hitting a fat-hating company hard in the checkbook and then kicking them in the bank account when they are down. I had a fantastic experience at Disney World (my one regret about Disney was that I couldn’t find any merchandise with the dancing hippos from Fantasia. That jackass editor really made me want to collect stuff with them on it but it looks like they are out of vogue.), other than that everything was fantastic, they obviously wanted me to have the full experience, and that’s who will be getting my money now and in the future.
Blog Poll: I talked yesterday about the Georgia Body-Shaming billboard campaign, and the brilliant Well Rounded Mama gave me an idea. What if we did some fundraising and put up a billboard or two with our own slogans (for example instead of “Being fat takes the fun out of being a kid” something like “State-sponsored bullying and stigma takes the fun out of being a kid”. We could even have a design contest and include a url to a resource list. I would be willing to coordinate the project, I just want to get a sense of the level of interest (if any) in supporting something like this before I do a ton of research. What do you think?
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