My Geography of Fatness: Recreation & Vacation

Ah, summertime. Summer’s a great season for having fun, being outside, traveling, and just generally recreating, especially when one’s in an academic position that leaves most of that time relatively free. Of course, as with any profession, it’s important that I take advantage of my time off by spending some of that time relaxing so that I can be productive and happy when I return to work.

Unfortunately, vacation, recreation and fun aren’t quite as relaxing for those of us who are obese. Indeed, my size presents a constant obstacle to achieving that ultimate goal of relaxation; not specifically from physical limitations (though I have those as well), but from the psychological stress that comes from being an obese person in a world designed for smaller folks. Just as my earlier entries examining My Geography of Fatness have explored in socializing and air travel, my interaction with my personal geographies and landscapes is significantly affected by my size. Participating in vacation and recreation activities as an obese person present similar changes to my experience and expectations.

For this essay, I’m going to draw my inspiration from the writing of vacation guides, which write from a perspective of providing advice to the hopeful planning traveler. I’m going to pretend that the reader has magically become a newly-obese individual who is planning a vacation and is seeking guidance, and that this entry is trying to provide that advice. In essence, it’s exactly what I do in each of these cases, and explains the exact considerations that I work through when planning.

 

Traveling to your Destination

I’m going to keep this one short because, as I’ve already covered at length in an earlier entry, air travel is best avoided. For much of the air travel entry, you could replace the airlines with busses and much would be the same, just extend the trip by dozens of miserable hours. If you’re going to go to the trouble of traveling while fat, take a car or Amtrak. The coach seats on Amtrak are far roomier, and while they’re not perfect, at least there’s plenty of room to get up and move around.

 

Renting a Car

If you take a plane or train to your destination and it’s not a walking city or a place with awesome public transit (or at least an abundance of taxicabs), then you’ll probably be renting a car. This is tricky because, unless you’ve been on the market for a new car lately or sell cars for a living, you probably aren’t familiar with the passenger room provided by the latest models. While renting, you really have two options:

  1. Rent the sub-compact option to save money, cross your fingers and hope it works. This can work fine as, thankfully, some car makers are finally realizing that a significant proportion of their potential market are large people and are adjusting passenger space accordingly. Most likely, this car will be extremely uncomfortable for large people. In some cases, you simply may not be able to fit behind the steering wheel or in the seat belt. When that happens, you have to get something else. If the car company is nice and they have extra cars, they’ll just put you into something else, you’ll pay a bit more and you’ll go on your way. There have been cases, though, where the company accept the car as a return, charge a day’s rental without even leaving the parking lot, then charge full price for another larger rental. Again, each of these assume there are other cars to rent, which there may not be.
  2. Rent a nice big car or SUV, assuming it’s available, and pay the extra money for its rental and fuel. There may only be one or two of you on vacation, but if you know you’ll fit in a Tahoe or an Escalade, that might be your best option. Of course, this will be a more expensive rental (SUVs can be as much as 5x more per day than subcompacts) and your fuel bill will be significantly more.

 


Of course, one thing that was recommended to me was to visit a car dealership and try out some cars for size before renting. Only problem is, whenever you reserve cars, you never know precisely what model you might get. Think about this: you’ll be spending perhaps a couple of hours of your life (as well as wasting the time of your salesman) to do something very publicly displaying your fatness, all to check size for cars that may not even be available. There’s really no good surefire solution for renting cars while obese, but sometimes you get lucky.

 

Going to the Beach or the Waterpark

Nothing says vacation like going to the beach or waterpark. The sun, the warm sand between your toes, the waves and the water… fun for everyone! Now, because of your size, you’re going to want to remember some key pointers to make your experience everything it should be:

    • Visit one far from your hometown. You might live an hour from the coast and be tempted to hit the beach there, but there’s always the chance you could run into someone you know, but whom you aren’t a close friend. Because you’re showing more skin than you normally ever would in this person’s presence, that can make for awkwardness and potential gossip later.

 

    • Remember to pack your bathing suit. Now this seems like a minor thing, because you could always visit Wal-Mart and get a cheap one for $10 or so if you don’t… if you’re smaller than a 2XL. If not, get ready to spend $50 at the nearest Casual Male or $160 at the nearest Lane Bryant (but only if you’re smaller than a size 24), assuming there’s one in the resort town of your choice. If you’re hitting a beach in another country, you’re completely out of luck.

 

    • Wear the most modest swimwear you can find. Being obese means your body is something of which you should be ashamed. Because vacation is a time where many people leave their inhibitions behind, vacation is also a time where those same folks are most likely to insult or humiliate you because of your beach body. It’s safest to wear a shirt while swimming to cover up, but even this opens you up to more insulting commentary. In addition, vacation is an event where EVERYONE takes a camera along. Even before the proliferation of phone cameras, it was way too easy to end up on websites like these.[Note, especially for that last link, the media thinks it’s perfectly fine to post pictures mocking and criticizing fat folks as long as faces aren’t shown, and because the beach is a public place, permission isn’t needed. Most likely, that lady still has no idea she’s been featured online as an object of ridicule.]

 

    • When you’re out of the water, cover EVERYTHING. For many of the reasons expressed above when looking at your swimwear options, you’ll want to make sure you’re completely covered when you’re out of the water. Being fat means you have lost your social privilege to lay in the sun and work on your tan. Instead, you need to be fully wrapped in towels and clothes, and it doesn’t matter how hot the temperatures are.

 

    • Bring lots of extra towels and leave them in the car. Why? So you can cover your seats and drive away wet if need be. If the beach or waterpark is too hostile, you can leave quickly. Otherwise, you never know how modest the public shower and changing room situation will be. It could be individual stalls with shower curtains, which would be good. It could also be the horrific open room like what you’d find in gym class or oddly enough, prison. And, those same folks who’ll ridicule you for your body while on the beach might well be awaiting your arrival in the public shower as well. If it’s the latter, it’s definitely not worth the trouble.

 

    • Those pick-up beach volleyball and soccer games? You’re not welcome. If you were obese as a kid, you’d already know this. When you’re a fat person, you’re the last person picked for the team in school. What this translates into as an adult, when trying to join a pick-up game, is either outright denial or underlying hostility. Just stay away.

 

    • Know that at a waterpark, you won’t be able to ride many slides. Many water slides at waterparks have weight limits. Sometimes, they are posted before you get in the queue, in which case it is easy to avoid that slide. Most times, though, the weight limits either are posted at the top, or aren’t posted and are left to the discretion of the attendant at the top of the slide. If you are over the weight limit, whatever that might be, this means that you will have slowly, while waiting in line, walked up the equivalent of five to six flights of stairs to be told that you can’t go down. Then, you’ll have to walk down the stairs, humiliated, with all of the folks in line knowing exactly why you didn’t ride. The best thing to do? If the weight limit isn’t posted at the entrance to the queue, don’t even bother.

 

 


In fact, now that I think of it, “don’t even bother” might be the best advice for you at all for beaches and waterparks, and it’s the piece I’ve followed the most. These are hostile places that leave us, as obese individuals, far too vulnerable. You can probably count my total “beach days” and trips to waterparks in my adult life on one hand, and I’ve traveled a fair bit.

 

Taking a Cab

The main issue you’ll encounter with cabs is getting in and out of the back seat of cars. It’s a pain in the ass no matter how large you are, but even worse when you’re trying to get more person out of a small opening. And let’s face it, the back seats of most cars are not designed for full-sized people, they’re designed for hauling children, so there is a chance you might not fit at all. Trust me, when that happens, it’s not pleasant, and it turns the cab driver into the latest vocal critic of your size. Yet, many taxicabs are made from old Ford Crown Victorias (which, admittedly, have relatively roomy though still small backseats) or Toyota Priuses (tiny backseats). You’ll have to hold out for an SUV or a minivan, which depending on what city you’re visiting, might charge a higher rate.

 

Going to a baseball game

This is my absolute favorite activity and one of the best ways to spend a summer evening. In fact, I would almost certainly take a decent job in or around Cincinnati so I could get a partial season package to watch the Reds. But, regardless of whether you’re going to a minor league or major league stadium, chances are very high that you’re going to encounter some problems because your size, and it’s all about the seating.

    • Old Stadiums = Narrow Seats. It’s sacrilege for a baseball fan to say this, but I’m happy that many of the stadiums have been built within the last 20 years, because I wouldn’t be able to visit them otherwise. The two remaining oldies, Chicago’s Wrigley Field and Boston’s Fenway Park, are both outstanding ballparks and are great places to watch games…. but if I can’t comfortably sit in the seats in either. Much like airplane seating, the seats cause me significant pain, and I accidentally invade the space of my neighbors. Wrigley has bleacher seating that are composed of benches, but these are the most sought-after seats in the ballpark and are only available on the resale market for 300%+ of face value. Though they are more comfortable, they are narrow and you’ll need two of them to not cause problems with the fellow fans. (They’re also the seats the most likely to get you puked on). Fenway doesn’t have bleachers, and the seats are downright painful. With Fenway, if you’re not careful, you could end up behind a pole (and if you’re fat, become the mockery of a bunch of asshole Boston fans on a comment board.)

 

    • Cheap Seats = Narrow Seats. Many stadiums have figured out that they can charge a premium for wider seats. When the new ballpark opened in Cincinnati in 2003, for instance, they weren’t shy about telling the press that money bought room. The most expensive seats (this season going for $235 per seat, per game) provide 23 inches of width. The cheaper seats ($15) provide 19 inches of width. And Cincinnati certainly isn’t alone in this… the New York Yankees’ new stadium offers seating at $600-$1450 per game (purchased only as season tickets) that gives a spacious 25 inches of room, while most other seats are around 20 inches.

 

    • Bleachers can be Good, but Beware. Bleachers, the seats made from flat benches, can be great for us larger folks. The problems? 1) They’re in the outfield, which aren’t the greatest viewpoint. 2) They’re typically in the direct sunlight. 3) You’ll have to buy an extra ticket, in case it sells out, because overlapping your assigned bench in this section is even more awkward than doing so in a regular seat.

 

 


You can typically combat these problems by going to midweek games as possible, buying the cheapest seat you can find, and then roaming until you can sneak into a more expensive section with wider seats, or until you can find a nice wide swath of bleacher to use. Unfortunately, if the game is sold out or close to it, or if the ushers are jerks, this won’t work and is a big risk. Many newer ballparks have some aisle seats with removable armrests, but very few have programmed into the seating computer where there are.

There is good news, though! At the ballpark, you can probably find team clothing that fits. At least in Cincinnati, though this is a very new development (I think in just 2012), they’ve opened a plus-sized section of their team store. For the first time ever, I can actually buy jerseys, t-shirts and hats from my favorite team and know that they will fit. The only problem, of course, is that they are priced at ballpark premium prices, so a t-shirt is $46.

 

Going Horseback Riding

If you’re up in the mountains, it makes sense to explore some backcountry by taking a trail ride. You get to pretend to be a cowboy or cowgirl, and you usually get to see some great scenery. Well, as an obese individual, there are a few problems with doing this.

    • You May Be Over the Weight Limit that is Allowed. A growing number of trail ride stables are making their weight limits public, and that’s something to be thankful for. If you’re over the limit, for god sakes, don’t go and lie about your weight. The number is there for a reason: these are living creatures who have physical limits. Trust me, you’d feel far worse about your weight if you hurt the horse with it.

 

    • There May Not Be a Weight Limit Posted, Even Though there Should Be. If a place doesn’t have a weight limit posted, ask what the deal is. If they have one that’s not posted, abide by it. If they don’t have a weight limit, ask why not. It might be that they have some very large and capable horses specifically for large riders. If they don’t, leave. Why should you do this? Because horses are living creatures and stable riders may not be totally scrupulous about overloading them.

 

    • Even if Everything Checks Out Okay, You May Catch Nasty Comments from Fellow Riders. These can range from the blunt “I can’t believe they’re letting you do that to that horse” to the more subtle “I’ll bet your horse is relieved” at the end of the ride.

 

 


Though trail riding is a lot of fun and provides a really nice adventure for many vacations, it’s something that overweight people really have to be careful about before embarking on.

 

Taking Pictures

One thing everyone likes to do on vacation is take pictures: pictures of what they see, pictures of themselves at landmarks… pictures, pictures, pictures! One thing that is especially important when obese is to ensure that pictures you have taken of yourself are showing yourself in as flattering of a position as possible. If a picture makes you look fatter than what your mental image says you should, you’ll never share that picture it’s become redundant. This becomes particularly heartbreaking when you’re visiting a monument for a once-in-a-lifetime trip, or when you’re really wanting to use that picture for whatever purpose. Digital photography has helped this to an extent, but sometimes certain aspects of fatness aren’t readily apparent on the tiny preview windows that digital cameras provide.

Take this picture of the Mrs. and I on Albert Einstein in front of the National Science Foundation in Washington, DC. from 2008:

When it was taken, I was hoping for something that we could print and frame, then hang proudly in our house. Little did I know at the time the way I was sitting made my stomach, to my eyes, look way too large and unseemly for such a display. Since then, I think I briefly posted it on Facebook, but otherwise it’s languished in the digital purgatory of my hard drive. I’ve a similar one of myself standing in front of a beautiful vista in Puerto Rico from 2009 that, to this day, I will not display online. Sadly, I’ve not been back to either place since, and my memories of each place are somewhat tainted by the lackluster pictures I have from there.

The lesson here? Take many, many pictures of yourself in a variety of different poses so you can choose the most flattering one, allowing you to display it without so much self-consciousness. Eventually, through trial and error, you’ll learn which poses work best, though you’ll still want to take as many pictures as possible. Otherwise, you risk similarly tainting the memory of your favorite places with crappy pictures.

 

Visiting Amusement Parks

Amusement parks are expensive, if entertaining, ways to spend the day. A one-day pass to Disneyland is now $87 (assuming you don’t want the “park-hopper” option) and even the second-tier amusement parks like Cedar Point are running right around $50 per day. That’s a lot of money to spend, but when you consider that many rides and attractions will be at your disposal, it doesn’t seem so bad, right?

Unless you’re obese. A large majority of the thrill rides at parks like Cedar Point, Busch Gardens, Six Flags and Kings Island, I simply cannot ride. Thankfully, according to their websites, the ride weight limits are now posted at the front of the rides. But here’s the trick, which Cedar Point does mention on their site: the weight limits are supposed to be distributed amongst the two to four passengers in the car.

Beyond that, Cedar Point also includes this lovely little gem on their site:

“Due to rider restraint system requirements, guests of larger size may not be accommodated on some of our rides. This may apply, but not be limited to, men who exceed 6’2”, or those who exceed 225 pounds, have a 40” waistline or 52” chest or females who exceed 200 pounds or wear size 18 or larger. Each person has different body proportions so it is not possible to list exact size and weight.”

 

Considering that the average American woman’s dress size is a 14, and the average men’s waistline is a 39, this is somewhat ludicrous, but at least they’re something approaching upfront about this. They sure didn’t used to be!

One thing I can tell you, from lots of experience before these limits were more publicized: you DO NOT want to wait in line for, say, 45 minutes to ride a killer ride, and then when you get to the car, have the buckle not fasten. This has happened to me on a number of occasions now. It’s embarrassing because it holds up the ride. It’s embarrassing because, when you don’t fit, you have to get out and walk to the exit to wait for your party to get finished, and this happens in front of all of the people who’ve been behind you in the queue. Plus, it’s just downright annoying because that 45 minutes has been wasted for absolutely nothing.

Now, to be fair, one thing I will say is that Disney’s parks, expensive as they are and as lame as many of the rides are, the attractions seem to be entirely able to fit larger individuals. In fact, I’ve never been kicked off of a Disney ride for being too large, even at my largest.

 

Things You May Be Unable Able to Do

If there’s one thing this series has explored, it’s that being obese means living a life of limitations, and that those limitations dramatically impact my personal geography. On vacation, that’s no different. Quickly, I’m going to list a variety of vacation-type activities that I cannot do because of my weight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Renting a Jet Ski. Limit of 400 lbs but “instability increases” as capacity approached.

 

 

 

 

 

With these activities, and certainly with anything considered “active” or “extreme,” it’s really best to do your research first before you even consider seeking one of these options on your vacation. It will save you a lot of disappointment and embarrassment to simply cross these options off your list in the earliest planning phase of your vacation.

 

Closing Thoughts

As the series continues, it becomes more and more apparent that living with fatness is a significant limitation to the experiences we are afforded in life. One recurring theme through this particular entry was the mental imagery I get of these places as hostile and unwelcoming to me because of my weight. Perhaps, particularly given the tenor of the earlier entries, this should not be surprising to me in any way.

But remember, vacation, tourism and recreation are supposed to be enriching activities where one can escape however temporarily the problems, stresses and grind of daily life for a restoration of mental and soulful energy. As an obese individual, I find it increasingly more difficult to find travel opportunities and recreational opportunities that allow me this respite from life, because many of those stresses — particularly those caused by my size — tend to follow me, no matter where I travel to escape.

Author: Andrew Shears

Andrew Shears is an Assistant Professor of Geography at Mansfield University in Mansfield, Pennsylvania. His research interests lie at an intersection of the human-environmental nexus, and includes branches of mapping, technological, memorialization and urban geographies. He lives in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania with his wife Amy, a professional photographer.

4 thoughts on “My Geography of Fatness: Recreation & Vacation”

  1. I wish things were different, unfortunately being fat is made all the worse because, after all, it's our own fault, at least in part. That fact seems to give a license to the trolls who feel perfectly justified in treating us like subhumans. We are a whipping boy to all those who need to look down on others in order to imagine themselves higher than they really are.

  2. This is such a great eye opener. I'm an average size but my boyfriend is 6'5 and almost 400lbs I never walk into a room and figured out a path or where to sit until I met him. So Im noticing the struggle this article will help me understand his issues. Thanks Professor Shears

  3. Good stuff, man. I find pontoon boating and fishing to be good "fat guy" hobbies in the summer, so long as you don't have to climb over a lot of rocks and hills to get there. A broken ankle ruins a trip pretty quickly. I like ice fishing as a winter vacation. If the ice is sturdy enough for ice huts, it will support a large person safely.

  4. Thanks for all the unbiased information. Being 416 pounds this article was very useful. Being only 20 miles from Cedar Point which I have quit going to and have taken the walk of shame. Being retired Army Infantry SGT and RN people assume you are just lazy. I still have not been able to find a resort for my wife and I. A Cruise would even be better. An help or information would be great. Thanks

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