A fat person boards an airplane.
You’ve heard this story, you know what comes next: The overweight passenger must purchase an additional ticket, an airline worker tells him, because he’s too big for the airplane’s already-small seats.
But do you know how this story ends?
Michelle Love, 41, does, because it happened to her in September 2011.
It was the most humiliating thing she has ever experienced. And it was, in a way, the best thing that ever happened to her.
As Love, head concierge for Mandalay Bay, was boarding a plane for her one vacation she takes every year, an airline employee pulled her out of line. Love weighed about 300 pounds. She was a seasoned traveler and had struggled with her weight all of her life, but this had never before happened. She didn’t have enough money to purchase an additional seat and had to call her mother.
A flight attendant announced over the loudspeaker that volunteers were needed to vacate their seats so that Love could have two seats together. The last person to board, Love walked a gauntlet of eyes, all fixed on her. Judging her. Pitying her. She could not stop the tears streaming down her face.
“At the time, I was devastated,” Love says. “But looking back on it now, I’m actually glad it happened.”
Two months after her embarrassing encounter, Love embarked on a life-changing diet. She gave up sweets, alcohol, carbohydrates. She learned about nutrition and started exercising. To date, she has lost 79 pounds. She is still losing. Earlier this month, she finished the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas half-marathon in three hours, 46 minutes.
Love also stood in front of 50,000 co-workers and fellow MGM Resorts employees this week and told her story, in hopes of inspiring others and educating them about how stereotypes can hurt. She was one of 70 to perform in the company’s first-ever musical written, directed and starring MGM Resorts employees.
The goal of the musical, called “Inspiring Our World,” was to impart the corporate philosphy to “engage, entertain and inspire,” says Patty Coaley, director of diversity education for MGM Resorts University.
They assembled talented employees who could sing, act and play musical instruments, then staged the musical at the Mandalay Bay events center. Every local employee was bused to the center to see “Inspiring Our World,” which included original music.
When casting the musical, they looked for people like Love, people who had stories that could educate and inspire.
At first, Love thought it would be easy to get up onstage and tell her story. Then she did it during rehearsals. She choked up. It helped to focus on the goal at hand: inspire others.
“I looked at the faces of everyone in the cast as they heard my story and I could see the inspiration and motivation it gave them,” Love recalls. “That’s why I (did) this.”
Love recently had to fly on a plane. She did not have to purchase two tickets. In fact, she was so comfortable, she was able to put her armrest down. But it was still emotional.
“It did bring me back to that experience,” Love says. “I don’t want that to ever happen again.”
Contact reporter Sonya Padgett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4564. Follow @StripSonya on Twitter.