I was fat-shamed on a flight: The guy in 15C messed with the wrong person

Warning: Some coarse language and issues that may cause distress.

For Kate Spencer, the 7am flight to Christchurch was just another unremarkable journey.

The poet, photographer and MC, who is well known in the arts scene in Wellington and beyond as Creatif Kate, settled into her window seat and promptly fell asleep on the short journey from the capital.

But on waking as the plane landed, it was the actions of the man beside her that rocked her confidence but also helped inspire her to write a stinging rebuke against the “douchebag in 15C”.

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As the other passengers were standing up gathering their belongings, her neighbour angled his phone screen towards her, with the text in large writing.

“I saw that he had written to someone that my flab had spilled over the seating bar in the middle. He had written that I had more chins than a Chinese phonebook, which is not only disgusting in terms of fatphobia but it’s also racist, and that my top lip was as hairy as a … I had to turn away then, I didn’t know what to do with myself,” Spencer told Stuff Travel. She didn’t see what simile he had compared her lip to, but she has some ideas.

Kate Spencer is well known the arts scene in Wellington and beyond.

Roctphotography/Supplied

Kate Spencer is well known the arts scene in Wellington and beyond.

Shocked and close to tears, by the time she had composed herself the man in 15C had left the plane.

Normally an extremely confident person and very comfortable in her own skin, the callous moment shook her to the core.

“It felt like he was really enjoying digging into my appearance and my weight. I was in a bit of a daze after. I had a friend meeting me at the airport and when I told him, he said loudly, ‘that guy’s a dick!’”

For Spencer, it’s not the first instance of fat-shaming she has suffered. She has had it from her own family, ex-partners and “the world”.

That night she started to put down her thoughts, resulting in the seeds for the poem, I’m Glad My Existence Offends You, but admits it was a “painful” process: “I don’t normally talk about my weight in my poetry.”

“I thought it was an important poem as well, not just for myself but for other fat people and those who don’t pass as the best-looking people. Like, I’m f…ing gorgeous and his opinion is trash but his opinion, like the poem says, is something I have heard all my life and something I’ve had to deal with.”

Compounding the situation is that Spencer has been struggling with her weight recently after a series of traumas.

“The guy doesn’t know my underlying health conditions. He doesn’t know what I’ve been through this year. My mum died, I lost a friend to suicide, I’ve had a rough year and I haven’t been the best to take care of myself. I also have health conditions that make it difficult to lose weight.

“I’m a decent f…king person and he’s just a dick. I am sure he is lovely to his family and friends and is incredibly supportive of them, but I am an easy target because I don’t fit the dominant narrative of what people want.”

Kate Spencer aka Creatif Kate is a poet, photographer and MC.

Tracy Sexton/Supplied

Kate Spencer aka Creatif Kate is a poet, photographer and MC.

Spencer completed her poem just an hour before deciding to debut it in front of an audience last week, and the reaction almost brought her to tears.

“It was overwhelming. The other performers said it was incredible. It felt good, it felt cathartic, and it felt therapeutic.”

While others may think that she should have reacted to the man in 15C at the time, she believes that writing her thoughts down and performing it is a better response.

“It’s one I have given thought to. One that is in my style. One that is on my terms. He may never see it, and that’s okay. Other people like Mr 15C might see it and other people like me might see it and realise that other people out there do give a damn about them.

“I want him to know that his actions have an impact. I’m strong and I can handle it and can respond to it after processing it for weeks, but there are other people who don’t have that strength, who are really, really damaged by those kinds of actions.

“It’s a f…ing hard road out here, everyone is struggling. You don’t have to make it harder for people.”

To view the full video of the performance click here but please note there is some very strong language.

I’m glad my existence offends you

Dear Mr Douchebag pretender in 15C, aisle seat

I’m glad my existence offends you

I, 15D, window seat

see your phone screen, the way you demean me

text writ as large as my arse

barely contained

angled for maximum viewing ability

– colossal, many chinned, hairy top lip –

your verbal agility is

nothing in comparison to mine. Sit tight.

I’m glad my existence offends you

but what was your intention?

If you were to probe your fatphobia

maybe attempt to understand, question

I’d be candid

admit I never planned to be THIS SIZE

– I lost 40kgs but they found me again –

I’m glad my existence offends you

but I need to suspend my disbelief

deal with this ongoing grief knowing

I am allowed to sit in this seat

without feeling shame and defeat

that I take up space

your words laced with vitriol

the disgrace on your face with the moustache on mine

whereas

I embrace who I am

at least, now I do – like this plane ride, it’s been a journey

I was guilty

of comparing myself to larger women

saying “At least I’m not their size.”

or “I carry it better than them.”

learnt behaviour from a mother

whose thighs were also thunderous

flabby of tum

whale blubber to some

BUT

the scales

they fail to indicate my worth

so I embody all of me

including my girth

let’s take a moment

maybe lay some blame elsewhere

we are squeezed by capitalism

profit hungry corporations

corporeal forms racked and stacked

to maximise and minimise comfort

contorting as best we can

to avoid touching body parts

I’m glad my existence offends you

I won’t pretend that anything you’ve said

is remotely original

I’ve heard it all my life

probably said it to myself:

disrespect and rejection long-term partners

to damaged sense of self, reflection

death by a thousand paper cuts

I’m glad my existence offends you

and you will not bend or break me

I don’t need your acceptance

your perception of me

I keep hairy top lip to challenge beauty norms

I do not want to and will not conform

I want to widen the definition

of womanhood and femininity

I contend

my resistance to the regular narrative

means I’m more likely to be condemned

by halfwits

and your hatred indicates far more about you than it does me

misogyny with a side serving of casual racism

will damn you

to a lifetime of

unsatisfactory encounters

marred by mountains of judgement

scammed into believing

the patriarchal, white supremacist status quo

or simply

apathetic towards its deconstruction

either way

I’m glad my existence offends you

I won’t defend your assumptions

that my food consumption is the issue

– perhaps I’m pre-disposed to adipose tissue –

or I’m lazy and don’t exercise

which is true BUT!

I used to pump iron and work out

was strong as f… and could have

taken down a chump like you in seconds

no,

you ableist piece of shit

I have multiple chronic and worsening conditions

disabled

(plus, there’s no fabled miracle cure for obesity)

and being dismissed in this way…

lack of compassion has an impact

you may not find me attractive

but that is a distraction

twattishness may be fashionable

in your friendship group

but I surround myself with people

who empower me

shower me with praise

raise me up with the crazy notion

that I’m a decent human being

inside this

meat suit

temporary home for my soul

and my goal

is to be better

than the likes of you

Oh, I’m glad my existence offends you

but I wish I had outed you

shouted to the whole plane

though I doubt it would have helped

change a stranger’s mind

so I’ll do the hard yards

and rearrange mine

and remain larger

than you

in every regard


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