ride the public buses of New York City nearly every day, to and
from work at least. Overall, experience has shown me that most riders
prefer to sit rather than stand -- that is, unless they have to
sit next to a fat person.
been on buses that filled to an inhumane capacity, with commuters
packed in like desperate refugees or sows to the slaughter. Still,
the seat beside me remained empty. I once watched a woman tolerate
being wedged between a foul-smelling man with roaming hands and
a perspiring giant with a hairy armpit an inch from her face, yet
she staunchly refused to collapse comfortably into the seat available
at my side. To be fair, she might've been enjoying the feel-up,
but judging by her expression of disgust and the dirty looks she
kept shooting at me, I think not. Why wouldn't she just sit? And
what had I done to deserve the evil eye? Had I contaminated
an otherwise perfectly good seat by situating my deadly girth beside
people don't even bother to be subtle. One woman attempted to sit
beside me and made a big show of squirming uncomfortably before
crossing the aisle in a noisy huff. She sat beside a sympathetic
stranger with shaking head and rolling eyes, to whom she churlishly
complained, "Some people got a lot of nerve!"
listen -- I can understand how the seat beside a large person might
be viewed as less desirable than one beside a slimmer person, for
reasons of bodily comfort. A tiny person might leave the seat-seeker
more room to move in their own space. Oftentimes I, too, will choose
to stand when I see an open seat between two people that looks like
it won't comfortably accommodate my large body. I simply don't want
to be squashed in the middle. What I don't understand, however,
is when seats are at a premium and very few people will suck it
up and sit next to me in a seat on the aisle -- that's right,
an aisle seat where there's no wedged-between factor. Even I find
it infinitely more comfortable to sit in an aisle seat beside another
large person, with one of my ass-cheeks hanging over the side, than
to stand for forty blocks and be jerked clumsily to and fro in high-heeled
it isn't adults refusing to sit beside me, it's their children,
children of four and younger already imbued by the media or their
parents with the unarticulated but unmistakable code that fat people
are bad. Bad, dirty, poor, stupid, sick. I've watched, saddened,
as children twisted and whined at their nannies' sides when it was
suggested that they take a seat beside me.
I actually get to witness the process of this unfortunate indoctrination.
An as-yet untainted child approached the empty seat beside me and
climbed guileless into it, grinning, all cheeks and Chiclet-teeth.
Her mother snatched her away and suggested that she sit over there
instead. When the little girl asked, "Why, Mommy?"
her mother was dismissive and uneasy. While my hips and ass may
be wide, trust me -- they've never bled so far outward that I couldn't
accommodate the feathery body of a three-year-old at my side.
way people act, you'd think fat was contagious.
time, I couldn't help wondering what other riders were thinking
when they chose not to sit next to me on the bus. At that moment
of decision -- to sit or not to sit next to the fat girl -- are
their thoughts crystal clear, like typewriting across their brains?
You don't want to sit next to that fat woman, because a) she
might smell like bratwurst, b) her excess sweat will rub off on
you and stain your good blouse, or c) it'll be a lot less comfortable
than standing. Or are their thoughts more like a swirling purple
vapor of vague collected precepts? Fat...bad...icky...undesirable...avoid...stand.
afternoon I was inspired to launch an experiment; to engage in an
act of performance art, of sorts. I created a fake book cover with
my home computer. Some rectangles of color here, a change in font
there, a borrowed bar code, some clip art of a cartoon fat woman
on a shuddering scale, and voila! I'd churned out a highly
convincing non-fiction book jacket. I wrapped it around a newly
purchased biography, and after a little tugging and folding and
fun with Scotch tape, I held the book out before me. My heart swelled
at the sight of it, my cheeks grew warm. My God. It looked so real.
your own copy of Fat is Contagious!
about to give my fellow bus riders something to think about.
you've ridden the buses of New York lately, perhaps you've seen
me, quietly reading, FAT IS CONTAGIOUS: How Sitting Next to a
Fat Person Can Make YOU Fat. The cover further reads:
doctor's discovery of the direct correlation between her sudden
weight gain of over 100 lbs. after a long bus journey seated beside
an obese woman -- and the eye-opening research that followed."
book is authored by Kimberly Cox Ph.D., with the fictitious "Physicians
and Scientists of the Pomona University Center for Obesity Studies".
name of the author is a tribute to a nasty girl in junior high school
who sent me letters after I moved out-of-state just to tell me I
danced funny and that I was so fat, she was sure my mother had to
buy all my jeans in the "Huskies" department at Sears.
the creation of Fat is Contagious, I theorized that if some
people could be jostled awake long enough to recognize the absurdity
of a book proposing that "Sitting Next to a Fat Person Can
Make YOU Fat," they might also stop and ask themselves why
they really chose not to sit beside a fat person. Might it
occur to them that the reason they were avoiding fat people was
just as ridiculous as the premise of my book? When I created Fat
is Contagious, I was fairly sure I could get people to look
twice, but would I get them to think twice?
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