I have wanted to write this piece for a while and with festive eating season way underway, why not now? If you talk to pretty much any plus size person about eating in public, you’ll hear stories of pointed stares, hushed whispers and meals finished early through embarrassment and sadness. Eating in public whilst daring to be fat can be difficult.
You see, if we dare to enjoy ourselves by indulging in a nice meal in public, we’re living up to a stereotype just by existing in that moment. You just have to look at advertising campaigns to see thin people enjoying a gigantic burger and fries, or happy, thin couples eating pizza by moonlight. Where’s the size 24 babe seductively spooning some Haagen Daas into her chubby, perfectly puckered mouth? Nowhere – because that’s not what society has been conditioned to accept.
Throw in a healthy dose of social anxiety to your chubby mix and my friend, you’ve got a recipe for a pretty terrible experience. I’ve been a bit of a anxious mess as of late and when I’m ready to throw myself out of that cycle, I tend to shove myself in situations that usually make me want to run a million miles from.
We all have to eat. All of us. So, I went out to consciously report on what it was like to be fat and eating in public in three different places, in three different ways:
- The fancy, fashionable bar with my thinner friend
- The middle-of-the-road pizzeria on my own at lunchtime
- The budget fast food fix with my fellow chubs
Eating at Balans Soho Society, Victoria with my pal, Est
The first on my stop was Balans Soho Society’s brand new branch at Victoria. I’d kindly been invited down to try out their new branch by their PR who reached out to me because of Balans’ body positive approach. Body positivity at a restaurant?! What better way of testing this out than going along with my much smaller pal, Est, for a catch up?
Now I am a Balans fan – I’ve gone to the Soho branch and the Stratford branch before and I knew the clientele of their branches to be a very fashionable crowd (I mean, who’s more fashionable than the Soho homos?). That immediately filled me with a little bit of fear. I wanted to go for a nice catch up with my mate and have a giggle, not feel like I was on edge all evening. Eating with a smaller pal has it’s hazards too – being the fat friend brings with it the assumption of what food would be for you when it’s brought over. I’ve experienced this before when Em and I had gone for food – the server assuming that the salad I had ordered was for my smaller girlfriend, and the steak and chips she ordered was for me.
The new branch is at roof garden level in the fancy Cardinal Place, just by the station. The bar and restaurant is lit in that gorgeous, dusky way that all fancy places are lit (which is why these photos aren’t so great, sorry!). We were sat in a comfortable booth next to the wall – now usually, I’m not a booth fan. Sometimes, they can be uncomfortable for a fat girl – I mean, hellooooo gut chopping table?! – but this one had plenty of space for me to breathe out in.
Est and I had three courses, three cocktails each and just focused on enjoying each others company. Our server consistently kept our water glasses topped up, she made sure we were OK and gave us great drinks recommendations. She remembered who ordered what and just delivered it over without any prejudgment.
Because of the layout of the restaurant, each table had some level of privacy – even though there was a party of women just one table away, because of the layout of the floor plan, they had their space and we had ours and ne’er the two shall meet. It really helped me to relax and just focus on having a great time with my pal! The combination of excellent floor plan and attentive server made for probably one of the best eating experiences I’ve ever had.
Lottie’s top tips:
- Choose a space that’s concealed away if you’re worried about being watched by others, but fight the fear and do it anyway
- Dimmed lighting and a good ambience is your friend if you’re feeling worried
- Get yourself a server that’s attentive and knows their menu well and remembers what you ordered
Eating at Pizza Express, on my own
So this one was a challenge for me. Reader, I’ve never been for a sit-down meal on my own before. Not even to a fast food restaurant. I’ve always made sure I’ve had someone with me. There’s always been something quite scary about eating on my own whilst being a size 24. I was worried about being on the back foot and having no back up should the jeering begin. So, one lunchtime at work, I was feeling a little
hungover brave and I knew there was a Pizza Express just around the corner, so I took myself on a little solo YOLO date.
It’s lunchtime, it’s Shoreditch and it’s busy. There was one table for one left in the whole restaurant by the time I rocked up and it was in the middle of the dining room. There was only one other solo diner there and he was glued to his tablet that he has set up on his table in a little stand. He was athletic, in his 40’s and very businessman-like. I, on the other hand, was in an oversized t-shirt and a hoodie with my hair scraped up in a bun and a slightly dishevelled makeup look on, and I was sans-technology. Fuck.
I sat down and immediately clocked a young couple just two tables in front of me who were staring in my direction. One bent over to the other to whisper something, and then a giggle paired with a pointed glance over towards my table. Shitting hell. My server gave me a menu and I immediately hid behind it, wondering if I could just get myself out of there without ordering. I remembered that I was doing this for the greater good, so I ordered my fave pizza (La Reine, if you were wondering) and a Fanta. I looked over at my fellow solo YOLO brethren, who was face deep in a v. important looking email and remembered that I owned a phone. So I whipped it out and distracted myself with social media. I also took out my headphones and stuck on some music – this helped a LOT.
My food came mega quickly and I was so grateful. I started tucking in to my pizza without looking up at anyone around me and focused on enjoying the flavours. I’d be damned if I was to let anyone take away the enjoyment of food from me. I found focusing on the taste of my food and the act of cutting it up helped me to forget what was happening around me. When I finally did look up, I realised that, in fact, no one was looking at me. Everyone else was just engrossed in their own meals, even the young couple who looked at me before. Oh, maybe it’s not so bad after all? I finished my food, asked for the bill and paid without hesitation. I’d managed to finish my food but did I really enjoy my experience? Nah. Not really.
Lottie’s top tips
- If you’re going for the solo YOLO, bring something to distract yourself. A book or a tablet is great, and music is even better
- Ask to be seated somewhere quieter, if you’re wanting to blend in
- If you feel uncomfortable, focus on the task at hand and see it through. Don’t get up and leave because of other people
Eating at McDonalds, with my plus size pals
For my last trick, I decided to go full on stereotypical fat gal, and go for a burger. I was with two of my influencer pals, Michelle Elman and Edee Beau. It was late, I hadn’t had my dinner yet. A girl needed a burger, so I suggested we all went off to McDonalds and have a little chin wag whilst enjoying a quarter pounder.
Now, I didn’t tell the girls that I would be writing about our trip (so sorry ladies if you’re reading this!). I wanted our experience to be as natural and as organic as possible. All three of us grabbed our food, found a table in the very busy restaurant and just sat down for a chat.
Being with other plus size people really helps. Fat girls in numbers, eating food and not giving a fuck does wonders for your anxiety. I did notice a few people looking around at us, in particular a group of men on the table in front of us kept looking over and making comments in another language that I didn’t understand, but it was obvious that they were talking about us, but let me tell you dear reader – I didn’t give a fuck! Staring one of them in the face whilst taking a bite of my burger and laughing my head off at something Michelle said to me was brilliant. I just didn’t care – I knew it was happening, and I didn’t give a flying fuck. This was because I was with people who just *get it*.
There’s something in being in a girl gang that really helps with the actual peril of daring to be fat and eating in public. I’d have been quite less sassy if I weren’t with my fellow curvy brethren at that point – I deserve to go and enjoy my meal and have a laugh and that is exactly what I did. I enjoyed my meal. I enjoyed my company. And I absolutely didn’t give a flying about who was bothered by it.
Lottie’s top tips
- Take your fat pals – eating typically “fat” foods en masse with your other fat pals makes it a lot less daunting.
- Stare judgment in the face, and do it anyway – you’re there to eat. Eat your burger. Get your fries and dip them in your milkshake. FUCK IT.
- Laugh through it – you deserve to enjoy your meal, so enjoy it!