I have a confession to make: I’m fat.

And I always have been.

I’m the girl who’s been dieting since I was 8, who spent junior high school afternoons in exercise programs, who’s been called things like “whale” by strangers (and even once by a now ex-boyfriend), who worked my butt off all through college and graduated summa cum laude only to be worried that potential employers would care more about the way I look than about my credentials.

I’m not saying I’ve had The Worst Experience Ever, only that to grow up being continually reminded that the way I naturally look is wrong and bad and unhealthy (which it isn’t, by the way – I’ve gone to enough doctors to prove it) is not exactly an ideal upbringing, especially when I have done everything in my power to change it.

But my body doesn’t want to be skinny. And that’s okay.

When people see me on the street and meet me for the first time, they assume The Worst. Common (uninformed) opinion equates fatness with laziness, food addiction, and stupidity.

But here’s something that I know will shock you: Despite the above stereotype, many fat people can’t help being fat. And many of us are fat despite the fact that we take care of ourselves. Crazy.

Most people in my culture assume that I’ve Done This To Myself and thus deserve to be degraded. What they can’t tell from the way I look is that I do yoga, that I read so much about how to keep healthy, that while I will never deny I love to eat I’m incredibly conscious of what I consume and can’t remember the last time I touched fast food.

Body policing is a real issue that affects not only fat people, but women, people of color, and a myriad of other marginalized groups in the United States and elsewhere. Ultimately, my body is mine and mine alone, and I shouldn’t need to justify my existence by proving that I’m not a stereotype. And nor should anyone else, because even if it’s their “fault” (and I have trouble finding being or enjoying being fat to be a fault), it’s no one’s business but their own. Even if I was a stereotype, I still deserve your respect.

Our culture has conditioned fat people to believe that we need to “prove” our worth, because the way we look implies otherwise. That because we’re fat, we have to be “better” if we want to be treated with the same level of common decency that the rest of the population is. There are skinny people who don’t exercise, who love fast food, and who don’t have any interest in being healthy. They just don’t “look” the part. But because they’re skinny they’re somehow better?

As a society, we need to care more about how individuals act towards one another than what they do with their own lives in their own time. I will never shame anyone, no matter how they look, no matter what they do, as long as they treat others and me with respect.

“We all need to develop an interest in experiences of oppression,” says Stacy Bias, an activist, educator, entrepreneur, and expat from Portland, OR who now lives in London. “Oppressions don’t exist in isolation – they’re structural – so what oppresses one is part of a larger system of oppression that impacts everyone.”

We are all first, and most importantly, human beings.

What this has to do with travel is simple. Flying is only one of many travel-related experiences that brings with it a unique set of obstacles and anxieties for anyone who is even moderately overweight. It’s also probably the most talked about, thanks to ever-increasing flight prices and ever-decreasing space on planes.

“If you’ve adopted a world view that dehumanizes fat people and if your primary concern on a plane is making sure you get every last millimeter of space that’s owed to you, even at the expense of another person’s safety or dignity, you’re missing the larger picture – which is that no one on a plane is comfortable and that’s down to the airline industry’s collective decision to maximize profit by minimizing space,” adds Stacy, who runs the Facebook group Flying While Fat. “Fat bodies have always existed and they always will exist. The best way to ensure the comfort of everyone is to acknowledge this reality and make reasonable attempts to accommodate the fact of bodily diversity.”

This is only a shallow dive into the vast pool that is traveling while fat, and these issues intersect with so many other facets of human identity. I look forward to wading a little deeper next time.

Fat Acceptance has been a hot topic in various blogs recently. I encourage you to read this wonderful xoJane article if you’d like to inform yourself more about it.