My Ass is Not a Microaggression

Due to unforeseen car trouble, I have been riding the bus all week to and from my various jobs. On the way home yesterday, I found myself a seat on the bench on the back of the bus next to a man dressed as a cowboy. I sat down in my seat, and he moved away. And then moved even further. He squashed himself next to the window so completely that I became concerned that I smelled unpleasant, or perhaps was covered in bees. My internal dialogue began thusly:

Do I smell bad? No, I always smell good and shower daily, plus I used antiperspirant/deodorant and also applied a little perfume this morning, so by now I should be a nice, mellow, average-person smell. Am I sticky? Do I have a booger hanging out of my nose? Am I breathing heavily from running for the bus? Do I look disheveled? Deranged? Dangerous? Did someone tattoo my face without my knowledge?

I eventually looked down and saw that my butt was extending past the boundaries (?) of my seat. Not a lot… but just enough that I was probably touching him when I sat down. Maybe he didn’t like to be that close to another person. Understandable. I don’t like people touching me without my permission. But isn’t there a social contract on a crowded bus? People touch people. It’s a BUS, not Business Class on a luxury airliner. Suddenly, I was flooded with feelings of inadequacy. I made him uncomfortable. I did this. I did it with my butt. It wasn’t until I got home that I remembered a response from a recent questionnaire that I did about Fat Acceptance, where I asked questions of people opposed to the movement. One of the questions I asked was, “Do you feel that others’ weight affects you directly, and if so, why?”

In certain understated ways, I actually consider the large bodies in public spaces to be “micro aggression” against people with smaller bodies. In my experience, large bodied individuals will not hesitate to let their body infringe on others’ personal space in public transit, while in a queue, or other spaces of modern urban environments. I consider these things “micro aggression” due to the unwillingness of large bodied peoples to not force their bodies on others. I am expected to move, or to get out of way in a lane even when I do not know anyone is there, I am expected to be accommodating at all times.

I hadn’t heard the term “micro-aggression” until I did the survey in question. What IS micro-aggression?

Basically, a micro-aggression is a socially acceptable put down that happens so frequently that it seems commonplace. The unifying trait of micro-aggressions is that the target is a member of a marginalized group. Ethnic minorities. Homosexuals. Religious minorities. Oh yeah, and fat people. 

The worst part of fat-centric micro-aggression is that those targeted aren’t seen as victims. Society is structured so that fat is seen as “less than” and that those targeted by such micro-aggressions are “asking for it” because they are perceived as having control of how their bodies appear.

“You look good. Have you lost weight?”

“You’re not fat! You’re curvy!”

“I feel so FAT today!”

“Ha! That mean girl from high school got fat!”

All of the above are examples of micro-aggressions, subtle put downs that seem harmless at first, but upon closer inspection show a very clear reflection of the status of fat people in modern society.

Let’s snap back to the bus ride. Maybe I AM in the Cowboy’s personal space. Why is it that I immediately feel guilty? I am trying to put him down? I am TRYING to invade his personal space because, hey, cowboys are used to cozying up to people? Does society view cowboys as flawed in some way? Is there a systemic, historical pattern of discrimination against bus cowboys? No?

Well, then don’t blame my ass.

5 thoughts on “My Ass is Not a Microaggression

  1. I have Asperger’s and I hate people’s bodies touching me on the bus. It has nothing to do with their size. I try very hard not to move away to make anyone feel uncomfortable. But it feels like my skin is screaming with the contact. So it may have ben a sensory issue with the cowboy and nothing at all to do with your body size. As a woman I also identify with the unspoken pressure to take up less space and not to encroach on others and often sit uncomfortably rather than touch anyone.

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    • I one-hundred-percent understand where you are coming from. I am not blaming the man on the bus. I am blaming societal pressure for making me automatically assume that my interaction with the man on the bus was because something was wrong with ME.

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  2. When I was 13, I had a similar experience. I am black, they were white, we were all sitting in a fairly sizable church pew and yet the man was squeezing his family into the corner. It’s not until reading this that I realize just how much I read into his behavior and how much I assigned to race. As the person with Aspergers pointed out, there are sooooo many possible reasons for this behavior that, really, the only thing we have in our preoccupations with why are what *we* bring to the interpretation. Without actually asking, we just don’t know. But, yes, you’re right too that so much conditioning has lead us to make these assumptions just as they (sitting next to us) have messages shaping theirs too.
    The travesty is that we assume the worst of each other. How horrible.

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  3. I rarely take buses, but I’ve seen people on airplanes who get visibly annoyed/frustrated when a fat person sits next to them..it amazes me that people don’t even try to hide it. They don’t even think about the other person – they honestly feel it’s okay to be visibly upset about a large body, and that this isn’t in any way rude. Just…wow.
    I was actually on a flight recently where I overheard a flight attendant tell a man who was being rude to someone that he’s not entitled to extra space just because he wants it, and that when you get on an airplane, you have to expect you’re going to have some limitations as far as space and movement. I think people are already cranky about having to be crammed together on a plane, and too often larger passengers bear the brunt of that frustration. But you’re right, and that flight attendant was right – there’s a social contract on certain modes of transportation that we’re all making the best of some tight quarters, and can’t we just be polite and considerate for a few minutes/hours?

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