Maybe you’ve already heard the story of Kelly McGrevey. She bought a tanning package for $70 on a Monday at Aloha Tanning in Norton, Ohio. When she went back on Tuesday she was told hat the stand-up bed she had been using was broken and that there was a weight limit of 230 pounds on all the rest of the beds so she couldn’t tan. She asked for a refund and the tanning salon refused. Seriously.
So Kelly called the police and filed a report, and got the media involved. The tanning salon finally gave her a refund. Damn skippy.
Even if there is a weight limit on the tanning beds, this is just a bad business practice – you don’t tell someone that you are keeping their money and not rendering services. What I wonder about is if they did this because they didn’t expect her to stick up for herself?
One of the effects of the tremendous amount of fat stigma, bullying, and oppression that fat people face in this culture, is that we become embarrassed of our size, and we start to feel like the solution to things like businesses not accommodating us is to try to change ourselves, rather than demand better treatment. We can start to feel like we don’t have a right to stick up for ourselves, or that we don’t deserve to be treated well. There’s also the legitimate fear that the people we turn to for help (friends, coworkers, the police, doctors, the media etc. ) may be bigoted against our size and make the situation worse.
I wonder how many times people and businesses use that to their advantage.
I think about the way fat people are treated by airlines. Not only are we treated differently because of how we look, but it’s completely arbitrary. Different planes have different sized seats so we often don’t even know if we need a second seat. Often their policy about whether or not we need to buy a second seat is based on a gate agent looking us up and down and making a guess so that people have actually flown the first leg of their trip only to be told that they need to buy a second seat to get from their connection to their destination. Meanwhile the airlines continue to make seats smaller and closer together and insist that it’s “only fair” that fat people pay more for the same trip. This only works because fatphobia is so prevalent. If the airlines decided to put in four additional seats per row by making seats that are made to fit a size 0 woman, I think that you would find people much less cavalier about saying “If you don’t fit in one seat, you just need to buy a second seat!”
Doctors take advantage of this to do everything from refusing us care, to diagnosing us as fat and prescribing weight loss for any and every health issue for which we go to them for help. Restaurants don’t bother to have seats the fit us, massage therapists don’t bother to have beds to fit us, hospitals don’t have equipment to fit us, the government is waging a war on us for how we look, meanwhile the diet industry cleans up to the tune of 60 Billion dollars a year for a product that has lost so many deceptive trade practice lawsuits that they are legally required to disclaim it as not effective every time they advertise it. This only works if we don’t fight back as a group. According to the statistics we are 60% of the population in the United States. We are an oppressed majority. We can control the vote, yet our oppression can make us feel unable to stand up for ourselves, makes us believe that we aren’t worth standing up for, make us believe that we are obligated to change our bodies to deserve civil rights, make us scared of the consequences of demanding basic human respect.
There is no shame in feeling this way. It’s no wonder so many fat people feel that the solution to the social stigma we face and the poor treatment that we receive is to continually try to change ourselves – to try desperately to pour ourselves in the mold that society says is required of us. Politically we use the argument that trying to change ourselves rarely works since weight loss fails almost all the time. That can be a successful political argument and I think that’s a fine use for it, but I also think it’s important to remember the truth: that it doesn’t matter why we’re fat or if we can change – we have the right to exist in the bodies that we have, and to get respectful treatment. We have the right to decide that we are worth sticking up for, worth finding allies, worth filing a police report to get our money back, worth shopping around for a doctor who isn’t a size bigot and a massage therapist with an XL table, worth the activism that it takes to get what should never have been taken from us to begin with. Fat activism doesn’t ask people to confer upon us our civil rights and respectful treatment – those were ours all along and aren’t someone else’s to give. Fat activism says that we insist that others stop trying to keep our civil rights and respectful treatment away from us through an inappropriate use of power and privilege. Activism for social change is never an obligation, but it’s always a possibility.
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