Cartoon: It Weighs You Down

This cartoon is another collaboration with Becky Hawkins.

If you like these cartoons, help there by more by pledging $1 or $2 at my patreon! Every bit helps.

This month, two cartoons ended up being completed at more or less the same time – this one, beautifully painted by Becky Hawkins, and one drawn by me (with colors by Frank Young) which I’ll post tomorrow. It’s been years since I first jotted down the idea for this cartoon; the other cartoon was thought of just a few weeks ago.

But looking at them now, I realize they both have the same theme, which is the way that stigma’s effects pile up over time. You’ll see what I mean when I post the other strip tomorrow.

I’m currently in an online debate about fat acceptance with Helen Pluckrose (I owe her a response). While researching that, I read a couple of articles about the ways stigma hurts people’s health, both mentally and physically. Not only is anti-fat stigma failing to make anyone thinner or healthier; it’s actually making us less healthy and making us die sooner.

* * *

I first sketched this one out a few years ago. I liked the unusual format (I’ve done the alternating-text-and-image format only once before) and the playing around with word balloons, but somehow I never got around to drawing it.

This month, I showed Becky several not-yet-drawn cartoons that I thought she’d be a good match for, and she picked out this one. And I’m so glad she did! Her handpainted colors lend the piece a visual moodiness that I don’t think I could have matched.

So, for comparison’s sake, here’s what I gave Becky to work with.

As  you can see, virtually every visual detail in the finished strip was made up by Becky. I did suggest to her that there could be painted, cloudy dark panels instead of the flat black panels in my sketch, and holy crap did she ever deliver. I love the way this cartoon looks.


This cartoon has nine panels, in three rows of three panels each. Five of the panels have black and gray paint forming cloudy, dark abstract shapes, while the other four have non-abstract drawings. The two types of panels alternate, creating a checkerboard pattern. The abstract panels get darker as the strip goes on, until by the last panel it’s mostly black. Each of the abstract panels has a caption in plain white lettering.


A cloudy field of gray paint, with a caption near the top, which says: AFTER


We’re on an airplane; people are finding their seats. A fat man with glasses and a red-orange polo shirt is seated on the aisle; a thin woman with a scarf, pushing a roll along suitcase, has paused next to his seat and turned to speak to the person behind her in the aisle.

SCARF WOMAN: Oh God, do I have to sit next to him?


A cloudy field of gray paint, with a caption near the middle. The lettering is a little diagonal, rather than straight, and the second word is lower than the first. It says: A WHILE


A laundromat. The same fat man we saw on the plane, is in the foreground, looking up blankly in the middle of folding laundry. Mounted high on the wall behind him, next to a row of driers, is a TV that’s showing some sort of talk show, with three people seated on a couch facing the camera.

Clinging to the fat man’s back is the woman’s word balloon from the airplane panel.

Person On TV: Let’s face it, fat people choose to be like that!


A cloudy field of gray and some black paint, with a caption a bit below the middle. The lettering is a bit more diagonal than in panel 3, and the second word is sunk much lower than the first. It says: IT WEIGHS


We see the fat man again, in a coffee shop holding a mug, looking up with an unhappy expression. Behind his back, we can see the people sitting at the next table over. One of them, a thin man wearing a sleeveless shirt and jogging shorts, is grinning and holding up a finger as he makes a point.

There are now two word balloons clinging to the fat man’s back, the woman’s word balloon from the airplane panel, and the TV’s word balloon from the laundromat panel.

JOGGING SHORTS MAN:  …put the donuts down and get off the sofa now and then!


A cloudy field, about equally split between black and gray. The caption is now at a 45 degree angle and is near the bottom of the panel. It says: YOU


The same fat man, identifiable because of his red-orange shirt, is lying limp on the floor, arms spread out, possibly unconscious; we can recognize him from his body shape and red-orange shirt.

His face is covered by a pile of word balloons on his trunk, formed by all the word balloons from the previous three panels we’ve seen him in – “put the donuts down” and “fat people choose to  be like that” and “have to sit next to him?” — topped off by a new balloon spoken by an off-panel voice.

OFF PANEL VOICE: You’d look so much better if you’d lose some weight.


A cloudy field of black and gray paint, with the black paint dominating. The caption is diagonal and so far down in the panel that parts of the letters disappear below the bottom of the cartoon. We can still see that it says: DOWN

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13 Responses to Cartoon: It Weighs You Down

  1. 1
    Ampersand says:

    To the person who just left a five-paragraph comment beginning with “you’ll never publish this of course”:

    Not only am I not publishing it, I deleted it without reading past the first sentence. Have a nice day!

  2. 2
    Regina says:

    Concerning the plane/public transport situation: What I hate most about all those discussions about how fat people should have to buy to seats etc. is that a lot of thin people do not seem to consider how uncomfortable that situation is for a fat person. Not just mentally because of fat shaming etc. but also physically.

  3. 3
    Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I wonder how whether being a stigmatizer is unhealthy.

  4. 4
    Petar says:

    a lot of thin people do not seem to consider how uncomfortable that situation is for a fat person. Not just mentally because of fat shaming etc. but also physically.

    Yes, the situation is uncomfortable for both the fat people who are compressed in a seat that is clearly inadequate for their needs, and for their neighbors, who are forced to endure the touch of a stranger’s skin, sweat or just mass, and end up using only a portion of the already limited space for which they have paid.

    Now, a good Commie will say “To each according to their needs”, and agree that the fat person should be allowed to lift the arm rest, and take a proportionally bigger part of the available space. A good Capitalist would insist that, as both individuals have purchased the same amount of space, each stays on the right side of the plane bisecting the arm rest.

    A good Progressive? What exactly is the ideologically correct response here?

    As a Contrarian, I would sell volume by the cubic centimeter, with allowances for quality (class, exit row, window, aisle, etc.) and allow people to purchase as much as they think they need. I’m reasonably sure that very few people would be happy with this solution.

    I know that since my daughter was born, I have been paying for a full seat for her, despite not being required to do so, at least in first few years. It made travel easier, and it cost a fair amount. I still felt bad for people who may have been inconvenienced when she would cry. I’m sure that if I were larger than I am I would gladly buy an extra seat to reduce friction.

    Irrelevant trivial: When I was younger, if someone had offered to give me an extra 20 centimeters of height, as long as I accepted 50 extra kilos of weight, I’d have jumped at the opportunity… Today? I’m too old to care.

  5. 5
    Petar says:

    Oh, by the way, I missed something that the theoretical Commie above would say. Even the Contrarian who has been exposed to Communist influences would agree:

    The fault lies with the Airline, which forces its customers into uncomfortable, even intolerable situations. Instead of resolving or at least arbitraging the dispute, the airline sets fat and thin people against each other, manipulating the victims into focusing their frustration on each other, and reducing awareness of the constant shrinking of the space available to passengers.

    As long as people use their wallets to vote for cheap shit over expensive quality items, suppliers will compete on price while cutting production costs and increasing profits.

    And no, I am not coming to this from an elitist point of view. A 80s T-shirt (pair of shoes, jeans, printer, wrench) cost about three times more than a 2020s one, once you adjust for inflation, but it lasted an order of magnitude longer. Well made stuff is cheaper in the long run.

  6. 6
    Regina says:

    Petar, since you quoted me: Personally, I haven’t been flying for about eighteen years. (I live in a country with a fairly good train service, so I have a reasonably practical alternative in most situations.) But I do take public transport regularly to work. Since I am physically able to stand for the length of my daily commute, I actually do not take a seat in busses or trains when that means that I have to sit down next to an already occupied seat. Nonetheless, I actually have gotten the stink eye from thin people on public busses and/or trains – even in situations when I was the one who was the first one to sit in a double seat and they chose to sit down next to me. I am absolutely willing to consider the needs of other people. But at some point I really ask myself who accommodating I am expected to be and when my needs start to matter. (By the way, I do not particularly enjoy body contact with strangers. In fact, it does freak me out. But I know that I cannot always avoid it, so I just put up with it. And it is one thing to be not happy about an uncomfortable situation and another to either verbally complain or non-verbally communicate your discontent. How would you have felt if other people would have started to sigh and/or complain about your daughters crying?

  7. 7
    Harlequin says:

    I haven’t had anybody make actual comments to me, but I’ve had sighs/disappointed looks/etc directed at me for being a fat person on a plane…and I fit entirely within a single seat. So I think it’s inaccurate to assign this discomfort merely to the idea that we fat people will overfill “our” space. There’s something clearly uncomfortable about sitting next to me that is independent of physical encroachment. Though I get this less than people I know who are bigger (or even who are smaller, but in a less…cylindrical way), so that could be part of it, although any psychological discomfort would probably also increase with apparent size.

    I do notice a (noisy!) correlation with sighs/displeasure from men who then proceed to let their knees flop into my space, elbow me in the ribs over the armrest, etc so some of it is also that I am preventing them from using my space as their own. Oh well.

    And I will also note the other counterfactual, that people do not seem to complain in a similar way about particularly tall or broad-shouldered people, even though IME they also encroach quite a bit.

    Anyway: to the cartoon, yes. On the one hand I am glad that I have enough experience now to notice & name fatphobic comments, so I can push back against them (if only in my head). But on the other hand I have cause to notice them SO MUCH.

  8. 8
    J. Squid says:

    As a small, relatively thin person, even I barely fit in modern airline seats.

  9. 9
    Petar says:

    The width of the average airline economy seat is 17 inches. I’m really short (less than 5’6″) but my shoulder width is quite a bit over 17 inches. Traveling next to other men means taking care not to bump shoulders, but I have never had someone give me dirty looks for it. With women, yes, I may be intruding in their space if I do not pay attention, but unless they fall asleep, it’s never been an issue. And if they do, all I have to do is pretend to be asleep when they wake up.

    The seats fit no one, but overweight people are an acceptable target for people to vent their anger.

  10. 10
    Ampersand says:

    Honestly, the most uncomfortable experiences I’ve had on airlines hasn’t been being next to fellow fats. It’s been the two times I’ve been next to extremely broad-shouldered body builders. Not that I glare at them or say anything – they cannot, at least in the timespan of this flight we’re sharing, change how they’re shaped. But where fat people (if they’re fat enough) come into contact with me at the hips and maybe waist, the musclemen are hitting me at shoulder height, forcing me to spend the entire flight leaning with my back off-center. That causes not just the discomfort of physical contact with a person I don’t know, but actual back pain.

    I have never once seen a suggestion that broad-shoulder muscle guys should be forced to buy two seats.

  11. 11
    Görkem says:

    “I have never once seen a suggestion that broad-shoulder muscle guys should be forced to buy two seats.”

    Having read your story I am ready to suggest this

  12. 12
    Grace Annam says:

    I’m tall and I have broad shoulders. I can’t afford first class. So flying is never fun for me. I often am brushing shoulders with people, though not usually when I’m just sitting.

    I do recall one flight I was on where I was seated next to a fat woman. She had a strap which she used to hold her arms from encroaching on her neighbors, as much as she could. It seemed from her body language that she didn’t want to chat, so I said nothing. But it was plain that neither of us was happy with the situation, and that she was doing the best she could, to the point of bringing along equipment to minimize the problem, so it never occurred to me to blame her.

    Once, just barely into adulthood, I got upgraded on a cross-country flight, to either business class or first class (I don’t recall which, or if they made the distinction then). I could recline all the way. The seat was easily big enough for me. It was very comfortable. I’ve never forgotten it, but I can’t afford to pay for it.

    I had a once-in-a-lifetime overseas trip scheduled with one of my children, with tickets purchased, when quarantine arrived. Now I have a voucher. We may be able to take the trip at some point in the future (though it seems increasingly likely that any sensible country will bar entry to people from the USA). If we can’t both go, then the voucher will probably cover a business ticket for me, and I’ll get to experience that comfort (and possibly the anti-infection advantage of that much more airspace between me and other people).

    But I’d rather travel with my kid.


  13. 13
    Ampersand says:

    It was very comfortable. I’ve never forgotten it, but I can’t afford to pay for it.

    I know you’re not asking for advice, but maybe this will be useful for you or someone else reading: Spirit Air is famously awful because they charge extra for everything, so their apparently low prices turn out to be similar to everyone else’s.

    But upgrading to a first-class seat on Spirit only costs like $30. (They don’t actually offer first class – it doesn’t come with hot towels or nicer food or anything – but they buy their planes secondhand from other airlines, so their planes still have the wider seats in front).

    I wouldn’t pay the extra if I was just going to be on the flight for an hour. But the few times I’ve been going cross-country and Spirit was an option, it was entirely worth it for five hours of relative comfort.