I DON’T HAVE A UNIVERSAL BODY
By: Lauren Anderson
So, I’ve been a little anxious this week.
I used to get panic attacks and feel unsettled most days. But not anymore. I’m happy to report that once I went to therapy and got my depression under check, I’ve managed to show my anxiety who’s boss. FOR THE MOST PART.
The anxiousness that was once as familiar as my toothbrush has become a distant relative. I mean, it could still show up at any moment for a visit, but the likelihood is pretty small.
And then, I decided to take a mini-vacation with some girlfriends. Literally a 36-hour jaunt to Orlando so I can experience the joy of Harry Potter World at Universal Studios and get the hell out of dodge for a minute.
I’m happy to report that we had a wonderful time! It was a magical and joy-filled romp, that I am so grateful for! But it wasn’t without it it’s occasional pit stops of sweat-inducing panic.
At first I didn’t recognize it, because it’s been so long. But once I got a little quiet and forced myself to get to the bottom of that pitted feeling in my stomach, I recognized ANXIETY was back to flaunt it’s established power.
But why? Why now? Why be anxious on vacation? What’s up with that?!
Because this anxiety was precise. It was about my body. Specifically, will my body fit in the numerous new public spaces that I’m about to take it in the next few days?
Let’s start with Minefield Number One: The Airplane.
If you have one-size-fits-all type of body, or UNIVERSAL body (for the sake of this blog post) then you’re probably wondering what I’m talking about. I don’t have any fear of flying. In fact, I do it so rarely that plane rides still feel fun and exciting.
What I fear is sitting in the plane in an economy seat, and not being able to buckle the seat belt. Last time I rode an airplane a few years ago, I had to ask for a seat belt extension. It was a harrowing ask that took some significant bravery on my part.
I recall preparing myself for battle, because I thought they might try to charge me for an extra seat. Thankfully, the flight attendants were discrete and kind. And it ended up being a non-issue.
I remember my cheeks getting so hot I thought I was catching fire, and literally WILLING myself not to cry. Once the danger of crying in public subsided, I also remember being furious that I was so embarrassed and ashamed.
And why did I have to ask for a seat belt extender in the first place?! Who said it was the most UNIVERSAL to have an 18 inch seat with a 31 inch seat belt? I mean, do most bodies fit in these shallow parameters?
My guess is– NO THEY DON’T. And I don’t think it’s asking for the moon for companies to think about this. I know it’s a cost/benefit deal, and it’s most cost effective to shoot for the middle. I get it. It’s the same sad, old story the fashion industry was telling us for years.
But as we progress as a society this kind of thinking feels dated, lazy, shaming and exclusionary.
You’ve got a point… but how’d the actual plane ride go?
Well, since working out at Solcana, my body has changed pretty dramatically, so when I got on the plane this time, I was relieved that the belt clicked, and I no longer need the extender.
But it also doesn’t mean I suddenly have a one-size-fits-all frame either.
And I could still feel a huge surge of anxiety as I walked down the aisle. Trying to make my frame efficient and streamlined. Crossing my arms for 3 hours to keep my now broader, sculpted, weight-lifting shoulders (which I am very proud of btw) in my own space.
There were no incidents. It was fine. But as I sat on the plane, and looked at the other passengers with UNIVERSAL bodies luxuriating around me, I felt annoyed.
Last I checked, my money is the same as everyone else’s right? And yet, because I’m outside the average, my experience is diminished.
I desperately want the airline to take a page from fashion and WAKE UP!!! There’s gotta be a better way! I mean, when are they going to realize there is a whole population of different bodies who want to spend money on something that works?!
Minefield Number Two: Universal Studios
I love rides. I love to be thrilled in a controlled environment!
Anyone that has ever gone to a theme park with me knows that I experience rides very deeply– for lack of a better way to phrase that– and I lose myself in the excitement.
But after the plane, my shackles were up. In the back of my mind while we were walking around the park taking it all in and having a great time, I thought… am I going to be able to go on the rides?
If I was a different person, I might just opt out all together and take myself out of the potential emotional harm’s way. But you guys! I LOVE RIDES. Also, the FOMO that would happen would be unbearable.
Luckily, most of the rides have a “practice seat” outside the entrance so you can see if it will work. The signage is adequate, and the phrasing is democratic. Most had something posted with “this ride may not be able to accommodate certain dimensions”.
When the practice seats weren’t available, I decided to take my chances. I am happy to say, that the ride operators went out of their way to help me “click in”. Only referring to the machine and never my body. And after I was secured, checking in with me to see if I could stay in my squished position for “5 minutes” or “3 minutes”.
Thankfully, it wasn’t every ride every time. Just twice. But enough that I was HYPER AWARE, that my body was not of “Universal dimensions”. It was not an easy, anxiety free experience. It was hard. I had to constantly manage effort versus outcome.
Would the fun ride be worth a second or two of extra help from the staff? THE ANSWER IS YES.
Would my mental state sustain if I couldn’t go on any rides? THE ANSWER IS NO.
Or so I thought. But I just may have a little more Gryffindor grit than I thought. Because you guessed it folks–There was one ride that I couldn’t go on. And because of Murphy’s Law, or just general FML–it just happened to be the ride I wanted to go on the most.
After resigning myself to hold the purses of my friends when the practice seat wouldn’t click, I could feel that all-too-familiar hot cheeks of embarrassed tears well up as I tried to muster a casual, “I’ll just hang out here and you guys go on.”
It was tough, cause I was the ONLY ONE. I was traveling with three other UNIVERSAL bodies, who were very very empathetic, but there’s only so much they could do! I appreciated it. Truly and deeply.
But I was struggling for a bit there. And I desperately didn’t want to negatively affect their experience either. Because let’s not get it twisted– it sucked. I didn’t opt to sit out because I don’t like rides, or I get motion sick or anything like that. I was left out because of my body.
My friends convinced me to walk through the ride with them so I could still get the general experience. I agreed reluctantly, trying to dig deep and keep it together. I’m glad I was able to rally, and mine whatever fun and whimsy I could. But let’s be honest– we all were trying to gloss over the fact that I was a tiny bit heartbroken.
When it came time to ride, my friends gave me their bags and I was ushered into a waiting area, where I could stay inside the building, and, well…wait. It was a tiny taped-off corner. In the action, but very much outside of it. I stood there alone, with three purses, trying desperately to be brave.
I felt awful, but I was also proud of how I managed it. If I hadn’t worked so hard on my body love this past year, this would have devastated me. But every time I thought tears would spill, I managed to put it in perspective. I don’t need to feel shame. I didn’t do anything wrong.
All I did was have a body that was above average.
This thought made me smirk. I took a deep breath. And then, the operator opened the door again, and suddenly I was no longer alone. I was joined by so many different types of humanity. All of us were not UNIVERSAL bodies.
There was a grandpa in a wheelchair, and his daughter. A woman who was under 45 inches. A mom and her son with special needs in an electric wheelchair. A very tall man. And two other bodies similar to mine.
I thought I was alone. I was surprised at how many of us were stuck in this taped off corner, waiting for people. I was comforted at the fact that I wasn’t alone. But then my sense of injustice took over. What about all these non-UNIVERSAL bodied people wanting a thrilling experience? To echo Pink’s anthem, “WHAT ABOUT US?!”
When my friends got done, we headed over to another part of the park. They graciously tried to downplay the ride, but I knew it was awesome. We walked past a carousel, and I asked if we could go on it. I firmly believe nothing restores the spirit like a carousel ride.
Conclusion: Be More Like The Carousel
The animals were all heights, with absurdly long and ample safety straps. There was a ramp to get on with a wheelchair. There were benches for people to sit on, and as we gently swayed to the calliope, I could feel the lump in my throat dissipate for the first time in over an hour.
And I thought, if a carousel can do it, or at least attempt to accept the Fringe bodies, then why can’t the thrill rides try a little harder? Maybe all bodies can’t experience the same type of thrill, but that doesn’t mean they should be shuffled into a corner to wait while the UNIVERSAL-bodied get all the fun.
And again, I get it. It would be really hard to make a thrill ride that accommodates the fringe as well as the UNIVERSAL. But I think at one point they said the same thing about CrossFit.
Solcana taught me pretty quickly that that’s a bunch of BS. And I don’t have to be a certain size to be fit, and to do a CrossFit class. I wish my gym could teach Universal Studios a thing or two about what that looks like. The theme park is trying with the signage and the language the operators used, but they still have a long way to go.
Because, isn’t the hard stuff usually the most rewarding? I prove that to myself every time I finish a workout I thought I couldn’t do. And just because it hasn’t been done yet, doesn’t mean it can’t still be done right?!
Cause I don’t know about you, but that’s where I want to spend my money and my time the most.
Me, and all the people in the taped-off waiting corners of the world.