When I tell you that I’ve been working on my body positivity for a long time and that I feel that I’ve gotten pretty far with it, I mean that I’ve been working on it for over a decade. For several years now, I’ve been relatively un-phased by many of the daily microaggressions I face on a daily basis as a fat woman. Relatively. Meaning, I feel ‘em less than I would have back in 2002.
But last weekend challenged every ounce of body positivity I’ve got. Because for the first time in my life, I didn’t fit into the seat on a ride at an amusement park. Granted, I don’t go to amusement parks much, so it’s not that remarkable of a phenomenon, probably. But it was the first time I felt excluded from an activity that everyone else in my group could do, no problem.
Okay, let’s back up and start at the beginning. Here I am with my partner, sister, brother-in-law, and aunt, all of whom are straight-size. We’re hanging out, exploring Universal Studios’ newest attraction, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We’re sipping on butter beer while we wind through the 45-minute line for a ride called “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.”
Right before we reach the ride, a park employee calls me out of line. “We will need to make sure that you can ride the ride safely,” she says loudly. Dozens of onlookers gather, stopped, waiting for the line to move again.
She motions me to a sample seat. I sit in it. No problem. “Everything good?” I say.
“Not yet,” she says, and pulls a safety harness over my shoulders. “Pull this down as tight as you can. Let’s see if the machine gives the green light.”
Rows of onlookers watch as the machine fails to give the green light that indicates my acceptability. I wait for the verdict.
“I’m sorry,” she says, “you are not able to ride safely. Please continue to the waiting room where you can wait for the rest of your party once they finish the ride.” She gestures to a stuffy room full of exasperated parents stuck with screaming toddlers.
I try to be a good fatty as I scan the faces of the crowd for judgment. “Of course!” I say cheerfully. “I understand completely.” And then I burst into tears.
My supportive companions leave the line in solidarity with me as I slink to the exit in disgrace. “That was humiliating!” I wail.
I’ll tell you, the experience put a damper on the rest of the Harry Potter experience. But my family was incensed on my behalf.
“This is new construction!” they say.
“Half of America is plus-size! Why wouldn’t they build size accommodation into the park as they were building it!” they fume.
“This is discrimination,” my aunt says. “You should ask for your money back.”
And she’s right, they’re all right. It’s so easy for fat people to dismiss experiences like this as “well, I just didn’t fit in the seat.” We’re expected to. The story of another too-fat-to-ride fellow I found online described how he used the humiliation of his experience to lose some weight. Blah blah, same old same old. Humiliation and exclusion are supposed to be good for us in the long run.
Fast forward two days later, and I’ve completely forgotten about the experience. Thank you body positivity, for setting me free from weeks of ruminating on stuff like this. And then I get a completely unexpected call from my aunt.
“Great news!” she says. “I called Universal Studios, and I let them know that I was deeply disappointed in the size discrimination they’ve incorporated into their new attraction. I demanded that they refund your money since you had no way of knowing before you bought your ticket that they wouldn’t be able to accommodate you.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “Wait,” I say to my aunt. “You called? On my behalf? To advocate for me?”
“Of course I did,” she said. “I was outraged. As a smaller person, I’d never realized that this kind of discrimination exists. But when I saw it, I couldn’t just let it be.”
So I got a refund, which was really the least Universal Studios could do. But my aunt…I couldn’t believe it. My aunt, who grew up in diet culture like the rest of us, in a family whose female members have “struggled with their weight” their entire lives, took a giant step outside of her thin-privilege world view and advocated for me. Never once did she suggest that I lose weight to make myself fit in the ride.
We’d never discussed body positivity before that moment, and I had no idea what her feelings on the topic might be. I never knew she was a secret superhero.
It can be hard when we’re surrounded by weight-loss types and body-negative types to imagine that there are people out there who can love us just the way we are. It can be impossible to imagine anyone taking care of us in this way, sticking up for us in this way. But they’re out there. Waiting for you to discover them. Don’t give up looking for your superheroes. And know that someday, you’ll be the advocate, the superhero for someone, too.