I’ll Have What She’s Having

ChairsFar too often the world is not built to accommodate fat people. And asking for accommodations can bring up a lot of emotions – stress, embarrassment, shame, fear, anger, guilt. I think that one massive problem is that we’ve been told that asking for accommodations is asking for some kind of favor or special treatment above and beyond what everyone else gets

So often those being asked to accommodate us, and sometimes even those asking for accommodations, feel like this is a request for something “special.”  So when someone needs an armless chair, or extra room on a plane, or clothes in a size that fits them, or whatever, there can be a thought that the person is asking for some kind of special treatment.

That’s just not true.  When a fat person asks for furniture that accommodates us or enough room to sit on a plane or plus sizes (or, as I like to call them, sizes) this is not asking for something special – it’s asking for what others already have.  If the other patients at your doctor’s office walk into the office and sit down, but you can’t because the chairs all have arms and don’t work for you, then when you ask for an armless chair you’re not asking for something special – you’re asking for what the other patients already have.

The problem isn’t that you are asking for a chair that works for you, the problem is that your doctor’s office didn’t think to order some armless chairs in the first place.  I believe that people who are designing spaces – especially spaces like public transportation and healthcare – should constantly ask themselves “How can I accommodate everyone who might want this service?”  That includes people with disabilities,people of all sizes/heights, people with cultural and language differences, people who are left handed, everyone they can possibly think of.

Let’s be clear that we aren’t saying “hey, I need this special thing” we’re saying “I’m going to do you the courtesy of asking you for something that you should have already provided but didn’t.” How about instead of saying “damn these people and their ‘special requests’ to be provided with what we’ve already given to the people it’s cheapest and easiest for us to accommodate”  people start asking “How can we become radically hospitable? Who can we better accommodate?”

As a queer woman I’ve often heard people try to recast gay civil rights activism as a request for “special rights.”  For example the argument (if you can call something this irrational and clearly bigoted an argument) goes that straight couples getting married is a regular right, but gay couples getting married is a “special right” because it’s a right that has been successfully stolen and kept from us thus far by an inappropriate use of power and privilege. As if being successful at bigotry justifies its continuation. Having a chair that I can fit into if I’m thin is a regular request, having a chair that I can fit into if I’m a fat person is a special request because the people who bought the chairs did so while pretending that fat people don’t exist, or while being so bigoted against us that they decided we shouldn’t have a place to sit down.

When a fat person says “I need a seat on the plane that I can fit into” or “I need a chair that works for me” or “I want some clothes that fit” they aren’t saying “I need something special” they’re pointing to the person beside them who can walk onto the plane and fit into a seat, sit easily in the chairs provided, and shop at more than 3 online stores, and saying “I’ll have what she’s having.”

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15 thoughts on “I’ll Have What She’s Having

  1. Have you ever seen the documentary Objectified? It’s about product design. One of the designers says that a good designer doesn’t design for the “average” user, they focus on the extremes because they know the average users will be able to use the product anyway.

  2. It’s a double whammy for lots of women – it’s not only the sense of asking for something special, but it’s coupled with the fact that too many of us have been taught not to speak up for our own needs. I like your suggestions of just assuming they have made arrangements – where are your armless chairs? I’m sorry? You must have some somewhere.

  3. Its like our usual complaint—the doctor’s office, when we agree to be weighed for the appropriate medical needs/uses; darn if the Rx isn’t sometimes still thoughtlessly dashed off by a an MD who didn’t stop to think that one size doesn’t fit all.

    Just had oral surgery, and by the time I woke up properly and was able to leave (half an hour or so) The prescription was already there. It had been pre-printed out, and just signed by the doc on his way out the door. “Is that what everyone gets?” I questioned “yup””so my 110 lb aunt would get the same pain control as 300 pound me??” O!! Well, now the nurse is flummoxed, and offers that I can take 2 if needed. Great.

    So, am I going to be labelled a drug seeker if I call for more medication? Was there a point in weighing people at a dentists offfice if the Rxs are already PRINTED out and just labelled “adult” or “child”??

    Thanks for letting me vent.

    1. And I am always presumed to need higher doses, because I’m fat… in fact, I am often medication sensitive and have a lower tolerance than many thin people. Same with alcohol. So, it’s one of those things people don’t consider!

        1. well, too bad it aint kosher to have a fat-person Rx exchange. But when we get ourselves a doctor list that spans the nation…heck, the globe; lets addrss this issue. We are all so obviously different, no matter that we don’t fit the common def. of “normal”.

  4. Yeah, I’ve always loved the ‘special rights’ argument. The queer community wants the ‘special right’ I’ve had simply by (the questionable) virtue of being born attracted to the opposite gender of getting married. We women want the ‘special right’ of being paid a dollar for a dollar’s worth of work and the ‘special right’ to decide when and whether to reproduce. And yes, we fatties want the ‘special right’ to sit comfortably and wear clothes that fit. We’d like the ‘special right’ of blood pressure cuffs that fit so they measure our blood pressure correctly. We’d like the ‘special right’ of being listened to when we talk about how we feel, how we live, and what our symptoms are.

    You know, when I was five years old, I almost flunked kindergarten. When my mother learned about this, she set up a conference with the teacher and the principal, because she knew I knew everything a kindergartender was supposed to know to move on to first grade, and then quite a bit. When the teacher explained she was flunking me because I couldn’t cut paper with the classroom scissors provided, the principal did something wonderful: he took a pair of the right-handed scissors in his left hand and tried to cut something with them.

    I was passed to the first grade, and the same day the principal ordered several pairs of left-handed scissors for every classroom in the school. My parents also went out and bought me left-handed scissors for home use.

    If everyone involved had decided I was just asking for ‘special rights’ to cut paper… I might still be in kindergarten at age fifty.

    Okay, I probably would have finally passed kindergarten in the eighties after hand-neutral scissors were introduced, but that would still have been way too long to wait for my ‘special right.’

      1. I have to admit there was also a worksheet I refused to complete because I thought it was stupid. But I had demonstrated my understanding of all the concepts contained through other work. Also, the principal agreed with me and told the teacher not to use it anymore.

        The principal and I stayed friends until his death. In fact, he came to my wedding. The picture of us together there is one of my more treasured images. He was a wonderful person.

  5. An issue I had with furnishing by acupuncture treatment room was thinking about variety of patients I might see. Some of them were going to need help getting in and out of a chair because they weren’t very mobile, requiring arms. I had a stool that I use for work, a foot stool that I can sit on (if for some reason I had a second person in the room) and then one of my armless dining room chairs for nearly a year looking for something that was

    A. Affordable
    B. a decent height–not too high and not too low
    C. comfortable (soft enough for those with hip pain but not so squishy that those who had a hard time getting out would sink too far in) and
    D. came in something similar in both armed and arm less…

    I expect most larger group practices aren’t willing to do that but then again, they really aren’t willing to go for “C” which was the hardest to find! ;).

    1. And duh–my point in all of that was, we really need designers who think of these things and can guide office personnel towards things that make all their patients comfortable. Ideally, I’d have liked an extra wide chair base so that hips didn’t hang over the sides (I have hip pain and I find that really uncomfortable) while we chatted. A love seat would have been ideal but I didn’t have the space for that.

  6. One of the things I like about the hospital I go to is they have wide seats that could accomodate a large person, or a parent and child and tall chairs for people who can’t bend well.

  7. Last year, I started going to a new dentist, and as with most offices, they only have arms with chairs. I asked for a chair with no arms, and they quickly and happily provided me with one. Since I started, they have made efforts to make sure the chair is waiting for me when I have an appointment. When I was there about a month ago, I learned they were going to be remodeling and getting new furniture. When I asked if there were going to be arms without chair, I was told with a smile, “Yes, we are making sure we can accommodate all of our patients.” Just another reason why I plan to stick with this dentist. 🙂

  8. My activism was getting armless chairs in each of our hearing rooms. At first we had to use some chairs from another meeting room that didn’t match, but eventually, when new furniture was ordered, the office manager, who did not know why we needed armless chairs, just went ahead and ordered matching armless chairs. I asked one of the newer judges if he knew why we had the armless chairs, and he had no idea. He just knew that some people preferred them. I decided to let it be. Normal to require varying types of chairs. I can tell you that many people have thanked me when I offer them the choice. Besides, my activism is that I am fat and sitting in that seat of authority. Being a professional while fat. What a concept!

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