Why being a fat man is better than being a fat woman and other musings….

// 28 August 2008

theme park rideSummer brings on all sorts of strange behaviours – like paying money to be suspended upside down at high speeds and whizzed through the air at increasingly scary (or fun!) velocities. I am talking about Theme Parks (obviously). But consider this…. even the design of rides is so heavily gendered as to exclude more women than men. Why? Chest measurements and safety braces….

Many rides have a maximum chest measurement over which the safety braces won’t work. Now if you are a bloke you only have to worry about the absolutely measurement and squishiness of your chest. If you are a woman, however, it’s about the size, comfort and bruising potential of your breasts. And that’s not an easy thing to calculate…

The whole issue is gendered and yet that fact seems oddly overlooked…. as this article from icBirmingham proves:

Bosses at Alton Towers have introduced strict weight restrictions on four of their biggest attractions as a safety measure. And the theme park has revealed that the obesity crisis in Britain means it is considering a re-design of rollercoaster seats to accommodate the overweight. One special ‘fat seat’ for larger passengers has already been installed on the £12 million Oblivion. But the 70mph ride bars those with a chest size of 52 inches or more – around 20 stone. Heavyweight passengers with similarly large chests have also been banned from the popular Nemesis and Ripsaw rides. And restrictions are even tighter on the £12 million roll-ercoaster Air. Anyone with a chest size of 50 inches or more – around18st- is banned from the 50mph ride. Embarrassingly, those suspected of being over the weight limit can even try out a seat before they join the queue for Air to see if they fit in. But the chest restrictions have been described as a crude estimation of weight by a leading Midland obesity expert. Dr Ian Campbell, chairman of the Nottingham-based National Obesity Forum, said that over-weight teens as well as adults could be discriminated against by the new policy.”

It is perfectly possible to be a healthy weight, female and have a chest size approaching 50 inches and the purported relationship between weight and chest size only works, really, for men. Women are built different and carry their weight in different places. Other blogs and question boards online have covered this issue before (see What Fat People Don’t Like as an example.

It reminds me, however, of how the physical world continues to take male (and abled bodied) as the basis for their decisions. Like this about replacement knees and this on doors This paper talks about the assumption of the male norm in design more generally and not to forget, of course, the Women’s Design Service who have talked about this and other similar issues for years. In fact WDS have just launched a new site, Gendersite to talk about the built environment and design and gender.

Comments From You

Suzi FemAcadem // Posted 28 August 2008 at 1:56 pm

That’s before you mention the fact that women are more harrassed about their weight than women, and the standards of ‘acceptable’ weight are far more relaxed for men than women.

As for the chest restrictions – when are manufacturers going to realise women have breasts, and some of us, have exceptionally large breasts (36H thanks) just becuase, and leanr to accomadate this??

Tony Moll // Posted 28 August 2008 at 2:46 pm


You failed to remind readers that, on average, men are bigger than women and fat men are bigger than fat women. So in one sense, men are more likely not to be able to ride than women.

Louise Livesey // Posted 28 August 2008 at 3:01 pm

I didn’t “fail” – your assertion is statistically not correct. According to the Department of Health (2005) Health Survey for England 2004; The Scottish Executive (2005) The Scottish Health Survey 2003 and National Assembly for Wales (2005) Welsh Health Survey 2003/04 figures collated by the British Heart Foundation at Heartstats.org the following is the case:

In England for all ages 24% of women are obese compared to 23% of men. At the highest BMI ratings (over a BMI of 40) are 1% of men and 3% of women. At no point in age groupings do men outnumber women in the BMI of 40 or above category. For the youngest age groups 16-24 year olds the 40+ BMI difference is sharpest with 7% of men and 11% of women having this BMI. Only at two points do men have higher BMI+40 percentages than than women and that’s between 35-44 and 45-54.

In Scotland for all ages 25% of women are obese compared to 22% of men. At the highest BMI ratings (over 40) are 2% of men and 3% of women. At no point in age groupings do men outnumber women in BMI of 40+. From 35 onwards women significantly outnumber men in the 40+ BMI group with the largest differential being 3% for both the 35-44 and 55-64 age groups. At no point do men have higher BMI+40 percentages than women.

In Wales they don’t separate the data for 30-40 BMI and +40 BMI so I can’t give you the same breakdown.

Sarah // Posted 28 August 2008 at 3:38 pm

BMI is about weight relative to height, so it doesn’t necessarily tell you anything about a person’s absolute size. But still, even if Tony is correct, it’s irrelevant to the story. It’s not weight or overall size or fatness that was the deciding criterion, it was specifically chest size. And since women are usually anatomically different in the chest area, that’s a silly measure to use as a cut-off point for ‘too big to ride’, especially when there’s no correction for whether the person is a man or woman. Plus, if it’s a ride where the safety bar goes across the middle of the person’s chest, that was probably not designed with most women’s comfort in mind!

Louise Livesey // Posted 28 August 2008 at 3:47 pm

You are absolutely right, BMI is about relative weight to height. So it doesn’t tell you the proportions of a person but does tell you something about their relative body size depending on body shape and type. Tony’s idea that men are bigger than women isn’t true, they may be heavier on average because of height difference but whereas a 6’2″ man who weights 14 stone would be classed as a BMI of 25.1 and therefore on the border of healthy and overweight a 5’2″ woman of the same weight has a BMI of 35.5 and is considered obese. So BMI is a better method of discussing the issue than absolute weight.

Women are anatomically different, my point entirely, but even the basic things aren’t taken into account. Hard shoulder to navel restraints don’t have “scooped out” bits for breasts, they are solid and based on a curve more like a man’s body than a woman’s. The anatomical difference isn’t factored into the design at all.

Eleanor T // Posted 28 August 2008 at 6:51 pm

Recently I took my family to the Six Flags theme park near Chicago and they had a stand-up rollercoaster. You stood up straight and rested on a little v-shaped stool, which if you were a man, cut very uncomfortably into your privates.

This was the only time I’ve felt fortunate to be a woman on a rollercoaster recently. All the other large rides were extremely squishy for a busty lady like myself. Thanks for the blog, Louise!

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