This one will be a bit of a highwire act, with the distinct possibility of tumbling over into the firey pit of “most of my readers now hate me,” but oh well, watch me do my best Charles Blondin impression.
Recently, a news story crossed my computer screen that was so absurd it had to receive the ol’ treatment. However, diving into the topic led me to think more universally about the notion of social acceptance (watch out, Plato, I'm coming for you!) So, before I get into the story, let me share a relevant concept that I've been kicking around in my head, which will help provide context for my train of thought.
Nearly all human activities and traits fall along a continuum of social acceptance, which I've settled on defining as follows:
Shame - Outward, broad public expression of distaste for an activity or trait
Whisper - Outward, small group/inner monologue expression of distaste for an activity or trait
Accept/Ignore - Acceptance of activity or trait that renders it meaningless to society at large
Accommodate - Society must make special accommodations for this activity or trait
Idolize - This activity or trait is an ideal for our society
Of course, the values on the spectrum are not static, as societal values change over time.
I want to make two critical caveats. First, this continuum is mutually exclusive of legality. Societal acceptance and legality almost always affect each other (sometimes legality will lead to acceptance, other times it will follow; sometimes they have positive correlations, other times they have negative correlations); however, the two are mutually exclusive of one another.
Second, I have tried not to make value judgments and limit this to my perspective on changes over time. Some of these shifts have been good, while others have been harmful, but I have done my best to leave those opinions out of this analysis…for now.
On to the examples…
I can’t think of any trait in my lifetime that better represents this continuum movement than smoking. Goodbye, Marlboro Man and James Bond puffing a cig while getting ready to bed, a lovely lady, and hello to the days of complete and total isolation.
Moving in the opposing direction from smoking is drug usage.
Drugs are a cultural topic that seems to have ping-ponged around a bit (and admittedly, might need to be broken down to more granular levels of analysis). Pre-hippy era, Reefer Madness days, big-time shame mentality. Some would argue that it moved off of shame when the sixties rolled around. However, I believe it was still enough of a subculture with major forces pushing against it that I would keep it roughly there, though maybe with a slight shift to the right towards Whisper. This stagnancy can be demonstrated by the whole Nixon/Timothy Leary feud, and even much later, when I got to elementary school in the late 80s, the futile DARE program was in full effect.
With the legalization of pot, the rampant usage of amphetamines for kids (mostly boys) who can’t sit still in class, and the scientific work around hallucinogens, I think we have solidly progressed into the A/I area of the spectrum. Though, with the fentanyl bodies piling up, another move could be on the horizon, but we shall see.
People with Disabilities
I put the starting point for the disabled at Whisper. Some disabilities would probably qualify as shame depending on the time and place, but I’d like to think that most people, even if they thought the disabled angered G-d or something, had the common decency to keep it to themselves. Whatever the starting point, we have certainly reached the Accommodate phase. If you doubt that, go to your local Applebee’s parking lot at 4:30 on Wednesday and check out all the blue parking placards hanging in cars.
I assume you get the picture by now. If you play around with this idea, you can lay out nearly all societal concepts along this spectrum and envision their movements over time.
While the libertarian in me doesn’t like the legislation around some of these items, each of these adjustments has benefited society. However, some have moved in distinctly the wrong direction, which will (finally) bring the topic of my post into perspective.
O-bese is O-K
One of the odder shifts has been the growth of the concept of “body possitivity” and the “Fat Acceptance” movement. It’s not bizarre that overweight people are advocating for it because, as any good free marketeer knows, people will always look for the most advantage at the least amount of work. Still, despite decades of health data proving obesity leads to worse health outcomes and the country becoming A LOT fatter, establishments are getting on board with it.
If you aren’t familiar with the Fat Acceptance movement, let me provide you with the mission and vision statements for NAAFA or the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance:
The mission of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance is to change perceptions of fat and end size discrimination through advocacy, education, and support.
We envision a culture where all fat people are free, celebrated, and liberated from every form of oppression.
While I badly want to dismantle the concept that the obese need liberation from oppression (aside from the oppression of gravity), maybe I’ll critique this madness in a later post. For now, I simply wanted to point out that “fat advocacy” is real and organized. Then again, I doubt you needed me to prove it to you if you’ve seen an advertisement for nearly any fashion or fitness brand over the past five years or so.
The first time I recall hearing about this movement was during the 2018 Grievance Study affair. For the uninitiated, three academics (Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay, and Helen Pluckrose) attempted to get a variety of fake academic studies published to show how poor scholarship had eroded the peer review process in certain academic fields (mainly in the social “sciences”…big quotations there). One of the fake studies they successfully published (and later had retracted once the hoax was revealed) was “Who are they to judge? Overcoming anthropometry through fat bodybuilding” in the journal Fat Studies.
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Yes, they were able to publish a fake scientific study about fat bodybuilding in a journal called Fat Studies. That was one of those times when you wondered if we are indeed inside a matrix, with it glitching all over the place.
On the social acceptance continuum graphic, I intentionally placed obesity between Accommodate and Idolilze. The Idolize piece may be a stretch as general societal positioning (for now), but it is undoubtedly true in certain circumstances, and as with any trend, those who have the requisite levels of clout, can pull the entire culture along with them. The quintessential example of this today is Lizzo.
The amazingly talented songstress with nearly 24 million Spotify listeners, over 13 million Instagram followers, and four Grammy’s to her name also loves to show off her body which checks in at around a 43 Body Mass Index (BMI). If Lizzo lost 90 pounds, she would still be considered obese according to the BMI…and the media love her for it.
There are hundreds of examples I could point to, but check out the obsequious coverage Lizzo receives for saying that she “loves being a fat bitch,” or when she told the BBC that the body positivity movement has become too mainstream because “[n]ow, you look at the hashtag’ body positive’ and you see smaller-framed girls, curvier girls.”
Lizzo will not stand idly by while girls who are only “curvy” take over her enormous movement. If you’re this late to the game, honey, the price of admission to draft off Lizzo’s mojo is that you need a BMI of at least 75 and have all your arteries 80% blocked. Otherwise, step off.
It seems like a bad sign when a movement that encourages people to be massively overweight becomes so popular that its most prominent mouthpiece is turning people away.
To buoy my point about Lizzo pulling the culture along with her, read this passage from the BBC article:
She said that at this point, it would be lazy of her just "to just say I'm body positive", and that the next step was to normalise bigger bodies.
"I would like to be body-normative," she continued. "I want to normalise my body. And not just be like, 'Ooh, look at this cool movement. Being fat is body positive'. [emphasis added]
Aside from a healthcare system that will be crushed under the weight of a society with 75% of its 45-year-olds with heart disease, I don’t see the problem.
So what does a “body-positivity,” “body normalized,” or “fat acceptance” society look like? After that painfully long wind-up, we get to the pitch you’ve all been waiting for, wait for it, wait for it, wait for it…airplane seating. Aren’t you glad you stuck around?
The War Of The Aisle Seat
Say hello to Jae’lynn Chaney. According to her Instagram account, Chaney is a plus-sized social media influencer and “advocate for people of all shapes and sizes.” As part of her advocacy, she has launched a change.org petition which fights “for the FAA to Protect Plus-Size Travelers.” As of this writing, the petition has 7,200 signatures out of the 7,500 goal.
(Quick aside - If a lap band surgery costs $15,000, the list of these signatories could be worth over $100M…that’s gold Jerry, gold!)
And we’re back. A question right at the jump-off. What is she asking the FAA to “protect” plus-size passengers from exactly? Is she looking for 15XXL flack jackets if another 9/11 pops off while they’re on board and the air marshall starts going all John Rambo on their asses? An extra dose of her statin? For the airlines to have balloons on board in case they need an emergency angioplasty?
Surprisingly, it’s none of that, but before we get into her specific demands, I’ll let Chaney explain the events that led her to this massive effort:
…my partner and I have unfortunately experienced discrimination and discomfort while flying. During a flight from Pasco to Denver, my fiancé was subjected to hateful comments, disapproving looks, and even refusal to sit next to them, amounting to discrimination. Similarly, on another flight, I was forced to occupy only one seat with immovable armrests that caused me pain and bruises.
Due to these unfortunate situations, Chaney is “demand[ing] that airlines better accommodate larger passengers when traveling.”
Not that anyone in the buttoned-up world of Sub/Verses would ever do this, but simply as a public service announcement, don’t make hateful comments to anyone regarding their appearance (see what a great guy I am). H-O-W-E-V-E-R, if you are of such a size that you can’t fit in an airline seat, “disapproving looks” and refusal to sit next to you has to be expected. In the best of flight-seating circumstances (which is, objectively, sitting next to a 20-year-old, size two, ASU sorority girl on her way back from spring break), flying sucks. But aside from sitting next to someone with corpse-like B.O., sitting next to a fat person is the worst-case scenario. Sorry, Jae’lynn…it is what it is.
Airline travel is a unique experience. There is no other circumstance in which we are forced to sit in a highly confined space, next to absolute strangers, for prolonged periods. If I refuse to shower and use deodorant, that’s my right, but it’s also the right of the people zipped up in a flying ziplock bag with me to be pissed about it and give me death stares.
Secondly, how do I say this without coming off as insensitive? Dennis Leary joked that if he gets in the shower, looks down, and can’t see his dick, it’s time to go on a diet. Here’s another weight loss rule-of-thumb for everyone…if your girth causes airplane armrests to give you bruises, what other sign does heaven need to rain down upon you that your life choices have gone off the rails and it’s time to give Jenny Craig a call? But no, in a case of ultimate laziness and narcissism, Chaney requires everyone else to adapt to her.
Predictably, two of the accommodations that Chaney demands are for the FAA to require airlines to:
Provide accessible additional seats: All plus-size passengers should be provided with an extra free seat, or even two or three seats depending on their size, to accommodate their needs and ensure their comfort during the flight.
Accommodations: Airlines must provide additional airport assistance to plus-size travelers if necessary, including wheelchair assistance and priority boarding. Airlines should also create accommodations for larger passengers, such as larger bathrooms, seat belt extenders, and alternative seating arrangements.
One of the reasons flying is so relatively inexpensive today is that airlines don’t give a shit about your comfort. That’s the trade-off. But Chaney wants to (I can’t believe I found a way to work this into the article) have-her-cake-and-eat-it-too.
I had heard of the extra seat thing, but she is turning this bitch up to 11 and not only asking for entire corpulent rows but special bathrooms. As a negotiator, I respect the hell out of Jae’lynn. Maybe she only ends up with one seat and a reinforced handlebar in the existing restroom, but Chaney is undoubtedly a The Art of the Deal disciple.
I’m trying to think through the dynamics of how this bathroom situation could work; will they put a scale outside the extra-large fries bathroom to ensure no “skinnies” use it? How about a tape measure to ensure someone’s girth is sufficient to allow entry? Will this be like a 30,000-foot version of the handicapped bathroom episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm (“then, you wait”)? If you don’t know what I’ve talking about, check it out.
I used to travel quite a bit internationally. If I knew the only thing standing between me and an entire row of free seats on my 12+ hour flight was six large pepperoni pizzas per day, I would have invented liquified Domino’s so it could be administered intravenously and I would never have to stop eating (I have no idea if that’s how IV’s work, but go with it).
Unsurprisingly, the amount Chaney is willing to pay for these gigantic accommodations is precisely what you’d expect: “[r]eimbursement: Airlines should offer a refund for plus-size passengers who purchase additional seats independently. This should be a straightforward process that can be accessed online or through customer service.”
The airlines surely won’t eat those losses; the average single-seat-fitter will be lucky enough to foot the bill for Chaney’s first-class accommodations at coach prices. Nice life if you can get it.
Next, she demands “Clear communication: Airlines must create a set of policies, standards, and procedures for plus-size travelers and communicate them in a clear, accessible, and easy-to-understand way. This should include information on booking additional seats, requesting a refund, and what to expect during check-in, boarding, and flight.”
I don’t get this one -I thought being morbidly obese was a physical, not a mental, condition. Am I missing something here? Or is there an equivalent to braille for the fleshy they have been hiding from us? Do they have a secret clubhouse and handshake too?
The last mentionable demand is that “the TSA should implement clear guidelines for screening plus size travelers, train agents on how to respectfully interact with plus-size travelers, offer sensitivity training, and provide accessible screening equipment.” [emphasis added]
On the “accessible screening equipment” request, are there people so rotund that they can’t fit through the metal detector or that thing that spins around while you have your arms up and forces you to realize that you forgot to put deodorant on before your 5 am flight? Doesn’t the TSA have those wandy things? Sure, it will take the agent a little extra time to swipe all the way around, but I think they’ll be able to manage with the existing gear. Just buy bigger batteries for the wands, and they’ll be good.
As ludicrous as Chaney’s petition is, it’s also a predictable waypoint on our current fat acceptance social trajectory. As I’ve demonstrated, we have made critical progress in properly aligning the social acceptance of some traits and activities (sex, race, physical ability, smoking, drug usage, etc.) but have backslid on others. The unfortunate reality is that shame for some activities and attributes is both necessary and beneficial for the health of societies holistically and the individuals who inhabit them.
You can tell me how big of an asshole you think I am in the comments.
Until next time…
You are NOT an asshole. Great essay.
Being fat is not positive. It is to be avoided and I would wager that most obese people would prefer not to be that way. I enjoyed the humor in this article at the expense of the fat activists out there who want acceptance right up to the moment of heart attack, and then they slow down their calorie intake for a short time until the reality wears off. I say charge them extra. If they need 2 seats, sell them 2 seats preferably right next to each other so they don't impose their hugeness on normally weighted people.