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Undercover Agent

One of these days the world will be so different that when I wake up in the morning I will be able to go the entire day without finding material for Tasty Morsels, Leftovers To Go’s blog about body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, size discrimination, and fat acceptance.  For a while, as I wean from my [...]

One of these days the world will be so different that when I wake up in the morning I will be able to go the entire day without finding material for Tasty Morsels, Leftovers To Go’s blog about body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, size discrimination, and fat acceptance.  For a while, as I wean from my “hablogtual” routine, I see myself gleefully writing about these concerns in the past tense. I will have some nostalgic posts on how the paradigm shift finally happened, and the occasional recognition of some of the amazing people that worked dillegently to effect the cultural change from oppressive societal governing of our bodies to a world of tolerance and individual choice.

But alas, that day is not here yet and every day blog material collects on my psyche like lint in a lint trap. Case in point:

Last week I was on an airplane, winging my way to present at the Joint Conference of Popular and American Culture Associations.  I was nervous, excited, and filled with anticipation of what I would see, experience, learn, and how my presentation would be received by those who attended.

I was presenting with the Fat Studies Cohort, brilliantly assembled by Lesleigh Owens and Julia McCrossin, women I had heard of but had never met.  I would be one of a scintillating and diverse group of fat activist researchers, professors, artists, and students presenting on the topics of fat/size discrimination and how fat people are perceived, represented and treated vis a vis the global popular culture media.  It was an amazing experience and over the next few weeks I am certainly going to be sharing links, opinions and impressions from the conference. But today’s blog is about what happened on the plane.

I rarely talk about myself in terms of my weight or size. It is contradictory to my belief system that we are not just numbers on a scale or a BMI measurement. I have been so many weights throughout my life and hence learned who I was inside stayed constant despite my weight, and it was the way I was treated by others that was the changing variable.  It is, however, important that I mention for the purpose of this post that currently I am too fat to be labeled thin in this society and too thin to be labeled fat by others. Add to this the fact that no matter what I weigh some genetic fluke results in my having a pointy face, I can, when sitting down, “pass” as a thinner person.

I can function as a double agent, a secret spy, an undercover operative.

This isn’t the only time in my life that I have functioned in this capacity. When I was a student at the University of New Hampshire, I was one of perhaps ten Jewish students on the campus. Because of my red hair, green eyes, and occasional pint of Guinness Stout in my hand (drinking age back then was 18 so we college girls could drink legallyJ) everyone understandably assumed I was an Irish gal.  Because of this for the first time in my 18 years I heard first hand snide Anti-Semitic comments.  A nudge nudge wink wink in my direction coupled with a comment like, “You know how those Jews are,” or, “All Jews look the same.”  I was stunned and speechless at first.  (Imagine me speechless???)  After a while I was able to shock people by playing along just long enough before unveiling the fact that I was Jewish thus pointing out how narrow minded and misinformed they were. Still, it was painful to realize that my parent’s stories of Anti-Semites were not just the scars from a bygone era or generation of Holocaust survivors. There were kids my age spewing the same crap on a college campus. I became an activist and an educator.

So there I was on the airplane. Snuggled under the no longer complimentary blanket that I bought last year and bring with me on every flight. Walking down the aisle was a woman with luscious dark curly hair, a bright red t-shirt that happily boasted of a white water rafting achievement, and a standard size roller bag to put in the overhead compartment.

She stopped at the row in front of mine and began struggling to put her bag in the bin.  She was about five feet tall and was having difficulty managing the task. No one offered to help her. I could not help her because I was in the window seat boxed in by two other passengers. The person next to me rolled his eyes and commented to me, “It figures she’d have such a large bag, her clothes must be gigantic!”

I began to respond just as she finally managed to get her suitcase situated, take her seat, when another woman came down the aisle. She had luscious dark curly hair, sported a blue t-shirt from Michigan and had a standard size roller bag. She was about five feet tall and as she struggled with her bag three people jumped up to help her.

By the time the “tumult” subsided the person sitting next to me was plugged into his ear buds and the moment to reveal my secret identity and challenge his prejudice had passed. Needless to say I was left with an all too familiar feeling of anger, sadness, fatigue, and resolve to keep trying to make changes to these attitudes and assumptions. I mean honestly, the ONLY visible difference between the two women struggling with their bags was their weight and the fatter woman received negative comments and no help while the thinner woman was pampered and catered to because somehow she was more deserving of the help.

When we were deplaning, the man sitting next to me took his standard size roller bag out of the overhead bin. I raised my eyebrows and started to say, “Looks like you have the same size bag that she has, what is your excuse for its size?” But he quickly traipsed down the aisle leaving me wanting to scream, “Figures you’d have such a large bag your egotistical, judgmental attitude must take up a lot of space!”

But this one got away leaving me fortunately and unfortunately with material for yet another blog.

And I headed out to San Antonio hungrily anticipating being with and learning from likeminded people who would help anyone struggling with a suitcase no matter how much they weighed.