Kevin Smith, “Too Fat to Fly?" Weightism or Safety Risk?

Kevin Smith, “Too Fat to Fly? Weightism or Safety Risk?

Posted Feb 15, 2010

"Too fat to fly?" This is the headline that splashed across newspapers and blogs across the world. Kevin Smith, director of several well known movies such as Chasing Amy and Dogma, was ejected from a Southwest flight due to his size.

We have to ask why this story caused so much interest and controversy? It was such a popular story that the Southwest computer system became overloaded and temporarily shut down by the volume of responses.

If you read blogs and responses to these articles, they drew very strong reactions from both sides of the debate. Some people were outraged that he was rejected from the flight, stating that this was discrimination and handled poorly. Why allow him onto the flight, sit down, buckle up and then change their mind? Celebrity or not, this was likely to be embarrassing for anyone. The question was posed whether the airline has specific guidelines that could have prevented the incident such as a BMI chart or specific rules outlining the limits. 

On the other hand, bloggers expressed a need for Kevin to take this as a serious concern about his size and weight. The bloggers on this side of the debate did not think it was reasonable that a passenger's size should negatively impact someone next to them. When this happens, it is an issue of fairness, according to some.

The question that seems unanswered by the news releases and blogs is whether this is a case of a real security risk, disrupting passenger comfort or a case of weightism? "Weightism" is defined as prejudice or discrimination against due to their size. Some consider it to be the "last acceptable prejudice." Notice that they did not disclose his weight or height to give any indication of his actual size. This takes us back to "judging" people based on what we see rather than the facts.

The bigger question is how often this happens on a daily basis and it doesn't receive the attention it does than when it happens to a celebrity?

Perhaps the two lesson learned: 1) Make policies crystal clear 2) the reality is that the concerns about obesity are present in everyday situations like fitting comfortably into airplanes and movie theater seats. This is a red flag that our bodies are outgrowing our current environment. Yes, a celebrity being booted off of a flight makes a sensational story. But, the larger issue is how to assist people in eating mindfully and prioritizing their health to help everyone (celebrity or not) avoid this problem.

By Dr. Susan Albers by psychologist and author of 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food and Eating Mindfully.