Back in December, I posted a question about fat people on the subway that will run in this Sunday's column. Kate Harding at Shapely Prose kindly linked to my question in her blog. She generated a ton of comments (go read!), and readers of both our blogs sent in some beautiful letters on the topic. Here's some excerpts:
I was fat for years. Years and years. I always felt like I should apologize for it. It didn't occur to me until I had gastric bypass surgery and lost all the weight that there is such a stigma and major prejudice against fat people. You know why I realized it? Suddenly I felt superior to them. I finally felt good about myself and unfortunately (shamefully) I developed a bit of an attitude toward the very overweight.
Then I realized how wrong that was. So I started doing some soul-searching and that was when I learned to have some compassion. Those of us who feel even a little bit insecure will pounce on any reason to feel good about ourselves, often at the expense of others. That's one of the reasons why fat bias is still so prevalent.
One thing that is often overlooked in the "fat people in public" debate is the fact that we fat people are aware that we are taking up more than our share of room. You're uncomfortable? I promise you that I am uncomfortable too. I don't want my thigh to touch yours, I swear to you that my arms are pressed so far into my sides that I could crush coal into diamonds with my cleavage, I am really, truly doing my very best not to impinge on the space you should fairly be able to claim on the subway, on the bus, or at Fenway Park.
You may also find it informative to learn that I eat carefully and I exercise regularly, and you might consider some of the new (and not so new) research that indicates that perhaps I am not sitting at home in front of my TV stuffing Doritos down my piehole 24/7; that, like high blood pressure or other inherited health constraints, my excess weight is just maybe not entirely due to my sloth and self-indulgence.
I agree that it is not fair to be a regular-sized person and have a fat (I'm one; I get to use the word) or otherwise larger than average person sit next to you and take over some of your space. I'm sure it's annoying, and I don't think the regular sized person should have to feel all cheery about it. However, people come in all shapes and sizes, seats on the subway (airplane, theater, Fenway Park grandstand) come in one size. What's the larger than normal person going to do? Here's what I do: stand, choose an aisle or end seat so I can spill over the side where there are no people, press my arms into my sides and my thighs tightly together for two hours straight, don't go places I can't fit. Most large people I know do not want to impose on others. In fact, the LAST thing they want to do is call attention to how fat they are. They are mortified by how much space they take up, how people look at them like they're so greedy, they not only have to eat so much, they have to take two seats, someone else's armrest, etc.
Now, getting back specifically to the subway issue for a second and "rights": This is public transportation. That means everyone, unless you're breaking a law. I personally would find it more convenient and pleasant if people who rode the subway always showered, didn't drink alcohol to the point of reeking all though the subway car, didn't sneeze on other people, kept their kids under control, didn't wear backpacks and then turn abruptly so they hit other people standing in the backpack's wake, let pregnant women, elders and anyone else who looked tired or unsteady on their feet have their seat, and so on. But public transportation means everyone, and that means larger than average people, too.
More to come ...
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Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.