I’m back to play your internet agony aunt with more reader questions!
But before we get down to it, I wanted to let you know what’s been going on. Shortly after I published my last post, “An Open Letter to People Who Feel Infringed on by Fat People on Airplanes,” WordPress featured my post. I didn’t realize it for awhile, but I woke up one morning to find that my inbox was BURSTING. On average, I get about 20 emails per day, and most of those emails are from HelloFresh trying to get me to come back. But I had HUNDREDS of emails. And many of them were supportive and kind and drove me to tears. But many of them were not.
Here’s the thing: I’m just an average person! I have a full-time job and a cat and a dog and a husband. I eat brunch and order pizza and watch lots of HGTV. I am a perfectly mundane, average person. I have never been a public figure. I’m a quiet person with a blog. And I’ve never really dealt with much internet hate. Sure, this blog gets a troll here and there. Sometimes I get a comment calling me a “fat bitch” and I roll my eyes and mark them as spam. But I have never ever been the recipient of so much trolling and hate.
It was confusing. It was alarming. It was, more than anything, exhausting. It was relentless, because my phone was constantly notifying me of new comments. Would it be a nice comment? Would it be someone writing an essay about why they do not want me to touch them on a plane? Would it be some concern-troll telling me that I should lose weight if I want to fly more comfortably? Would it just be another iteration of the “fat bitch” comment? SO MUCH ANXIETY! I tried to keep up, but I couldn’t.
And then I got the flu. It was bad. On Valentine’s Day, I threw up all over my husband and gave him the flu. We were both so sick my mother-in-law had to drive three hours to take care of us. If I had been a baby, I probably would have died. I was out of work and completely incapable of doing anything but drinking Gatorade and sleeping for a week. It took about a month for me to feel fully better.
So, that’s where I’ve been. But, hey, I also got a lot of new followers and some really lovely comments from the whole thing, I don’t have the flu anymore, so things are great! And if you’re new, HEY THERE.
Back to business! This week, we’re diving into size accessibility, how to look the part of Badass Fat Professional, and how to do fitness when your knees are fighting against you.
I have a question. I’m not sure if you’ve touched on this yet but how do you go to a concert or theater event if you know you probably won’t be able to fit in the seat? I’m shaped like a pear so most of my fat is on my butt, thighs, and hips. My husband bought me tickets to Shawn Mendes for later this summer and theater tickets in the spring. I am so excited to go to both but also dreading it. Since stopping dieting almost a year ago I’ve gained a lot of weight. I’m 6 foot tall and right around 330 pounds. While those aren’t benchmarks to compare and I don’t look at them as negative, I’m just giving you an idea of my size.
OH GIRL. I feel this in my heart and soul. Chairs are one of my favorite things in the world, and also one of the things I hate the most. I’ve written before about how much space in my brain is taken up by thinking about chairs, but I haven’t actually talked about practical steps to navigate this wild, wild world of unpredictable chair sizes.
A few years ago, my husband and I went to a Paul McCartney concert. We shelled out big bucks for this concert, because I love Paul McCartney and The Beatles, and I wanted to be in the same room as a Beatle just once in my life. Sir Paul is 76. I mean, he’s healthy as a horse by all accounts, but who knows when another chance to be in the same room as a Beatle would present itself? I don’t know what Ringo is up to these days, so this was my chance and I took it. Tickets were selling out fast. I grabbed tickets for two of the last seats that were together (and priced under a million dollars.) I didn’t look at the seating chart, I just pounced on the tickets. This turned out to be a mistake.
The venue was in an arena. Our seats were nosebleed seats. I just barely fit into my tiny seat, which was in the middle of the row. And when I say I “fit,” I mean that I could just squish myself into it and I was in pain the whole entire night. I was supremely uncomfortable. And I would have just stood and rocked out, but these seats were so far back and the drop was so steep that my fear of heights just wouldn’t let me do it. So I sat, all night, in a very expensive seat that left me with bruises on my hips and thighs.
So, I learned my lesson. And I’ve gotten smarter. Here’s what I do now:
- Research. You can actually find a surprising amount of information about venues online! Start by Googling. Check the venue’s website. You may even be able to find videos of the seats on YouTube. (Seriously!)
- Check out accessibility apps. Apps like AllGo and Ample aim to solve this problem by providing reviews from other fat folx who’ve been to a spot and can let you know whether it’s fat-friendly or not. These apps are pretty limited at this point (AllGo is in beta), so whether they’re helpful or not depends on where you’re located. But it’s worth giving it a shot! (Also, maybe leave a review after the concert to help these apps be more helpful.)
- Check online reviews. While they’re not designed for this purpose, sometimes Yelp and Google reviews can provide information about size accessibility, sort of by accident in most cases. Scan the reviews to see if there’s any relevant information about the seating situation.
- Crowdsource. If you’re part of any local fat-friendly groups online, ask the group! You can also just ask your friends: “Hey, has anyone been to this venue? What’s the seating situation like?” If the venue is in your town, you might be able to pick the brains of pals who have been there before. I know some people can feel awkward or embarrassed about this, but there’s no need to be. If anyone gives you guff or makes fun, eat them. CHOMP.
- Check the seating chart before purchasing tickets. Okay, since your husband already purchased these tickets, this may not be helpful to you at this point. I’ve found that aisle seats are generally more comfortable for me, and I also prefer seats at the front of the section because they usually have much more leg room. I absolutely do not buy tickets without checking the seating chart and making sure the seats are where I want them.
- Talk to the venue. This falls into the But It’s So Awkward! category, but it’s really not: You’re a paying customer. You have a question about their seats. So, they should provide answers, and they’re usually able to. You can email if you’re not comfortable calling. Just say, “Hi there, I have tickets to [CONCERT], and I’m wondering how big the seats are? Do the arm rests lift up? Is there a solid barrier between seats, or is there a space? Do you have accommodations for customers if the seats are too small? Any help you can provide is much appreciated!” You should be able to get your final answer this way. (And you may be surprised — some venues will happily put you in the accessible section with a chair if you’re not able to be comfortable in your seat.)
These things usually help me feel less anxious, because I know what I’m walking into. That said, if you get there and find that you don’t fit, what do you do?
Well, as a fellow married gal, I say: Invade your husband’s space. I do this all the time to my husband if seats are small, and he doesn’t mind. I mean, he married me, and routinely invades my space on the couch, so it’d be ridiculous for him to get huffy with me for spilling into his seat. And I figure, if I’m going to spill into someone’s seat, it might as well be the man who is legally bound to me instead of a stranger. I’d also recommend voicing your concerns about this to him. Having a partner who knows what you’re up against and how anxious you are about it can be a huge help in these situations, because you’ll be able to talk to him about what you’re feeling, and he can help you navigate the concert experience so it’s less stressful for you. (And if you’re reading and not going with a spouse or partner, the same thing applies to friends and family! Tell them what’s going on. In most cases, your people will step up and do what they can to help out.)
Then, I’d find an usher or ask to speak to an employee, if the seat is just too small or uncomfortable for you. They may be able to work something out so you can enjoy the show.
And the good news is that, at concerts, a lot of people just end up standing anyway. So, if you’re able to do so, just stand. Dance! Enjoy yourself! And, if the seats are really shitty and uncomfortable, I recommend writing an email or letter with feedback to the venue to let them know what your experience was. Sometimes businesses just don’t think of size accessibility, so it’s helpful when people give them feedback. Some venues don’t care. Some venues might go to their team and start working on plans to make their venue more accessible, or at least devise options for customers in bigger bodies.
The one thing you SHOULD NOT DO is regard a small seat as your own personal failing or beat yourself up about it. It’s not your body’s fault that a seat is too small; it’s the seat’s fault, and the business’ fault for not accommodating customers. And you’re not the only one: sometimes seats are just fucking small. At the Paul McCartney concert, my husband was uncomfortable too, and he’s not remotely fat. The seats were small, for everyone. They were not built for comfort, they were built for squeezing as many bodies as possible into the space. So, find out what you can before the concert to quell your anxiety, go in problem-solving mode (instead of oh-god-what-if-I-don’t-fit mode), and do your damndest to have a good time.
Hi Fluffy Kitten Party! I love your blog, especially your piece about diet culture in the office. I’m writing because I just got my first job in a “business professional” office, and I’m freaking out because I have nothing to wear. The women in my office are very stylish, and I just feel like a big messy lump. There don’t seem to be many options for plus-size office wear that suit my style and my budget. How do I go about building the wardrobe I need so I can fit in at my new job?
Congratulations on your new job!
I can relate: I worked in a big, huge office for years with a business professional dress code and fashionistas all around me. And we talk about weight discrimination preventing fat people from getting jobs a lot, but there’s often more subtle ways weight bias creeps in even after you’ve gotten the job. Part of office culture is fitting in and looking the part. But when your clothing options are slim, and super overpriced, it can be hard to compete with people who can find perfectly professional-looking clothes off the rack at any store in the mall. And when people generally perceive fat people as lazy, unintelligent, less competent, and sloppy, it’s something you’ve got to fight against at the office. You need to work harder and spend more just to get to the middle, where your thin counterparts start out.
Here’s how I survived:
- Create your own uniform. This sounds awful, doesn’t it? But before I skipped the business professional workplace for somewhere that let me wear jeans every day, I had a uniform: gray or black pants, dressy top or sweater, cardigan, sensible flats. This made it a lot easier for me to build up a wardrobe, when I had an idea of what I needed on a daily basis. I started out with a few outfits, and added more pieces as I could.
- Invest in a few staple pieces. So, on “What Not to Wear,” they talked a lot about “investment pieces.” These were usually striking, expensive pieces of clothing like a blazer, jacket, skirt, or pants. But we’re not talking about that here, because you’re on a budget, and let’s face it: plus-size clothing is often cheaply made and not meant to last more than six months. What I’m talking about here are a few pieces you can build your wardrobe around. My business professional wardrobe started with two pieces of dressy pants: a gray pair, and a black pair. I got them both on sale at Lane Bryant. I like pants, personally, because they’re nondescript. No one is paying close enough attention to your plain ass pair of black pants to notice, “Hey, didn’t you wear those on Monday?” But a skirt with a pattern or a dress? People may take notice. So, get a couple of dressy pieces of office-appropriate pants, and start there. Check what’s on clearance at Lane Bryant and Torrid — you may be able to get a few pairs of pants on clearance for a steal. I found that tops were something I could find more easily, and generally cost less, so I had some pants as staples and rotated tops and cardigans.
- Work with what you’ve got. I was able to repurpose a bunch of stuff already in my wardrobe: I had cardigans and sweaters. Even the plainest of plain camisoles can be incorporated into a business professional outfit. (Cami + cardigan + aforementioned pants? DONE!) Take a look at what’s already in your closet and see what can be dressed up.
- Accessorize! You know what almost always fits? Accessories. Adding some nice, dressy touches like a long necklace, a bracelet, some earrings, whatever floats your boat, can be a great way to dress up your work wear and add a little bit of your own style into a starter work wardrobe.
In terms of stores, I tended to shop at: Torrid (carries 12-30, though the higher up on the spectrum you are, the fewer options there are, especially in-store), Lane Bryant (carries up to 32, a little bit more on the spendy side but good for work stuff), Woman Within (carries sizes 12-42, great for basics), and Dress Barn Woman (carries sizes 14-24). I also lived in SWAK Designs (14-36) Pretty Camis for a period of time. Modcloth also has cute sweaters and cardigans and dressy tops (they go up to a 4x, which is about a 24). But don’t be afraid to check your local thrift shops, plus-size clothing exchanges in your area, and so on. If you’ve got a little more budget, Eloquii is a great place to find classy work-friendly attire.
I’m not really sure what size you are, but I’m answering from the perspective of a mid-fat, meaning I can find clothing in most plus-size stores. But infinifats (or, people above a size 30 or 32) are seriously underserved — if anyone has any hot tips on stores with workwear for sizes 30 and above, please let me know in the comments!
I am hoping you can help me out. I saw you mention having a bad knee and was wondering if you could recommend some gentle exercises for me? I am looking to up my physical activity level without injuring myself (I have a few chronic pain issues but my knees and ankles are the weakest joints in my body). I’m scared of gyms and people who make fitness their life, like trainers, because of the potential fat shaming so I’m not real sure where to go to get advice on it. Hopefully you can help me out!
Thanks so much,
I’ll be honest here: I’m still figuring this part out for myself. I do have bad knees — and you probably know this all too well, but here’s what that means in terms of fitness. When I do something my knees disagree with, I will hear a startling crunch. And sometimes I’ll feel a sharp pain radiate from my problematic knee all the way up my groin. Sometimes strenuous exercise means I can’t walk without pain for the better part of a week. Sometimes I get crazy cramps that go from my knee all the way to my crotch that leave me screaming and seeing stars. So, exercise can be fraught for me.
Often, people misunderstand what people who live with injuries and bad joints and chronic pain mean when they say they have trouble exercising. It’s not often a problem that can be solved with exercise. You cannot plank and Jazzercise your way to the other side. It hurts. It can cause you harm. Lots of personal trainers don’t understand this, and just assume “you need to build up your endurance and strength!” and push you when your joints are screaming at you and your pain is through the roof, so I understand your trepidation with them. I’ve worked with those trainers, they suck.
First, I’d encourage you to see if physical therapy is something that’s covered by your insurance and doable for you, time-wise and financially. A physical therapist can help you find exercises that work for your chronic pain, knees and ankles.
But other than that, here’s what I recommend, and what I am doing (with varying degrees of success): Mentally separate “physical activity” with “gyms and working out and sweating and feeling terrible.” When you stop thinking of “physical activity” as something you do in a gym, you can find all sorts of opportunities to be more physically active.
One of my favorite physical activities is walking. Not power-walking, not jogging or running. Just walking. I have a dog. He’s really cute, and he likes to go on walks. So we walk. (And he pulls, so walking him is a full-body workout. My core is engaged.)
Sometimes I’ll take a break while he takes a deuce, or sniffs a really interesting patch of grass, and sometimes we take a break just because my knee hurts and I need it. I work from home three days a week, and when I do, I take a little break from my work and we go outside for a walk. Did you know that walking for just 30 minutes a day can be hugely beneficial to your health? (That article is not HAES-friendly, but few fitness articles are. I tried to find one, I promise!) Some days we walk more, some days we walk less, depending on how my knees are feeling that day. Some days, my husband does most of the walking if my knee is really bugging me. But walking is low-impact, free, does not require a gym membership or trainer, and can be great for your overall health and fitness.
I don’t just walk with my dog. If I’m having a good day, I’ll take a little walk on my lunch break at work, and walk to a cafe nearby. Sometimes, if it’s rainy and/or cold, I’ll walk on the treadmill I have in my house. (I know treadmills are expensive as hell — we got one for free from a family member who never used theirs.) To some people, walking on a treadmill is boring. For me, I find it relaxing. I have a little TV I can turn on while I walk, adjust the speed and incline as needed, and just zone out for a little bit.
Walking may be harder for you because of your ankles, but listen: I am not talking about fast-walking. Walk at a pace you are comfortable with. If you need to take a break, take one. If you need to stop, stop. If your knees and ankles are killing you one day, don’t walk beyond what is necessary to live your life. If a walking stick might help, use it. But fitness can honestly be as simple as, “Hey! It’s nice out, how about going for a walk?” (And make sure you have good shoes with arch and ankle support! Walking is painful in bad shoes.)
And I realize there’s privilege in this. I used to live in a neighborhood where walking outside wasn’t 100% safe. I’ve also lived in places where there were no sidewalks, where there were dangerous busy streets, or where I’d encounter street harassment pretty consistently. I often walked around on my lunch break at work, because it was an isolated campus with lots of pretty trees and paths (and a security guard). So, make it work, if you want to walk, and you can find a way to do it safely.
In the summer, I’ll jump at any opportunity to swim. Water is super awesome for people with joint problems to exercise in — in addition to being fun. I don’t have a gym with a pool nearby, just a neighbor with a pool. But don’t let swimsuit anxiety keep you from a community or gym pool! Look for water aerobics. Apparently there is even WATER ZUMBA. (Which sounds weird, but I also don’t understand what Zumba is.) People taking these classes usually have joint problems of their own, or are on the older side, so it’s not like walking onto Muscle Beach with a bunch of supermodels. You’ll be fine. No one will be staring at you in your swimsuit, promise.
Other people have recommended yoga to me more times than I can count. Personally, even the gentlest yoga does not feel gentle for me. It makes my knees crackle and pop and I don’t really enjoy it. But you could give chair yoga a try if it’s something that interests you! Amber Karnes is a body-positive yoga instructor with a chair yoga course available online, and you can find free videos on YouTube to see if it’s for you.
The important thing here is that you should focus on doing things that feel enjoyable and beneficial. If you hate something, you won’t do it. If you are miserable every second of Orange Theory, you will never go. You don’t need to push yourself. You don’t need to do anything that causes you pain. You can become more fit and more active in increments — it doesn’t need to be a big overhaul, or even a new dedication to one activity. It could mean that, this weekend, you go on a little walk with a friend at a local park. Next weekend, you go swimming. And the weekend after that, you try a chair yoga video on YouTube.
And it goes without saying that fitness and exercise are not requirements. If you’re not in a place where you can think about these things, don’t. If you are not up to it a particular day, week, or even month, it’s okay.