9 women describe the frustration, shame, and heartbreak of being a fat person on a plane.

Before moving to London to pursue a degree in anthropology, Stacy Bias had to decide if it was worth getting on the airplane.

"As a woman over 300 pounds, flying was pretty anxious for me," Bias says. Over the years, Bias came to fear being stared at, subjected to rude comments from seatmates, or asked to purchase an extra seat. The anxiety got so bad that at one point, she stopped flying altogether.

With a little determination and encouragement from her partner, who had recently relocated to the U.K., Bias faced down the fear and got on the plane to London. Soon after, she started a Facebook group to offer discussion, support, and tips to other fat travelers who had encountered similar roadblocks. The group quickly grew to nearly 4,000 members and Bias, in conjunction with a research project for her undergraduate dissertation, presented the group with a survey, encouraging members to share their experiences in the air.


"I had to take the survey down after three days because I was overwhelmed with respondents," Bias says. Like Bias, the overwhelming majority of survey takers reported feeling leered at, harassed, and like an unwelcome intruder in a public space.

Bias interviewed nine of the respondents. The result was the short animated documentary "Flying While Fat," which Bias posted to YouTube on Monday.

"The goal of the animation is to humanize fat people," Bias explains.

"I think fat people are talked about a lot — especially fat passengers are talked about a lot — but rarely spoken with."

Some of Bias' subjects love to fly and to travel, but they express frustration at having to endure "the expression" — the look of disappointment and anxiety that crosses their potential seatmates' faces as they walk down the aisle. Others describe having a "hyperawareness" of their bodies at all times, constantly evaluating how much space they take up. Verbal harassment, threats, even physical abuse are common threads in the interviews.

For one participant, the struggle over fat peoples' access to plane space fundamentally comes down to fairness.

"Everyone is fully aware of how much money they spent on those cubic inches," she poses. Because of the ever-shrinking size of airline seats and aisles, fellow passengers, she hypothesizes, are primed to go to the mat over how much room they believe they deserve.

For smaller people, one person's ability sit comfortably in an airplane seat may seem trivial. But for Bias' subjects, it's anything but.

"It's a topic that people feel strongly about," Bias says. "It really impacts the ability of people to partake of the world, to see family, to travel internationally, to go to funerals, to go to weddings. It's a thing that really impacts peoples' life in a profound way."

"The expression." Image via Stacy Bias/YouTube.

Fat flyers, she contends, frequently feel like excess baggage and a problem to be solved — and that, coupled with hostility from fellow passengers, can make them think twice before purchasing a plane ticket.

Bias believes the solution to the problem starts with standardizing customer size policies across the industry and creating more accessible spaces on aircraft.

Currently, those policies are a patchwork. Some airlines, like Alaska and United, require passengers who can't put both armrests down comfortably to purchase an additional ticket. Others, like Delta, simply "recommend" that customers who can't fit comfortably in a single seat do so.

Airlines "need to prioritize the well-being of passengers over profitability so that people literally can fit into the bathroom if they need to," Bias says.  

This lack of concern could pose real health risks for some fat flyers. According to Bias, roughly one-quarter of her subjects reported dehydrating themselves before boarding so they wouldn't have to walk down the aisle or attempt to fit into the restroom.

Fat people, she believes, aren't the only ones who could benefit from an industry-wide policy review.

"It's disabled people, it's people with injuries, it's people with long legs. Everybody is deeply uncomfortable on the plane. It's getting more so."

Bias hopes to publish the results of her study in the coming year.

In the meantime, she hopes the film helps smaller flyers understand the frustration and helplessness their fat counterparts often feel in a space where cruelty can sometimes erupt subtly and without warning.

Image via Stacy Bias/YouTube.

For passengers of any size, Bias believes a little empathy and respect go a long way.

"The most important thing that fellow passengers can do is just acknowledge the humanity of the people they're traveling with."

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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