Visiting somewhere as densely populated as Manhattan can be difficult for anyone, but especially for those of us in larger bodies. Born-and-raised New Yorker Lauren shares her tips for taking up space in the Big Apple.
The Fat Girl’s New York City Survival Guide
Written by Dia&Co Community Manager Lauren Brake
If you’ve never visited New York City before, it’s probably at the top of your bucket list. It’s a magical place I call home, but it’s filled with its fair share of challenges. From squeezing onto the subway to finding suitable seating options at the trendy brunch place, I’ve done it all and have some words of wisdom for those visiting this chaotic city.
There’s no need to limit your experience due to your size, but it is important to make a few moderations and do your research to make sure your trip is as amazing as possible.
- Prioritize Comfy Shoes
Never ever come to NYC without comfy shoes! Whether you’re touring around all day or exploring the nightlife scene, you’ll need shoes you can walk in for long distances. While we may appreciate beautiful, fashionable heels, it’s best you wear something more practical (unless you want blisters). One pair of comfy shoes isn’t enough, you’ll want to swap out a pair for another after a long day. We walk a lot here—make sure you’re prepared.
- Pretend You’re a Local
Fanny packs, graphic tees that read, “I <3 NY,” and subway maps are a telltale sign you’re a tourist. Download a subway app on your phone and keep the tees at home.
- Layer It Up
In the winter, you may be piling on the layers to stay warm, but when you get on the heated subway car, you might just overheat. Indoor temperatures and outdoor temperatures can differ a lot here, no matter the season. Pack layers you can easily remove or add to stay comfortable.
- Bring One Dressy Look
Versatility is the name of the game when it comes to packing. New Yorkers generally wear black when they’re going out (or going anywhere at all) so throw on that black dress or top for going out. And skip the heels, just go for a chunky bootie or a fancy pair of flats—you’ll get more use out of them.
Before you arrive, you want to make sure you have everything you need to make your trip as comfortable as possible. Here are the must-knows for what should be in your luggage:
- The Subway
The NYC metro system is surprisingly simple to navigate if you know your streets, avenues, and train lines. Since Manhattan is a grid, mostly on numbered streets, you may be surprised just how easy it is to get around on, even if you’re not from here. Download the MTA Subway app so you can keep your eye on the map, and use sites like mta.info for updates on line closures or delays. Google has integrated the train lines into its maps, making it a trusty tool to find the best route. By the way, we don’t call it “the metro,” like in other cities but rather “the subway,” or, “the train.”
- Ride-Share Apps
If you have mobility issues or are overwhelmed by the subway, don’t feel guilty about calling a car instead. New Yorkers use Uber, Lyft, and Via to get around in addition to yellow cabs (yes, we still take yellow taxicabs!) but they can get really pricey, especially at peak times and during the busy holiday season. Opt for one of the carpool options to save some dough. While these can be a reliable way to get around, when it’s busy, it’s easiest to get around on foot or by train as those forms of transportation don’t get bogged down by traffic.
- On Foot
The best way to see the city is by walking around and discovering unexpected activities to do and things to see. If you take the train, you’ll be underground often, meaning you might miss a lot of sites on the way. Make sure you’re wearing comfy shoes so you’ll feel good running around town all day. Plus, if you’re on foot, you won’t be stopped by traffic or train delays! The only downside to walking around a city all day is that, as a pedestrian, you may find yourself walking past a single or litter of cat callers. These individuals are just looking for attention and thrive on making you feel uncomfortable by shouting about your beauty or your booty. This unfortunately is pretty common and the best way to respond is to not respond at all. Keep your head up, and don’t let those guys get to your confidence.
There are lots of ways to get around in New York. Those of us who live here take the subway every day, but that is not always accessible depending on your level of mobility, and it can be tricky if you live life in a larger body, so I included additional details just about riding the subway as a fat girl.
- You’re (Mostly) Allowed to Sit
It can be intimidating to be in a larger body on the subway. You may feel like your body is taking up too much space, and you may feel like you especially don’t deserve to sit down as you may take up more than the allotted amount of space for one person. My advice? Girl, if there is a seat, sit down. Some trains have molded seats and you may take up two. That’s okay! If you fit comfortably into a seat and someone around you appears to be giving you a fatphobic glare, pay them no mind. You paid your fare just like everyone else and you deserve the same amenities as other passengers (even the manspreading dudes). Ignore them.
- Giving Up Your Seat:
There are some cases in which you may need to give up your seat. Train and bus seating priority is given to anyone that may be disabled, injured, elderly, or pregnant. If you happen to fall into one of these categories, you have no reason to feel guilty for sitting down. If not, the proper etiquette is to offer your seat to someone that is.
- Giving Up Your Seat:
- Skip the Turnstile
Most of the subway station entrances have turnstiles and they were unfortunately not made to be inclusive. If you are nervous about not fitting through the turnstile, go for the revolving door instead.
- Avoid Rush Hour If You Can
Morning and evening trains during commute time (7-10am and 5-8pm) are especially crowded. There will likely be pushing. You may find yourself with an arm in your face and someone else’s bag in your back. Don’t panic! This is completely normal for us New Yorkers and the pushing and shoving is nothing personal. When you enter the train, move to the center of the car to make room for others entering and exiting through the doors.
- Always Let Others Off First
Before attempting to board a train (or elevator, for that matter), make sure to let everyone off the train first. It creates more space for everyone.
- Anything Could Happen
There’s usually something happening on the train. Between train delays, street performances, intense arguments, or panhandlers with elaborate stories, there’s never a dull moment. If something is happening that you want to engage with, go for it. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, avoid eye contact and get off at the next stop. You can always move to a different train car or change to a different train altogether. Plus, if you see something, say something.
Navigating the Subway as a Fat Girl
Because the subway was built over a hundred years ago, not every station is accessible to those with mobility issues. Elevators and escalators are sparse, and space on the train during rush hour can be really tight. As women, we are often shrinking ourselves in these public spaces, but here is my advice for riding the subway and taking up space. You gotta try it, at least once!
NYC offers restaurants featuring great food from every country on the map. I love to scroll through Food Baby NY to get inspiration for my next meal. If you have food restrictions or require seating that is a bit wider or sturdier, I recommend doing your research. Sites like Yelp! can be helpful as you can see photos other visitors have taken in the space. Because space is such a premium in New York, restaurants try to maximize the number of tables which can reduce the walking space. Not to mention, lots of restaurants in NYC are extremely narrow, which can be tricky to navigate. Check online ahead of time to see if you’re comfortable with the size of seats and aisles before you head to the restaurant. If you see that a restaurant has armchairs, call ahead and ask for a booth.
- All 5 Boroughs
Everyone knows about the popular NYC attractions like the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, but be sure to take the time to explore places and events in each borough. Stop by Arthur Avenue in The Bronx for incredible Italian food. Check out some offbeat art at PS1 in Queens. Take photos at the promenade in Brooklyn. Ride the Staten Island Ferry and visit the Snug Harbor Lantern Festival. Make sure that whatever you’re adding to your list that it’s currently open as things are constantly opening and closing. Check out Time Out NYC and Thrillist for cool happenings while you’re in town. For fun, short-term pop-up event experiences, check out Fomo Feed or NYBucketList.
Seeing a Broadway show is a big reason why people visit NYC. While it is exciting and fun, it can also be challenging if you’re in a larger body. Many theaters were constructed a long time ago and aren’t accessible to those of us with mobility issues and have armrests that can be extremely restrictive to bodies that are too large for the small seats. While that may make a trip to the Theater District seem daunting, there are ways to make sure you’re as comfortable as possible. Look for your theater’s seating chart online and check for seats that look like they have more leg room. The front row of the mezzanine, box seats, and aisle seats are ideal. If you’re worried about fitting in the seat, there’s no shame in ordering two tickets so you can stretch out and be comfortable. Check out options like TodayTix and theaters with rush options to find discounts so you can justify spending the money on two tickets.
After all, this is the city that never sleeps! You deserve to go out for dinner and head to a bar or a nightclub afterward. Research venues in advance and look for reviews and images of the space. Look to see if the bar has enough seating for your needs. Keep an eye out for tables that are too close together or aisles that are too narrow. Read the reviews to see if the bouncers are jerks or if the bathroom is so narrow you won’t be comfortable in it. Some clubs and lounges have strict dress codes, so be sure to read up before you head out.
While NYC is the fashion capital of the world, it has still been too slow to adapt to the changing tide of inclusive fashion. There are few options to shop for plus-size clothing in person, despite the plethora of stores on Broadway and along 5th Avenue. Department stores have plus sections, though you may have to travel to a faraway floor to access it. Just promise me that if you visit during the holidays, you won’t forget to stop by the amazing window displays at Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman. It’s the best part of the city during the holidays!
- Take Breaks
Walking for long periods of time will drain you, even if you’re having fun. Be sure to take mini breaks throughout your days to rest your body. Use it as an opportunity to take a seat, plan what to do next, and share the photos you’ve taken on social media. Just pop into a coffee shop or snag a park bench to give your feet a rest.
- Stay Hydrated
With all of the hustle and bustle, it’ll be easy to forget about keeping yourself hydrated. Make sure to carry a water bottle with you or stop to pick up something from the corner store while you’re out and about. By the way, here we call those convenience stores, “bodegas.” The best ones come with a cat to keep the pests away!
- Escape From the Crowds
Being in large crowds all day can increase anxiety and stress. Times Square, a favorite stop among tourists, can be extremely draining even to those of us who have always lived in this city. Be sure to escape the crowds each day by visiting low-key sites like the library or walking through the park.
Whether you’re into gastronomic tourism or an art fiend, NYC has something for you. Just beware, from theaters to restaurants, you may have to do a little research to find the spaces that are accommodating for all sizes.
Go Easy On Yourself
There’s a lot to see and a lot to do, and you’ll never get to do it all, no matter how hard you try. Make sure you’re factoring in some quiet time to decompress and wind down.