Fatphobia And The Frustration of Secret Accommodations

asking for accommodationKathy Deitch is one of the multi-talented (like, original Broadway casts of Wicked and Footloose talented) stars of the sketch comedy group Fatch. After their sold-out show last week (the one where I got to do stand-up!) she headed to a high-end spa for a group celebration of her friend’s birthday.  One of the things they were looking forward to was hanging out in their fancy spa robes while they had drinks, watched sunsets etc.

Except when Kathy went to get a robe, they didn’t have one that fit. She called housekeeping who brusquely told her that robes were not available in her size. Upset but determined not to let it ruin her time, she decided to lodge a complaint when she left, choosing to wear the clothes that she brought, so that she could just focus on having fun with her friends.

Near the end of her stay she made her complaint, only to learn that the spa did, in fact, have robes up to a 5X. Per Kathy the woman seemed genuinely upset about the misinformation, but by that point it was too late.

Of course there are plenty of places (and transportation options, doctor’s offices, and clothing lines etc.) that simply don’t bother to accommodate fat people, which is completely unacceptable. But this is an example of another difficulty of living in the world in a fat body – secret accommodations.

That theater has some armless chairs that could be set out, that restaurant has a half booth/half table where the table moves, that spa has plus-sized robes. But they won’t tell you about them unless you ask, and you have to ask the right person (or several people) to find one who knows what’s up.

There are easy fixes to this. But really, the first step is for them to decide they want to accommodate people of different sizes (rather than operating out of fatphobia.) Once the decision to be a company that is not mired in weight stigma is made and communicated down the chain, things can easily improve.

In Kathy’s case there are multiple options for solutions. First of all, they could just have robes in all sizes set out. Failing that, they could have a sign that says “Don’t see your size? We have robes from XS to 5X, please call the front desk and we’ll be happy to bring you a robe in your size.” At the very least, every employee should be made aware that the robes are available in those sizes (And while 5X is a good range, they could also get even bigger robes to make sure that those above a 5X can enjoy the same experience that everyone else gets.

It’s also important to note that, because of widespread fatphobia, making a fat person ask for an accommodation is not asking something simple or neutral. We never know when a reasonable request (for something that should already have been thought of) will result in our being the victims of fatphobia at the hands of the person to whom we are making our request. This situation becomes even worse for those who deal with certain kinds of anxiety, as well as those who are also members of other marginalized communities because it means they don’t just have to fear fatphobia, but also racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism, et. al.

That said, if you feel up to it (and remembering that this is bullshit and you shouldn’t have to do it,) it can definitely be worth asking. You can ask directly, or call or e-mail ahead to see what can be made, or you can show up and ask to be accommodated. While the answer may be some fatphobic pile of hot garbage, that’s always wrong and never your fault.

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9 thoughts on “Fatphobia And The Frustration of Secret Accommodations

  1. Hi, Ragen, I’ve been enjoying your emails for awhile now. Today, inspired by your work, I took a step towards fighting some of the nonsense out there. I’m sharing with you, because if my work was inspiring people the way your work inspires me, I would like knowing. So, here’s my response and the fatphobic message that prompted it:

    Hello, I’m writing to express a concern I had upon reading this email. You mention health as a goal (yay, health!) but follow that with a concern about weight. It is common to conflate health and weight, but they are not the same. The resolutions you have adopted are healthy options for most individuals; however, none of them will necessarily impact weight. Further, such changes are more likely to be successful if undertaken as steps towards increased health than steps towards decreased weight. I have enjoyed Open Door Yoga classes in the past, though it has been awhile since I last attended. As a larger-bodied person, comments equating weight with health make me question whether I would still feel comfortable attending classes. I look for environments that have adopted weight-neutral/Health at Every Size paradigms. If you would be interested in understanding some of the concerns around a weight-loss focus and the evidence supporting a weight-neutral approach to health, this article is a good starting point: https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2891-10-9 Best, Phoebe

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. Man, you’re generous! I would have read it as the woman not wanting to accommodate a larger person–you know, “conscience clause” kind of bull where they refuse to accommodate a “fatty” for “motivation” to get thin.

  3. Ragen,

    I ask you about this although it is not about fat people. But you are so sensitive about folks’ physicality that I think you will have some sensitive and sensible thoughts about it.

    Soon I will be doing a computer software training with 2 people of “average” height and with 1 person who is a Little Person. I don’t know if it’s more offensive to ask her if she needs accommodations or wait until/if she asks. Obviously she is considerably shorter and smaller than most of us but it seems unkind to shine a spotlight on that by asking her if she needs anything.

    What do you think? Should I offer help? Not say anything? I know I’m sounding dumb but I have no experience with Little People and the last thing I want to do is offend.

    1. In general, I think it’s always best when you teach a class to send an e-mail to everyone and let them know that you are committed to creating an inclusive environment, explain the accessibility efforts that you’ve already made, and encourage them to let you know if there is anything that you can do or have to make things more comfortable. A lot of people have invisible disabilities that need accommodations, so it’s best not to make assumptions.

      If you are aware of someone who may need accommodation, before you send the above e-mail, do some research (use Google, and focus on resources that were created by the group themselves) to see what kind of accommodations might be appropriate so that you can perhaps save people from having to ask.

      Here is a place to start
      https://www.lpaonline.org/

      I hope this helps. Have a great class!

      ~Ragen

    2. I’m not a Little Person, but I am short, and I would not be offended if someone were to ask me if I needed any physical accommodations, due to height.

      Better yet, if asked, “Do you need any physical accommodations?” without any specifics.

      That’s just my opinion, though. I think Ragen gave excellent advice, to look up what they have said, themselves.

      I think, though, that with the number of invisible disabilities, it’s a good idea to ask all participants, in advance, if they have any special needs or accommodations, in general, as far in advance as possible.

      Just as I would, if I were hosting a dinner party, send out a note with the invitation, “Please let me know if you have any food allergies/aversions, by X date, so I may adjust the menu accordingly.”

      Even if they can’t think of any accommodation that would work/be necessary for them, just knowing that you considered them is a wonderful feeling!

      I hope your training goes really well.

    1. It’s like the fight for equal rights. If you’ve been an oppressor for your whole life, then equality feels like you’re suddenly being oppressed. As soon as you are no longer “on top,” you feel like you’re “on the bottom,” because you don’t know how to recognize being at the same level.

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