Every year since 2002, People has released a list of inspirational people who are now “Half Their Size” thanks to diet and exercise.
And while all of this year’s half-ies look (and hopefully feel) amazing, Christina Jordan’s story in particular has us seriously thinking about how hard it is to exist in public spaces — like, say, Disneyland — with a plus-size body.
Jordan, a 34-year-old mother of three, told the mag she was at the Anaheim, California park about nine years ago with her family when, after waiting in line for two hours for a ride, the seat belt wouldn’t fit over her lap.
“The poor kid that’s manning the ride says, ‘I’m sorry ma’am, it doesn’t fit, you’re too large to ride this ride,'” she explained.
(In the below photo, Jordan is the blonde.)
“I bolted off that ride. And I go to leave, and I couldn’t fit through the people counter. My hips were too wide, so they had to open the gate, and I felt like cattle being brought out to slaughter. It was the most embarrassing moment of my life. But it also opened my eyes to the fact that I had to change.”
This led Jordan to embrace “holistic nutrition” to shift her focus to “being healthy” instead of skinny, which is great, as it truly sounds like she lost the weight (and kept it off) in a healthy way, and under the consult of her physician.
However, the whole part about the ride at Disney — the part where she felt like “cattle bring brought out to slaughter” — is a good reminder of how, for some people, simply going somewhere like a public park or (notoriously) an airplane can be a major trauma. There are literally dozens of blogs out there that exist to help larger people get through a day at Disneyland without being mortified for existing in their bodies.
And while you can avoid Disneyland if you so desire — which you shouldn’t have to, because it’s great — air travel is typically harder to avoid. And sounds freaking awful.
Air travel is sadly familiar, a microcosm of what happens so often as a fat person,” blogger YourFatFriend eloquently wrote. “I am watched – and judged harshly – as I try – and fail – to fit into a space that was made for someone else. I am always too big, always too much, always unacceptable. I must make myself smaller and smaller, reducing and reducing endlessly, my stubborn body resisting at every turn. Still, I am never quite small enough to make anyone else comfortable.”
Since airlines are shrinking their seats to fit as many passengers as possible while waistlines grow and grow, it’s clear that this conversation won’t go away anytime soon. And obviously, Disney has to account for all of its guests and make sure its rides are safe; not killing people will always be more important than the feelings of turned-away passengers.
But in the meantime, Disney and other parks could definitely do better at improving park experience for plus-size guests. As the Los Angeles Times pointed out, many fat rides feel like they’re playing a “seat belt lottery,” as “it’s absolutely amazing how from one row to another, the length of the seat belt will vary.”
Additionally, listing seat (and seat belt) sizes as well as weight limits (Disney currently has none) online so guests can inform themselves beforehand and not be humiliated would probably be nice.
Because while it’s great that Jordan was able to take her humiliation and turn it into something great, public shaming typically has exactly the opposite affect — especially on women.
“While there is a lot of uncertainty about the health risks of weighing more than average, there is growing evidence that our widespread societal anti-fat bias takes a toll on public health in many ways,” wrote Abigail C. Saguy, associate professor and vice chair of the UCLA sociology department, in a published study. “Afraid of public ridicule or abuse, some heavy women avoid exercising in public or even leaving their homes, depriving themselves of social interaction. Women categorized as obese are more likely than thinner women to report that they experience the doctor’s office as a hostile environment. Such women are also, on average, less likely to get Pap smears, contributing to higher rates of cervical cancer among women categorized as obese. And the fear of becoming fat can lead women of all sizes to develop eating disorders and body-image problems that diminish their lives and can be extremely dangerous to their health.”
Saguy said it best — while we’re so, so happy for Jordan and think she looks incredible (and again, most importantly, feels incredible), we hope Disneyland and others like it will take the changing needs of its devoted guests seriously, for the sake of everybody’s happiness and health.