I’m standing in the apartment of my dreams, staring up in disbelief at the 14-foot ceilings with elaborate mouldings that look like icing on a cake.
Old buildings often make me feel gigantic, but this one makes me feel tiny like I’m standing in a cathedral. Everything is pure white, except for the glowing chestnut floors and the antique tiled fireplaces. I am in love. I pretend to give the apartment a thorough adult inspection, at which point I head out to the sidewalk and eagerly grab for my phone. I dial the number of the landlord, who I’ve only spoken to once earlier this morning. “Hello…I’d love the apartment.” I say, trying not to sound overly excited.
“I’m so glad you like it.” he responds in an unreadable tone of voice – and then asks me to come by to pick up the application in person. Shit.
I have a friend who is gluten-free. She’s celiac, so ingesting pretty much any substance that has even been within shouting distance of gluten can cause days of gastric distress. Instead of hiding or never going out to eat, she owns it. Whenever we want to go out for dinner, we make a list of options and she calls them one by one. “Hello! Do you have gluten free menu options?” she’ll ask confidently. If they don’t, she doesn’t do all of the things I would do: she doesn’t apologize, feel rejected or ask them why they don’t think making gluten free food is important. She just moves onto the next option. Sometimes I wish there was a socially appropriate way to do the same thing with new places and people that I check out. “Hi! Do you hate fat people? No, I mean, once you stop saying of all the stuff you’re supposed to say, how do you feel about fat people?”
I dress carefully to go pick up my apartment application, all while attempting to look like I didn’t try too hard. I pick a 50’s inspired sundress with a puffy skirt, a belt to make my waist look smaller and a short sleeved sweater to hide my shoulders and upper arms. In other words, I’m wearing the uniform of thousands of other plus size women who want to blend in and look normal. I hope that I look nice enough to rent an apartment in the garden district. I hope that my new landlord doesn’t hate fat people on sight. I desperately hope that I don’t have to perch awkwardly on the edge of some antique chair that is too small for me whole time we chat.
The thing that people don’t tell you about being fat is how mentally exhausting it is. Presenting yourself in public when you’re heavier is an exercise in planning ahead and dealing with unexpected insults, both intended and unintended. I have a totally unscientific theory that this is part of why so many plus-size women gravitate towards the pinup look: it’s a way to harness this normalcy and accepted standard of beauty that is traditional and enviable. After all, it’s hard to criticize someone who is trying much harder than all the people around them. We spend so much time trying to be model fat people rather than play into all the completely untrue and negative stereotypes surrounding fat people.
Except, instead of being able to just weed people out who aren’t fat friendly, we’re expected to be polite and accommodate them.
My potential new landlord lives in another historic house in another historic neighborhood, except his is filled with dark wood that absorbs and reflects light. I don’t get my wish about the chair: instead, I perch awkwardly on the edge of a vintage desk chair and smooth my skirt nervously as I talk. I try to explain my job. “So you write about clothes?” he asks. I run through all the mental versions of my job in my head, searching for the one with the best optics. Fat activism, probably not. Lingerie, definitely not. On the surface, he’s a kind man with a silver ponytail and a typically New Orleans attitude about life, but I’m still nervous. What if he secretly hates fat people? What other applicants am I up against? Do they make more? Do they have a normal job? I turn in my application, leave and cross my fingers.
I hop onto the streetcar to head home and squeeze myself into one of the tiny original seats. I love the streetcar, but I always fight my natural inclination to try and make myself smaller than I am. Across the aisle, a petite woman sits across from me with her wide skirt fully splayed across the seat. She’s taking up more space than I am but is offered several compliments on her outfit as the ride goes on.
Two days later, my new landlord calls and tells me that I was approved for the apartment. I’m thrilled, not just about the beautiful apartment but also because it means that I wasn’t penalized for being someone who stands out. For being someone fat.