Sticking Up for Ourselves – Too Fat to Tan?

fight backMaybe 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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18 thoughts on “Sticking Up for Ourselves – Too Fat to Tan?

  1. I am told by friends that I am just being too sensitive and that I imagine that people treat me differently. My husband took me to the my rheumatologist in a wheel chair with a huge brace on my leg because I was recovering from a knee replacement. When we arrived my husband told one of the nurses that he had to leave me for a meeting but would be back. Could someone roll me into the doctor’s office and she said yes. As soon as he left I felt like a kid deserted by a parent.
    I waited for them to call my name and the nurse that came and got me refused to roll me into the office. First she told me that were not allowed and she stood there looking at me with this dumb look. Not one person in the whole waiting room offered to roll me in for her. Finally after I asked her to tell me what the exact rule was she grabbed my wheel chair and rolled me in. My face was read and I just felt like I was kicked in the stomach on top of why I was at the doctor in the first place. I started to tear up and the nurse thought I was sad but little did she know when I cry the sweet gentle person I am can get ugly. She finally told me she was not supposed to move anything heavy because she had a heart problem.

    When I was able to speak because I was so angry I told her that instead of humiliating me in the waiting room she could have asked someone else to roll me in. I told her to leave the room and I would wait for the doctor. She knew she was in trouble. The door opened and it was another nurse who I have had before and is so sweet. She just happens to be fat too. Her first words were “That skinny bitch!”. She came over and hugged me while I cried and laughed at the same time.

    Why on earth do we have to encounter such a thing when we leave our house? Now I know why so many fat people just choose to stay home.

    1. That f’n nurse. She could have just made that situation just fine by saying that she had a medical issue and couldn’t push the wheel chair and had to find someone else to help. She didn’t have to make it about your size or anything else, just about her medical issue. If she’d been on crutches for example, you wouldn’t have expected her to push your wheel chair, you’d have expected she’d have recruited help. Surely, her co-workers knew of her medical condition and she could have very, very easily treated you with dignity.

      1. Thank you ladies for your comments. It is nice to have someone else’s reaction to what happened with this nurse. After a while you just start thinking well maybe this is the norm but you reinforced that her behavior was unacceptable.

  2. Yannow, I looked to see if the tanning salon had any redeeming characteristics, and I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt because I think I’m new enough to the movement, to have some hope that people are not inherently intent on blatant discrimination. Nope. None of that stuff here. I cannot even imagine how she must have felt. I’m very sorry for what happened to her, and and to scooby2222 above, and how angry it makes me feel. I also discovered a lady yesterday who’s name is as self-obsessed as she is (I won’t repeat it here) and had a horrible, negativity filled few hours.
    We all inhabit this one body on this one earth. Even if the body changes drastically in shape and size through our course here, every individual, crystal moment that we spend inhabiting it must be respected and cherished.

  3. That’s a blatantly extortionate customer practice. On what possible basis could they keep the money?

    I’d suggest this salon isn’t just guilty of fat discrimination. Scratch a bad practice and the odds are you’ll it’s a symptom of a bad business. I wouldn’t go to any beautician who acted like this, just because if they try and rip you off in one area, sure as anything they’re trying to rip you off somewhere else as well. I wonder what their hygiene is like.

    On the other hand (and I know this isn’t your point, but I’ll throw it in anyway)… what a lucky escape! If people knew half of how bad tanning beds are, they’d run screaming. I am so surprised these weapons of tissue destruction remain legal.

    1. I would guess that they felt entitled to keep her money under the “you break it, you bought it” rule, but that only applies if it’s announced in advance. If they didn’t have a weight limit posted, and if they didn’t stop her before getting in to check out her size, then it’s THEIR trouble.

      I am so proud of her for following up for her money!!

      1. Let’s also add that SHE did not break the (stand-up) bed she had used the first time through. It was out of service when she came back, but even the company doesn’t claim she actually broke anything.

    2. I was thinking the same thing in regards to what kind of business this is. A business like this that discriminates against fat people is probably giving poor customer service to clients of all sizes. As to whether or not she should have been tanning, well, she’s the boss of her underpants.

  4. I was recently scheduled for a follow up MRI of my brain. Last summer, I had the first one and everything looked o.k. with the exception of a small (tiny) area of scar tissue. The doc wanted to follow up on it to make sure it did not change… good plan,right?
    Even tho I went to the same facility, I guess I was put into the ‘other’ machine. I did not know they had two different sizes. I was calm and collected, expecting a similar experience to the one last summer (fast, friendly and no triggers to my claustrophobia). They barely got me in and my elbows were jammed against my body. There was no movement available to me. I freaked out. To my credit, I remained calm (ish) and said… “oh no, this is not going to work! I will freak out completely and get spastic. Please let me out”. The techs were sweet, they rolled the table back out and were apologetic that I had such a bad experience. I kept apologizing for not mentioning my issue with constraints and they kept telling me it was o.k. Apparently they have another machine that is significantly more open and it just happened to be down for maintenance. I did not once feel like they were judging me for my size or my anxiety. They gave me a number to call and reminded me to ask for the larger machine when I made the appt and to mention my anxiety issue … not my size… but my claustrophobia… Isn’t that great!? I felt supported and understood.
    Of course, it didn’t stop me from having a full out panic attack/crying breakdown in the car when I finally sat down in private.
    I asked about open MRI’s and was told that they are being phased out becuase they do not provide as high quality imaging and that most hospitals are trying to make sure they have access to a larger machine.

  5. When I look at the fat haters of society, I find it useful to remember the Goblin King from Labyrinth (well, I always like an excuse to think about David Bowie, but this is the role where it fits with your main thrust). In the end after being run ragged and having the rules changed on her constantly, Sarah wins with the simple realization: “You have no power over me.”

    When enough of us have that Sarah moment, the tipping point will be reached, and we’ll find justice.

    Mind you, the oppressed majority of women still face the seventy-five (and sometimes less) cent dollar an hour here in the States, so it does take a loooooong time and a lot of shouting. The thing is, it does happen.

    We have to remember that we are worth it, that we deserve our basic human rights simply for being human beings, and that wrong is wrong no matter why it’s being used or on whom. We need to remind one another and help others reach this understanding. It won’t be easy, it won’t be quick, and we’ll all have days when we simply can’t muster the strength to hold our own power… but we have to keep trying.

    Every day a few more fat people come to the realization that we’ve been sold a bill of goods. Every day a few more thin people realize that even if we could do something about our bodies, hating us away is just plain wrong.

    The road to social justice is slow, overgrown with thorny brush, and sometimes something we have to create for ourselves. But if enough of us choose to walk the path, we’ll get that much closer to our destination that much faster.

    And then places like that tanning salon will be out of fucking business.

  6. A gym I used to go to was like this, they wouldn’t refund my money for the membership because I started having asthma attacks in there because of all the perfume and so I hired a lawyer and went to the media. Turns out they were already under investigation for taking membership dues even AFTER the membership expired and they were told they wouldn’t be renewed.

  7. First, awesome that the lady got her money back. Not so awesome that she had to get the cops involved to get it. But awesome that she was believed. It makes me less afraid to stand up for myself, and less worried about being accused of being belligerent (or in a doctor’s setting, noncompliant, which really means the same thing), and so deserving of bad treatment by customer service people or by doctors. Because if I had just been nice and accepted the lack of a refund, or the wrong food order, or the weight loss pamphlets, then there’d be no need for an argument. Except I’d still feel like I’ve been slighted, except if I’d been “nice” I’d feel slighted and powerless.

    So good on Ms. McGreavey. She might not have intended to become an inspiration, but she did.

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