I am overweight. Since childhood, size has defined me. Teased, tormented and taunted as a kid because of my butt and belly, adulthood and obesity presents a unique set of problems. One of those is flying. I love to travel. I want to visit Paris, Italy, London. I want to be an expatriate. I’ve read that overseas flights are much stricter when it comes to large passengers so I satiate myself with trips across the country for business.
Before I book my flight, I research. I find articles about Southwest kicking Kevin Smith off a plane because he was “too fat to fly” (catchy phrase). No Southwest. I flew Delta to St. Louis in 2009 and United to Pittsburgh in 2010 and vaguely remember both seatbelts having a bit of leeway tucked discreetly underneath my gut. United it is. With the chairs 17 inches across and a pitch of 34 inches, I take the liberty of booking seats A and C knowing that no solo-traveling stranger wants to sit in-between me and my window-riding companion. I, of course, take the aisle seat.
This year, the annual convention will be in New Orleans. I plan to travel with three friends. Skinny, svelte friends who love me as I am, yet have no idea about the turmoil that dwells in me as I plan to travel. So many people believe weight is a choice, and to some extent, it is. I admit to being a binge eater. To me it feels like a choice, perpetuated. I remember Mark, a fellow 3rd grader, who used to call me ugly, bird’s nest, fatso. The other kids laughed, some of them joined in. I mostly pretended words did not affect me. Except when I threw a desk at Mark and ran out of the classroom crying. High school taught me to hide in plain sight from judgmental peers—to pretend my insecurities did not exist. These lessons help to maintain a standoffish sort of lifestyle in Southern California as an overweight woman. Go ahead and snigger behind your hands! I may ignore you or kick your ass, depending on how far we both are willing to go.
Ready to book, I find that airlines give plus-size passengers the option to purchase a “seatbelt extender” as a precaution against an embarrassing predicament. More embarrassing, though, is the scenario in which one of my friends catches me buckling my extender into the seatbelt.
“God, please let me fit” is my mantra as I buy the non-refundable ticket. Even my office chair is 20 inches across, my rational mind screams as I press the "purchase" link for the $350 round-trip to the Crescent City. Three different airplanes means three seatbelts and three gut busting experiences.
Just because I'm fat does not mean my weight will affect you, seat neighbor, during a three hour flight. Flight attendant, I promise not to leak out into the aisle as you roll your metal cart up and down serving stale soda and burnt coffee. Flying is a privilege, I suppose, not a right. From my travel companions I fear scorn, or worse, pity. Still, I don’t want to talk about it, I don’t want you to help me start an exercise plan, I don’t want an operation, I just want to see the world.
Rebecca Renee Hess has a B.A. in Creative Writing and an M.A. in Literature. She lives in front of a keyboard, simultaneously contemplating suicide and a terminal degree.