Can we take a moment to talk about chairs?

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.

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Small flier from Nalgona Positivity Pride.

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.

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An inaccessible chair at a doctor’s office.

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.

“This is discrimination for smaller women”

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Modeling a dress I designed for Portland’s Modified Style in 2012. Photo by Michael Zaugg.

There shouldn’t be anything less controversial than a clothing swap, right? Especially when it is being held at a local co-op that is all about sustainability, only carries vegetarian foods and has lots of vegan options. There is reduced cost yoga, cooking classes, potlucks, and more community events that take place in this same space.

This clothing swap was posted publicly on facebook event as “Large Size Women/Femme Clothing Swap” and the descriptor originally said it went from size 14 to 2X. Already not inclusive enough, but there was a capacity limit to 25. This was supposed to be a monthly event and naturally the interested list got to be in the hundreds. The organizer decided to narrow down the sizing more because of this, and changed the sizing to just 14 to 1X. I guess that one size was just too much!

I was looking at the comments to see if I was imagining the size change since I would not have marked interested if it originally only went to 1X. I then noticed the comment, “This is discrimination for smaller women.” Sigh. The organizer commented that there is another swap for smaller sizes at another day and time. No mention of how ignorant the statement was.

You see, there is no such thing as discrimination against smaller women. Let me explain! Fat bias and discrimination is embedded in our culture. Statistics show that fat people make less money- if they can get a job in the first place since they have a difficult time being hired regardless of their qualifications. They are also subject to harassment in the doctor’s office, which often includes a lacking or wrongful diagnosis. That is if they can get past the stigma of visiting a doctor’s office that tends to be a hostile environment for fat people. This is just two examples that impact the lives of fat people. Living in a marginalized body means never getting a break from this bias so rampant in our culture.

Body shaming is always wrong. I know there are awful stories of thin people experiencing harassment because of their size as well. The ultimate goal of fat liberation includes acceptance of all bodies. Fat people are disproportionately affected from systemic oppression from a culture that celebrates thinness. Thin privilege exists. Thin people can fly in an airplane without worrying about fitting in the seat or having to pay extra, get proper health insurance coverage, have clothing availability with more stylish options, have medical issues treated directly, don’t have assumptions about their eating or activity habits, not see copious amounts of weight loss messaging telling them their bodies are considered unacceptable, and not being told you are a bad example of a vegan. Trying to say that thin and fat discrimination is the same diminishes the stigma fat people experience.

Back to the clothing swap story! So, another attendee also noticed this change in sizing. Well, I reached out to her to see if I was remembering correctly. Then she saw the ignorant comment and also got upset. She ended up commenting that the swap was already not inclusive enough of larger sizes and how it was frustrating for the sizing of the swap to be changed. I can’t quote exactly what she said because, guess what? Her comment was deleted!

So the organizer felt a comment about not having a swap for smaller sizes and called it reverse discrimination was okay, but a fat woman calling out this change in sizing was deleted without discussion. You know what that is? It’s fatphobia. I am sure the organizer did not set to treat the fat woman differently, but she did. She treated her comment as out of line, or unnecessary, or inappropriate. But a thin woman creating an unsafe space by calling the swap discrimination simply because it didn’t include her smaller body size that most clothing swaps are inclusive of, was okay.

I commented. I pointed out this fact. The organizer just said she was trying and creating the event is difficult and she can’t please everyone. Completely missing the point. She ended up saying she will learn and do better next time. I replied that she could delete the ignorant comment now, there is no need to wait.

Then the entire event disappeared! I did not set out to cancel this event, nor is it something I would have wanted. Asking for fat women to be treated fairly should not cancel an event, but if the organizer can’t handle that, then I guess it’s not an event people should be supporting.

Fragility is real and it hurts social justice. If we cannot discuss issues that affect our communities, we cannot make change. Even though I was angry, I was civil and respectful in my comments. No one should stay silent because an organizer is incapable of treating people equally. I know it is hard to be called out, or called in, but the truth is we all make mistakes and are unaware of the biases we carry. We need to be able to take criticism in order to progress our awareness and equality for marginalized voices. Otherwise, we are not truly creating an inclusive and trusting community.

 

Please note: I will also state that the clothing swap name was already not inclusive since there are many people who do not identify as a woman or femme who could have been interested in the clothing and have this clothing to trade. Also, anyone over the size of 3X are usually excluded from clothing swaps, even in fat communities, which is also something that is problematic and needs to be addressed. The amount of fat bias a person experience increases considerably with their body size. While I may be fat, I still have some privilege compared to my friends who self identify as super fat, for example.

Fat Tainted Memories

Fat Tainted Memories
By Kristy Draper

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Kristy at an Austin, TX restaurant enjoying the lake and a huge Christmas light display.

Some of my best memories are the hardest to relive. One of the joys of the digital age is that memories are easily accessible with one swipe. My husband, Steve, and I store many of our photos through cloud storage services, such as Google Photos, and are prompted each day with photo memories of the same day throughout the years (dating back to roughly 2010).

I am reminded of vacations, trips to see family, funny antics of our companion animals over the years, significant life changes, our wedding day, and all of the anniversaries that have followed. These are some of the best days, and memories, of my life. But I cringe each time I look at these photos. I see a selfie we took on a Cape Cod beach on our first anniversary, but all I can think of is how fat I look and how round my face is in the photo.

It is funny; I became a vegan because I wanted to live a more compassionate life, and not contribute to cruelty. In spite of that, I am a tyrant to myself where no compassion is shown. I can work up a cruel inner speech before some people can even respond “yes” or “no” to a question. I am sure I am not alone in that ability. I know it is not one of my best traits, and it has caused harm.

Recently, Steve showed me a photo that he took of me at a restaurant we used to frequent. He said that he loved that photo me and remembered how happy he was that day. I only responded with, “I hate that picture of me. Please do not share it with anyone.” He was so upset and looked as though I deflated him. He explained to me, that even though I may not like the photo of myself, I am stealing his good memories, and mentally hurting him and myself in the process. I felt like such a monster and a selfish one at that.

These aren’t just my memories. They are his memories. My family’s memories. My friend’s memories. I never thought about them, or their feelings toward the photos and recollection of the past. I only thought about making sure no one saw these photos of me. I can’t change the past, what I looked like, how I felt about myself, or how anyone else felt about me.

Over the past few years, I have learned more about body and fat acceptance, body and fat positivity, body diversity, and fat liberation. For the most part, I am happy with who I am and accepting of my size body. I am learning that I am not just a size, but a body. But also not just a body, but a person that has much to offer no matter what size. So much happened during these memories that pop up each day. In each photo, I am a different person – a different size in each one, have a different mindset in each one, and usually located in a different state in each one(we have moved around a lot!).

I am now trying to see each memory in a new light. When these daily reminders pop up, I am trying to pause and take in the whole picture, not just my belly size or face size or arm size, but trying to step back into that moment and relive each experience. I remember that day at the restaurant when Steve took my photo. I was happy. It was a beautiful day that we spent exploring and being in the moment with each other. Why I would ever want to taint or tarnish that memory is beyond my comprehension. I know some days I will still only see a fat person in the photo, and I recognize the need to continually unlearn that mentality. I am now more mindful of being compassionate towards myself and others who share these memories. So here is to making and cherishing more memories, but also learning to relive and re-love old memories.

My Fat Vegan Voice

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Swimming with my grandma while visiting her and my grandpa in Texas. I had a love/hate relationship with that pool since I loved to swim, but I didn’t love being in a swimsuit.

It’s sort of ironic that I want to tell my story, because I have a horrible memory. I don’t recall the first time I was called fat, or even the first time as a vegan I was targeted for being fat. But I do recall my whole life feeling ashamed and silenced for being fat. I do recall not fitting in because of my size. And I do remember experiences of fatphobia throughout my life. One of my earliest memories came back to me when I was looking back at childhood photos awhile back. It was a picture of me in a navy polka dot bathing suit enjoying a swim in my grandparent’s pool one summer in Texas.

In the picture I looked so happy. I was smiling, obvious laughing. I always loved being in the pool since it was such a freeing feeling. The lack of gravity of my body felt so good! That must have been the real before picture.

My grandma asked me to get out of the pool, so I did. She asked me to stand sideways and as a good granddaughter I did what I was asked. She then asked me to suck in my belly, tuck in my butt, and stick out my chest. So I did. It was a polaroid camera so after a few minutes she showed me the photos. One next to the other.

“Look how much better you look in this one” she explained. So proud to show me a version of myself that looked thinner. I didn’t fully comprehend at the time what she was trying to say, but I did know she was telling me that I was not good enough as I was. I did know that she wanted me to change. I did know I was a disappointment.

In vegan circles we talk a lot about compassion. My grandmother did not show me any. I was not accepted as who I was and it hurt. I think one reason why I was so open to veganism is because I knew what it felt like to not be understood or feel loved just as I was. It caused me to think about others differently. I knew compassion towards others was important, since the lack of it towards me was so challenging.

There are so many little and big ways that veganism and fatness connect in my world. There are also a lot of ways that they combat with each other, since fatness is so often heavily attacked in vegan communities and in fat acceptance communities, veganism is rightfully seen as not accepting body diversity (or any diversity for that matter). I hope to combat that.

This is just the beginning of my story, my voice. Do you have a voice you want to share? I would like to hear from other fat vegans! Please email me at fatveganvoice@gmail.com.