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Flying Fat

I hate the title of this post, but I guess I’m a sucker for alliteration. In fact, I try never to use the word “fat,” not because it’s not descriptive enough but because it’s most frequently used as an insult.

I’ve just returned from visiting loved ones over the past few weeks. Because of connecting flights and delays, in the past three weeks alone I’ve flown about 6,000 miles and spent 14 hours in the air, and another 14 hanging around airports.

I’m an overweight person and a frequent flier–this is not a good combination. Americans seem to feel it is their right and responsibility to ridicule the overweight and airline employees are certainly no exception. I remember the first time I was vilified for being a large person on a plane.

This was years ago, just after that whole Southwest incident, and the flight attendant kept glaring at me when she walked by. I couldn’t figure it out. I was sitting next to a talkative, smiling guy who was very nice to me and telling me about his job. But soon enough, she reached over me rudely, smiled at the man next to me and said, “Here, I found an extra seat for you so you won’t have to be so smashed and uncomfortable.” She looked at me when she said “smashed and uncomfortable.” But the man hadn’t even thought about it, hadn’t complained at all.

Ever since then, I get anxious when I have to fly. Even weight loss didn’t help. There’s nothing like the futility of losing 60 lbs. and still not fitting comfortably into the seat. I usually handle it by being terribly apologetic and sweet to the person next to me. I’d rather invoke sympathy than get kicked off the flight. When I am subject to such discrimination, my intense fear of losing my flight keeps me from saying anything .

This most recent trip, I was seated near a college basketball team. One guy was particularly tall, 7′ or so, and the flight attendant bent over backwards to find him an aisle seat. “He’s just so tall!” she said, eyes wide with awe, looking him up and down. But at that moment, my weight was just as unchangeable as the man’s height. I can’t even allow myself to think of the stares and laughter I’d be subject to if I’d requested a different seat. Of course, the stigma of being overweight isn’t like the adoration a tall athlete gets.

A tall man cannot make himself short. But how absurd for us to assume that a large person can change his/her size at will! Who would choose to be overweight in a society like this one?! It could take a while before my body matches the airplane seats, and it may never happen despite my best efforts. So if you are flying and forced to sit next to someone like me, please just be nice and try to smile. She’s most likely doing the best she can.