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Space (But Not the Final Frontier)

Last night I was talking to a friend who’s eight months pregnant. She told me about the fact that she’s so big now that she didn’t realize until it was too late that if she pushed her shopping cart in front of her to the checkout line, she wouldn’t be able to fit around it to actually unload the groceries. Instead, she had to pull it out, get in front of it, and then pull it behind her. As she said, “It was embarrassing.”

It made me think about size and weight, because I used to have to do the same thing. Most people think about size in relation to clothes size, and certainly finding clothes that fit is a problem. (Although it seems less so now, since more stores are carrying plus sizes – which may or may not be a good thing.) But I don’t think most people consider the sheer amount of space you take up when you’re overweight.

I noticed this first on school buses, when I took up a far greater percentage of the seat than most people. And I don’t just mean width-wise – there was very little space between me and seat in front of me as well. Bending down to get anything out of my bag at my feet was impossible, and putting it on my nearly non-existent lap was equally impossible because there simply wasn’t room. It also made maneuvering down the slender aisles challenging, particularly trying to turn around.

I ran into the same problem in Boston on the subway, where I was trying to cram into crowded cars on the red and green lines during rush hour. Between me and my backpack, I easily took up enough space for two people, perhaps more. I hated trying to fit into the little gaps, and I was embarrassed at how much room I actually needed.

Another problem was seatbelts, in airplanes and in cars. Being short, when I was driving I had to have my seat all the way forward to reach the pedals, but then the seatbelt barely fit, stretching tightly across me and cutting into my neck. Airplane seatbelts were no better. At my heaviest, they just fit, if I put the seatbelt under the overhang of my belly. I never wanted to ask for a seatbelt extension, but it was a close thing.

Also on airplanes, I was squished into the narrow seat, contained only by the armrests on either side, with very little room to maneuver to get at anything in my carry-on. The other problem was if for some reason I wasn’t able to get an aisle seat, it meant that I had to try to squeeze through to get to the bathroom, which in itself was extremely claustrophobic, with almost no space for me to turn around.

Even now, I get excited by the fact that when I fly, I actually have to tighten the seatbelt, and there’s breathing room on either side of me. I don’t have to worry about my belly or chest brushing up against the steering wheel in the car. I can navigate the space between a shopping cart and the cash register on the other side if I push my cart in. On the bus to work, I actually take up slightly less than half the seat, and I’m not in danger of pressing against the seat in front of me. After six years, these little daily things aren’t quite as momentous as they were when I first lost weight, but I still sometimes catch myself, realize what I’ve just done, and marvel at how little space I now fill.

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