Pounds of Flesh: On Being Fat In PublicS

It's Saturday, and I'm at Six Flags, waiting in line for the Tatsu. I've been in line for over an hour, my feet hurt, my back hurts, and I'm absolutely terrified. I love roller coasters, and I'm not afraid of the speed or heights. I'm afraid of getting in the seat and pulling down the restraint. Will I fit, or will it be the walk of shame this time? I finally reach the seat and step in. My hips are painfully wedged, but I think I should be OK. I pull down the restraint and it almost clicks, then bounces up. I pull again, thinking that if I just get the right pull on it, it will work. No dice. The attendant comes over and pushes. People are starting to notice. My face burns and my hips hurt and now a second attendant is here pushing and finally…it clicks.

But the person pushing the button gives a thumbs-down and now both are pushing again until the other side engages. In all honesty, I would have preferred to sit down and realize that there was no hope of fitting. I could have quietly slunk out the exit; maybe one or two people would notice and whisper or snicker, but there are 100 pairs of eyes on me now, and I'm on display, and even if they're not talking about me now it feels like they are, because when you're fat the world thinks of you as something of an oddity or a sideshow, even though 35.7% of Americans are obese. The ride starts and now it's terrifying for a different reason. I'm afraid that these restraints, which just barely were made to hold together around my body, are going to give way. I hyperventilate throughout the ride, trying not to put any more strain on the harness than it's already under.

When the ride ends, the attendants spend at least a minute attempting to disengage the locks. It feels like hours. I rush toward the exit. I want to leave, to get as far away from this place as I can, but I'm with other people, and the other side of the park will have to do.

As I move throughout my day, I notice that my weight seems to have made me undeserving of common human courtesy. I spend the entire day at a busy theme park and not once does a person make any attempt to avoid a collision with me. It seems that my taking up extra space places the responsibility on me to move out of the way. Our next stop is Food Etc., an eatery within the park. Everyone wants soft serve, so I get some and try to eat it as quickly and inconspicuously as possible. People notice when a fat person eats. We move to the line for nachos and as we haven't eaten in about seven hours, everyone orders some variety of false Mexican monstrosity. I ask for carne asada nachos almost apologetically.

Being a fat person long-term, I've learned tricks throughout my life to navigate through a world that is basically trolling me. I've learned to eat messy foods quickly and I've become a dainty eater. When a thin person gets food on their shirt, they're clumsy or unlucky; when a fat person gets food on their shirt, they're a slob. My shoe comes untied and I find a corner to turn myself into, in case my pants ride just a little too low. Thin person ass crack is funny; fat person ass crack is funny, because we're gross non-people. A couple years ago I noticed that I walk on the very edge of whatever walkway I happen to be on. Being fat means constantly apologizing for your own existence.

I rarely buy clothes, because they're so hard to find. Most stores are off-limits for me. Target doesn't carry shirts that fit me; the mall might as well be Narnia. The clothes at the few places that carry a size I can fit into comfortably are outrageously expensive, shoddily made, and embarrassingly out of fashion. This contributes further to the image of a fat person as a slob. Think of the images you have of fat people from TV. Ill-fitting t-shirts. Terrible cargo shorts. This isn't because fat people don't like to look good. It's because very few people can afford to pay luxury prices for clothing, and those are the options we have.

Fat people are accused of making fatphobia a pet issue, but our size and the reaction of those around us to our size permeates everything we do. Every action I take is filtered through my weight. Reaching for something above my head? I make sure that I do it quickly or I suck in my belly so my shirt will cover me, because the world makes it very clear that no one wants to see a fat person's belly. Sure, we're all people, but some people are more people than others. Fat people are to live their lives quietly and contritely. We order salads; burgers are for people that have shown they can be trusted with the responsibility, and the punishment for enjoying our food – for enjoying our lives, really – is scorn, whether in the form of dirty looks, whispered insults, giggles or outright hostility. In pop culture, a character being fat is considered comedy.

The concern trolls are another matter. Some of them are coming from a good place – they don't want to see their loved ones get sick and die. But if people truly wanted to help, they would actually work on learning what's helpful. But you're not helping. We know we're fat. We know that society has deemed us unacceptable. Telling us that obesity will lead to all manner of health problems is unhelpful (and more than a little dubious). When I go to the doctor for a cold and he tells me to lose weight, it's unhelpful.

My fellow fat people and I aren't fat because we lack willpower. We're fat because we're depressed. We're fat because we're on anti-depressants. We're fat because we're disabled, or injured, or sometimes, just sometimes, because we've just stopped giving a fuck about what other people think about our bodies and have decided to enjoy our lives as we see fit. And the truth is that every single one of those reasons is valid and to be respected.

I am a tremendously body-positive of every person but myself. I have to struggle with self-loathing on a near-constant basis because of it. And this despite the fact that I know, for certain, that there is nothing wrong with being fat. There's nothing inherent in being fat that makes me a bad or worse person. There's nothing inherent in being fat that makes me less attractive. Every bit of bad feelings that come along with being fat come from the outside, from the media to concern trolls to people that are just mean – and even those shitty people didn't come up with their feelings on fat people on their own. It's a giant self-perpetuating cycle of hate and dehumanization and depression, so that being fat requires either constant, backbreaking self-awareness or a level of don't-give-a-fuck that can be nigh on impossible to achieve when you're trying to satiate a populace that demands literal pounds of flesh.

On Sunday, we went to Legoland. They have a teacup-type ride called the BIONICLE Blaster. It has no restraints; you simply sit and enjoy the ride. I had fun.

McUncool yells at people on Twitter at @joshuaadavidd.