Living Large in a World That’s “Fighting Obesity”

Living large in a world designed for much smaller people presents daily challenges. On top of that, coping with everybody’s bias makes it even harder. Sometimes it’s just implicit. Restaurants and offices might not have any place for you to sit. Public transportation is a hostile environment. But then there’s the explicit stuff. Some strangers feel bold to help you out with unsolicited advice about your size. Perhaps they think they’re “fighting obesity.”

Making It Real with Humor in Shrill

Saturday Night Live star Aidy Bryant has a new series streaming on Hulu today. Vox calls Shrill a “quietly tender portrayal of learning how to love yourself.” It’s based on a book of essays by Lindy West, an author, feminist, and fat acceptance activist. Bryant’s character, Annie, vents to her roomate, Fran, and pretty well sums up the problem:

You don’t think  the whole world isn’t constantly telling me that I’m a fat piece of shit that doesn’t try hard? Every magazine and commercial and weird targeted ads telling me to freeze my fat off. And at this point I could be a licensed nutritionist because I’ve literally been training for it since the fourth grade.

The Failure to Accommodate

The New York Times describes the daunting experience of eating out for larger customers:

For people who identify as large, plus-size or fat, dining out can be a social and physical minefield. Chairs with arms or impossibly small seats leave marks and bruises. Meals are spent in pain, or filled with worry that a flimsy chair might collapse.

Deciding where to eat is a challenge. Diners often comb through endless photographs of restaurant food online, hoping someone has posted an image of the chairs or the space between tables.

But some signs of change are popping up. An app, AllGo, equips people to call out restaurants that do better and worse in accommodating people of all sizes. Restaurants chains don’t like to talk about it, but everyone from McDonald’s to Waffle House is redesigning their dining areas to better accommodate people. Spaces are more open, seats and tables can move, and different seats can serve people of different sizes.

Public transportation remains a nightmare. Some airlines – Southwest comes to mind – are making things a little easier for bigger people who fly. But the overall industry trend is to squeeze more people into less space. Bathrooms on some planes are becoming impossibly small.

“Fighting Obesity” with Unspoken Bias

Most people have long assumed that obesity is a reversible matter of choice. That’s why this kind of mostly unspoken implicit bias has filled the world. It harms health and wellbeing. It gets in the way of real solutions because obesity is not a disease of choice any more than cancer is. Behaviors can modify the risk a bit, but it’s mostly a problem of physiology and environment.

When you think about it, the stupidity of creating a hostile environment for people with obesity should be obvious. Our hope is that more people are getting wise to the truth of this.

Click here and here for more about Shrill and here for more from the New York Times on restaurants accommodating larger people.

Morning, photograph © Obesity Action Coalition / OAC Image Gallery

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March 15, 2019