Entertainment chairs have a plus-size problem, and it’s time to fix it

When self-proclaimed “music nerd” Hannah Jayne scored tickets to see & Juliet, an alternate take on Shakespeare’s tragic love story set on Britney Spears, was emotional to say the least. That is until she spent three terribly uncomfortable hours crammed into a chair too small for her body.

When the 34-year-old copywriter arrived at the Shaftesbury Theater in London, she tried to change seats before the show started, but she had no joy. “I frantically looked around the sold-out show, hoping to find two empty seats so I could get extra space,” she says, “But even that requires explaining. [your weight] something so personal for an usher – usually a 20-year-old in his first job – hoping they understand and let you move.” Upon leaving, Jayne, who is a UK size 22 (US size 18), had red marks along the sides of her waist and thighs from the seat; the pain was so excruciating that it was hard to concentrate on the music.

This experience is more common than some might imagine. There are numerous reddit threads on r/PlusSize about the humiliation of getting to the theater and realizing you can’t fit in chair you paid good money for. Even on Twitter, people predicted “the death of the theatre“Because of inaccessible places, while others give up a hobby they love because it is not make room for their bodies. Users also discuss anxiety plopping into tiny chairs on public chat forums such as Theater Board and SeatPlan.


Sofie Hagen on fat activism and taking up space in a fatphobic world

Many fat people tackle this problem by sharing information on AllGo, a US app that analyzes public spaces for larger bodies, or even on social media groups like Fat Girls Travel. From whatever row and section to sit in which theater staff are accommodated, people try to add as many details as they can from their own experience, hoping to make it easier for the next person. Often this means fat visitors have to stretch their budgets to pay for premium box or dress circle seating.

“I stopped going to concerts because it was painful to watch the person next to me squirm and tut as my body spilled into her seat.”

But is it fair that this responsibility falls on the visitors? “I have a difficult relationship with my body, there are often long periods of self-hatred and even self-harm. I stopped going to concerts because it was painful to watch the person next to me squirm and tut as my body spilled over into his seat,” explains Damon*, a 27-year-old from London. For him, the act of approaching ground staff for wider venues is so tiring that he would rather watch his favorite artists perform on YouTube. Yes, in an ideal world we should have the courage to defend ourselves all the time, but that is far from reality.

Charlotte Weber, a psychotherapist focused on body image, points out that it is unfair to insist on self-confidence as the solution. “It can be burdensome to ask for more space,” she says, adding that validating a feeling is often more important than forcing someone to cause change. Undoubtedly, the locations have faced this question many times, but they have done nothing to introduce institutional changes. As it provides space (albeit limited) for wheelchair users and visitors with sensory impairments, fat accessibility should also be seen as an exclusion issue.

Sofie Hagen, a fat comedian, uses her platform as a performer to hold theaters accountable. Ahead of her 2022 UK tour, she has added a clause to her contract: every venue she performs at must change their online accessibility information to include seat measurements. “On my current show, I talk a lot about being too fat for chairs, and I thought it was weird that the audience would be uncomfortable watching that,” she says. “But if I limited myself to theaters that could accommodate fat people, the tour would be very short. So that’s the bare minimum – people can make an informed decision by knowing the width, depth and height of the seats beforehand.”

Over 25 UK locations have permanently added seat accessibility to their websites, along with contact persons to allow requests for alternative seats. This first step forces movie theaters to publicly acknowledge that their regular seats may not accommodate fat bodies—it’s the online equivalent of having “no fat people allowed” signs. The move also encourages venues to come up with a plan that makes room without forcing plus-sized people to pay more by buying more seats. For example, the Old Fire Station theater in Oxford, UK, now offers to place three seats without armrests side by side to make room for a fat visitor.

In addition, Ben Jackson, founder of SeatPlan, revealed that the company is considering a new section titled “Body Type” on the site. Here, users can further filter their reviews to find the best places for their body. Katie Greenall is a theater maker and facilitator who creates autobiographical performances about life in a fat body. She also addresses this inaccessibility by reducing the number of seats or hiring wider seats at the various venues where she plays. While all of these changes suggest real financial implications for theaters, they also invite more people (and revenue) in the long run.

According to Statista, the plus size market in the UK is expected to be £9 billion while in the US it is estimated at 601 billion dollars, from 2022. These numbers indicate that there is a sizeable population of fat people who are willing to spend money if given the opportunity. But outside of individual and external effort, there is a serious lack of initiative from the venues themselves. “I understand that many of these cinemas have historical significance, but they were also made when the average body in Britain was much smaller. If they update a few seats at each price point, I’m sure they’ll sell out,” says Amanda McCullough, managing editor of Fat girls guide.

Ambassador Theater Group (ATG) is the largest theater conglomerate in the country and has “access championsI tried to contact 10 of their theaters across the country and despite the effort, the available seat sizes are still shrouded in mystery. Whereas some like the Lyceum and Savoy in London put me on automatic hold. , others such as Theater Royal Brighton did not respond to emails at all. Outside ATG, I have been in conversation with the press team at the Young Vic for comment, only to be ghosted when I specified fatty accessibility.

So, plus size people are fired and asked to lose weight, making it a lifestyle issue instead of an inclusion issue that needs to be looked at institutionally.

Similarly, the O2 comms team refused to comment on their seats being too small – a problem I also experienced with a UK size 14 (US size 10). To put things into context, average dress size in the country it is UK 16 (US 12). When it’s so difficult to get some of the country’s most famous venues to share minimal information, it’s no wonder fat people feel marginalized despite being paying customers.

Recently, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). take a survey to understand whether people prefer to have minimum seat sizes for flights operating within the country. It’s time for the entertainment industry to do the same and address the inaccessibility it breeds. Rebecca Alexander, founder of AllGo explains: “For things to change, we need the support of people of all sizes, not just fat people. Only then will the places understand the seriousness of the problem at hand”.

Along with collective action, it is also essential to change the way we view fat bodies and validate their access needs. So, plus size people are fired and asked to lose weight, making it a lifestyle issue instead of an inclusion issue that needs to be looked at institutionally. Being fat should be seen as a protected characteristic and not something to be ashamed of. Until that changes, there will always be groups that are forced to watch taped shows or read plot summaries online instead of experiencing them live in places that can accommodate their bodies.

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