A plus-size Instagram model confronted a man over his cruel, body-shaming treatment on a flight — and she hopes others will learn from the exchange.
Natalie Hage, 30, was flying from Dallas to Los Angeles last Thursday when she noticed the man on her left was loudly huffing, readjusting himself in his seat and “furiously texting” someone.
Heeding his distress, she looked at his phone and saw that his messages were “mean and ugly” texts about her weight.
“Hopefully she didn’t have any Mexican food,” read one of the incoming texts.
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“I think she ate a Mexican,” the man wrote back.
He callously joked that he was leaving a “neck mark on the window” because he was smashed up against it.
“It made me feel so alone,” Hage told the Daily News on Tuesday. “I’m already such an anxious flier, and this man was straight-up lying about me being in his space. He was using my size as a punching bag, for his amusement. He thought it was funny.”
Hage kept her cool and took photos showing she was not invading the man’s personal space.
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When the flight landed, she confronted him while videotaping the showdown.
At first, the man denied making the vicious comments. When Hage quoted his own words back to him, he apologized and claimed he’d been drinking.
Then the man reversed and tried arguing it wasn’t appropriate for Hage to sit in an exit row because she might be asked to help others in an emergency.
“I knew at that point he wasn’t really sorry,” Hage told The News. “The texts were how he really felt.”
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Her reply to him was masterful.
“That’s funny because I work out about five times a week,” she told the man. “You know nothing about me by the size of my body. You know nothing about me.”
She then calmly asked if the man was a doctor.
“Can you assume something about me? Are you a medical professional? I would just love to know where your expertise is coming from,” she asked in the video posted on Facebook.
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“That’s none of your business,” the man shot back.
“My body is also none of your business, so you have no idea what I can or can’t do with it,” Hage said. “I know I am big, but I have not been in your way. …Don’t ever treat somebody like that again. You don’t know anything about me.”
Hage said she’s received more than 10,000 responses to the video posted on social media. The majority have been positive, with many young people sharing similar stories of bullying, she said.
Some critics have faulted her for reading the man’s private texts and videotaping without his consent, but Hage explained the man started the hostile situation and she had a right to be concerned.
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She said she was “very openly filming” during the exchange at the end of the flight.
“I wanted to catch it on video, organically in the moment as a documentation of the experiences we have,” she said.
“It’s one thing to verbally tell your story, but I don’t think it really hits home for people until they see it on video, especially people who don’t understand this type of hatred, bias and prejudice,” she said. “What came out of this man’s mouth was very impactful. I didn’t get his face. My point in doing it was to make a recording like a fly on the wall. Here’s a little tiny piece of one interaction.”
Hage said American Airlines later asked her for more details on the interaction, and she sent them a long description via email Monday. She hadn’t received a response as of Tuesday, she said.
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“I would love to have a conversation started with American, and other airlines, about their policies for plus-size passengers,” she said. “We shouldn’t be left to feel that we either have to brave hostile situations or we can’t travel. We shouldn’t feel like we’re intruding just for existing.”
Hage also hopes her video will encourage others to stand up for themselves and others.
“I get a lot of hatred online. I’m a fat person living unapologetically on the internet. I’m a bullseye for so many people. But I want people to listen to my experience and know they’re not alone,” she said. “It’s okay to expect people to treat you like a human being. You don’t deserve to be treated as less based on your weight or looks.”
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