by Toni Galata
My alarm dings at 5:45 am, I wake up early to make sure I have time to shower before work. I wiggle my way into our narrow shower, my hips scraping a little on the door. Getting dressed I find myself frustrated again. My wardrobe is limited in the extreme. Do I try and dress up for an important meeting, knowing I’ll be tugging at my ill-fitting top all day, (why are the armholes so baggy, and the hips so tight?) or try and dress up my more comfortable legging/tunic outfit?
I pull into the parking lot at work and realize I’ve parked too close to the car next to me. But I’m running late and don’t have time to find another spot. I squeeze out, trying not to get stuck or spill my coffee. I hope nobody I know is in the lot to see this.
I look at my meeting invite, and it’s in the boardroom. Great. All of the chairs in that room have solid, narrow seats and non-moving arms. Do I deal with it and hope I don’t get bruises, or bring my own chair? How long is the meeting? An hour? I’ll deal with the pain. Bringing my own chair is loud, obvious, and embarrassing.
The meeting goes over time, and 90 minutes later I’m in the bathroom stall massaging the deep, dark, red welts on my hips. Damn, these will definitely bruise. But at least my feet have finally woken up from having their circulation cut off for 90 minutes. I’ll have to email my coworker and ask for her notes. The pain of the chair and trying to hold still in the squeaky chair made it hard to focus on the content of the meeting itself.
A coworker pops his head in at noon and mentions they’ve brought in lunch. Everyone is going down to the cafeteria to eat and meet with the new employees. I walk through the line, hyper-aware that everyone will look at what I put on my plate. I also hurry, because this room does have armless chairs, but only a couple. I snag one and sit with some of my coworkers. The talk centers on food, diets, and exercise. One mentions how much she misses bread, but she’s so glad she’s “dropped all that flab.” Another is jealous of the first woman’s discipline, and calls herself a “literal fat cow.” I eat my lunch in silence, wondering how they can say these things when I’m right there.
As the day wraps up, I get an email about a team-building activity next week that everyone is super excited about. The survey asks which activity we would like to do best: a ropes course, ultimate frisbee game, horseback riding, or paintball. My heart sinks. I can’t do any of these things. There is an “other” option that includes suggestions like a live sporting event, or concert. Knowing that most stadium seating is narrow and requires stairs and much walking, those don’t work well for me either. I start formulating an excuse already. Sick kid? Easy. I’ll have to wait until the day before though. I’m disappointed because I really enjoy hanging out with my team, but our outside activities are rarely accessible for me.
My name is Toni, and I’m what is called among the Fat Acceptance (FA) community, a Super Fat or InfiniFat. (See below chart for reference.) This means I experience the world in a very different way than straight size, small, and medium fat people. My access to the world is greatly restricted by my size. And the previous day I shared with you, is a mild day in my body.
I find that even within the FA spaces, and especially within “Body Positivity™ ” there is little understanding, regard, or respect for the experiences of larger fat people. When people say “Big is Beautiful” or “All Bodies are Good Bodies” there is an upper limit to these statements.
These limits to “Body Positivity” and FA are rooted deeply in ableism and capitalism. Because when your size affects your ability to use your body like a straight-sized person, you have less intrinsic value and less monetary value. Many social justice movements are still steeped in fundamental ableism. We celebrate fat people DOING things. Look at her wearing a bikini to the beach! Look at him doing yoga with a belly! Fat people hiking, fat people running, fat people DOING.
Where we struggle is with illness, disability, and accessibility. The world devalues us because, just as much as social currency is based on your physical appearance, it is also heavily based on what you can DO. When our Fat Acceptance is based on the fact that fat people can do all the things that thin people can, that is not equality or justice. That is simply shifting the currency from attractiveness to ability. And many of us are being left out of the conversation.
It’s time to take stock of our feelings about people fatter than us. It’s time for us to be uncomfortable with our own assumptions and feelings. We need to do better, and be better. True Fat Acceptance (or activism, or liberation!) can only come when we can say, honestly, that every body – regardless of size, shape, ability, aesthetic, or health – has intrinsic, basic human value. Until then, we have a long way to go.
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