In the fall of 2009 I wrote to the President of Six Flags concerning something that happened earlier that summer. I am sharing it here because I know I'm not the only one who has had something humiliating happen to them, only to stuff it down out of embarrassment. This time, instead of silence, I decided to write the CEO and push past the fear, because it seemed like a next right choice. Here's the letter I wrote:
Dear Mr. [president of Six Flags],
I am writing as a concerned season pass holder at Six Flags in Largo.
The day I signed my son and I up for the season pass (the day of the 4th of July fireworks) is the first and last day I actually visited Six Flags. I thought you'd like to know why.
On that day, I spent the majority of time with my son at the water park side. I am an obese woman, and truly know my limits as far as where I could/should go and where its best to "sit it out." My son wanted me to ride the log flume ride with him and that seemed like a safe bet. I inquired before attempting to sit in the ride about weight limits and I was assured (as I suspected, really) that I'd be fine.
My son and I climbed into our seats. When the man on the other side of the seating attempted to latch the safety bar, it pressed down against my stomach. Realizing that it wasn't really a weight issue, but a size issue, I told him (and my 9 year old son) that it was okay, I'd get off the ride and meet him on the other side. The attendant said, "hold on a moment." (I guess he, in his own way, wanted to make this work for me.) Well, what he did was stand on the bar to try to get it to latch. And then jump up and down on the bar, trying to force it to latch.
Did he not realize he was, therefore, putting his full weight on my stomach? It hurt horrendously and I had to fight back the tears so as to not worry my son. I told the attendant to please stop trying, put on a cheerful smile (for my son's benefit) and said, it's okay honey, I'll just watch you and meet you at the exit. I got off the ride, went around the corner, and had a good cry - both for the pain I was in and for the absolute humiliation. With a person like that, he isn't a "bad person" - but at the same time, he had no concept that my fat is my body, it's ME, and that he was not slamming the bar down against something inanimate, but rather, a person.
I sustained bruising about 6 or 7 inches long all across that part of my abdomen that was crushed and the bruising lasted a good couple of months.
I am not planning to sue Six Flags, (that's just not how I was raised, and I truly believe the attendant was completely oblivious to the harm he was causing.) If you can track the when/where, it was at approximately 7 p.m. on July 4th at the log flume ride.
I think as CEO/President, you should be aware and when you update training materials, etc., you might include this incident to inform people. I don't know if it will do any good, the message might be "fat people shouldn't be here"; I don't know. But that was, for me, one of the most painful moments I have experienced since becoming obese. And I wanted you to know.
I have hesitated to write you, because of the sheer embarrassment. But I think it's important enough so that others are spared what happened to me. Maybe you could consider posting size limits in addition to weight limits where appropriate? And train your employees to treat ALL park visitors with respect and consideration.
Thank you for your time in reading this.
I felt somehow profoundly stronger for having written the letter. I am sure I could have sued them, gotten documentation, blah blah. That's not what I wanted to do; I wanted to inform, not threaten. Educate, not retaliate.
Being fat in this society isn't easy. The mocking, ridicule, lack of compassion - is all so overwhelming at times. The open jokes, the disgusted looks by total strangers...can make it pretty hard to walk tall and look people in the eye. They're seldom looking back in your eye anyway, and it's painful to see their disgust.
I think everyone has their own personal issues. Maybe it's smoking addiction, or drinking too much, or inability to overcome anxiety and panic, or depression....or any number of struggles....that they keep well hidden inside. A fat person just happens to wear their struggles on the outside, where everyone can see. And that can be pretty tough some days.
As an aside: I wasn't even offered reimbursement for the wasted season pass.