Weight problems are a huge issue in the US and even worldwide. We have access to food too easily and we often don't have to walk to commute in many areas of the country or work a physical job all day. Add to this, medications we take can add weight and it has nothing to do with overeating.
This also applies to anyone who has issues with not being a typical size - too tall, too short, too thin, physical differences... The world is made for the average person, as it should be. But when someone who is different has to live in a world built for the average, it can be an issue.
So this letter is:
To everyone who is of a typical size:
It is somewhat of a compliment when you treat me like everyone else. I appreciate it when you look at someone my size and not automatically think that I need every accommodation in the book.
But on the flip side, there is so much I wish you knew.
1 - If you are a hostess and there's someone really large in the party, even if they don't ask for it, know that a booth can be at the least, uncomfortable and at the worst, really embarrassing when you try to slide in and just can't fit. If a group has someone pretty large included, save everyone some heartache and offer them a table instead (and not a high top.)
2 - If you are a tour guide and there's someone with mobility issues (that could be either from a handicapping condition or just being big), please slow down. It's again really embarrassing when most of the group takes off and gets way ahead and the person with issues is behind and alone.
3 - If you have some kind of meeting or event, anything from a Sunday School meeting to a wedding, please be considerate of the seating. It's difficult to admit out loud (or literally in writing) but I don't fit into some chairs with arms (or they really, really hurt) and I am terrified I'm going to break a flimsy chair like a plastic chair or a non-sturdy folding chair.
I know sometimes there's just not an option and I can't speak for every big person, but I would much rather have the person leading the meeting/event come up to me privately before it happens, explain the options, and let us talk about it before I get there. Those options can include: bringing in another chair just for that person and also ask that person where he/she would like to sit and somehow reserve that seat and the ones around it for those who come with him/her; making sure the chairs are all big enough; or just asking the person in question what he/she would prefer to do. Some would rather take a chance or be in pain so don't assume that the person necessarily wants something different, either.
4 - If you are catering an event, don't assume a particular need for a type of food to either include or exclude. Some who are obese aren't on diets or might be on a diet where he/she can only eat at certain times but the types of foods don't really matter. Some need specific foods. Just think how you would handle a friend who has a food allergy/intolerance and give the big person the same consideration.
5 - If a larger person is riding in a car with you, let him/her choose the seat. Personally, sometimes I choose the back even if it's a tighter squeeze because it's embarrassing to get into a car and not have the seat belt fit. I know some states have laws about those in the back seat having to have a seat belt on too, but if neither will fit, I feel much more comfortable taking that chance in a back seat than up front.
6 - If you go to an amusement park with a group of friends and/or family, remember that the one who is very overweight won't fit into a lot of rides. As safety standards have gotten much stricter, the number of restraints on rides, especially roller coasters, have increased. If the person in question doesn't want to wait in line only to then find out that they don't fit, the embarrassment has increased exponentially. Don't try to coerce them to try, even if you would have ended up being right. It's not worth it many times to take the chance.
On a similar note, I applaud parks like Dollywood who have seats at the entrance to the line for you to test yourself and see if you can make the restraints "click". I do wish they would be in a more discrete place than out in the open (because it's still embarrassing to have it not click even if you haven't waited in line, just not as much) but I don't know if there's a way around that.
I also applaud those ride workers who are very discrete in the way they hand me a seatbelt extender on rides that take seatbelts without my having to ask. It's no fun to have to ask for one, especially if the ride is loud and you practically have to yell it or the ride is stalled from starting because you didn't realize it would be an issue until you sat down and it didn't fit.
7 - For concerts, plays, and similar events, I know lots of people like to sit in an aisle seat but if there is limited seating left in a general admission situation, please move to the middle and allow the big person to sit on an end. I have sat through performances with my arms crossed across my chest the entire time because I didn't want to bother the people sitting on either side of me. If I'm in an aisle seat, then I only have to worry about one person to not bother because I'm too big for the area.
8 - This leads to air travel. I love to travel and sometimes I have to. I can't afford to buy a 2nd seat and I technically fit into one - it's just really tight. I know it's uncomfortable if you end up sitting beside a big person but you could also sit by someone extremely annoying, or talkative, or who doesn't understand personal space. Please don't embarrass us (or yourself) by automatically assuming that we are the worst seat-mate you could have and begging to be moved.
From an atypically sized person who has to live in a typically sized world
PS - Some hints I've learned for others of atypical size like me:
- Find an airline where you can choose your own seat. I personally love Delta for that feature but I'm sure there are more. Get a seat as near to the bathroom as you can. Going up and down those tiny aisles with people trying to sleep or eat or read and somewhat spilling out into said aisle is difficult. If you are traveling with a companion, find a row with only 3 seats and choose the ones on either end for you and your companion. If the flight doesn't sell out, you have an extra seat between you. If it does, you can always ask the one stuck in the middle if he/she would please switch.
- Get in the habit of just asking for a table instead of a booth (and after a recent bad experience, if the restaurant has high-tops, specifically ask for a low-top table).
- If you are going to an amusement park, do some research ahead of time to find out which rides are, as one atypically sized comic says, "fluffy-friendly". Sometimes you can find out that information on the website but I've found calling works even better.
- I have found handicapped seating to be my friend. Some places are very strict on someone being in a wheelchair, but again, if you call and describe the situation, I have found that most are accommodating. Theatre seats, especially those from years ago, are really small and uncomfortable.
- When I book a hotel, I request a handicapped room because it's often on the ground floor and the tub/shower is easier to deal with. I tell them that I'm not in a wheelchair and it's just a request, because I don't want to take it from someone who needs it more, but again, I have found that more often than not, it's available.
- About the seatbelt issue, I usually offer to drive. I like driving and then I don't have to worry about the seatbelt not fitting with another car. Also, because my car has difficult to fasten seatbelts for everyone, I bought a seatbelt extender. You can find them on ebay or Amazon and it makes life so much easier (it's also great for those who wear big coats). If I am going to ride in another car, I can always take the extender with me.