So obesity’s a disability, eh? The plane truth

An interesting situation has developed in the United States’ bigger, cozier neighbor.
In January, the Canadian Transportation Agency ruled that disabled people taking domestic flights were entitled to two airline seats for the price of one. Though aimed primarily at passengers needing extra space for wheelchairs and even caregivers, the ruling–resulting in a policy that quickly became known as “one person, one fare”–also entitled “severely obese” to two seats for the price of one. The agency then left it to the three affected airlines (Air Canada, Air Canada Jazz and WestJet) to determine eligibility criteria and gave them one year to settle the issue. “We are confident that the airlines will come up with a plan for eligibility,” CTA spokesman Jadrino Huot declared.
What Huot should have been confident of was that the airlines would appeal the part of the decision extending to obese people, if not the entire thing. They did, more than once, and on Nov. 20, the Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear another appeal, handing down the decision that those who are “functionally disabled by obesity” will get two seats for the price of one, effective as of January 10.
Reactions, as expected, have been varied.


The Montreal Gazette ran an editorial yesterday suggesting that because obesity–unlike other conditions qualifying fliers for a free extra seat–is controllable, the inclusion of heftyfolk in the policy was “almost an insult to the truly disabled.” Editors at the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier offered almost exactly the same opinion. And and Big Fat Blog, the decision was hailed as major victory:

All in all, this is a superb ruling and the Canadian Transportation Agency should be applauded for upholding our rights, enforcing their ruling, and allowing fat people to fly with dignity – something that the loudmouthed “thin” people on the internet are taking for granted.

This is the reaction one would expect, but it’s riddled with historical self-inflicted scars and ought to be a guilty one. Fat activists normally bristle at the idea that they have a disease or a disability, and scoff at the suggestion that obesity can increase the risk of other diseases. They don’t even like the term “obese” because of its clinical connotations, and would rather simply be called “fat.” I guess the thinking is that by seizing what has long been a pejorative term from the hands of hecklers and applying it to themselves, persons of size are saying, “I’m not ashamed, so eat me”–reasoning anyone should be able to appreciate. They talk about being “fit and fat” and credit themselves with not fighting their own physiology in a colossal and fruitless effort to achieve some warped cultural attractiveness ideal. They have a noble goal, one they often swaddle in shit by rising to the level of primo denialists when it comes to the medical realities they face, fodder which has already been dealt with extensively here.
What all of this spells is that by calling the Supreme Court of Canada ruling a victory, Big Fat Blog fans are more than happy to piggyback on a ruling intended chiefly to make the lives of mobility-impaired and severely ill people easier and adopt the mantle of “disabled” despite vehemently shunning it elsewhere. Caught ya!
Of course, fat activists are not the first group rooted in victimhood (rightly or not) to gloat over having things both ways, and they won’t be the last. When it come to doublespeak, not one BFB member could rise to 10 percent of the level of doublespeak regularly foisted on the public by members of the Bush administration. In general, though, this kind of behavior exposes the ethos of the group in question as not only incoherent, but at least partially fraudulent. If you believe you’re just a normal human variant who deserves to be treated no differently (that is, no worse) than anyone else and doesn’t want to be unfairly labeled or marginalized, great. Fight for that, and hard. On the other hand, if you’re just out to grab as much for yourself as you can, most likely with a big, silent “fuck you, society, you owe me anyway,” well, that’s typical too. But at least go ahead and admit it, so I can say, “Well, fuck me! What can I get by yelling real loud and flip-flopping when it’s convenient?”
I’m working on this already. The average American male stands 5′ 10″ and weighs just under 190 pounds. I’m 5′ 10″ weigh about 73% of 190 pounds, so it’s high time I started demanding a 25% discount on airline, bus, train, cab, ferry, rickshaw, paddleboat, monorail, trolley, hot-air balloon, gondola, dirigible, and white-water rapids trips. Oh, and ferris-wheel rides.
I wonder if the people large enough to consume two seats are also entitled to two in-flight meals. I hope so. If I were in that position, I, grinning around mouthfuls, would eat both of them as loudly as possible with one hand while using my cell-phone camera to take pictures of disgusted onlookers with with the other. Of course, this is the kind of shit I do anyway. I just think it would have more of an impact if I were a beneficiary of the 2-for-1 policy instead of just a crass traveler.
In case you were wondering, I wasn’t being serious in the last two paragraphs. I wasn’t even being sarcastic. I was just being kind of a tool. This whole post could have been a thousand words shorter had I just described the situaton, pointed a finger and yelled “HYPOCRITES!!!” And I know that someone’s apt to give me a hard time about being a “fat hater” at this point, but I’ll remind anyone tempted to do so that I’m an equal-opportunity critic when it comes to people who become merrily full of shit and deny everything they supposedly stand for when there’s a reward it in for them. They are the only ones who are hurt by this stuff, because it shows they can’t be fully trusted.

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  1. #1 by Huck on December 9, 2008 - 9:02 am

    I am pretty sure this ruling means that people with higher metabolisms have a disability and that we should get 2 for 1 deals on any food items…

  2. #2 by Huck on December 9, 2008 - 9:02 am

    I am pretty sure this ruling means that people with higher metabolisms have a disability and that we should get 2 for 1 deals on any food items…

  3. #3 by Michael Render on December 9, 2008 - 9:31 am

    I am obese and I think these guys are yo-yos. When I see a guy get on a plane using a wheelchair and see him struggle to get into his seat, I never think my inconvenience at being a little snug equals his. I am not a victim and I am not disabled. I am fat. I accept that, but I don’t stop trying to eat less and exercise more.
    I am also bald. I think THAT should get me a discount. Life is so unfair.

  4. #4 by Kevin Beck on December 9, 2008 - 9:40 am

    Michael,
    I hasten to add the usual disclaimer I should have put in my post–I know the BFBers are not more representative of fat people than are fundamentalist whack jobs are of people who believe in this or that god. Everyone struggles with something, and 5% of any loosely defined group is going to be crazy at baseline to boot–hence, your dedicated nutjobs. I could never be overweight and stand no chance of becoming a Bible-bopper, but I could beat almost all y’all to the nearst psych ward or detox when I behave badly.
    Given a choice, I would have turned out to be a rampant conspiracy theorist. They never fail to entertain.

  5. #5 by Becca on December 9, 2008 - 12:03 pm

    “If you believe you’re just a normal human variant who deserves to be treated no differently (that is, no worse) than anyone else and doesn’t want to be unfairly labeled or marginalized, great”
    Uhm… you’re a sick sad man.
    So people with disabilities are “abnormal human variants who deserve to be treated differently (that is, worse) than others and want to be unfairly labeled and marginalized”?
    Your entire premise rests on the assumption that being labeled disabled is an unspeakably derogatory thing.
    Now, you might have a point about “hypocrisy” if you had evidence of someone who said “I don’t want to be labeled disabled for being fat; I’m not a darn cripple!” now says “What a splendid ruling this is, that they are acomodating our disability!”.

  6. #6 by Kevin Beck on December 9, 2008 - 12:30 pm

    Becca, I don’t think I said what you think I did. But I admit that passage sucked, so let me try once more.
    The point is that the BFBers have fought tooth and nail against the idea that obesity is a disability. They don’t want the label (or didn’t, until this business with the airlines). They have long resisted the idea that obesity can lead to serious health problems. I, and I suspect most people, believe it can be disabling. Not being able to walk on level ground is certainly a disability,
    Your statement about what I supposedly think about people with disabilities is a non sequitur. Of course I don’t think anyone wants to be disabled (well, except, I suppose, for people working the system who are actually fine). I admit I could have done better than “normal human variant,” as that seems to reduce people to murine research subjects or something. I wouldn’t use the term “abnormal” to describe someone with a medical disability and I wish you hadn’t jumped to the conclusion that I would, but I admit I left the door open for that one.
    “Now, you might have a point about ‘hypocrisy’ if you had evidence of someone who said “I don’t want to be labeled disabled for being fat; I’m not a darn cripple!” now says “What a splendid ruling this is, that they are acomodating our disability!”
    Which is exactly what has happened, although as far as I know, no one in the fat-activist camp worded things as hyperbolically and zanily as you did, slipping in key words solely for effect (“splendid,” “cripple”).
    That said, I’m still a sad, sick man. I won’t let you take that from me!

  7. #7 by rBST on December 9, 2008 - 1:23 pm

    Lumping legitimately disabled folks in with the merely obese invalidates the intentions behind offering a second seat without charge. And I get your point that while most obese people don’t want to be treated poorly based on their “condition”, they do want accommodations to be made on their behalf.
    That said, I expect obese people are so infrequently fly the friendly skies because a) they can’t fit into their allocated seat and b) they cannot afford to pay for a second seat in order to fly in comfort. It’s a bit of a quandary, yes? No? Maybe?
    Airplanes were designed during a time when the prevalance of obesity was much slimmer than it is now. In 2002, 32% of the population in the U.S. was considered obese. In what decade were most commercial aircraft manufactured? 1960s? What was the rate of obesity back then?
    A family member of mine is unable to fly because she is a rather large woman. Even if she were offered a two-fer, she would not fly. Why? Embarrassment over having to accommodate her bulk in two seats. That’s not very dignified. So while obese folks welcome the rulling, I have to wonder how many would take the offering.

  8. #8 by Kevin Beck on December 9, 2008 - 1:34 pm

    To hell with flying; a lot of really heavy people will tell you they don’t like to leave the house, period. And that, of course, compounds existing problems in some obvious ways.
    No one should have to swim in that kind of shame all the time.
    But you’re probably right; those celebrating this ruling are most likely imagining some other, unknown, faceless person taking advantage, and have no intention of boarding a plane anytime soon themselves.
    I once sat next to a guy who weighed 400+ pounds. Not only was he fat as hell, he was tall. I had to lean at about a 15-degree angle away from him the whole time. He didn’t care, though. He boarded the place with several Egg McMuffins. By the end of the flight we were both joking about it. He was an exception, though, and it turned out he was filthy rich, an oil-tycoon type, which may have mitigated how he otherwise may have felt about himself and the situation.

  9. #9 by becca on December 9, 2008 - 8:56 pm

    See, I’ve been totally spoiled by Jon Stewart. I want, like, evidence, and stuff. Why can’t you find one of these activists on video saying one thing and then saying another (a la comedy news)? Or even just quotes w/links.
    ’cause from the links you post… I just don’t see what you’re saying.
    Truth is, there are plenty of “differently abled” folks who don’t much want to be looked at with pity, nor labeled “disabled”. It is a word with a lot of baggage… but that wasn’t the objection BFB seemed to have. The objection, was the use of the word to deny people from consideration as “normal”… which is, after all, a rather slimy way to use the term.
    On language: “splendid” and “superb” sound kind of similar to me… but survey says I’m predisposed to alliteration. Plus, saying things hyperbolically and zanily is totally how I roll. But anyway I would never try to take “sick and sad” from you; that would be wrong!

  10. #10 by Kevin Beck on December 9, 2008 - 9:26 pm

    Well, that kind of encapsulated summation I don’t have. I guess I’m relying on the circumstantial evidence of BFBers spending many years and tears holding the entire medical community, from researchers to practitioners to biostatisticians, in frothy contempt for having the temerity to tell them the truth, no matter now gently. BFBers want to see themselves as perfectly healthy–if possible, as MORE healthy than thin people. Taken together this is wrongheaded and bizarre, but idealistic and consistent.
    But now we have a situation wherein people too fat to fit into one airplane seat basically have two choices (we’ll pretend weight loss is impossible): Accept the designation of “disabled” so that seat number two comes free, or stick with all of the other rhetoric and pony up for a second ass-cushion. What did we see happen?
    If you look at the comments under the post about the recent court decision, you see some surreal shit. One or two of them said the seats just needed to be made bigger, plain and simple, as if this were like repainting the fucking pantry. No consideration to the engineering concerns involved with widening a fuselage and the effect of this on aerodynamics, etc., etc. Just WIDEN MY SEAT SO MY ASS CAN FIT. I’d laugh at this, but I’m still disturbed by how someone must feel when helped into a two-seat-consuming position for all to see.
    Believe me, I’m no stranger to shame and the right to boast labels I might not want to have. And there are always multiple faces to stuff. For example I might go to great lengths to keep any diagnoses I might qualify for out of clinics and hospitals so as to avoid repercussions from employers or potential employers. But then what happens down the line when I do become unable to work? I qualify medically for disability, but I have never taken meds I should have taken, haven’t done therapy or even seen a shrink, etc. I have no record of being who I am. And now, Social Security will laugh at my application for benefits and toss it in the garbage.
    I may be may off the mark in terms of the reality of the latter scenario, but it allows me a grudging glimmer of empathy. I guess I’m saying that in the world of disabling medical conditions, good luck trying to have it both ways, like you can on blogs.

  11. #11 by rBST on December 9, 2008 - 10:30 pm

    I was not advocating producing airplanes with wider/larger seats when I commented above. It actually had not occurred to me as a potential option and doing so would be ridiculous. I’m not sure I had a point when I wrote it, but I did for a moment consider that the average BMI has changed considerably over the past 50 years, while seats have not.
    *scratches head*
    I’m not entirely sympathetic to their condition. But I AM able to muster up some sympathy regarding the difficulty of air travel for the severaly overweight. I get why some obese people would advocate for the two-fer. So…I’m judgmental to a point…and back.

  12. #12 by Kevin Beck on December 9, 2008 - 10:32 pm

    rBST,
    I was woefully unclear. I meant the comments at the BFB site, not here!
    Damn, I knew this would be trouble…

  13. #13 by rBST on December 10, 2008 - 1:08 am

    Relax. It’s just the internet.
    Here, have a artificial growth hormone injection. Everyone is doing it.

  14. #14 by becca on December 10, 2008 - 1:08 am

    We don’t need bigger seats; haven’t you seen Wall-E?
    We just need personalized size-appropriate pods that lock into airplane floors so that we can be packed like anchovies into a can.
    Anyway this phrase-
    wrongheaded and bizarre, but idealistic and consistent“- is so entirely great I’ll pretend to agree with you, even though you don’t present actual evidence.
    Hypocritical Fatty McFattsos, wanting to eat their cake and eat it too…
    (look, sick and sad traits can rub off on those around you!)

  15. #15 by Kevin Beck on December 10, 2008 - 6:46 am

    “…even though you don’t present actual evidence.”
    I’ve decided that you’re like a tentatively open-minded creationist, late to the party and shackled by a lack of familiarity with the subject at hand, whose definition of “evidence” for evolution is nothing less than an actual video of a dinosaur turning into a bird. Lacking a background in paleontology, the creationist refuses to acknowledge patterns over time (after all, who wants to be troubled by nuances?) or do the work of digging a little deeper for clues that can, with a little work, be assembled into just the evidence the creationist supposedly wants, the creationist accuses the evolutionist of just making shit up.
    I’m sure that looks convoluted, so I’ll translate. You obviously aren’t familiar with the way the BFBers have operated over the years and you’re not reading what’s at the other ends of the links I’m sending. The former would be a clincher in terms of what I’m asserting about BFB hypocrisy, but the latter should be sufficient. If you need one of them on video openly crowing, “No, we’re not disabled but if it gains us something we’ll say that we are!” in order to be convinced that this is what’s going on, that’s your failing.
    It’s quite simple. In their minds, BFBers are perfectly healthy and everyone else is wrong–until the chance to get something for free arises, at which point BFBers happily [sort of) join quadriplegics and late-stage MS patients on the 2-seats-for-1-price eligibility list. Hell, you can’t blame ’em; they’re only human. Most people are well advised to take shit the government’s willing to give them even if 1) they don’t need it, or 2) accepting it runs counter to everything they have ever believed or claimed about themselves.
    Did you even read these? It’s a mixture of tentatively reasonable output and exactly the kind of talk I’ve said is going on over there.
    “Why not just make the seats bigger? Normal airplane seats are made for anorexic sardines.”
    “It’s funny that the airlines never offered us petite passengers any discounts on flights, but felt perfectly justified in charging large people double. Seeing as the size of seats is something they can put up and down at will.”
    “And, of course, the Denver Post used the common, nonthink myth: fat is a ‘lifestyle choice,’ so, essentially, fatties deserve to pay. Stupid and offensive. And, sadly, nothing new.”
    The thing that sucks about each of these “arguments” is that they all wind up making it seem to fat people as though I’m emotionally invested in beating on them for some reason. It’s obviously not that, but I have a low threshold for sloppy thinking and hypocrisy (I look for it in myself, believe me), and these fat activists, whose views admittedly represent those of maybe

  16. #16 by Rev. BigDumbChimp on December 10, 2008 - 12:28 pm

    Amazing how quickly I can churn shit out after just waking up. No one should comment this extensively under his own posts.

    JA Davison is really good at it…..

  17. #17 by Katharine on December 10, 2008 - 1:50 pm

    I hate fat activists. I’m going to have a good laugh when the people who run the fat blogs start dying from heart attacks.

  18. #18 by Kevin Beck on December 10, 2008 - 2:01 pm

    That does bring up an interesting point. Most of the BFBers claiming to be in great health and that this blows fat=risk studies out of the water are probably in their 20s and 30s, a couple decades younger than the age at which problems like diabetes, arthritis, CV derangements, etc. really start to set in. No one denies the risks of smoking, but you could start a blog called “Big Rank Puff” and populate it with smokers in the 25- to 35-year-old age range and if they all said they were in the pink of condition, they’d probably be telling the truth.
    The BFBers don’t even allow talk of weight loss, period in their comments, yet have no quandary about rushing en masse to shit up the blogs of journalists and researchers who are anything but mean to them. That alone tells you everything you need to know about how they really feel about themselves. It’s gotta suck, but a lot of them seem mentally unbalanced first and foremost, with their obesity somewhat in the background for now.

  19. #19 by Julie on December 10, 2008 - 2:47 pm

    Once they start going blind, the blogging output should drop off considerably:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/10/health/research/10diabetes.html?ref=health

  20. #20 by Kevin Beck on December 10, 2008 - 3:18 pm

    Well, there are a number of fat-acceptance blogs out there, but when I think of “they” I’m mostly thinking of BFB commenters. I don’t think the guy who writes the entries is even that fat. Someone once suggested in all sincerity that he might be a fat fetishist; don’t ask me. He’s definitely clueless, though. Every now and again someone from the rabble has to correct him, which is always funny to see; this was a fine example (Paul obviously hasn’t taken any stats courses lately).
    I’m guessing that those who read and do have health problems that they attribute to their weight and inactivity are silent. If someone were to bust in there and say, “Look, I’m 50 and my feet are this close to being amputated, my kidneys don’t work for shit, I have degenerative osteoarthritis in both knees and I’m chronically exhausted from sleep apnea, I once thought like you did, CHANGE WHILE YOU CAN,” she’d probably be banned. Believe me, I’ve seen things close to that go on over there. And this would not just be a shame, but an abomination.

  21. #21 by hopikrishnan on December 14, 2008 - 8:58 pm

    Airlines have always had an upper weight limit for checked in luggage. In the recent fuel price hike, they started charging more for checked in luggage that was within the weight limit. I thought eventually they will get around to charging for the weight of the passenger being transported between points. That would be fair to everybody. Families with kids will have a low average weight per person. Skinny adults can travel longer cheaper and fat adults will just feel that they have an incentive to lose weight if they want to save on airline tickets.

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