Asking For It

Reader Dayna asked me “Would you please address what to do when you’re making appointments for stuff? Like, when do we tell the person at the (doctor’s office, spa, conference center, realtor) that we’re fat and might need accommodations?”  I’m happy to!  My post yesterday talked about getting okay with being accommodated.  Today we’ll talk about how to ask for the accommodations that you need/want.

For me there are three basic principles to remember:

  1. I have every right to be accommodated, it’s not “special treatment”, it’s what the business should do to earn my money
  2. I cannot control the reaction of the person I are asking
  3. I can make decisions for me

There is a process that I go through that includes some or all of these steps depending on the situation and  how much I know about what I need.

  1. State that I am fat
  2. Ask for what I need
  3. Ask if there are other concerns that I haven’t thought about
  4. Put the responsibility on them (I often ask some version of  “Was [your business] created with a fat customer in mind?” If I don’t get the answer I’m looking for I often ask “What do you suggest to solve this problem?”)

Let’s do some examples.  I’m a big proponent of calling ahead whenever possible because I think that takes the stress off both the possible confrontation, and then when I’m traveling to whatever the thing is I’m not stressing out that it’s not going to work out or that I’m going to have to deal with drama.  Some call ahead examples:

If I am calling a restaurant I will say something like:

“I’d like to eat at your restaurant and I am fat so I’m just calling to make sure that you have tables with chairs without arms that will work for me.”

I almost always say that I’m fat because I consider it part of my activism but, as always, I’m just speaking for me.  You may not want to do that at all and that’s completely cool.  You could just call and say “Do you have tables with chairs without arms?”

If I’m going for a massage I will say something like:

“I would like to book a massage.  I’m about 300 pounds so I want to make sure that you have tables that will be comfortable and sturdy for me.  I also want to make sure that I get a massage therapist who is completely comfortable and enthusiastic about working with a fat person from a size positive perspective.”

To me this one is super tricky and I would probably not go to a massage therapist who hadn’t been recommended as size positive except in an emergency.  Regardless I would likely also talk to the therapist before we go back to the room  and double the table and his/her enthusiasm because I’m damn sure not laying mostly naked on a table and letting someone put their hands on me until I am CERTAIN that the table will be comfortable and they are qualified to work with me.

If I was going to a spa/resort etc:

“I’m coming with my friends for a spa day.  I’m very fat and so I want to make sure that your spa/resort has been created with a fat customer in mind. I’m specifically wondering about robes, massage tables, chairs for facial treatments and anything else that you can think of.”  I might also just say “I’m considering coming to your spa and I’m very fat and so I want to make sure that your spa has been planned with a fat customer in mind.  Can you share with me how you accommodate your customers of size?”

The doctor’s office I covered here.

So let’s talk a bit about how to deal with things that come up in real time, when you can’t call ahead.  You go to an office meeting and find out that there are no chairs that fit you, your friends throw a surprise birthday lunch at a restaurant full of booths etc.

You’ll have to evaluate the situation and decide what you want to do. For some people the discomfort of sitting on the edge of a chair that doesn’t fit them is much less uncomfortable than asking for a chair that works for them.  Some people get excited about this as an opportunity for activism.  It’s all up to you, remember that you shouldn’t have to do this – you did nothing wrong and you have every right in the world to exist in the exact body you have.  When confronted I would suggest asking for exactly what you need and putting the onus on them.

So let’s say you get to the concert, movie, sports event etc. and find out that there aren’t any chairs that fit you.  Find an employee and say, with great confidence “I need a chair that works for me.” If they push back consider something like “I paid for a ticket just like everyone else here – they all have a seat that fits them and I’m just asking for the same thing.”

If you are told that you can’t have what you want I would suggest putting the responsibility on them, saying something like “What do you suggest we do about this?”  or “How do you want to fix it?” If it goes terribly wrong I try to remember that I am not the jackass whisperer, and if it is at all possible I take my money somewhere else.

For me an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of drama so when I think about my schedule I try to anticipate and issues and call ahead.  For me asking for accommodation is another way to honor my body and everything that it does for me by requiring that it be accommodated and made comfortable.

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I wanted everyone to be able to afford Fat: The Owner’s Manual – Surviving a Thin-Obsessed World with your Health, Happiness, and Sense of Humor Intact  so it is now available in soft cover and e-book which is “name your own price

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I do size acceptance activism full time.  A lot what I do, like answering over 5,000 e-mails from readers each month, giving talks to groups who can’t afford to pay, and running projects like the Georgia Billboard Campaign etc. is unpaid, so I created a membership program so that people who read the blog and feel they get value out of it and/or want to  support the work I do can become members for ten bucks a month  To make that even cooler, I’ve now added a component called “DancesWithFat Deals” which are special deals to my members from size positive merchants. Once you are a member I send out an e-mail once a month with the various deals and how to redeem them – your contact info always stays completely private.

So if you find value in my work, want to support it, and you can afford it, I would ask that you consider  becoming a member or supporting my work with a  one-time contribution.

The regular e-mail blog subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is always completely free. If you’re curious or uncomfortable about any of this, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

24 thoughts on “Asking For It

  1. Thanks for this! Great post. I have never had the problem with the arms of the chairs before until recently. Living in Canada I guess we always have had big chairs? I don’t know, in any case it was never a problem. But I am living in Korea now, where there are ads for tummy tucks on the bus and exercise equipment on the top of mountains (that you hike for 2 hours to get to..hahah wow) and, well, people are in general a lot slimmer here.
    I went to a bar just the other night and these chairs were so small, the arms were so constricting and all I could do was sit at the edge, and I don’t really speak much Korean so I didn’t really have much recourse. It was incredibly frustrating for me, and we ended up staying for a lot less time than I would normally because I was so uncomfortable. It made me think, even though there are a lot fewer fat people in Korea, there are fat people, they do exist, just like everywhere else. Why on earth would they not have other chairs at least? I’m hoping it was just an oversight on my part, and I didn’t notice them, because really that just makes no sense.
    (sorry for rambling)
    Anyways, thanks for this, I don’t know why it has never occurred to me to simply scope out a place ahead of time. Awesome

    1. Hey, I’m in Korea too. I learned that I have to check beforehand whether a restaurant has chairs at all. I’ve been here for four years, so I know enough Korean to ask for a chair in a traditional-style restaurant with floor seating, in the event that I am with a group and cannot choose the meeting place.

      1. Good on you! I wish I had have applied myself to learn it more, but we are returning to Canada next week, so I’ve just about given up.
        Actually, I love the floor seating, I feel like I don’t have to worry at all about how much space I take up and there are no restrictions on it, but the best are the floor seatings that have a hole under the table to put your legs down.

  2. ” I am not the jackass whisperer” – I will keep this one with me when I engage with folk who are just not getting it. Brilliant post once more and great to see your positivity coming through – it is not a confrontation every time, you can make a fat persons day by accommodating them with ease :):)

  3. “…I try to remember I am not the jackass whisperer…”

    I just shot coffee out my nose. Thanks for that! I’m banking that phrase for later use!

    Love the rest of the post too. I LOVE how you make absolutely no apologies for yourself and your body (nor should you). I’m not as comfortable in my own skin yet, but I’m working on it. You’re helping. Thank-you.

  4. I have worked for a long time to “own my fat”. I mean, this IS who I am. I live in a fat body – my fat is part of me. I had to learn to respect myself and my needs which meant owning my fat in a positive, healthy way (despite what “everyone” would have us feel about ourselves – we don’t need to take that on – that’s on them!).
    I used to be angry with my fat body and not accept it. I would feel shame. That would lead to me not taking care of my needs – both health-wise and just daily living-wise. Now that I’m finally getting the hang of owning my fat, the fear, angst, shame, insert-negative-emotion-here, rarely comes up for me. I regularly point out to people that said chair, bed, toilet seat is not working for me because I am fat. I have never had a negative reaction to this. And I have tried hard not to insert negativity into asking for accommodation – I just ask for the obvious.
    I know I feel a lot of freedom over having accepted my own fat. I love it when other fat people ask to have their needs met – it makes me feel proud that we own who we are!

  5. Being accomodated is fine and all, but has it ever been taken to the extreme? I had a lengthy hospital stay recently and needed to use a commode. They knew already I wasn’t going to fit in the regular sized ones. So they brought a special one for me. It took 2 nurses to carry it in and it had to be brought in sideways! I am no where THAT big! The thing took up so much room that I was embarassed to have visitors come in because you just can’t help but notice this huge, wide thing! I told the nurse I didn’t need one THAT big, but she said it was all they had available. You know how they want you sitting in a chair after so many days spent in the hospital? Well, I mentioned I was too big for the chairs that were in my room. (they had arms) Again, they brought in this huge mamouth of a chair that was so big, it had small wheels on it! Again, I was embarassed because I am not THAT big and this chair in comparison with the others in my room were humiliating! If you are going to accomidate me, fine….but accomidate me as a bigger human being, and not a large circus animal!!!!

    1. Ah yes – the “Goldilocks Moment”. That one’s toooo small, but that one’s toooo big. Where the heck is the one that is “just right”?

      I have had this happen – yes – it’s a little embarassing but I’m just thankful that there was a larger option.

  6. Great post yet again. I work in a lab and recently a very fat woman was hired. As I was giving her the tour she asked pointedly but politely if larger lab coats that would fit her would be supplied. Together my supervisor (who is in charge of all lab orders) and I made a rush order on a coat for the new hire. It was in no way a big deal or a hassle; no one bitched or grumbled about it. My supervisor commented to me later that he felt like an asshole for not thinking about it and felt bad that she had to ask in the first place.
    My point is that people who experience thin privilege sometimes just aren’t aware of issues that can besiege fat people. So ideally no one should hesitate about simply asking to be accommodated. It is completely within your right to exist happily in the body you have (especially if safety is an issue).

    1. Great comment (and kudos to your boss).

      I agree that people who are not fat/have never been fat just aren’t aware sometimes. I like to give the benefit of the doubt AND make my needs known so that the next fat person who comes along doesn’t (hopefully) run into the same problems.

      I know we all like to think that we are empathetic to others. I know I do. However, after experiencing a wacko autoimmune disease that took most of my vision and causes me a great deal of pain – I realized that there’s no possible way I could understand what someone with chronic pain and/or vision limitations went through on a daily basis before having truly experienced them myself. I could guess – but the subtleties were lost on me. Hence, I like to give people the benefit of the doubt and use humor if appropriate.

    2. I had an interesting experience a while back where I went to lunch with three other women, all thin-to-medium sized. They were already seated when I arrived, at a table with plastic molded patio chairs, which I know are not big enough for me, as I am fat with very wide upper thighs. I asked the hostess if there were any chairs without arms, and she said no. The only other option was to move to a high bistro table with stools. Doing my best not to be apologetic, I let my dining companions know the situation, and luckily, they had no problem moving to the high table (though frankly, a stool without a back is still not a comfortable seating option, imo!). It took them a few moments to comprehend the reason, but when they did, they were indignant on my behalf. “That’s discrimination!” one of them said. Bless their hearts =)

    3. Yes! I’m glad you mentioned this. It had simply not occurred to me that there were many people who did not fit into chairs with arms, until my husband (then boyfriend) had to go hunt down an armless chair at a restaurant one evening. I don’t even think of him as THAT big, so it was a shock that he would NEED accommodation. My reaction, and the reaction I’ve since then from those he asks for accommodation, is kind surprised but also a little ashamed for not being more sensitive and think before choosing a booth or a chair with armrests, etc.

  7. I don’t know about other phones, but my iPhone has a translator program, with most languages. I hope that helps those traveling in non English speaking areas. It will speak your request, in your needed language. I hope that helps someone.

  8. It always makes my heart ache when I read those “WLS success stories” or diet stories that feature someone who says things like “I just COULDN’T go to Hawaii/ eat at a fancy reataurant/leave the house until I Lost The Weight.”. And most of these people were not immobilized by their size or otherwise disabled, either. They basically internalized that they just COULD NOT do things and were so shamed that they put their lives on hold because of their size.

    To some extent I used to do that. I would refrain from going to the doctor or asking for health questions and tests when I was having problems that turned out to be PCOS. I felt ashamed and undeserving of proper medical care because of my weight.

    I also, for a time, believed that I deserved the shame and abuse heaped on me by boyfriends and my mom. Because, yaknow, I hadn’t Lost The Weight and therefore I was Asking For It.

    It is so truly liberating to feel free of the crushing weight of that shame and feelings that I had to wait to enjoy life until I was “hot”.

  9. My partner and I went to an auto body shop after our car was totalled. We pointed out politely that they didn’t have chairs in their waiting room that would fit her. We figured something out for that wait (I think they brought a rolling stool from the back) and they were polite about it.

    The next time we came in a few weeks later they had installed new waiting room furniture including several wider seats. We expressed our appreciation, and the manager said, “Once I realized we had made that mistake I wanted to correct it as soon as possible.”

    Wow! Makes up for a few of our other experiences…

  10. I hope it is OK to post this here as it has to do with shaming, weight loss and weight loss surgery. If those things are triggering, please move to the next post.

    I went to see my endo today. As it happens I am in need of thyroid medication as a result of having half my thyroid removed last April. The results are quite dramatic. I’m thrilled beyond words. In fact, I feel so good it should be illegal. 😀

    All my numbers had acutally improved since my last visit; I’d even taken off a few pounds as a result of the medication. But all he had to say was “Well, now that you’re feeling better you’ll be willing to take better care of yourself.”

    I saw red. I told him that I objected to that characterization and that I wasn’t some poor, depressed person who had let themselves go. I went on and gave him a bit of my history which I won’t bore you with here. The upshot is that I’ve been around the diet block many, many times and I know a fat gram from a gram of carbs. Yet I still weigh 400 pounds.

    He then tried to sell me on weight loss surgery. I told him that I wouldn’t be a good candidate because of my damaged digestive tract but that even if it were in perfect shape I would not choose to have that proceedure. I decided years ago that was not the path for me.

    So, thank you thank you thank you Regan. It is your blog and others like it in our community that allowed me to stand up and give this man the authentic experience of a genuine fat woman. I’m very proud of me. And of you. And all of us. 🙂

    1. Super big kudos to you!

      I can attest to the wonders of thyroid meds. Chemo meds made my (marginal) thyroid crap out. I would wake up in the morning and the pillow would be wet because I had been CRYING IN MY SLEEP! Kid you not. I was very depressed. Thyroid meds cleared that right up for me.

      And thank you for standing up for yourself and your fab fatness to your doctor.

      1. It was my pleasure. I’m still on cloud 9 over asserting myself to a doctor for the very first time.

        I am glad you are feeling better. Low thyroid isn’t fun. I got tearful, too, after the surgery. I would cry over happy things, sad things, anything. It went right away when I went on the meds.

        I am experiencing so many amazing differences that I believe I’ve probably needed thyroid medication for years. I had no idea one could go for a walk and not be in agony for days afterwards. I’m lovin’ it. 🙂

  11. I really encourage every fatty, wherever his or her journey may be, to get out there and expect to get your space. I used to only go to size acceptance proven massage therapists, but one day I decided to brave it and call a spa. I decided I would take care of this in advance, as you suggest. I explained that I wanted a therapist that was comfortable with my large body. The response was so positive that I have never feared trying out new spas since that time. Not to sound too polyanna-like, but positive attitudes do beget positive responses. There will always be a jerk here and there, but I refuse to expect it. And, there are certainly people who don’t have a clue. I think it is valuable to explain your poundage. Recently I spoke with a young man (in person so he could see my sized) who works at Staples Center. I have been there once, and their seats are excrutiatingly small. I told him I simply could not consider going – I also have mobility issues. He said, that was what guest services were for. Express your needs, and they will find a way. And, as you say, if they don’t, then don’t give them your money.

    1. Judi Richardson frames this very well, I think, for contexts where we’re consumers and can simply take our business elsewhere. What about when we’re not? I’m on the job market, and I sense a certain dynamic when I walk into a job interview – Heavens! A fat candidate! It’s as if I can see my fatness negating my excellent resume and sparkling personality. 🙂 I often wonder whether I should somehow alert interviewers ahead of time so they can get over my size before we meet. On the other hand, perhaps that would result in me not getting the interview. I don’t usually need accommodations for interviews, so perhaps I’m threadjacking here, but I would welcome input.

  12. Ragen, 
    Thank you for this post!  I’ve been working to educate myself to be a better ally, and this blog is one of the tools I’m using. A partner and I have dinner plans next week with two online gamer friends who I’ve never met in person, though I know are both fat. (I’m pretty sure none of us resemble our goblin/orc/minotaur in-game avatars!) We’re meeting in the middle, so the restaurant is one none of us have ever patronized before. It felt great to know that I could, and should, call in advance and ask how the restaurant accommodates patrons of varied sizes. It turns out all the chairs are armless, and that there are both half-booths and booths with movable tables, in addition to standard booths. All we have to do is request which we want when we arrive. (I’ll likely ask them what they prefer when we meet up, or, if I don’t get a chance to do so, I’ll just ask for a table with chairs.)
    Thank you for teaching me a very useful set of tools! 

    1. Hi Virago,

      I’m so sorry that it’s taken me so long to approve this, obviously I’m behind with comments. Thank you so very much for being an ally and working to make sure that your fat friends are comfortable and accommodated. You are awesome 🙂


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