For me, air travel is one of the most difficult aspects of being overweight. I go to extraordinary lengths to reduce the likelihood of being in the most uncomfortable situations, but unfortunately you simply can’t always control the situation. This is also an important lesson for life in general, but more about that later.
I’ve never been afraid of the actual flying. When I first started flying alone (my parents put me on an overseas flight by myself when I was 10, to spend a year living with my grandparents) I actually thought the view of the earth getting smaller and then bigger as you took off and landed was thrilling. And don’t even get me started on how spectacular a sunset can be above the clouds. However, I started needing a seat belt extension pretty early on. The seat belts have actually gotten longer over the years, but somehow I still ALWAYS seem to be just ahead of the industry maximum. I’ve actually gotten pretty used to asking for an extension and the flight attendants are usually pretty matter of factual about it, which has definitely helped.
The part I just can’t seem to get used to, though, is the face of a fellow traveler when he realizes that I will be crammed into the seat next to him, taking up the shoulder/elbow space and sucking all the oxygen from the row. Having run out of alternatives at that point, all that is left for me to do is tangle myself into a knot that is least likely to spill into his space, try not to move or touch and spend the next couple of hours feeling guilty about the discomfort I have caused this undeserving victim.
The above picture from a recent NPR article titled: Hating On Fat People Just Makes Them Fatter sums that feeling up pretty perfectly for me. I’m not sure how appropriate the conclusions are, based on the results of the actual research, but it raises an interesting question for me: How much of the shaming is actually coming from the outside and how much of it is self-inflicted? Don’t get me wrong, I know for a fact that it does happen, but how often do I assume it is happening, because it has happened in the past? How often do I project my own self-loathing onto the people around me, when they might not have even wasted a single thought on me or the situation I am currently obsessing over?
Another “recovering girl,” whose courage for self-examination and honesty in her own journey inspired me in many ways to start my own, wrote this a few months ago: http://www.curvyogi.com/?p=336
Even though it is ultimately a story about a beautiful, well deserved compliment and the fallacy of expecting the worst (or projecting your worst fears onto other people’s actions and thoughts), it made me incredibly sad. These kinds of thoughts and feelings and DOUBTS, before everything turns out to be “good” (and safe), are something I live with every single day. I would have assumed the cabby was judging me personally, rather than commenting on the culture of yoga in America. I would have felt guilt and shame for missing the shoe etiquette and that I deserved Suzy Sunshine‘s rudeness. Not only would I have felt guilty, but I would have felt like I was not entitled to be there in the first place, because people like me can never be accepted anywhere. And I would have run, long before having the chance to think (know) the instructor was avoiding me because my body is too repulsive.
Sounds a little extreme, right? Rational me sometimes knows that all the bad things I think about myself aren’t true. Rational me sometimes realizes the “great flaws” I’ve been trying to hide and compensate for all my life are not actually apparent to every person who passes me on the street. But the feelings, those DAMN FEELINGS, are REAL and they are LOUD and the are TERRIFYING! And all the positive self talk won’t convince me that I deserve what I have, that I earned where I am, that I am entitled take up space, to EXIST.
The moral of this story is that I need to learn to love and accept myself BEFORE I can expect to heal. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to walk onto an airplane and accept myself enough to feel like it is not an audacity to feel as entitled to be there as everybody else. At least not until I have lost half my body weight, which of course won’t happen until… well you get the point.