When Natalie Hage boarded her flight from Dallas to Los Angeles last week, she was already prepared for all the interminable discomforts of “flying while fat.” She knew that the seats would be small (Hage had done research on which airline would give her the most legroom) and that the people around her might not be happy about her size. What she didn’t expect was the guy next to her actively texting about how fat she was to a friend (she wasn’t snooping, we all know how airplane sightlines work). So she confronted him about it, just to let him know that if he didn’t have anything nice to text perhaps he could just put his phone into airplane mode and enjoy the view from the window.
According to an Instagram post Hage made about the incident (since gone viral), the dude assigned to fly next to her started acting out of sorts as soon as she sat down in the middle seat of the exit row.
From her recounting:
i paid almost $70 extra for this seat i’m in because i know i need a little extra leg room. i’m extremely flight anxious but there were only middle seats available so i had to take what i could get. as soon as i sat down, the gentleman on my left began LOUDLY huffing, sighing, and readjusting himself in his seat. i see him furiously texting and then purposefully turning the phone away from me. so, naturally next time he texts, i take a look. & the texts were about me and i’m almost positive he took photos of me.
And the texts were incredibly mean, and focused on Hage’s size. The guy wrote that he had had to squash himself against the window and would be leaving a neck mark. Then, when the person he was texting joked that she hoped Hage hadn’t eaten Mexican he wrote back “I think she ate a Mexican” before jovially taking up both armrests (which you’re not supposed to do! Everyone knows that the middle person gets both!) and continuing to pen missives about how the plane might not be able to take off with Hage on board.
In her post, Hage gives even more insight into her experience, writing that she felt both sad and enraged because of the way that she’d been treated, but also making it clear that this isn’t an isolated incident. That what this man was doing was only a symptom of a much bigger problem.
this is a fat person’s daily reality and not just on a plane. this is on a bus, standing in line at the grocery store, at a concert, on the internet. you can be completely in your own space, not bothering anyone, and people will still fuck with you and try to hurt you. all you can do is know you haven’t done anything wrong just by existing and to move on.
Sometimes “just moving on” isn’t easy when you’re boiling, so when the flight ended, Hage confronted the guy. At first he denied the texting and then tried to cover it up by saying he’d been drinking and then asking Hage if she really thought she could have fulfilled her “exit row duties” at her size. Never mind the fact that the chance of fulfilling said duties are so slim that airlines have turned exit rows into a money-making racket (no one pays extra in hopes of operating the door in case of emergency) or that, by the guy’s own admission, he’d been drunk enough to send regrettable texts in full view of others, making it just as impossible for him to fulfill whatever duties he may have been asked perform in the case of an emergency due to impaired judgment.
She filmed this, too:
An argument could be made that Hage was invading this man’s privacy and that he’s allowed to text whatever he wants. In fact, several people commenting on Hage’s Facebook post have made it clear that she was in the wrong (while also imploring her to lose weight and claiming that there’s no way she exercises five times a week as she says). Can you really blame Hague, though? People have been mocking and trolling larger people (and then posting about it on social media) forever with almost no repercussions. Hague’s decision to document — while not revealing the guy’s identity with a face shot — isn’t an act of deviance. It’s a turning of the tables and an opportunity to gain greater insight into her experience. It’s a reminder to be kinder and more understanding. And, if nothing else, it’s also a reminder that texting about the person sitting right freaking next to you is always a terrible idea.