An old story from Jezebel.com that I somehow missed details the apparent travails of an obese rider of Boston’s commuter line. There is some disagreement about what happened. To be honest, both sides of the story seem to be embellishing / lying a bit in order to make a bigger social or political point. The first version of the story goes thusly:
“This woman saw the opening of a seat that was half occupied with the bulk of the people sitting to their side. It is important to note at this point that this lady was more portly proportioned than your average individual. Alone, this seat was not sizeable enough to fit the average sized commuter. She honed in on this sliver of a gap and forcefully pounded her way in-between two unsuspecting passengers, whom judging by their facial expressions, were quite taken aback by the audacity of this lady to squeeze in without so much as an “excuse me” or “sorry” or “can I just squeeze in please?” From an observer’s point of view, it certainly did look inappropriate and signaled to me that this woman had a blatant disregard for social etiquette, especially in light of her previous behavior while boarding the train…
…To add insult to injury, after about one stop, she pulled out a Nintendo DS (she wasn’t reading a book, she was never reading a book) This woman proceeded to play her Nintendo DS, not with earphones on but with the system speakers set at a selfishly loud volume…The gentleman to her right, no longer able to contain himself, said “Can you please turn that down?” To my utter excitement ( I admit it, I had front row seats and this was pure entertainment) She TURNED THE VOLUME HIGHER like a defiant, petulant child would, to purposely anger him. Subsequently, as though it couldn’t get worse she physically shoved both her elbows into her neighbors in a blatant show of further undeniable violation of personal space. [At this point annoyed passenger sitting next to her said:] Two things: Either learn a little respect, or lose some weight.”
The second version of events is:
“To the shitstain who made a woman cry on the T – w4m – 30 (Stony Brook T Station)
You got up right before the Stony Brook stop and said something in a low voice to the woman next to you. You exited the train and she burst into tears. I asked her what you said—-and in between sobs she goes, “he said ‘Have some respect for yourself and lose some weight’…
Oh shit, you said that to a complete fucking stranger, an innocent person trying to read a book on her ride home!!! Yeah dog, you sure did, and then you turned heel and walked off like the miserable coward you are.
You publicly humiliated another human and made her cry. How truly fucking horrifying of you. She was totally stunned, and devastated. . .is that what you wanted to see happen? Are you that much of a nightmare that you are PLEASED by making people cry? Total strangers even? I don’t think I can fully express to you what an absolute skidmark you are, but here goes:
You: blond, slicked hair, hipsterish. You manage to be both tasteless and sanctimonious, and something tells me you brag about loving Bukowski even though you only made it 80 pages deep into Women. You definitely think you’re smarter than everyone, and you love reflective surfaces. You work in design/tech/oh wait, who cares, you don’t fucking matter. You treat women like garbage, but don’t worry—-we hate you. You have a stank on you, and a lot of us can smell it…truly a dookiestain made flesh. You don’t have an original thought under that stupid haircut. You are a straight up fucking bully, and you should be ashamed of yourself. Bullies are the absolute worst.
The thing is, part of you knows this, and you’re upset that no one treats you like the special snowflake you believe yourself to be. So you say horrible things to strangers in public to make yourself feel better. Stop being such a fucking bully and shitting on other humans just because your wounded-ego feels like taking a dump. No really, just fucking stop…”
As a daily rider of the T (in fact, I get off at the very station at the heart of this storm), I have some thoughts. I don’t fit comfortably within the airspace of a single T chair either. I’m too wide at the shoulders. So, if there’s a seat between two people, I never take it. I understand my body dimensions and I take that into account in my dealings with other people. And, I’ll be honest, when a big person tries to occupy an empty seat between me and another person, I have on occasion said, “I’m not sure that’s going to work, brother / sister” with appropriate sternness of voice and face. Maybe you could call this fat-shaming, but it’s really more that I’d prefer not to have someone on my lap. The right to live one’s life without people making you feel bad about yourself has to bend to an awareness of the basic physics law that no two objects can occupy the same space.
Obviously, I can’t cosign people making rude comments about someone’s weight. That’s a pretty basic violation of accepted rules of civility. But, at the same time we all need to be aware of our bodies. I’m freakishly tall and 245 pounds. I do make an effort to account for the fact that being literally twice as large as many people I encounter on the train can make them uncomfortable, and I also recognize that I can’t look to insert myself into regular-people sized situations without causing problems for other people. This is also a basic fact of civility within the crowded setting of a commuter train. The simple fact is that if I’m sitting down in a seat, a very heavy person who comes along just won’t fit into that seat next to me. Is this a problem for Boston’s Transportation Authority to fix? Perhaps, but on an immediate interpersonal basis, a very wide person simply has to acknowledge the physical realities of their situation.
My passing familiarity with this debate lets me know that the response is to point out that fat people are aware of nothing so much as they are aware of their own bodies. But, given the frequency with which I see people trying to squeeze into unobliging seats, that seems not to be true. And, given the looks of annoyance on passengers’ faces as get pressed up against their other neighbor, this seems not to always be the case.