Far 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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