An open letter of gratitude to Kevin Smith, antihero of the fat revolution.

By | February 18, 2010

[Oh, I wasn’t going to write about this, as others have already done so, in some cases much more poignantly and elegantly than I. But then I did.]

Dear Kevin Smith,

There was a comment that you made somewhere in the midst of this epic saga — I forget where, it’s such a blur, and I haven’t read or listened to half of it all — that went something to the effect of: “I’ll have this following me around for the rest of my life.”

You’re right. You will. If you lost a hundred pounds between right now and tomorrow morning, assholes worldwide would continue to make jokes about you being SO very fat that not only did you fail to lower the armrest, but you broke the row of seats and busted out the bulkhead of the plane, because these stories are like fish tales; they get bigger every time you tell them. There is no final redemption for fat people, especially fat people who carry the additional burden of being somewhat in the public eye. I write a lot here about fat and popular culture, and I can tell you with relative assurance that the public are only happy when famous fat folks lose weight because it builds anticipation for when they put it all back on again.

Fat people get shit on. This is indisputable; it’s as true as the sky being blue and bears doing their business in the woods. In my extensive fat-person-meeting career, I’ve yet to meet a single fat person who’s said, “Being fat is a NON-STOP PARTY. I get the love and admiration of everyone I meet, I don’t have to pay taxes, and every two years, someone gives me a pony!” Fat people get shit on in ways both similar and different to the ways women get shit on, or queer people get shit on, or disabled people get shit on, or poor people get shit on, or people who are not white get shit on. The kind of humiliation and dismissal you experienced, and worse, is experienced by fat people nationwide, every day, on planes and elsewhere, and many people think this is right, and well-deserved, even without knowing the circumstances of the particular embarrassment — they believe fat people deserve it, whatever it is, simply because they are fat.

You’ve emerged as a sort of Fat Everyman. Someone with a voice that a lot of people will listen to, while those of us who’ve been wringing our hands over this issue for years have been whistling in the dark. Of the multitude of posts on fat blogs on this subject the past few days, I’ve seen many that focus on your history of fat-hating comments, and that highlight your frequent insistence that you could, in fact, lower the armrests, inferring that you would argue that anyone who couldn’t should get their ass kicked off the plane.

While I have no doubt that these bloggers have good intentions, from my perspective, focusing on these aspects is a missing an important point — possibly THE most important point. I imagine, if I may, that a lot of your protestations were rooted in the horror of the whole insane experience; I have been a fat activist for a long time, and a giant fatass for even longer, and if I found myself ejected from an airplane, I too would be likely to argue that, damn it, the armrests were down. I wouldn’t necessarily mean that that kind of treatment would be A-OK if only it was perpetrated against someone fatter. It’s difficult, in a moment of personal embarrassment, to think of anything except why the hell is this happening to me?

The disingenuously-named “passenger of size” policy is arbitrary. Even the armrest test? Arbitrary. This much is obvious, given your experience, and I’ve heard many a tale from other fatties who could lower their armrests but were told, regardless, to buy a second seat or get lost. And I’ve also heard many a tale from two-seat buying fatties who learned that when you buy two seats on Southwest, owing to their cattle-call seating policy, there is no guarantee that those seats will actually be next to each other. (I knew that Detachable-Ass Upgrade would come in handy.) It’s a bullshit policy that’s applied unpredictably; there is no way to apply such a policy fairly, at least not one that leaves the fat person’s dignity intact.

But even that isn’t really the point I want to highlight here. The fact that you, with no real investment, prior to now, in anything activists like me have to say on the subject of size discrimination and body image — that you were this angry, this indignant, this vocal? That’s the point. People typically don’t get all up in arms about social justice unless they personally have been wronged, and even then, a lot of people would just as soon quietly accept their humiliation out of fear that making a scene about it will only draw more unwanted attention to how fat they are. Southwest Airlines (as well as the other airlines with a history of treating fat people like shit) relies upon this fear to keep the people they mistreat quiet. Your refusal to suffer in silence is an act of bravery, even though you may not fully realize it yet.

When it comes to injustice, most of us are but one experience away from speaking out. We don’t all have to agree on whether fat is genetic, or a sign of a morally-corrupt character, or just something some people are, or a result of unbalanced humours, or a curse placed upon us by gnomes. But I think we can agree that regardless of our individual feelings about our bodies, or whether Southwest’s two-seats policy is fair and justified if applied in a particular way, nevertheless, fat people are still human fucking beings and deserve to be treated with respect. Period. There is no excuse for doing otherwise.

Thank you, Kevin Smith, the reluctant Howard Beale of fat travelers. Your sacrifice, your rage, is sincerely appreciated.


Lesley Kinzel

P.S. And for good measure:

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