When I went to college in Reno, I dreaded going into my Intro to Secondary Education class. Not because I didn’t like the subject or the professor, but because of the desks.
They were these tiny little things, the seats attached to the table. Every other student fit into them just fine, but me? At the beginning of the lesson, I’d have to squeeze myself into the space and sit, the weight of the table cutting into bulk of my stomach for the entire 90-minute lesson.
Finally, at the end of the lecture, I’d wait for the classroom to clear — an idea I picked up after the disparaging looks from my classmates during the first week or two — before trying to get myself out of the contraption.
It was never easy.
I’d have to brace myself against another desk and pull myself out — afraid the whole while that I’d fall over. In the scuffle, I’d usually knock the chairs around me out of their neat rows. Of course, I’d rearrange them before I left.
All of this was done under the sturdy gaze of my steel-haired professor. She never offered help. Never suggested that maybe I should sit at the perpetually-open ADA desk. She never said a word; she simply watched the struggle.
Maybe that was the best option, but still. It was rough.
Even though this all took place almost four years ago, it still weighs on my mind. (Was that a deliberate fat joke? No, but I’ll take it). It’s kind of the worst-case scenario that informs my choices whenever I go out.
Will there be somewhere for me to sit? Will it be as embarrassing/as terrible as the desks in that classroom? Probably.
The world just isn’t designed for us fat people. It shows up in a lot of big ways, but also a lot of little ways. You’ve probably heard the term microaggressions before; it’s kind of like that, except it’s the world itself, not just individual people making individual choices.
The West Wing is one of my favorite TV shows.
During an episode, one of the characters makes an off-handed comment to a friend of his mentee, a heavy-built adolescent, that he shouldn’t sit in any old-looking chairs in The White House without written permission from the Army Corps of Engineers.
It’s clearly a one-off joke, and one that’s easy to take in stride. But there’s also a darker edge to it. Whenever I’m out in public, I often have to judge, on the fly, whether or not I can sit in a chair. When I’m at a diner, do the chairs look like they can hold me up, or should I try to squeeze into a bench? Squeezing into a bench can be embarrassing, but it’s not as bad as demolishing a chair with your ass.
During high school, whenever we had events in the auditorium, we had these god-awful flimsy folding chairs. These plastic contraptions looked like they’d fall apart during a stiff breeze. Having to actually sit in one put the fear of God in me.
And that fear wasn’t unfounded. During my four years, I sent at least 3 of those chairs to their untimely death. But it wasn’t just the embarrassment of those individual incidents — it was the fear. During plays, choir recitals, talent shows, even my own graduation: am I going to break the chair again?
There are some times that I won’t risk it. If I’m visiting a friend and they invite me to sit down at the dining room table, say. If the chair doesn’t look like it can handle me, I’ll sit on the floor. When I lived with my mom, whenever I did all of my desk work, I sat on the floor. Better than destroying a dining set or an office chair.
Normal wear and tear is one thing, but God. This is anything but.
For most of my late teens and early 20s, I was afraid of driving. On top of that, it would be even more expensive to find a car that I could fit comfortably into. So I took the bus everywhere. And that was its own sort of embarrassment.
First, even before you got on the bus, you had to go through a depot with a turnstile. You wait in the line with a sense of dread, because you know it’s coming up. Sometimes, the attendant is nice enough to, without prompting, open up the side-gate and let you through. And sometimes, they don’t say anything, and you’re too embarrassed to say anything. There’s nothing to do but go through. And so, you turn sideways, and pray to the Gods above and Devils below that today is not the day that you get stuck.
And, usually, you don’t. But, again, it’s not just the actual event that has the potential to be embarrassing, but the anxiety and the fear that lead up to the event. Playing out the hypotheticals, imagining the fire department having to bring the jaws of life to get you out. Maybe it never happens, but you live through the fear of it each time you stand in that line.
And then you actually get onto the bus. When I was in the LA area, the buses were usually packed. If you haven’t been on one, the plastic in the seats is usually molded into depressions, where each depression is a seat for one standard-sized person. This sucks when you are significantly larger than one standard-sized person, namely because, now, you have ridge of plastic that you’re sitting on, a hard, uncomfortable bit that’s either riding directly up your asscrack, or pressing uncomfortably into your fleshiness.
And this discomfort is to say nothing of the dirty looks you get when the bus is full, and people either have to make the decision to cram in to the seat with you, and you’re mortified knowing that you’re really only giving them 1/2 of the normal sitting area; or they give you a dirty look, because you’re taking up the space that, rightfully, should belong to them and one other normal-sized person.
But that goes more into the interpersonal experience of being fat, which sucks. Your Fat Friend has many posts doing into details about that. They’re all true and perfectly relevant.
And it’s just nice to know I’m not alone in dealing with this shit. But, still, it sucks.
It’s one thing to know that other people are discriminating against you, based on your size. It’s another thing to realize that the very design of the world around you discriminates against you, as well.
Maybe there aren’t any easy solutions to this, but I wish skinny people would at least try to understand.