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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.