Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Saturday, December 19, 2009

two seats

I was at the NAAFA convention (National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance) in Atlanta in 2002, the year that Southwest Airlines began enforcing their policy of making large--I think specifically "obese"--passengers pay for an extra seat if deemed necessary by their staff. It was the first time an airline had done this, although (as I understand it) most airlines had/have such policies in place, just not overtly enforced at that point. The clueless way the Southwest rep handled the press conference, as well as my perception of the general attitude of the company, made me determined to never fly their airline again, and I didn't for almost five years.

Now, though, things have changed, the main point being that I have accepted the idea of paying for two seats. I'm not thrilled, but I am willing to do it, for the comfort and safety of me and others and for my peace of mind. The last time I flew with just one seat (it was on Ted/United) a man pitched a fit and held up the plane--take-off was delayed for 15 minutes--as five flight attendants and customer service reps clustered around him and he complained about sitting next to me. Never again, and I hope that meathead continues to dodge bad karma.

The funniest part is that Southwest has become my airline of choice and I am extremely loyal to them. It turns out that having taken the step early on, the airline is much better accustomed to dealing with passengers of size. They have practice at dealing with the situation, and do so in a quiet, efficient fashion. They don't pretend the situation doesn't exist, they just manage it--no big deal. Their flight attendants hand out seat extenders, no fuss, and you are given a ticket to put in the tray table latch of your second seat to eliminate confusion about the "empty" spot. The airline makes every effort to refund you the cost of the second ticket if there is any empty room or non-working airline staff on the plane, and do so quickly, usually in less than four days. I appreciate that particular gesture on their part enormously--it really changes the flavor of this transaction in which I cough up twice the normal fare.

Most importantly, you are allowed to pre-board, so that you can get your two seats together.

Together. You wouldn't think that'd be necessary, but some airlines make large passengers buy two seats these days, then fight them about the second seat. I'm not going to name names, since the experiences aren't my own, but I have heard more stories these days from people I know flying on other airlines who buy two tickets only to have to defend the second spot. Flight attendants--caught in a fight with gate staff, sometimes--try to give it away, ask to give it away, challenge the passenger, sometimes don't even let them board at a time when they can find two seats next to each other. I've even heard of people who bought seats giving up their extra seat with no compensation, at the urging of flight attendants.

This shit makes me insane with fury. Not to mention it's slightly insane, period (would you like your two seats together, or many rows apart, sir?). If you make passengers of size buy two tickets, you actually can not give away the second seat to somebody else, nor make it impossible to use. What is the point? These policies have to be clear right up front, and the customer shouldn't be caught in the mess as airline staff tries to be "tactful" and tramples all over customer rights in the meantime. Not to mention if the airlines are so concerned about other passengers' comfort, why aren't they ensuring the second seat is used as bought? Aren't they trying to obviate situations where people are squished together uncomfortably? More than usual, I mean.

There is a really nasty flavor to this kind of terrible customer service. Bullying and shaming and dishonest. Unfair. Grinding up people in corporate waffling. Decide what you are trying to do, airlines.

I feel have reached a state of pretty happy d├ętente with Southwest. I make my good faith gesture of coughing up for an extra seat, they reciprocate by refunding me for the gamble if they can. It's not perfect--I had to concede something significant to do it, and, note, there are no frequent flyer miles attached to the second seat if you pay for it--but I'm just fine with it so far. Goddang.

Friday, November 27, 2009

can't win

This week: Helpful commentary on the female form from E!:

And helpful diet wisdom--very old-school--from Kate Moss, quoted in People. I haven't heard this shit since the 70s:

Sunday, November 22, 2009

ms. stew

I'm fascinated, when not irritated or infuriated, by the hyper-managed flow of Fat in media imagery. That is, the particular way that images of fat people are let in--or not, usually--for public consumption. Everything is managed to varying degrees, but fat is its own particular problem--TV producers who don't like to feature fat people onscreen as witnesses, for instance, because they "lack credibility."

I can speak only to the print part of Martha Stewart's world (I haven't watched her TV show post-poncho) but there is almost NEVER fat in her magazine: no fat people in the little dinner parties, features on entrepreneurs, models, anything. There is actually a pretty specific beauty ideal attached to the MStew world (very scrubbed, subfusc, JCrew, spare/lean). So I was amused to see this in her blog the other day. Because sometimes you just have to let the fat in, baby. And then, I guess, you call it voluptuous. Which they certainly are, not even particularly fat, but--what can I say, I noticed it. Little essay on class-race (hello)-money-NYC-media-fame-etc. here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Among the possible calm, reasoned responses to PETA's idiotic new billboard (what the fuck is your problem / are you really that fucking stupid / etc.) the one thing I keep coming back to is: do they really think there are no fat vegetarians? Do they really think this? Do they really think their support base is just thin people? And if so...why exactly do they think this?

Why do you think this, PETA? Are you (lazily) linking a moral imperative with body size? Judging by all their previous campaigns + this one the answer is obviously yes, but I wonder if anybody there (or people like Anthony Bourdain, who hates PETA but sounds surprisingly similar to them at times) thinks about what that means, at base. Not just in its fundamentally fascist implications, but for marketing and organizational functionality in general. Does this mean they miss chances to gather support from fat people in various ways? And if they just don't want fat supporters: are they still happy to take fat people's money? Really?

It's the stupidity and narrowness of the assumption veg = thin that really amazes me. And the at-all-costs imperative of their sloganeering and its breathtaking implications that piss me off and scare me, frankly.

Bottom line: it's only people's dislike of their own bodies, of themselves, that allows campaigns like this to get to the point where somebody is handing somebody money for a billboard, much less get out of some pissy crack-fueled brainstorming session or however PETA came up with it. If they really know and/or don't care that a decent percentage of their supporters are fat, then this billboard is among all its other problems a tacit admission that they approve of the body hatred. And are happy to profit from it.

There are a lot of fat vegetarians. Just noting. Not I, but if I were one, I'm fairly sure this billboard would make me go eat a steak.

p.s. Billboard girl has a really cute suit!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

on one aspect of the Regina Benjamin controversy

The controversy over the appointment of Dr. Regina Benjamin is shameful, from my point of view, and revealing of one aspect of how fat prejudice functions. Given that the woman's credentials satisfy in any direction you might slice them, how she looks must have really had to ring some bells to make people talk about it. Especially when Koop and Elders didn't.

I think the real reason Benjamin's size has gotten so much attention is that she has a chubby face. I don't think there would have been nearly the hubhub about this if she had the same body with a face that happened to be thinner. I'm not sure people would have noticed her body, period, which is a fairly conventional size 18-20, if that, not particularly readable in her basic black suit.

People--the media--demonstrate a real lack of "lipoliteracy" (as Mark Graham calls it) in reading images of fat people. People aren't that good at reading images in general, but fat bodies, which tend to be shown in very limited and particular ways, so most people (including other fat people) aren't well-practiced at understanding them, are generally pretty crudely read. There is an inability to distinguish body type from body size, to read relative size in an accurate way, to really see how light, angle, clothing and movement are affecting what they're seeing. To know what size other people really are.

Faces are, in a funny way, how people decide how fat someone is, how fat the rest of someone is. And one thing you notice quickly when you start really looking at fat people, at all people, is that people's faces don't necessarily represent how big (or small) they are. Especially images of faces. Faces can tell you something about a person, but a lot of fat people have fairly thin faces. And vice versa. There isn't a one-to-one corollary. There is a whole world of eating disorders sparked by chubby or round faces that don't match thin bodies.

The face is synecdoche, the repository for information about the whole body. And you can't "pass" if you have a chubby face (as in Benjamin's case). And in reading fat faces a kind of eugenics is employed. There are whole worlds of meaning instantly seen in double chins and chubby cheeks, in jowls and dimples and fat, in even small variations on all of this, most of them bad. Meaning that is drawn not just about the person but about the fatness or otherwise of the rest of the body. The fact that the image of the fat face isn't shown, highlighted, nearly as often as it really exists in this life gives it an extra shock and negative power.

The point here is not to lobby for continued judgement of other people's bodies, so long as it's done "correctly." It is to point out that part of what's so frustrating about the issue of body size in this country is that we don't even really know what we're seeing. It's not okay to be fat, but who knows what that is. "Fat" is one whole side of the bell curve, more than that, a million different things. To make intelligent distinctions, to describe something accurately, is to bring size into focus too much, to allow it to be. We want it to just go away.

The dude on Fox News who decided Dr. Benjamin was obese and therefore "lazy," for instance, was reacting in large part, I am convinced, to her face (her body doesn't even seem particularly visible in the press conference footage). Which seems (to some) to make her look sweet, kind, soft, older, less competitive...compromised. Weak. Lazy. Not authoritarian. Not hard-working. Not intelligent, not focused, not educated. Otherwise we could see it in her face, yes? Instead of the chub?

Dr. Benjamin is obviously, demonstrably, all these things: intelligent, focused, educated, devoted, swimming in credentials and press coverage of every kind to make the point if the other facts of her life don't. That this would be questioned as it has shows how much meaning body size has for people.

There are many other things to talk about with regard to this situation, most notably race: race, class, gender, age, the dominance of the visual media, the importance of looking a part, the way in which we are all scarred in some ways by the body wars. I think it's interesting, though, that body size is the arena in which people's reactions to her nomination have surfaced and have been, in fact, allowed to do so.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


I'd like to lodge an official protest at the on-going frumpification of Kevin James, easily one of the most handsome men in movies these days, but one who is carving quite a career playing every kind of man were not supposed to want. He's obviously participating pretty hard in the frumpifying, not to mention he's funny and can pull stuff off, but still, when you line em all up together: Hitch? (Clueless about women.) I Now Pronounce You...? (Clueless & faking gay.) Paul Blart? (Dorky mall cop.) King of Queens was dorky too, and had a lot of bad thematic through-lines that were sort of in the same vein, but at least he was, you know, a husband.

It's sort of the JohnBelushification, if not the frumpification, I guess. And I'm not claiming anything too noble here other than my own...er...interest. But still. Must every plumpy fattish dude be such a farce? A hilariously out of control 'regular guy' we think we know everything about? It's such a stereotype, period. If I were a guy, I'd be ticked. By the end of his career Belushi was starting to play sweet romantic roles...hope that happens here too. Because Mr. James is really hot.