This popped up in three Facebook messages from readers at virtually the same time today, so I decided it was a sign to post about it. One reader did her research to make sure that a destination that she wants to check out at on vacation is accessible, but is worried about how to ask for it when the time comes. Another was uncomfortable at the doctor’s office because they don’t have many fat friendly chairs (don’t even get me started about fat people and chairs,) and the ones they had were taken up by thin people. The third wanted to know when it’s appropriate to ask for accommodations (spoiler alert: you are obviously never obligated to ask for accommodations, but it’s appropriate to ask whenever you need them!)
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. Also, as fat people, we are told that we should simply get thin so that we don’t need the accommodations (which, even if it was likely to work – and it’s not – doesn’t help me fit in that small chair with arms for this office meeting I’m required to attend.)
Let’s examine the situation: There is plenty of evidence to show that people are a variety of sizes for a variety of reasons which are not necessarily within their control and that we have no proven method to change size over the long term. More importantly, it doesn’t matter why someone is fat or even if it was possible to be thin. We have every right to exist in our bodies as they are, and we don’t owe the world a body that fits in a restaurant booth. The same goes for people who desire or require accommodations due to physical or mental illness, disability or any other reason.
Asking a business for an accommodation is not asking them for special treatment. It is doing them a favor, and one you shouldn’t have to do. You are doing them the great courtesy of pointing out something that they probably should have thought of already, or at least should be grateful to know about now. The people who opened that restaurant know that fat people exist and eat out, so why didn’t they make sure to have chairs that fat people can fit in? When the hospital opened to provide healthcare to the community they were aware that the community includes fat people; so please don’t act all surprised and inconvenienced when my fat ass shows up and needs a bed that fits me, you should have ordered that bed when you ordered all the rest of them. If people on the plane who aren’t fat have a seat they can fit into, then when a fat person asks for a seat they can fit into they are not asking for special treatment, they are asking for what everyone else already has.
So what can you do about accommodations? First, realize that you shouldn’t have to ask for them and that if you do you aren’t doing anything wrong or asking for anything special, you’re doing the business a kindness. They should be embarrassed. Second, you get to decide how this works depending on how you feel on any given day. Let’s use restaurants for example: If you want to be confrontational you can go into the restaurant and ask for a chair without arms and if they don’t have one then ask for the manager, raise loud hell, start a letter writing campaign etc. Or, if you’re not up for a fight today you could call the restaurant ahead of time and ask if they have chairs without arms or pick a restaurant that you know works for you.
You can tell the host/ess “Three for a table please” to avoid being seated at a booth. Is there a policy that parties of less than four have to sit in booth? Well, that policy is for other people – how about we cruise on over to that six top so that I don’t have to eat with my boobs resting on the top of the table and my spleen being compressed, you can take away the three extra chairs. Obviously this isn’t just for fat people – maybe you need a seat out of the sun or close to the entrance, somewhere to put your walker, a table that works with your wheelchair, a place to sit in your class that is not a tiny chair with a connected desk, to not have to sit at a long bench with your table super-close to strangers. You are paying this business money so making you comfortable should be a primary goal for them, not an inconvenience. If it’s not, then you get to choose what to do. It turns out that fat money spends the same and so if a business isn’t interested in attracting and keeping me as a customer then I take my money to one that is.
You can also help others out by reviewing businesses (positive or negative) on Is It Ample – a site that is basically Yelp marginalized bodies in the US, including fat bodies, trans bodies, and disabled bodies/bodies with disabilities.
Remember that none of this should be necessary, and each person gets to choose how they handle it in each situation. Whatever decision you make is the right one, as long as it’s the right decision for you.
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