On Visibility

[Content Note: Dehumanization; fat hatred.]

I was thinking about visibility this week, even before the selfies debate erupted on Twitter and elsewhere.

I was thinking about it because I traveled out of town earlier in the week, and, because I am a fat woman, I spend much of my life being invisible to lots of people. But, at airports, I become hyper-visible.

It is a jarring and anxiety-inducing experience to go from being someone whose body dehumanizes her to the point of nonexistence in most of her daily life, ignored by salespeople and bartenders and people walking directly toward me, to someone whose body makes her highly visible, obliging me to be aware of an unusual number of scrutinizing stares.

The scrutiny intensifies once I get to the gate. I become keenly aware of the passengers on the same flight, waiting to board, who are looking at me, literally sizing me up, hoping that they're not seated next to someone whose body might spill into their seats. Some of them give me pointedly disgusted glances, if I happen to make eye contact, as if their intense disdain might penetrate the cosmos in a way that reverses time and moves my seat elsewhere, in case it's next to theirs. Or maybe they expect enough directed hatred might intimidate me to leave altogether.

On two of my four flights, I was seated beside empty seats. On the other two, I was seated next to people who were perfectly pleasant, and into whose seats I did not spill. Which may or may not have affected how nice they were to the fat—but not too fat—lady seated beside them.

* * *

While passing through security at Portland Airport, my body vibrating with the awareness of scrutiny, I heard someone say, "What kind of phone is that?" I turned to see a man behind me—a young, thin, kyriarchetypically handsome white man, dressed fashionably in upscale business clothes. For a moment, I thought he must not be speaking to me, but he was looking right at me, with an expression that anticipated a reply.

I told him the type of phone. As we put our shoes back on and bags back together, he happily chatted to me for two minutes or so about my phone and its features. It was making him consider ditching his iPhone. We laughed. And then we were both on our separate ways.

As I wandered toward my gate, I was struck by the fact of how unusual this exchange seemed to me.

Men with that sort of privilege that don't usually talk to me. Unless you count shouting fat-hating epithets from passing cars. Which I don't. It's not something about which I have any sort of feelings; it's just a fact of my life. I am so invisible to them that they are more likely to walk right into me than they are to strike up a casual conversation, in an airport or anywhere else.

* * *

I once wrote: "The reason I post pictures of myself…is because there is a dearth of imagery of fat women, especially fat happy women enjoying their lives." It's also because I want to be visible.

I don't mean I want to be admired, or fancied, or famous. I mean I just want to be a person who is seen by the people around her, a person who isn't surprised when any other person speaks to her, a person who is fully human.

image of me, a fat white middle-aged woman with short hair and glasses, wearing a grey hoodie and sitting in my office

This is a picture of me sitting in my office right now. Only after I took it did I notice the reflection of myself in my eyes.

I want to be visible to me most of all.

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