This is artist and animator Stacy Bias.
Much of Bias’s work centers around fat positivity — she’s the creator of Bellies Are Beautiful, the Fat Experience Project, and the Badass Fatass Superhero Name Generator, as well as events like the FatGirl Speaks conference and the ChunkyDunk swim series.
Bias’s latest project is a short film called Flying While Fat. She says it was inspired by her decision to move from the US to London, and her concerns about frequent air travel at her size.
“Moving across the pond would mean at least two planes and a 24-hour travel day, multiple times every year,” Bias told BuzzFeed. “I’m a size 28/30, so I’m right on the edge of ‘fitting’ in a single plane seat. To combat my anxieties, I began documenting my flights — which airline and plane model? Did I need a seatbelt extender? Were the staff rude?”
Bias collected airline information over a two-year period of commuting back and forth, which she put into a comprehensive blog post. The post was a huge success, Bias told BuzzFeed, but it came with a sobering realization.
“People were out there anxiety-surfing on these things, and when they found me, many were relieved to see they weren’t the only ones. I remember reading search engine terms in my web analytics like, ‘Am I too fat to fly?’ and ‘Will they kick me off the plane for being fat?’ It simultaneously broke my heart and made me furious.”
“Fat stigma is deeply ingrained in our society,” said Bias, “and I saw so clearly how it was working and how much we were missing out of fear of hostile interactions or ‘not fitting.’ I felt that I was uniquely positioned to amplify our voices on this topic.”
Flying While Fat employs the voices of several plus-size travelers, to shine a light on how fat people are treated on planes and how airlines capitalize off passenger discomfort.
The film, which Bias created with Bethan Evans, PhD, and the University of Liverpool, explains that airplane seats have been reduced in width over the past few decades to fit significantly more passengers on each flight — yet body size is often the sole factor blamed for the squeeze.
Interviewees talk about their experiences dealing with malicious fellow passengers, attempting to make others more comfortable at their own expense, and how the cost of air travel can amplify prejudices.
“As one participant discusses, society has very fixed ideas about what is ‘fair,’ and that word is synonymous with ‘equal,’” Bias told BuzzFeed. “We have a genuine empathy problem, and this goes doubly for spaces where resources are commoditized.”
In contrast, she said, fat passengers go to often harmful lengths to avoid inconveniencing others.
“Trust that when you’re next to a fat person on a plane, they are significantly less comfortable than you are and are likely doing everything in their power to minimize their impact on you,” said Bias. “For instance, 25% of my participants intentionally dehydrated themselves prior to flying to avoid the need to navigate the aisles and attempt to use the on-board toilet.”
Bias calls the reaction to Flying While Fat “mixed, as expected.”
“The reaction from other fat folks has been powerful and positive,” she said. “Outside the fat-positive community, many folks have found their empathy, and many more have not.”
“You can’t build compassion towards someone if you refuse to see them as human,” Bias told BuzzFeed. “People see fatness as elective and changeable and therefor exempt from the right to compassion, but the reality is far from that simple.”
“The way to change a culture of hostility is to be open to the suffering of others, to see that suffering as legitimate, and to empathize,” said Bias. “It’s down to others to decide if they’ll engage empathy and take action.”