When I first saw the viral photo of a woman who had tipped over on her scooter in Walmart, I felt sick to my stomach. I was not yet disabled, so I couldn’t relate to her on that level. But I was fat, and I knew how humiliating it is to have your size become the butt of a joke.
I was livid that instead of helping this poor woman, someone had chosen to take a photo and make her an internet meme.
Years went by, and I would see the photo pop up from time to time, finding myself seething each time it did. Then one day, I saw the photo with a headline that caught my eye. “What You Should Know if You Laughed at This Viral Photo of Me.” This wasn’t another post making fun at her expense – she was telling her story.
She didn’t know it, and probably never will, but she changed my life with that article.
By the time it reached me, I was physically disabled, with a condition that had yet to be identified. In her article, she outlined her spinal disability – and it sounded just like mine.
So much so, in fact, that it was my push to insist on an MRI. While I waited for results, I began to do exercises that help with the condition she has – and they made a difference.
It turns out that we share two conditions, and we each have a third that are closely related. And guess what – none of them are because of our weight. Telling her story prompted me to insist on better care, and I am forever grateful to her for that.
Her story made me feel validated for a while.
But then it popped up again two years later, and this time, it angered me. Not Jennifer – my admiration for her is still steel-strong. It angered me that she felt she had to explain why she was using that scooter and justify being fat.
Knowing that the condition she has is very painful, and that falling off that scooter had to be excruciating, many people who laughed at it will likely think twice next time. After all, it’s funny to laugh at fat people, but abhorrent to laugh at disabled people.
Now that they know that she would need the scooter whether or not she was fat invalidates the humour in the photo.
That’s what infuriates me. It shouldn’t matter why she needed that scooter. It shouldn’t matter whether or not she was disabled, or whether or not her mobility needs were due to her weight. She deserved help, not ridicule, no matter what, and she never should have had to clarify that or justify anything.
I realized that I do it myself all the time. “I use a walker – but not because of my weight, I’d need it anyway, so it’s valid.” Even, “Yes, I’m fat, but I have PCOS and mobility issues and depression, so there is a reason besides laziness and gluttony that I’m fat.”
You know what? Fuck that.
It doesn’t matter why someone needs a mobility device.
It doesn’t matter why someone is fat at all. Even if the reason someone is fat is because they have no underlying conditions and they simply like to eat, and even if they use a mobility device because sometimes being fat does cause mobility problems – they still deserve as much respect as anyone else. Anyone.
I am done justifying my disability, my body, and my right to exist.
It is nobody’s business why or how my body is the way that it is. I am a person, I exist in this world, and that alone entitles me to worth, validity, and some damn respect.
I will no longer explain my existence, because the reasons don’t matter. I matter. And if I ever fall off my mobility device, and you take a picture instead of offering me a helping hand, so help me, I will show you what this body is capable of.