I know the difficulties of navigating a fat body on a plane. It starts by tucking my arms and narrowing enough to make it down the aisle while ignoring the eyes of the first-class passengers. It’s an exercise in praying no one is already buckled into the end seat and hoping that just maybe the middle one is empty. So, it comes as a surprise when I find rising annoyance with the woman seated in front of me on a flight hovering somewhere over Utah. For the duration of our six hours, sharing United’s ample seatbelt room but pseudo folding chairs, she has reclined into my knees, rocked her body into my space while she tries to make herself comfortable. I have huffed, muttered, and cursed at each jerk and press of her body because I know bright pain will shoot through my already sore legs. And I want to yell at her that we women of size must know what it is to shrink!
We cannot grip the back of the seat, arcing it as we escape to the tiny lavatory that makes us shuffle in and hope we fit — and I want to scream at her about our shared tallness, how she should know how precious little room there already is and now my inches are hers. I get tired of her flipping her hair. I am just waiting for it to break the barrier of her seat top and touch me. It doesn’t, but I am still angry. When her jacket pushes its way between the seats and caresses my kneecap, I’m not sure what to do with myself.
As we lower ourselves into California, I fight the urge to be one of those who jumps up and lingers in the aisle. At least here I am able to command space. My body would unfurl and I could tower, brown and proud. But as we land, the staccato of her body beats rhythm against me each time she shifts, which is often. So often I am risking being the angry black woman tapping her on the shoulder and reminding her to keep her bulk to herself. “Be a respectable fat woman,” I want to say.
“Be a respectable fat woman,” I want to say.
But she is not just fat. She is white and blond. There is privilege there that impacts our bodies in different ways. It is not the fat that separates us. It is power in the ability to say “this space is to be occupied…