Full disclosure, I’m fat. Which means I don’t fit in. Sometimes it’s just a perception, but sometimes I literally mean: I don’t fit.
Last weekend, I was sitting on the grass at Mighty Hoopla festival in south London. Besides me was a fairground ride that swings you up in the air. Like the helpful, big fat friend that I am, I was watching everyone’s bags, because I’m self aware enough to know that I’m not going to fit into the seats; once you’ve done the walk of shame from a ride like this once, you learn your lesson.
There was no back and forth, no one expressed surprise and implored that I would fit. I was just left with the designer bags, clearly trusted by people who had only just met me. It made me think more fat women should get into grand larceny.
I know that to some people, this – being left alone surrounded by strangers’ bags – might feel triggering. Not me – I love a sit down. I made a joke in my most recent tour (Men, I Can Save You) that so many women are marching for their rights, but I prefer the ones who glue themselves to stuff. Get me an old T-shirt, I’m coming for a sit down, Greta.
Of course, my nonchalant attitude to not being able to fit in has come from years of hard-earned experience. The recent article about Jaelynn Chaney, who is calling for larger seats on planes and a “customer-of-size policy” for airlines, got me thinking.
I used to be like her. When I see my old Facebook posts, the righteous indignation I used to feel when I was unable to fit into the Ryanair and easyJet seats comes flooding back.
I still love travelling. My star sign is Sagittarius, the most prolific explorer of the astrological chart – which is ironic considering I was called flat-footed and lazy during my stint on Strictly Come Dancing. As an adult, I’ve traveled the world; my best friend and I often say we’re on the eternal hunt for relaxation, and are globetrotting in an attempt to find it.
I’d post photographs on my Instagram of idyllic sunsets and swimming in blue water, photos of myself with my eyes shut in bamboo forests, yoga poses on deserted Mexican landscapes. What I never posted were photos of the flight; of me not being able to fit into airplane seats. I travel to relax, but sometimes by the time I’d reached my destination, the reason I needed that relaxation was because of the horribly degrading journey I’d been on.
I may not have shared videos of cabin crew parading the seat belt extenders towards me, like the modern equivalent of the Victorian dunce hat – but it has happened, on more than one occasion.
There’s potential humiliation everywhere. This month, Air New Zealand is asking 10,000 passengers to step onto the scales before they board their flight. Even though the scheme is totally voluntary – a measure to calculate the “assumed mass” of passengers – and individuals’ weights are kept anonymous, the idea still sends a chill down the spines of plenty of plus-size travellers. For me, it immediately conjured up an image of Matt Lucas’ Marjorie Dawes character from little britaindressed as a flight attendant and offering complimentary dust to passengers.
Then there’s the medieval torture contraption known as the fixed armrest. Humans come in different shapes and sizes; it’s always baffled me that life-saving pieces of furniture have been designed around biological men with their straight-up-and-down bodies.
Traveling to Japan in 2018, I booked something described as “extra leg room” after a previous long-haul trip in a horrendously tight seat. I’m 5’11”, so it’s not just my derriere that needs the additional room, and I had high hopes given the kidney I had to sell to afford the ticket price.
But there I was, boxed in. I have a 12-inch difference between waist and hips; during take off, my legs started to feel numb and the sides started hurting. Apparently Peter Crouch was the passenger they had in mind when designing this particular set-up. A kindly slim lady offered me her seat, but it was a lot of effort moving us all around, and then it was just as bad. I seemed ungrateful. To make matters worse, my situation started getting attention, ranging from a sympathetic head tilt to eye rolls and disgust.
From where I was moved – following a walk of shame – I saw men, bigger than myself, comfortable in spacious first class seats while drinking champagne. It appears that being plus-size is OK if you have the money for it. I cried silently in my flesh; in hindsight, I wish I’d instead just stood up and sung a rendition of Mika’s Big Girl (You Are Beautiful).
I don’t silently cry anymore. The confidence I have now has been crafted over a number of years. But for many extra tall or extra wide people, traveling remains an endurance test. As the world is told to embrace body positivity, as it’s urged to be more inclusive, it seems some areas of the travel industry might not have got the memo.
I recently had to go to Scotland for work, and due to time constraints had to fly. As expected, the seatbelt didn’t fit me. I’ve learned to hide the unclipped belt under my fat roll – as long as you don’t let the buckle hang down, the crew don’t seem to notice – but this probably isn’t the safest solution to my embarrassment.
Far more enjoyable for someone like me is the Caledonian Sleeper, which I rode between the south of England and Edinburgh Fringe last year. Granted, they’re not the biggest of beds, but it’s a hell of a lot better than having to contend with those fixed armrests, and it’s far better for the environment.
I also got a taste of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express when I performed opera on it last year. It was glorious – what’s not to love about a train with a piano and three-course meals?
For me, the journey is now as important as the destination, and when I book my holidays I factor in travel time as part of the trip. I’m off to Sweden for New Year’s Eve in December – but we’re traveling by train to Germany, then up to Scandinavia. I’ve adapted to the situation, refusing to be subjected to the level of humiliation I’ve previously experienced. Staying closer to home, and taking a “slow travel” option where I can. Looking after myself and the environment at the same time.
In the exclusive world of fashion, decent plus-size clothing had always been sparse, until brands could see the cash value of appealing to that audience; the fact that Victoria Beckham’s namesake brand finally expanded its range up to size 18 at the same time its debts hit more than £50m is telling.
And this inclusiveness is spreading. London’s new Soho Place theater has discreetly added an extra three inches of width to its seats, seemingly recognizing the plus-size pound. Perhaps we’ll see the day where airlines might finally invest in larger seats for customers that need more space? There’s plenty of us out here who would jump at the chance to spend our hard-earned cash if the option were available.
Until then, I’m going to carry on enjoying slow travel – the way things are at the mo, it’s better for mind and body.
Jayde Adams’ Men I Can Save You is on at Bristol Old Vic for its last date on 25 June. Her new sitcom, Ruby-Speakingis available on ITVX from 22 June, and she’s also starring in Take That film Greatest Daysin cinemas from 16 June.