Fat Girl Travels: Anxieties in Flying

Two months ago I published my first Fat Girl Travels article, Fat Girl Travels: An Intro, and the response from this fabulous community of Go Girls has been overwhelmingly positive. Excepted are two comments on that post, both written by individuals who I believe are men. Men who will never understand the unique experience that is being a fat girl/woman.

One of these comments, written by a self-proclaimed fat flyer, claims that in my first piece I suggest that, on a plane, the safety and dignity of a fat person should be valued over or at the expense of that of their neighbor(s).

Wrong.

What I am in fact suggesting is the radical idea that everyone on a plane deserves safety and dignity. I’m suggesting that, culturally, the safety and dignity of thin people is already prioritized over that of fat people. What I am not suggesting is that the way to rectify this is to privilege fat people over thin people, but instead to implement an equitable environment on planes (and everywhere else, for that matter) for everyone.

If you’re a feminist, this is an argument you’ve had with or heard from nonfeminists many times over. Somehow the idea of gender (or in this case bodily) equality is radical. Somehow it makes people (usually people who already have power – and usually people who don’t recognize their power – over the oppressed) angry, and too many in power conflate the call for this equality with a call for “reverse” discrimination.

I get where this commenter is coming from, I truly do; from a place of internalized fatphobia.

Fat people are constantly told, either overtly or in subtle tinges of everyday society and life, that we are outside the “norm.” Because of this, it’s hard to recognize that our existence makes us part of the norm. Walk down almost any street in almost any town and you will find us. We are fat and we are here.

But it’s easy to hate yourself when you’re told your whole life that you should.

The truth is that, yes, I agree, no one should be forced to uncomfortably sit next to a fat person who encroaches on their seat on a plane. However and similarly, no fat person should be demeaned because our body takes up extra space in a row of seats with dimensions that are, frankly, sizeist. As Stacy so eloquently said last time, “Fat bodies have always existed and they always will exist. The best way to ensure the comfort of everyone is to acknowledge this reality and make reasonable attempts to accommodate the fact of bodily diversity.”

Key word: Everyone. Correcting the system benefits us all. Fat people are not dehumanized and our neighbors are not squished.

Blaming and degrading fat people may seem logical, but it fixes nothing (it both won’t make us lose weight nor will it cure whatever nonexistent health problems people love to falsely assume we all have).

Telling us that we either need to lose weight (not possible/wanted for some), stop flying (we deserve to travel, as do you), or purchase two seats (monetarily difficult for many travelers, and many airlines make doing this nearly impossible) also fixes nothing.

That being said, I recognize that the world is not perfect, and that airlines will not be widening their seats anytime soon. So we must work within this existing system for the comfort of both ourselves and our neighbors (though self-care must always be our first concern).

How to do this is not simple, and will vary per person. In my next blog, I’ll be detailing some of the many the ways in which fat flyers can alleviate anxieties and maximize comfort on planes.

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