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New information has surfaced regarding the death of Tyre Sampson. While everybody’s focused on the details of the accident and discussing shoddy federal oversight of amusement parks, I’m thinking about the inhumane side of this. How do we accommodate people like Tyre that are isolated because of their size?
Tyre Sampson was an honor roll student and aspiring football player from St. Louis, Missouri. During his spring break, the 14 year old took a trip with his teammates to Florida and visited ICON Park in Orlando, Florida–known for having the world’s tallest freestanding drop tower.
Standing at six feet, five inches tall and weighing over 300 pounds, Tyre had been turned away from other rides in the amusement park because of his size. But the one exception was the parks’ staple attraction, the Free Fall Drop Tower.
Tyre boarded the Free Fall Drop Tower but was panicking during the ascent, stating to his friends, “I don’t know man. If I don’t make it down, please tell my Mom and Daddy I love them.”
Unfortunately Tyre’s concerns were valid. He fell from the ride and to his death as it descended to the ground. The ride has since been closed for further investigation.
Fat shaming shouldn’t be tolerated
According to Quest Engineering and Failure Analysis, Inc., “The cause of the subject accident was that Tyre Sampson was not properly secured in the seat primarily due to mis-adjustment of the harness proximity sensors,”. One of the ride operators had manually adjusted sensors to double the size of the opening restraints on two seats, one of those being the seat Tyre Sampson fell from.
Under the articles discussing this tragedy were comments from people fat shaming the teen and blaming the parents for his size and for letting him go to the amusement park. Shameful.
I remember excitedly taking my first trip to Six Flags Great America with my friends and family, ignorant to the fact that my size would affect my experience. Similar to Tyre, I was heavy set and unable to ride some of the rides. I was disappointed because everyone was having fun without me. And, I was embarrassed by people snickering at me or annoyed by having their experience being held up because of failed attempts from park staff trying to squeeze me into safety harnesses.
In retrospect, I’m glad I wasn’t able to take those rides, but like Tyre and other plus-sized young people, we’re just kids wanting to do the normal stuff that kids do and have fun.
When we think of bullying and fat shaming, it’s typically in the sense of direct verbal abuse and mockery. However, there are everyday things that remind bigger people of how limiting their size can be, inadvertently triggering shame.
Why not create space for all sizes?
First, not being accommodated or able to fully enjoy the amenities of public spaces is inconsiderate to us as consumers. Prime example from above, amusement parks. With about 74% of the United States being “overweight”, why haven’t theme park engineers enhanced technology and created entertainment spaces for larger people to enjoy?
Although the fashion industry is creating space for plus-sized people now, it wasn’t always welcoming and still has its hiccups. For years, the industry marketed the standard of beauty and confidence through images of slim people. That also influenced how and who clothing was designed for. All of this made it difficult for full figured people to have representation in the space, shaped negative connotations associated with size and limited fashion options.
The curvaceousness of Black women was mocked and shamed until white mainstream popularization of Black style and features. Not too long ago, a friend was telling me how her sister (a Black girl who attended a predominantly White high school) wore a sweatshirt around her waist everyday because it was unpopular to have a shapely figure.
I guarantee every person that’s gone through some form of inadvertent fat shaming has had the thought that they need to lose weight just to enjoy life comfortably–all contributing to an increase in surgeries and other schemes to lose weight quickly, maybe not necessarily for health reasons but just to not stick out or fit a standard of beauty ingrained in our culture.
Some people will read this and ask, “Well how about y’all just lose weight?”. But I’d encourage them to think about a time when they felt excluded or shamed for something about themselves that they could or couldn’t change.
I’d also challenge them to ponder how that experience affected them mentally and emotionally and where they directed those feelings: Was it towards themselves or the entity that made them feel isolated?
And furthermore, in the spirit of inclusivity and equality, how about we encourage people to be happy with who they are and create spaces for them to enjoy themselves comfortably, especially our kids who just want to have a normal childhood.