jennifer hanigan

a pinch of this and a dollop of that

Jumbo Jets & Jumbo Problems

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I’m flying soon, for the first time since 9/11, and I have concerns.  Yes, yes, I know I’m not supposed to be afraid, but I’m definitely going to be realistic.  And no, I’m not afraid of terrorism…I’m afraid of ridiculous airline policies for fat people, and the very real chance that I will be removed from the plane or forced to pay on the spot for another seat (at the going rate at that moment), which I cannot do.

But I’m not here to complain about complaint-worthy airline policies.  No, I’m here to talk about (and to) my friends.  You see, I mentioned the flying fat concerns on Facebook, and the overall reaction was along the lines of ‘Oh, you aren’t THAT fat, you’ll be fine’, or ‘But it’s not like you’re morbidly obese’, etc.  And I get that quite a lot, actually.  And it always stuns me.  Because yes, I am that fat.

‘Morbidly Obese’ is no longer a governmentally-approved category, and I feel like that’s a good thing, because not only does fat not actually slay people left and right like the headlines imply, but I’ve been alive and disease-free for decades as a supposedly morbidly obese person, which to my mind implies that the title is at best highly inaccurate.   Nowadays, the Good ol’ US of A declares me and my BMI of 42 to be Class III Obese.  I like to think that this is a nod to how we’re treated.

BMI is completely useless crap, but that’s also not what I’m here to talk about.

You see, this thing happens when people care about a fat person.  Because we’re programmed to believe that the word ‘fat’ is an insult, and synonymous with all manner of horrible things (icky, lazy, smelly, sick, rude, stupid, worthless, ugly, etc.), when we’re confronted with a lovable person who is also fat, many people cope by unconsciously re-categorizing the beloved fat person as ‘not that fat’ or even ‘not fat’ to avoid cognitive dissonance.

And this is a problem.  A huge problem, to make a pointed pun.  Because now when we talk about Horrible Things Done To Fat People, you think ‘Oh, but not people like [insert loved one], she means really fat people,’ and then it becomes Not Your Problem.  Fat can be relative, as we’ve seen recently with Amy Schumer.  On any given day, at any given moment, how fat you are is a matter of the opinions of those around you, or even the whim of the government, which has reclassified millions of us based on the lobbying efforts of those with financial interests in the weight-loss machine.  But trust me, horrible things are said and done to me, and to people much, much smaller than I, due to our fat.

Denying our fatness is not the solution.  What is needed is a shift in our understanding of fat and the feelings that the word, not to mention the bodies to which it applies, engender.  We need to stop using the word ‘fat’ as a stand-in for other things, and recognize it as meaning, well, having fat on one’s body.  I’m fat the same way I’m short and brown-haired, rosy-cheeked and, most days, blue-eyed.  I have no objection to the word or my fat body.  Society’s depressingly pervasive and persistent attitude about them, on the other hand, make me wish I breathed fire.

So here’s your chance to become part of the solution—every time you hear or use the word ‘fat’, examine the meaning behind it.  See if it’s referring only to size or if it’s implying something negative about the person.  Check your feelings about what was said, and why it makes you feel that way.  Recognize that mistreatment of a single person really is a problem for everyone, and start speaking up!


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