May 4, 2003 06:24 PM

Tish was talking a little last week about the chair problem. Specifically, that - even in Tish's world, which seems friendlier and more accepting of difference that many - there aren't always enough chairs for fat people.

It's a minor annoyance when looked at as simply not being able to find a comfortable - or even sittable - chair. But the fact that reasonable chairs are often not provided in places from doctors' offices to airplanes to amusement parks isn't just an annoyance; it's also a symbolic representation of our cultural assumption of normal. A normal that fat people aren't.

Take away any feelings of whether fat people can be healthy or not (they can), whether dieting is any good (it's not), whatever value judgement one might make about fat or thin, and you still have this - you, the fat person, are not normal enough to go to the doctor, to the movies, anywhere you might want to fly.

I got a laptop recently that came with a case. The shoulder strap on my case, like the shoulder strap on the seatbelt in my car, is too long. My seatbelt at best cuts across the base of my neck. My laptop case bangs my knees if I don't carry it by the short little hand-handles. These things aren't a sign of a larger cultural bias against short people; they're minor inconveniences. But they're also daily reminders that I'm not average, not normal. The irony of this is that I'm actually only 2 inches shy of "average" height for a women, which means my car and my laptop were probably tested only with men as users.

Eris had a signature on a (now defunct) messageboard about the impact of design on our everyday lives (something about walls around urinals saying urination is shameful). It's quite true. The way ordinary things are designed reinforces cultural ideas, the idea of normal size, normal things we do. Everything from the height of shelves to the width of office chairs to the sizes of clothing in stores points to one thing as normal and average and something else as not.

So I suppose it's no surprise that so many people think they're the wrong size, the wrong something else - there are so many indirect messages that they're right.

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your wicked thoughts

That's a great point.

I regularly study the design of everyday things (following the leads of people such as Don Norman). It's noted that some of the best designs are those that are borne of a specific need, but end up helping everyone because they're so good.

I strongly believe that fat-friendly designs will not only help those who are fat feel more comfortable, but everyone else will benefit as a side result. It's either something no one has thought of (doubtful) or something that no one wants to throw money in. (sigh)

these are the thoughts of Paul on May 5, 2003 08:20 AM

Tonight I was talking to someone who is in a leadership position in my writing program. He made it clear that they had gone out of their way to make sure I had a chair. So that makes it about me. Me alone. Iíve worked so hard to make sure that they feel this as something that has to have institutional awareness. It isnít about me. Itís about access. And it is true that I live in a kinder gentler world. But this isnít a kind and gentle issue. Itís a radical position about inclusion.
So, itís good to come home and read this and feel like someone gets it. Thanks.

these are the thoughts of Tish on May 7, 2003 01:25 AM

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