So everyone has heard about the whole Kevin Smith vs Southwest Airlines thing by now, yes? (Just in case you haven’t, you can find out all about it here, here, here, or, well, a whole bunch of other places.) Basically, Kevin Smith got kicked off his flight for being too fat, and there’s been a whole of a tweet/blog/cast explosion about it.
It’s been really interesting to see some of the things that Smith has said, especially given that he’s not by any means a fat-positive guy.
I’ve been listening to his SModcast about the incident, and along side his anger and indignation at being publicly humiliated and treated with something less than dignity, there’s some really interesting discussion of thin normativity and fat self-policing, like in this exchange:
K: I live my life fat, and I have to navigate through a thin person’s world all the time. And as such, you would never put yourself into harm’s way, so to speak, um, in regards to your girth or size.
J: You wouldn’t set yourself up.
I can sort of sense an almost apologist streak to some of what Smith says, but what’s interesting to me is that he’s talking very clearly about self-policing, about being acutely aware all the time that the fat body doesn’t fit, and avoiding situations where that’s going to be a ‘problem’, where fatness is punished with pain or shame or public humiliation.
He also talks about being at a ‘bear convention’ and being able to relax and not ‘suck his gut in’ all the time:
K: I was in a room full of people who looked like me.
J: How was that?
K: Muscle-y and gay. No, they’re fat, they’re dudes who look like very large dudes who look like me. It’s awesome!
Yep, I think that’s some fat solidarity right there!
Coincidentally, all this has happened just as I’ve been reading Joyce Huff’s fantastic ‘Access to the Sky: Airplane Seats and Fat Bodies as Contested Spaces’ in The Fat Studies Reader. Huff interrogates Southwest’s policy of forcing fat passengers to buy two seats and the arguments which are used to justify it. As Huff points out, ‘the “average” customer, for whom Southwest presumably designs its seats, represents and ideological construct rather than a statistical average’. She goes on to argue that:
The underlying ideology that determines the size of the so-called average customer to whom Southwest supposedly caters is a capitalist one. Although airlines and their supporters may invoke average customers who represent cultural ideals, in fact seat sizing has a lot more to do with profit margins and maximizing the number of paying customers.
This arbitrary allocation of space is normalised and the ‘corporately constructed environment’ is rendered invisible by invoking as ‘average’ the ideal passenger for whom the seats are a comfortable size, and stigmatizing (and penalising!) those bodies which fail to conform to this arbitrary ideal. Blame for everything from lack of space to increased fares is shifted onto the offending bodies, and individuals – rather than corporations or cultures – are stigmatised and held responsible not only for these problems, but also for their solution (ie, in this case, weight loss).
As Huff argues:
Southwest’s policy assumes an audience accustomed to capitalist modes of thought, one that will endorse the premise that businesses need to continually increase profit margins, one that will believe that this need is sacrosanct to the degree that they will subordinate their own needs and desires to it.
I for one am glad that Kevin Smith is a loquacious dude with a platform, and that he’s not willing to subordinate his needs to the rhetoric of corporate profit.