Tag Archives: fat shaming

The Folly of Shame

Brace yourself, I’m going to say something nice about Air Canada. Travelling to the Maritimes, we’re pretty much held hostage to Air Canada’s schedule. Yes, there are other domestic carries, but unless you live in Moncton or Halifax, you’re stuck with Air Canada to get to your destination.

I’m not going to recount the nightmare after nightmare flying with them during the winter months have been over the years. My most recent flight was my 6 am return to Ottawa from New Brunswick on Tuesday. I shared my row with a rather obese passenger, large enough they took up almost a quarter of my seat. As the passenger curled up to sleep through the flight and took up even more room, I spent the subsequent two hours thanking God that even at my peak weight I was never large enough to exceed the seat dimensions of an air plane. In fact, one of the lies I would tell myself was, “I fit in one of those tiny airplane seats. I can’t be too overweight.”

Around a year before I started my weight loss, one of my favourite directors, Kevin Smith, was kicked off a flight for being too big for his seat. Sparing myself this public humiliation and the logistical nightmare of rescheduling travel with the one airline that travels to my hometown may have crystallized my decision to lose weight.

I didn’t complain to my passenger or even ask the flight attendant to be reseated. It was a fully booked Dash-8 with all of 17 seats available to passengers (for some reason that remains a mystery to this day, row 2AC is reserved for the flight crew even though the one attendant on the plane has a seat at the front of the plane) and there was simply no seat to move to. I was also partially sympathetic. While I was never in that situation, it was only when I was travelling last year that I realized how big I was. Suddenly the seats on that little plane were … reasonably comfortable.

After the flight in my tired-ass wandering mind on the bus back to downtown , I started thinking. In 2009, the Canadian Transportation Agency recognized obesity as a disability and imposed a “one passenger, one fare” policy on the national airlines. Previously, if you exceeded the width of the seat (defined as seated with the armrest in the down position) you had to purchase the seat next to you. I don’t blame obese people for complaining. Buying two seats is a pretty expensive proposition, up to $3000. It would actually be cheaper to buy a larger executive class seat. Unfortunately, there’s no executive class seating going to and from Fredericton. None on the direct flight from Ottawa. None on the flights from Toronto and Montreal. Certainly none on the plane from Halifax. That plane barely has a luggage hold.

So, if out of the cause of reasonable accommodation, the airlines are forced to only charge a passenger a single fare regardless of the number of seats they use, is it also reasonable to make the partial seat that remains available for the 100% of the advertised fare?

I decided to investigate. I sent the following to Air Canada’s customer complaint e-mail (with personal identifiers removed):

On the above referenced flight, I was seated in 5D, an aisle seat next to an obese passenger who was large enough that the passenger would not safely fit into the seat with the armrest down. For the duration of the flight, the passenger took up about 25% of my seat. I didn’t want to cause trouble for the flight and, frankly, there didn’t look to be another seat available to move to other than 2A and C which are reserved for the flight attendant. I understand several years ago, the Canadian Human Rights Commission [Author’s note: further research revealed it was the Canadian Transport Agency] imposed a “one passenger, one fare” rule on Canada’s airline. With that understood, is it fair to make the seat available next to a passenger so obese he/she cannot fit in a single seat? Given that the Dash-8 aircraft only has two seats per row, there may be occasions where a passenger would need to be reseated. If an obese passenger is going to take up 25% of the adjacent seat, why should the passenger who has paid 100% of a fare for a seat not be entitled to an entire seat? Since there is the aforementioned row reserved for the attendant, who already has a seat at the front of the front of the plane, should not one of the passengers be reseated? It was just over two years ago that I was at my heaviest. While I was never so obese that I could not fit in a single seat with the armrest lowered, I did require come rather close to that size. Had I been at my previous weight on this morning’s flight, I would not have been able to sit in my assigned seat.

That was Tuesday morning. You know what happened? By Wednesday morning, Air Canada e-mailed me with a $150 credit for future travel as a gesture of goodwill. They explained their policy of “encouraging” obese passengers to buy a second seat when in economy class. The issue of the available row 2 which could be used to reseat a passenger remained unaddressed.

It might have helped that I selected the prefix “Dr.” from the drop down menu.

I started to think about some of the recent commentary on fat shaming. It’s basically the idea if you make fat people ashamed of being fat, they’ll lose weight. It made the news recently when this reporter responded to a viewer’s letter over her weight. Local Ottawa doctor Yoni Freedhoff even accused Disney of doing it earlier this year. There was even talk of it in the presidential race when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was being coaxed into running for the Republican nominaton. It resurfaced when he was among the politicos shortlist for Romney’s running mate and again when he addressed the Republican convention. Not all of us are lucky enough to be consoled by Sofia Vergara when someone makes fun of us, but he seems like he can take it. He did, after all, paraphrase Machiavelli and then attribute it to … his mother.

The logic of shaming is ridiculous. If you tease and troll a human being enough, they’ll make a radical life change. As a guy with unusually high self-esteem, when I was called fat I usually retorted with “Just like how your mom likes it.” Guys aren’t bombarded with images of male perfection and forced to conform. In fact, it’s the opposite. My usual nemesis, KFC, now has an advertisement where their overweight, unkempt character walks around with a bucket of the new chicken product and eventually is surrounded by a harem of bikini-clad women. Unless rufies are the 11th herb and spice, there is no way this will happen in reality. Gluttony is increasingly becoming acceptable behaviour for generation of arrested developed males. 

It’s a lot different for girls. I remember one of my feminist sociology profs complaining about the objectification of women in men’s magazines, which had exploded in number in the late 1990s (a number of which no longer exist). At some point, I snorted, “Have you been to the magazine rack at Chapters lately? Seems like women are giving men a run for their money on the objectification of their gender.”  In our exchange, which included me asking my classmates who had men’s and women’s magazines with them (interesting moment, none of the men admitted to having a men’s magazine on hand, but 2/3 of the women had Cosmo), I argued that for all the barflegarp about empowerment in women’s magazines like Cosmo most teenage girls are seeing a stick thin waif on the model on the cover. Regardless of whether the title was “Maxim” or “Cosmopolitan”, in the heyday of Kate Moss, thin was in and being presented as the ideal.

With all that cultural pressure already on women to fit into a particular ideal, those that try their whole lives and can’t get there are already pretty miserable. If you call sending young girls to the bathroom after dinner to puke their guts out a success story, give yourself a pat on the back, asshole. All you’re doing is just giving people with already low self-esteem another pummelling. I bet you make fun of the disabled, too.

For all your smug, self-appointed, self-righteousness, here’s the truth: you’re a bloody failure. You shame, society has gotten fatter. Unless there’s some immediate health concern (diabetes, high blood pressure, etc), most fatties don’t think they’re unhealthy. As I wrote at the beginning of this journal and reiterated last week, as obesity rates go up, most fat people think they’re normal and thin people are starving themselves. The truth is both extremes are full of stuff and malarkey (I wrote this after watching the VP debate).

There’s no magic bullet to get someone to lose weight. I didn’t think I was unhealthy when I was 250 lbs. The first time I was that heavy, I certainly knew it and had the sleep apnea diagnosis to prove it. It was overloaded public buses that started me losing weight and the encouragement of good friends to find ways to make a little loss into lifestyle change. Just because what I did worked for me, doesn’t mean it will work for someone else.

Don’t let the potential for failure deter you from attempting success. Even shedding a few pounds or a few inches in size will add years to your life. They might be Denis Leary’s “adult diaper, kidney dialysis years”, but you’ll enjoy your time here and now so much more.

Taunting and teasing won’t help. Shaming just leads to a persecution/victim complex which just reinforces negative behaviour, like stress eating or starvation.

You’re just another bully. You don’t even have the guts to say it to someone’s face. Having a Twitter account doesn’t elevate your thoughts to genius, it just exposes you as a coward and a buffoon 140 characters at time.

I honestly hope the passenger who sat beside me on Tuesday finds it within to start their own journey. Their life will be better for it.

Allons-y!

PS – you may notice that I’ve changed part of the title of this blog. It is no longer my year of not being fat anymore. That year ended last week. I’m going to keep writing about this journey because I’m still learning and I think I still have things in this noggin worth sharing. It’s now my life of not being fat. Hope you still enjoy the ride. I am.

Once again,

Allons-y!

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