There’s No Vaccine For Fatphobia
As a fat person, the only time I was happy to have my BMI shoved in my face was when it made me eligible to receive the COVID vaccine
A week after my first shot, I sipped my coffee and opened Twitter for my usual morning doom scrolling. I noticed Obesity and Krispy Kreme were trending and knew it was going to be a bad day. Krispy Kreme had announced that they were offering a free donut every day for the rest of the year to people who could show proof of vaccination. In true fashion, Twitter quickly spiraled out into a fatphobic shitstorm. This was exacerbated by a study reporting that 48% of millennials reported an average weight gain of 41 pounds. The anti-fat bile that spewed forth quickly overtook my relief and reminded me that the vaccine couldn’t protect me from the fatphobia waiting for me at the other end of the pandemic.
I’ve spent the entire pandemic worrying that my weight made me more susceptible to COVID, but now that the world’s nearly reopen, I have an entirely new set of concerns.
Early on in the pandemic, my Pilates instructor offered to do virtual sessions with me over zoom. I shrugged it off because I thought the gyms couldn’t possibly be closed that long. Two weeks later, my back was a mess, and I was so anxious I could barely function. I took my instructor up on his offer, having two sessions a week to aid my anxiety and as a marker that time was in fact passing.
A few months later, my social media were full of people reeling from the changes the pandemic had brought to their bodies, dubbing the newly added weight “the COVID 19.” One day during my session, my instructor stopped and complimented me for my commitment during a session. “You’re really doing amazing. I have to ask, have you lost weight?”
My skin crawled. “Not exactly.” Despite my regular Pilates sessions, I had gained a significant amount of weight during the pandemic. I didn’t have an issue with it — my weight regularly fluctuates and I love my fat body — but it’s always uncomfortable to be confronted about any kind of change in your body. “In the noise of the fat panic, I tried to stay attuned to my body. Being locked inside changed how my body worked and moved. When I resumed Pilates via Zoom, I no longer had Pilates equipment and machinery to rely on for support. All of the work was with my body, save for some resistance bands, a magic circle, and the occasional 10-lb weight. At first, I felt awkward and clumsy. I had to really focus on balance and stamina, something which seemed impossible as every depressing day started to blur together. As much as I resented the change to my Pilates regime, it gave me something I desperately needed between binge-watching and bread-making: a routine.
Still, I reeled every time I saw a headline about obesity as a comorbidity for COVID. I panicked that if I needed to go to the hospital, they would deny me care or even turn me away so they could treat someone less fat. Any time I saw a light at the end of the tunnel, cases would surge again, and my fears would swallow me. Summer came and went without Pride parades and fat gay pool parties. Fall came and cases dwindled, but I still remained sheltered in place on Halloween and dropped off Thanksgiving plates in friend’s driveways. When the winter surge came, I saw friends get hospitalized who had been even more careful than I had. At Christmas, I exchanged gifts over fences and spent holiday parties over Zoom. Still, I worried that it wasn’t enough. Finally, the first vaccines rolled out, and it seemed like 2021 might bring some hope.
My fat friends and I had shared our concerns and fears with one another throughout the pandemic. But even with the vaccine on the horizon, we have new fears. One friend shared that he was worried about the reaction he would get from clients when they saw his body for the first time, having worked with him only over Zoom.
Another friend shared her frustration that time in lockdown had exacerbated an old roller derby injury.
“I want to go to Disneyland when it reopens, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to,” she lamented.
I told her about rolling my ankle on Main Street at Disneyland several years ago. A friend from Italy visiting America for the first time, and Disneyland was the highlight of his trip. I hobbled in pain before I had the realization that there was no way I could get through a day in the park. “You know…” My husband said, and he motioned at an old woman racing by in a scooter. I wanted to protest but I caved as my ankle throbbed. My husband dashed off and quickly reappeared with a teal mobility scooter. I sheepishly tried out the controls, my cheeks flushing as it beeped like a freight truck when I backed up. After a few minutes, we were on our way. I initially felt embarrassed — internal anti-fat biases bubbled to the surface — but I tried not to let them ruin my time in the park. By the time we left at closing, I realized I had never felt better after a day in the park. For the first time, I left without blisters or knots in my back. The relief outweighed the embarrassment and stigma I felt.
I told my friend with the roller derby injury that since that day, I refuse to do the park any other way. “I’ll go with you,” I told her. ”We can race!”
“You have to promise me we’ll take pictures in front of the castle in our matching scooters!” she said with a cackle.
I’m looking forward to getting back on a Pilates reformer despite the balance and flexibility I’ve gained from doing without it. I look forward to the liberation of using a scooter and sparing my back and feet despite the dirty looks I might get. I look forward to driving to Krispy Kreme with my friend whom I haven’t hugged in over a year and breaking sweet yeasty bread to celebrate our vaccinated status. I might not be able to vaccinate myself against anti-fat bias, but I can try to live freely and authentically.
I’ve had so much fear, anxiety, and frustration in lockdown, but the isolation has reordered my priorities. I realize how tired I am of internalizing the anxieties, hatred, and biases of other people. I’m tired of tired of apologizing for the space I take up, whether it’s for a hospital bed, in an airplane seat, or on a gym bench. I’m leaving the pandemic ready to claim my space.
Trevor Kezon lives in West Hollywood, where he writes between zoom Pilates sessions and endless doomscrolling.