Last year my workplace moved offices and the new meeting rooms came furnished with tables and chairs. The chairs have basic metal frames with cloth, and sadly, arms. The arms of the chairs press against the sides of my upper legs when I am seated and it is incredibly uncomfortable. Every minute I sit in the chair I get more uncomfortable and find myself twisting and shifting to try and fit a better way so I won’t be squeezed. But the chair is simply too small for me. Please notice that I did not say that I am too big for the chair. The problem should never be my size, but those objects not made to accommodate larger sizes.
I decided to be brave and tell my boss that the chairs are not an option for me and it would be great if they looked into getting new chairs. My boss, although friendly and often takes suggestions well, is also thin and would never have to deal with a problem like this. She cannot truly understand the effect it can have on a person. I feel like fat acceptance in the workplace is often dismissed as a society and is not something I am comfortable asserting (yet). I do have a small “You are in a body-positive zone” flier pinned up in my cubicle, but no one has mentioned it yet.
My boss heard what I had to say and commented that other people complain about the chairs as well, but that was the last of it. I told many people about my distaste for the chairs and made it clear to some teammates that I could not use those chairs. I ended up bringing in two of the old office chairs into the main meeting room I use. I was so upset the first time I got to a meeting and those chairs were taken, especially since people I had confided in were using them. I thought for a second about forcing myself into discomfort, but then I went and looked for another chair. Having to find another solution is incredibly frustrating. Although people are not purposefully trying to make me uncomfortable, their ignorance hurts me. It puts me in an awkward position of having the play musical chairs to find something that fits, or harm myself with something that does not. Or speak up and make all of us incredibly uncomfortable and me wanting to cry. I just want to feel like an appreciated and accepted team member.
Of course the workplace is not the only place this is a problem. Going out to eat, going to the doctor, at a sporting event, and anywhere else you sit in public you’ll find similar challenges. I have also been guilty of this! Just because I can sit somewhere, does not mean other fat people can as well. I have body size privilege as well and need to think about accessibility in public spaces for my super fat friends and had to learn that the hard way. I was so embarrassed, but that doesn’t help my friend. I made sure to correct the situation, took accountability, and now use it as a lesson.
Please check local establishments for their accessibility, especially when inviting a fat friend out. There are now apps for this! (At least it is being established.) You can check out Allgo and Amble for more information.
It is not hard to be thoughtful and make sure people feel welcomed and comfortable. A chair that provides support and doesn’t cause pain should be the bare minimum. My work story has a happy ending. I went to HR about the issue since I was so tired of having anxiety around meetings. They listened and was understanding and while they were already working to get new chairs, they fast tracked it. I was shocked that while I spoke with HR on a Tuesday, by the end of the week the meeting rooms had new chairs. Impressive! And this is how it should be.