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Archive for Sunday, June 30, 2002

Seating reveals lingering prejudice

June 30, 2002

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Terrorists and fat people. Both feel nervous at the airport these days.

Ever since Southwest Airlines gave its ticket agents the go-ahead to grab fatties at the gate and shake them down for an extra seat, anyone with a little baggage around the middle has started to worry.

"Will I get there only to be told, 'Wait! You have to pay extra before you can fly?"' frets Rhonda Reddick, an avid vacationer who describes herself in the "gray area" between average and supersize.

As if flying wasn't scary enough!

Even as she's mulling the potential embarrassment and expense ahead, however, millions of punier Americans are praying this is exactly what awaits frequent fryers.

"I'm sick of being sandwiched between fat people who don't fit in one seat," says lifetime petite person Tammy Moran. "I paid for my whole seat. I shouldn't have to be touching someone else."

Jenn Cornell, who recently spent a five-hour trip next to a 300-pound man, recalls, "It was disgusting to have to share my seat with someone else's fat."

Is there any way to accommodate all creatures great and small at 30,000 feet?

Yes there is. It is time for the fat bashers to grow up.

No doubt it is uncomfortable to be squished into an airline seat by someone else's flub. It's uncomfortable to be squished into an airline seat, period. They're built for Beanie Babies on diets.

But the horror with which people describe their fat seatmates goes beyond mere discomfort. It sounds more like contempt. Church Lady seated next to Bill Clinton couldn't be more put out, and there's a reason for that, says Annette Bickford, a Long Island University sociology professor:

We see fat people as morally corrupt.

"We like to divide people into good people and bad people," explains Bickford, who has studied the issue of size. Fat people are automatically classified as bad because it's assumed they have no self-control. "We see fat people in much the same way we saw poor people 100 years ago: It's all their fault."

But is it? Would anyone really choose to be fat or poor, for that matter? Of course not.

Still, whining fliers can complain about people with double chins in a way they could never complain about, say, moms with lap children, because there is nothing immoral about motherhood. Can you imagine a business traveler moaning, "Toddler flesh spilled into my seat!"

Though a cranky kid can ruin a flight faster than any fat molecule, most mature adults realize: This is just part of life. OK. I'll shut up and deal.

With its new flab segregation directive, however, Southwest is sanctioning the last American prejudice: fat hating.

On the other hand, keep serving us those tiny bags of peanuts, and we'll all be size 6 soon enough.




Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for the New York Daily News.

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