Just over a year ago my best friend moved overseas. Not far, but to a neighbouring country – accessible only by air. Given that I live in Australia and am surrounded by water, this isn’t a surprise. However, the proximity is such that the prices of flights are very reasonable and only a couple of hours in duration (ie. it is closer than other States in my own country). I waved her off with promises to pop over and visit. Soon.
Of course I haven’t. Because I have traitorously adopted a new BFF? No. Because I have been so busy with work and life that I hadn’t a moment to spare? No. Because I couldn’t afford it? No. Because I have been in a snit with her for some reason? No again. Then why you may ask.
Well, umm… it’s like this…. ummm…. It’s because I’m worried I won’t fit properly into the airline seats.
There. It’s off my chest; this horrendous confession. Despite my hefty weight in the past, I’ve never needed the extra seatbelt and I have cringe (in what I hope is some sympathetic solidarity) when I see people who do. But, the last few times I have flown (and when I have been around 120kgs) I have had to stretch that seat belt to its limit. And, if the arm rests are set in place I have to wedge myself in a little. As I wasn’t previously prone to flabbiness (more solid lard) I don’t believe I hung over the edges but I couldn’t promise that now.
So, my main fear at the moment and thing stopping me from visiting my best friend, is the seat issue. And even if I fit into it I suspect I would feel self conscious. Some of this is about me – my own shame and guilt at my size. But some of it comes from society. Over recent years we have been confronted with media articles / opinion pieces about larger people travelling. Assertions that they (we) should pay for two seats and so forth. I disagree with the principle and believe it is fraught with problems. As I said – even when bigger in the past, I don’t believe I encroached into others’ space – merely filled my own spot to saturating point.
Despite that I was self conscious travelling. Over the past 10 years my weight gain has focussed itself on my stomach (common as you age I realise), but it means that my extruding stomach gets in the way of the tray table. It also means the table is a long way from my mouth – as is the tip of my belly obviously. Argh! I hate to even have to admit that. This is all my own fault so I don’t want sympathy. I am incredibly conscious that those sitting next to me (even in the days I did fly) must have groaned when they saw me.
And now, how humiliating it would be if I went to check-in and was told I would have to pay for two seats! I’ve never felt at risk of that before. I mean, how big do you have to be before the airline asks to you cough up for the extra seat? I know the argument from judgemental skinny people, is that we fat people have done this to ourselves so it is our own fault – thereby allowing an airline to adopt such a policy. But where do they draw the line. People come in all different shapes and sizes. Short people can look bigger because they are small. But if you are taller it looks worse; you can appear more imposing. At 5ft 10.5inches (178cm) I am also tall and broad (in places I’m allowed to be). And, of course, what of the not-fat man with wide shoulders – they don’t spill over the armrests, but require those sitting next to them to sit hunched over for several hours on-end. Should they pay for an extra seat?
Soapbox aside, I realise I could (and perhaps should) just say ‘to hell with it’ and jump on a plane anyway. But, my paranoia and hatred of ‘being bothersome’ is such that I couldn’t. I get it from my father. Not my weight issues, but my ‘I’m not as important as other people so shouldn’t get in their way’ issues. I apologise if I believe I’m holding people up at the checkout. As it is, I have my money ready and don’t hang about to put change into my wallet, but struggle with it as I go to the car. I pre-scan my credit card so as not to dawdle and delay others. I know most people aren’t as time-conscious and they wait until the checkout operator has finished before digging into the handbag for their purse etc. This infuriates me and I never do it to others. And if I do hold someone up or if the checkout person fumbles around for a plastic bag while I am there I apologise to those behind me even if the delay isn’t my fault. This is insane, I realise.
Working in the city, I have long been a catcher of buses. Rather than trains or ferries. I recently changed jobs and so am now having to catch trains to my workplace – which are far busier than my buses were. It is now the source of great stress, as I HAVE to get a train that isn’t very busy, so I can choose a strategic seat and push myself as far as possible into a corner to allow someone to sit next to me if they need to. I pray for the new trains with no outside armrest so that the seats aren’t as squishy. I feel terrible if people don’t choose to wedge in next to me and stand. I feel terrible if they DO wedge in next to me. I feel guilty and have to stop myself from apologising for their lack of space; but I try to take up as little room as possible. I sometimes look around and see those who sit with their bag on the seat next to them and cannot believe they feel no guilt when others stand and when I am overcome with stress.
Some of this is my own baggage. I know that ‘making myself as small as possible so that I am almost invisible and not an inconvenience’ is kinda strange. I wonder if I would still be as self-conscious if I wasn’t as big. Is it all about my size, or is it about me? I wonder.
Meanwhile, I am very fortunate that my BFF has a job that brings her out here often. She knows why I don’t travel to her.