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Fat City: Living In A Place That Wasn’t Made For You

It is illegal to be fat on the streets of San Francisco.

It’s not an enforced law. Much like smoking weed on the street, it’s unlikely a fat person will actually be hassled. The pressure is subtle, but it’s there. This is a contrast to cities like L.A., where it’s really illegal, and enforcement is no joke.

Here’s the difference: when I lived in L.A., I was invisible. I couldn’t get the attention of a waiter or the time of day from a stranger on the street. Chairs were placed too close together and the seat next to me on the Metro was always empty. There was nowhere in the city to buy clothes for a very specific reason: fat people are banished to the suburbs.

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Living in San Francisco is slightly different. The city look here is just as slim as in L.A., but a little different. People here view themselves as much more real than those blonde silicon fakes down south. I’m not ignored as long as I talk the talk. The requirement for social consciousness is high; people are expected to feign body-positive attitudes, even if they’re not truly felt.

But there is still nowhere to buy clothes.

I can shop in Richmond. I can shop in Oakland. I can shop in El Cerrito or San Leandro; I know every BART stop worth visiting.

I cannot buy clothes in San Francisco. The plus-size sections at places like Ross in the city are a sad consolation prize consisting of three outfits in a size 14 followed by a row of caftans in prints that a girl is only allowed to wear if she’s teaching African American studies.

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I cannot expect to navigate easily in the older parts of the city, either. I have walked up stairwells that are not as wide as my hips. I’ve been welcomed to lofts and rooftop gardens that are only accessed by squeezing myself through a window or a portal like a tube of cookie dough. I’ve wedged myself into small seats at the symphony, the opera, and too many theaters to name. I love this city and think it’s one of the greatest in the world. But it was not made for me.

Suburbs were made for me. They’re out there, full of boring plus-size clothes designed for moms too busy to care and too tired to remember they once had style. Their movie theaters have bigger popcorn buckets and wider seats. Their dull chain restaurants have huge vinyl booths waiting to accommodate me.

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I am a city girl. I want to wander the bright streets at night, window-shopping the sparkles at Tiffany and the buttery leather at Prada. I have style, even if I have to buy most of it online and wait for delivery to try it on. I visit the suburbs when I have to, but my heart doesn’t go with me.

 The truth is, I kind of like being illegal in San Francisco. It was hostile in L.A., but it’s just a little taboo here. A little exciting, a little bit risky to join a plus-size burlesque group and enjoy the look on someone’s face when they find out I dance in my underwear.

This is the only body I will ever have. My time in it is too precious to waste on hating it or wishing for something else.

So I walk my illegal ass up the hills and down the valleys of this demanding city, and I smile at people who stare. I sit next to strangers on BART, polite and smelling great, and choose a downtown destination. I hang out in the Mission wearing bright colors, elegantly breaking that unspoken law.

They will never lock me up.

Meg Elison

Meg Elison

Meg Elison is an East Bay writer and journalist. She is the author of The Book of the Unnamed Midwife and Fifty Years of Free Speech: Perspectives on the Movement That Revolutionized Berkeley. She writes for comedy group The Mess and laughs at her own jokes.

1 Comment
  1. Great article Meg! I used to not go to California because I figured the day my plane landed there would be the day an earthquake would cause it to fall into the ocean. Now I have another excuse! Good for you for living illegal! Meanwhile I’ll just stay here in Minnesnowta where the gals are cornfed and women of substance reign supreme – at least in the central part of the state! There are still plenty of stores where we have to go back behind maternity, through the men’s section, past auto parts, down past the barn to the back forty to get to the plus size section, but some stores are more accommodating! Probably because their owners don’t want to walk that far to stock the racks! When will people realize that there’s just more of us to love??!!

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