Yes, I’m too fat to fly in reality. Okay, I made it, but only just.
It’s a disturbing truth that I came face to face with this week.
Terminal 5 had been a struggle. I’d stopped for a rest on my way to the club lounge (I bought a business class ticket because I knew I’d struggle with my size in economy).
I had never felt so out of place in my whole life as I walked around, convinced everyone was looking at the fat girl.
As I took my seat on the plane, things got worse.
I had this haunting realisation – the belt wouldn’t fit. I wrestled it until I couldn’t breathe, trying to go unnoticed. Finally with all my strength and effort, it clicked into place.
We hadn’t even taken off before the tears started.
“Miss Shuttle,” the air stewardess began softly, “are you okay? Are you a nervous flyer?”
I shook my head as she kindly rubbed my arm, handed me tissues and went about her duties.
I shut my eyes tight, wishing I could disappear, trying to convince myself of the childlike ‘if I can’t see them, they can’t see me’.
I finally gave up trying to stop the silent tears, the burning knot in my throat too painful to swallow.
Next to me the chic, polished, slim who had so effortlessly buckled up asked me in her American accent, ‘you okay, sweetheart? You wanna talk about it?’
Her kindness made me cry more as I shook my head. I would have said yes, but I didn’t want the entire cabin to hear my shameful ‘I’m too fat’ sobs. They’d think it was all my fault. My own doing. And in one sense, it’s true – I put the food in my mouth.
But no one said that when I was anorexic.
No one said, “well, tough; you’re to blame, just deal with it.” No. Then I was met with an entirely different attitude by society. ‘Poor her, she looks so unwell,’ or others, ‘wow, you’ve lost weight!’ like it was an achievement. Don’t they realise I am still battling the same disorder, just in a different direction?
‘I’m safe, I’m okay, I’m loved.’
In the air, I flitted between internally chanting this mantra and berating myself.
How had I let myself get like this?
I’ve known I’m grossly overweight for a long time, and despite many efforts haven’t been able to sustain weight loss. I’ve looked in the mirror and turned away in disgust, I’ve panicked and comfort-eaten, and I’ve tried to shed the fat I hate. Those of you who saw my previous efforts know I tried.
Schiphol airport was a new low. By this point I was struggling physically. My back hurt, my ankles – weakened from my fall two years ago – burned in protest, my hip screamed in pain.
I stopped to get water, shaking from physical exertion. Sweat dripped off me, my face burned from the blood pumping around my body. I was so embarrassed to be seen by anyone. I wanted to disappear. I swore then and there the next trip I took would be different – I wouldn’t struggle to fit in my seat or buckle the seatbelt or walk around a terminal.
Physically, I only just survived my trip. Heading to the gate to catch my flight home, I heard my trainer and friend say ‘go as slow as you need to but don’t give up”. I kept telling myself, “just a bit further, keep going, you can do this”.
And isn’t that what it comes down to, really? My fitness journey commences once again, but differently – it’s just a bit further. One step at a time. I may stop and rest. I may cry and hurt. But ultimately, I’ll get there.