What it is:
Flying While Fat is a 6 minute documentary animation that centers the voices of fat travellers as they explain their experiences of flying while fat. It is unscripted with all audio recorded from live interviews or read from transcripts of chat interviews. The ambient airport noises were recorded from my own travels.
The participants in the animation are deeply intelligent, eloquent, radically vulnerable and compassionate. I honestly can’t thank them enough for their honesty and their willingness to tell their stories.
How was it funded?:
Dr. Bethan Evans, Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Liverpool successfully funded a small grant based on our collaboration. This grant covered both the writing of a few academic journal articles (still in process) and partially funded the creation of the animation. I donated the majority of my time.
How long did it take?:
Research & Preliminary Analysis: 795 surveys, 28+ in-depth interviews. 6 months.
Finding the Narrative & Sound Editing: 80 hours.
Design and Animation: 420 hours (6 weeks, 7 days a week, 10 hours a day!)
Where did it launch?:
The animation premiered at the DADA Fest (Deaf and Disability Arts Festival) in Liverpool, also thanks to the collaboration with Dr. Bethan Evans and the University of Liverpool. Through this collaboration, the animation also exhibited at the Bluecoat Centre for Contemporary Arts and the Tate Gallery, Liverpool from November 19th through December 3rd, 2016. After its exhibitions, it launched online December 5th, 2016.
How was it received?:
The press coverage for the Flying While Fat animation was unprecedented in my experience. It featured in People, Today.Com, Cosmopolitan, AJ+, Buzzfeed, Mashable, Upworthy, ATTN:, the Daily Mail, BBC Radio and on the Matador Network. It was even shared by George Takei! (Be still my nerdy queer heart!) The overall coverage placed the topic in front of an estimated two million readers within the first two weeks with 230,000 direct views on my YouTube and a further 550,000 views via AJ+’s summary video before the end of December. It also generated over 50,000 social shares on Facebook alone.
The most surprising bit about the coverage for me (aside from the sheer amount of it) was the fact that all of it was positive. Every single story that came out was rooted in compassion for fat travellers.
The response from fat folks and feminist allies has been overwhelmingly positive and I’ve received lovely emails full of stories about how folks felt seen and heard while listening my participants tell their stories. For this reason alone, I consider the animation a resounding success and would just as soon leave it there. But there’s another side, of course.
The response from folks outside fat positivity has been as mixed as one might expect. Anytime you deal with the topic of fatness in the public eye, the trolls come out in force. That said, I’ve had surprisingly few hate mails considering the breadth of the coverage (although admitting that might doom me to more) and I’ve had more than double the number of sweet responses. And while I’ve largely avoided comment threads for my own wellbeing, I’ve had a little skim and there are certainly no surprises in the criticisms. There’s the persistent, juvenile hatred of all fat people that wilfully refuses empathy. There’s idea that fatness is always elective and changeable and therefore exempt from compassion. And there’s the resistance to the idea that fairness doesn’t always look like equality.
We’ve not really started a new conversation here but we’ve contributed to it in a meaningful way and I hope made some ripples that will continue to challenge fat stigma in the realm of travel. As one participant in the animation says “That’s a long far off goal. That’s a deep psychological cultural change goal. That takes time. That takes generations.” In the meantime, we keep telling our stories and we keep hoping folks will listen with open minds and hearts!
This animation has been a massive undertaking and a true joy, albeit overwhelming at times! I love doing this work and I am so deeply honoured to have been entrusted with these stories. I look forward to more work like this in the future!