Calling it out: casual anti-fat bigotry sucks.

I’ve been away from the fat-o-sphere for a few months – I’ve still been reading, but I haven’t been blogging, or being terribly activist-y at all. But I’m back now, and I hope be blogging regularly for you all at AoF!

It’s been an interesting time for me – lots of changes and decisions, lots of stress. But lots of good times too, especially with my friends.

I do everything I can to make my life a safe space. I cultivate friendships (both online and off) with people who hold similar beliefs to my own, who are anti-bigotry in all its insidious forms. I try to call people in my life out on their problematic usage of language and stereotypes. It’s not always easy.

About six weeks ago I started a new job in a state government department. The people I work with are universally lovely – helpful and friendly, and very welcoming to new staff members. I was having a bit of a chat with my co-worker and another girl who works with our department but on another floor one afternoon, when the conversation segued into a discussion about public transportation, and its limitations.

Now, I’m a huge (heh) advocate of public transport. I’m 24 years old, and don’t have a driver’s licence – not even a learner’s permit. At some point I will do it, but it’s fairly low on my list of priorities; I live very close a major busway stop, in an inner-city suburb. Technically I’m within reasonable walking distance of my workplace, though I catch the bus most mornings. I’m also only a fifteen minute walk from a train station.

So, I love public transport. We talked a little bit about the issues with it – rising fare costs and the like – when one of the girls leaned forward conspiratorially and said (paraphrased slightly): “You what I hate though? When I’m sitting down, and an obese – you know, morbidly obese – person gets on and I’ve got a free seat next to me.”

I raised my eyebrows. “What’s the problem?” I asked.

She looked a little flustered. “Well, you know, if they sit next to me, they’re going to touch me. I hate that!”

I remember resisting the urge to tear strips off her, and said mildly, “Well, R___, I’m morbidly obese, so I hope it wouldn’t offend you if I sat next to you.”

I nearly gave up on the conversation when she responded with, “Oh, but you’re not like that – I mean people that literally hang over the edge of the seat.”

“It’s fortunate that you aren’t actually paying for a seat on a bus, then – we pay to get from point A to point B, there’s no guarantee it’ll be comfortable,” I said, and went back to my desk, gritting my teeth.

The seats on Brisbane buses aren’t large. I carry most of my weight in my belly, so my hips aren’t super wide, but I do hang over the edge of the seat a little. I’m a size 22. How could I not? Seating is not made to accommodate fat people. It’s this kind of casual bigotry – ew yuck I don’t want fatties touching me – that makes me incredibly annoyed, and I try to speak up against it whenever I can.

Interestingly, there haven’t been any negative repercussions. I still get on well with this co-worker, we chat about mundane stuff, our work and the like. But she hasn’t brought up the subject again. I doubt I’ve converted her – we all know how difficult an idea size/fat acceptance is in our thin-privileged culture – but if I can sow the seeds, start the thought process towards someone beginning not to hate themselves and other fat people, then it’s a conversation that’s well worth having.

I went to Sydney for a few days in July. I’ve not had trouble with airline seats so far – they’re occasionally a tight fit, but I can get my seatbelt done up without an extender. No trouble this time either, though the seatbelt on the return trip seemed shorter, and no one was rude to me when they sat down next to me either.

But I’m flying to New York City (OMG OMG) in early November, and I’m a little nervous about that. It’ll be the longest flight I’ve ever done (13 hours BNE-LAX, and 5 hours LAX-NYC, the same coming back) – the closest I’ve done to that is the nine hour flight to Japan. Hopefully QANTAS’ seats will be comfortable; I’ve never flown with them before so it will certainly be an experience.

I’m ridiculously excited about this trip, NYC has been a dream destination for me for years. Any suggestions on things to do? I’m going to go see lots of shows, and of course I’ll be hitting up Re/Dress – can’t wait to finally see it for real!

Bonus photo: It was the lovely Sonya’s birthday party last night, and being very mature women, we decided that a riff on this meme would be hilarious:




We totally challenged the dominant paradigm. Also we are fancy! Sonya is wearing an Asos dress, I am wearing a Monroe (Myer) dress, and we are wearing the same black oxfords from Betts. In fact, we bought them at the same time! Fatty shopping bonding. <3

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  • Sonya

    Hahhahahahhahahaha FALSE ALARM.

    I’m glad you challenged that coworker. I notice those sort of casual comments from people and don’t speak up and later wish I did. You’ve inspired me to do so if I notice it again!

  • Zoe


    I was shaking in my shoes when I spoke out, but I must have sounded pretty pissed, because she looked a bit taken aback. Yeah, I am a statistic, a morbidly obese statistic, and it’s pretty hard for norms to cope with a faceless statistic having a face and a personality, I think.

  • Jenna

    This reminds me of a time I went to the beach with two vegan… “friends”. One of them is probably a size 0 hollywood thin but doesnt seem to do much to “deserve” it. I am a 14 a beautiful healthy voluptuous 14. The whole day this girl made snide remarks about others on the beach and eventually she grabbed her lose skin around her belly (there is not an inch of fat on her) and talks about how she has to get rid of her rolls. I had HAD enough of that shit… let me tell you. I informed her that if she wanted a ride home in my car she would cease immediately the body loathing statements. They are insensitive and I asked her, “Seriously, have you give any thought about how your comments could possibly offend me?” Then she goes on, “Well but I dont have any boobs I am flat chest blah blah blah (trying to save it I guess?).” Then I told her about famous women in history and fashion trends that favored smaller breasts and how… there are just so many ways one could be beautiful and there is such a thing as body diversity and how I would never do something as unconcious or inconsiderate as grab my perky and ample breasts, jiggle them and state how small they were!!! I mean…. utterly astounding in its ignorance, really.

    Another time I mentioned something was at a recent comedy club. I was out with friends having a good time and the fat lady comes up. Her whole shtick was about basically how fat and gross she is and all the basest fat jokes. I heckled her by saying I am beautiful and so are you! Most of the audience wasnt even laughing… it was just… she is just… such a sad and pathetic sell out… doing tremendous damage to her self worth and reaffirming erroneous fat attitudes as well. I was horrified. After the show she actually came up to me to say, “you cant take a joke.” I told her what she did was the equivalent of a black person making racist jokes about their own people to an audience of whites. She didnt want to hear it. I hope she learns to love herself.

    Each time I am outspoken. we have to be. I will no longer let these insidious, destructive, violent beliefs and language pass by my ears without confronting them. For too long in my childhood I was called Orca or Shamu only to return it with miserable silence. Never, fucking again.

  • kathryn

    I hate that people make those sorts of comments then try to save it with the “but you aren’t that fat…” And good call on the only paying to get from A to B. People get so precious about their seats on PT but they aren’t entitled to them. We’ve even had ppl in the free paper complaining that pregnant women choose to be pregnant so why should they give up their seats!

  • yetanotherresolution

    In fairness to the girl, she probably wouldn’t like ANY stranger touching her on the bus. A smaller person who invades her personal space would probably be just as abhorrent, it’s just more likely to happen if the person doesn’t fit on the seat.

  • Nicholas Perkins

    I’m not a fan of people touching me when they sit next to me. I think that is fine to say. Saying “I don’t like it when an obese person sits next to me and touches me” isn’t. It’s reinforcing the idea that the issue is with the fact that the person is obese.

    A friend of mine complained about a shop attendant who wasn’t white Australian and they mentioned what race they thought they came from. The issue was the level of service, not the race of the person. Therefore, why bring it up? So I challenged them. They didn’t like that and I don’t think they got the point, but they at least thought about it.

    I find myself now days checking how I say something because the meaning I have behind what I say can be changed just by the addition of a few extra words. I don’t like bad driving habits, but I don’t say “&#@!woman driver” because I wouldn’t say “&#@! man driver” as a matter of course. I keep it to “&#@! driver” instead.

  • Zoe

    Speaking up and calling it out is hard, but it’s one of the greatest weapons we have. I refuse to be silenced! Good on you for saying something – especially to your friends, which can be one of the hardest things to do.

  • Zoe

    We’ve even had ppl in the free paper complaining that pregnant women choose to be pregnant so why should they give up their seats!

    … I don’t even have words for that. It’s such a damned if you, damned if you don’t situation.

  • Zoe

    I’m not a huge fan of being touched either, but when it comes to the public transport, we give up, in a sense, our right to a barrier of personal space. Public transport is designed to get a high number of people from one place to another for a low cost. It’s not ideal for many, especially for those who suffer anxiety and the like in crowded situations, but it’s the only way for PT to function. I guess I’m not terribly precious about it – catching trains in Japan on regular basis will disabuse most people of any personal space notions pretty quickly! I also choose to take her words at face value. I don’t truly believe that she would feel the same way about a thin person touching her. Fat is codified in our cultural narratives as representing people who are dirty, smelly, gross, physically unpleasant, lazy and the like. Although this is patently untrue, it can’t be denied that these connotations are inextricably linked with the way people use fat as a pejorative. Maybe she genuinely doesn’t like anyone of any size touching her on public transport. Using the words ‘morbidly obese’ would have been unnecessary if that were the case.

  • nitrojane

    QANTAS seats are not bad at all. I can vouch for that.

  • Frances

    “24 years old, and don’t have a driver’s licence – not even a learner’s permit.”


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