Too Fat to Fly and Fat Shame: Why Are You Surprised?

In case you haven’t yet heard the buzz, director Kevin Smith was escorted off a Southwest Airlines flight last night because of “safety concerns” over his size. He mentioned it almost immediately on Twitter, and his rant continues today.

Southwest, via their own Twitter feed, has attempted to manage the situation as it’s whipped through the Twitterverse and into the blogosphere, going so far as to issue “heartfelt apologies” on their own blog. Unfortunately, in Kevin Smith’s words, it basically says “Sorry, sir. But you ARE kinda fat…”

Southwest’s policy isn’t new, as evidenced by the Customer of Size Q&A on their Website.

I could get into a whole litany of things about fellow airline passengers that make me uncomfortable or invade my space, but as Kate Harding pointed out, that can devolve to quickly into other kinds of shaming. And therein lies the rub: Southwest Airlines is counting on their customers to be so ashamed of their bodies that they will sheepishly allow the airline to kick them off a flight – or worse: buy two tickets to avoid the shame in the first place. Yet they claim it’s not a revenue generator.

The biggest surprise for me in all of this is actually the surprise from everyone else. I’m fat, and I’m very well accustomed to fat shame. I worry every single time I fly. I worry that I will have to ask for a lap-belt extender, and then I worry that the flight attendant will be mean about it, or that people will stare when they hand it to me, that the person next to me is going to complain that I am too fat, that I am taking up too much room. I get aisle seats so I don’t have to get past anyone to get in or out and then suck up the fact that it results in me, inevitably, getting bashed in the elbow by a flight attendant’s beverage cart.

The shame doesn’t end in the air. I worry that I take up too much space on the bus and train, restaurants, and even on the sidewalk (exacerbated by our recent snow, resulting in one-lane sidewalks). I’ve been approached in Victoria’s Secret in DC and not-so-politely been told by a sales person that they didn’t have anything there for someone of my size.

We hear you. We’ve been talking about negative body images in the media for years and years. And now the message is louder and more pointed. Look around – tv, magazines (I’m looking at you, Vanity Fair), the First Lady: fat is BAD and you’re going to DIE, but first we’re going to make you feel REALLY BAD about it.

So my question for you all is: why are you so surprised?

Kevin Smith on a Southwest Airlines flight

Kevin Smith: Too Fat to Fly


3 Responses to “Too Fat to Fly and Fat Shame: Why Are You Surprised?”

  1. val Says:

    You’re Kim what could be better than that?

  2. Lucane Says:

    Well said. I was just thinking about my flight back to DC. I forgot my seat belt extender and will have to ask for one. I remember when i realized that I could ask for one. I was a bit ashamed, so i asked as soon as i got on the plane and told the attendant my seat. Later, I realized that I had nothing to be ashamed of and asked when i got to my seat. Thanks for writing this.

  3. Shaw Girl Says:

    It seems weight is the last socially acceptable bastion of discrimination in this country. Growing up, my thin mother had a hard time accepting that her little girl didn’t follow in her mom’s thin footsteps. I lived with that shame all of my life and struggle with it still. But for companies like Southwest to make it a part of their policy to treat passengers differently based on their weight is shameful. Would we all just laugh this off if Southwest were refusing to let Black people fly because being Black made other passengers uncomfortable? I think there isn’t enough legitimate rage and outcry against Southwest (and other airlines) for their discriminatory policies!

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