This animation bravely sheds light on the fight of plus-size airline passengers

A still from the animated short film ‘Flying While Fat.’
Image: Stacy Bias

In tiny aircraft cabins, pressure mounts especially for plus-size travelers entering an aircraft that wasn’t designed with them in mind.

To bring attention to the discrimination and stress plus-size people face when flying, London-based activist and artist Stacy Bias has created a new animated short cinema called Flying While Fat . She hopes to start a conversation about adoption and inclusion of plus-size travelers.

Bias tells Mashable she generated the animated short to amplify the often silenced voices of fat airline passengers, dedicating them the chance to unpack the challenges of fitting into spaces that physically omit them.

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The animated movie is based off intensive research Bias undertook in her final year at the University of London, where she surveyed 795 people and conducted 28 in-depth interviews on the experience of flying while fat.

“I am always trying not to burden someone else with my body.”

The animation debuted at the Deaf and Disability Arts Festival on Nov. 19, and was afterward a part of an exhibit at the Bluecoat Center for Contemporary Art and the Tate Gallery. It was released online on Dec. 4.

Bias was inspired to conduct the research and generate the film after she entered a long-distance relationship that required international flights from the U.S. to the UK. Bias, who weighs more than 300 pounds, was suddenly faced with the requirement of travel for love which, she admits, was potentially a bargain breaker.

“The idea of frequent, solo international travelling was pretty terrifying and, quite honestly, a factor in deciding whether or not I was likely to commit to devoting this relationship a try, ” Bias tells Mashable . “My concern was partly financial but, even more so, it was anxiety about not fitting and physical ache and facing hostile interactions with fellow passengers.”

And she had plenty of reason to worry, given the realities of size discrimination on land. But the therapy of plus-size passengers is often an especially contentious issue, Bias says, with many passengers wrongfully labeling being fat as a choice.

Fat flyers, then, are often seen as rude or careless for merely existing on a plane.

Image: Stacy Bias

In the film, one plus-size girl interviewed by Bias said her love of flying has often been challenged by her anxiety of traveling with unaccepting passengers.

“[ Other passengers] don’t have to think about their space, and how much or little they are taking up, ” the woman says in the video. “I am always trying not to burden someone else with my body.”

“We just want to get from Point A to Point B without physical ache or being harassed.”

Several girls also talked about the role of armrests as painful roadblocks, which fellow passengers regularly slam into their bodies to “reclaim” their space. They described the struggle to become as small as is practicable, leaning uncomfortably into aisles or windows to give others more space a type of “apology” for their body.

“For the most part, my tactic is to hug myself, squeeze into the window, stare out the whole flight and just sort of disappear, ” one female says in the video.

According to the testimonies in the video, this disappearing act is often done for preservation of physical and psychological safety.

“It’s not just for your benefit as the person or persons sitting next to us, but it’s for our safety because we don’t want to be abused, ” one girl says in the video. “We merely want to get from Point A to Point B without physical ache or being harassed.”

Image: Stacy Bias

Both Bias and the women featured in the video believe this reaction to plus-size passengers simmer down to ideas of fairness. On small airliners, people often have preconceived ideas of how much space they’re owed and how much space they paid for. The idea of someone else existing in that prepaid space even if they have no choice due to their body sizing is appropriate to make some lash out.

“I hope fat folks will feel seen and heard and held and validated.”

“There are some hardwired ideas in our brain about what’s fair, ” one girl says in the short cinema. “When there’s a small place and everyone has decided what piece they should have, and they look over and they assure someone who is so much bigger than them and has no choice to take more than their fair share … the disdain for size is amplified pretty dramatically.”

Bias hopes the animation and the research behind it will lead to expanded protections for plus-size passengers. But, perhaps more importantly, Bias hopes the animation will assist shift a hostile travel culture into one of respect.

“I hope fat folks will feel insured and heard and held and validated, ” Bias says. “I hope that this animation will help folks who have negative sentiments of fat passengers … to simply acknowledge the humanity of the next person they are beside on a plane no matter who they are.”

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