"I have the same experiences I think every fat person has walking on to the plane ..."
While bullying and harassment cloaked as “fat shaming” fall pretty clearly on the wrong side of an ethical line, the issue gets far more clouded and controversial when it comes to accommodations made for overweight individuals. Nowhere is that more apparent when space and comfort are in limited supply for everyone, as is the case in air travel.
Animator Stacy Bias has built a significant part of her career around creating positive support for overweight individuals such as herself, and knew that tackling the issue would likely ruffle feathers, but ultimately decided it was a cause worth pursuing with Flying While Fat, an animated short film inspired by her move from the US to London and all the unpleasant air travel it would require.
She said to Buzzfeed that she quickly realized she hadn’t taken into account just how taxing and difficult regular long-haul travel would be for a person of her size, revealing, “Moving across the pond would mean at least two planes and a 24-hour travel day, multiple times every year. I’m a size 28/30, so I’m right on the edge of ‘fitting’ in a single plane seat. To combat my anxieties, I began documenting my flights — which airline and plane model? Did I need a seatbelt extender? Were the staff rude?”
Travelers may not it say it to their neighbor’s face, but they’re nonetheless quick to espouse the hardship of being seated next to an overweight individual on a plane, train, or bus. Those public complaints make Bias and other overweight individuals self-conscious to the point that they’ll often avoid travel for that sole reason.
Her video tackles the practical realities of the plight:
As well as the less tangible issues she faces, such as struggling to accommodate her neighbor to the point of intense discomfort:
“Trust that when you’re next to a fat person on a plane, they are significantly less comfortable than you are and are likely doing everything in their power to minimize their impact on you. For instance, 25% of my participants intentionally dehydrated themselves prior to flying to avoid the need to navigate the aisles and attempt to use the on-board toilet.”
In the video and this comprehensive blog post, Bias doesn’t strive for sympathy or an opportunity to vent, but rather just an understanding that for every “regular” passenger on a plane who feels put-upon by an overweight neighbor, there’s a self-conscious person who’s likely doing all they can, even if it means discomfort and pain, to avoid burdening anyone else.
As she and many others would expect, the reaction to her work has been mixed, with most empathy and support coming from overweight individuals, with others split on the issue. She frames it, “The reaction from other fat folks has been powerful and positive. Outside the fat-positive community, many folks have found their empathy, and many more have not.”
It would seem her primary goal in creating awareness of the issue she faces is the humanization of people who are treated like little more than inconveniences and impositions by others. Putting a finer point on the matter she says, “People see fatness as elective and changeable and therefore exempt from the right to compassion, but the reality is far from that simple.”